Tuesday, January 21, 2020
Characterizing the Religious Encounter between Moravians and Saramakas
Characterizing the Religious Encounter between Moravians and Saramakas When Moravians in Germany sent three missionaries to Suriname in 1765 to witness to the Saramakas, two groups with unique and fundamentally different cultural, social, and religious beliefs and structures met. During the course of their stay, the Moravians were hounded by disease and disappointed by the poor reception of the gospel; meanwhile, the Saramakas were plagued with inter-tribal rivalries and poor relations with the white government officials and plantation owners, with whom they maintained an unsteady peace. These circumstances, as well as the many ways in which Moravian and Saramaka expectations and social behavior differed, created a barrier between the two groups. Because the Moravians entered Saramaka society in small numbers and with no pretense of using political force or monetary bribery (the latter of which the Saramakas would likely have accepted) to force conversions, the extent of their influence on Saramaka religion and culture was limited. Though there was s ome cultural exchange, including the adoption of European manufactured goods into Saramaka life and the adoption of some Saramaka medical treatments by the Moravians, for the Moravians and for the majority of Saramakas, the religious encounter was a meeting of mutually closed worlds. For a handful of Saramakas, including Alabi, an apparently true conversion took place. In addition to the few converts, there were a small number (Brother Wietz reports twelve in 1779) of Saramakas who came to Christian services regularly, and thus were interested in and perhaps persuaded to some degree by the missionariesÃ¢â¬â¢ message, but made no commitment to or identification with Christianity and c... ...vian presence certainly changed the lives of a few Saramakas, but did not make a great impact on Saramaka society as a whole. The missionaries who died or returned to Germany did not manage to build relationships with the Saramaka community as a whole and could not count Suriname as one of their fruitful mission endeavors. Conversion was rare, and the syncretism formed after the Moravians introduced Christianity was admonished by the Moravians themselves and short-lived in any case. The current presence of Christianity, or some syncretic form, among a minority of Saramakas is probably not derived from the Moravians. Though Christian stories and the Moravian presence will never be forgotten because of their importance in the life of the gaama Alabi, the importance of the encounter with Moravians is restricted to a specific place and time in Saramaka history.