The site of the worst of the atrocities that were part of the so-called Hinterland War in Suriname
in the 1980s (see under history
!). Here a whole village was burned down and almost all inhabitants, the majority children, brutally slaughtered.
More background info:
for general context and the Hinterland War see under Suriname history
Moiwana was a little Maroon village far in the east of Suriname, and because it was the home of “Jungle Commando” leader Ronnie Brunswijk, it was targeted by the National Army during this brutal civil war on 29 November 1986. The perpetrators flew in by helicopter, but when they failed to locate Brunswijk (who had set up base further away in the jungle by that time) they just burned down his house and then massacred nearly all the village’s inhabitants, mostly women and children, with merciless brutality, even shooting babies through the mouth. They then hacked the victims to pieces with machetes, doused the remains in petrol and tossed them into pits – there are scant eye-witness reports from the few survivors. In total at least 38 villagers were killed.
It was after this inexplicable unprovoked attack that thousands of civilians started to flee over the border to French Guiana
, an exodus of some 10,000, most sources say.
Who the perpetrators
were has never
been been ascertained
, despite long years of police and forensic investigations. It won’t have helped that the chief inspector
on the case was assassinated
right in the heart of Paramaribo
, outside Fort Zeelandia
, in 1990.
Needless to say, you’d expect then military dictator Dési Bouterse to have had a pivotal role in the original atrocity and perhaps also the later assassination, but he denies everything, despite at the time indicating that he’d ordered the operation.
, however, survivors and victims’ relatives won a case before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights
, which ordered Suriname
to pay 3 million USD in compensation
, plus finance new housing worth another 1.2 million or so. Today’s monument
is also the result of that court ruling. It was inaugurated in 2007
, on the 21st anniversary of the incident.
The design is by a local artist based in nearby Moengo, and incorporates inscriptions in Afaka symbols, derived from a West African script to represent the language of the local Maroons (Ndyuka).
What there is to see: Not much, and it’s very symbolic, but if you know what has happened here, it’s still quite moving.
It’s not a single monument but a whole cluster, set within a ca. 50 x 50 yards square clearing to the side of the road opposite some new housing for locals. In the centre of the square stands a taller obelisk-like structure, the bottom raw concrete, the top half covered in rusty metal and topped by an Afaka symbol meaning “protect us”.
Dotted around this central column, are individual smaller monuments of different shapes, some low cubes, others taller and thinner like columns, but all echoing the concrete-plus-rusty-metal design of the main monument. Many bear little plaques with the names of the known victims. There are also more Afaka symbols, but if you don’t know the script, these mean nothing to you and they are not explained at the site.
Atop many of the lower, tomb-like monuments, visitors, maybe relatives, had left various mementos, like plastic flowers, and even more had little pebbles or small rocks lined up on top – just like in that Jewish tradition!
Directly by the road is a simple sign
saying “Moiwana 1986”, though at the time of my visit the middle “W” was missing on the one side. There is a small general explanation plaque in Dutch, but no other commodification
It’s a very remote, even desolate spot, with not much to see, so it has much the character of a pilgrimage to make it here. For most people it’s probably not worth making the long journey out here from Paramaribo
simply for this, but when travelling on to Albina and/or French Guiana
a short stop here is more or less mandatory for any dark traveller!
in the east of Suriname
, right by the east-west road that connects Paramaribo
with Albina on the Marowijne River (Maroni) on the border with French Guiana
. The monument is roughly 6 miles (10 km) to the west of Albina, 20 miles (30 km) east of Moengo and 80 miles (130 km) from Paramaribo.
Access and costs: remote but not tricky to find; freely accessible at all times.
To get to this remote spot you really need a car – or be on a guided tour. From Paramaribo
it is out of reach for bicycles, which you wouldn’t want to ride along this main east-west artery anyway. If you don’t fancy hiring a car and getting behind the wheel yourself, you could have a stopover at this monument incorporated into a guided tour – which is what I did, when we had short stop here en route between Moengo and Albina and French Guiana
. I can therefore not say how much, if anything, this stopover added to the overall costs. But hiring a car yourself in Paramaribo isn’t too expensive. Alternatively, you could brave public transport and go to Albina and cycle from there or get a local taxi.
At least, since the monument is right by the main road, it’s impossible to miss. No admission is charged, it’s feely accessible all the time, but you wouldn’t want to get there after dark, naturally.
Time required: not long, perhaps 10–15 minutes.
Combinations with non-dark destinations: not much really, at least not in the immediate vicinity, except endless jungle and the occasional bridge across a river. However, you’d pass Moiwana en route to the sea turtle and leatherback egg-laying and hatching beach of Galibi, north of Albina, on the Marowijne/Maroni River.
- Moiwana 1 - sign by the road
- Moiwana 2 - on the other side a W is missing
- Moiwana 3 - square clearing in the jungle
- Moiwana 4 - cluster of monuments
- Moiwana 5 - main central monument
- Moiwana 6 - individial monument with name
- Moiwana 7 - some have mementoes left on top
- Moiwana 8 - plastic flowers and pieces of rock
- Moiwana 9 - new houses in the background