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Book source: Tweemaal Marienburg, Cynthia McLeod, Conserve,Schoorl, 1997 ISBN: 90-5429-087-0

Subject: [Literature,History] Twice Marienburg

Article:

While in Suriname, I visited and toured Marienburg several times and stood there where history was made. The director's mansion is now an office, the staff quarters look deserted and the sugar processing plant was idle. Thus, I was delighted when I had a chance to read Cynthia McLeod's "Twice Marienburg".

According to Cynthia McLeod - "Twice Marienburg" is a historical novel but with more facts than fiction. It's not a book to place blame on some one as things took place a hundred years ago. What is bygone is bygone and the author leaves us with the hope that the readers can learn something from "Twice Marienburg". First time in Marienburg takes place in 1902. The main characters are: Mr. Mavor - Director Mathilde and Ludwig Bergen their 5 children: Louise, Gerard, Paul, Eline and Jetje Tante Waasje and her daughter Trude Dr Konings - the physician Budhoo - a Hindu Shakuntala - a Hindu Kitty de Vries - a Dutch Indonesian Tante Henriette and Oom Ernst Their son Laurie Ouma McDonald

Cynthia Mcleod writes in such away as if Jetje Bergen is telling her story about Marienburg to you. You get the idea as if you sit next to her on the balcony of her house in Marienburg. let us listen to her ... Its 1902. ...We are Surinamers, not Hollanders and not white. Ludwig Bergen is the chief book keeper at Marienburg. he works close with the director Mr. mavor and is therefore aware of how Marienburg is managed. Mr. mavor comes from Scotland and his family has Hindustani servants.

Mathilde Bergen takes care of the children: Louise, Gerard, Paul, Eline and Jetje. The older children attend school in Paramaribo and come home for the holidays. There is only a school for 'coolie' children at Marienburg. The term coolie is used for field workers.

Colonial life around 1902 is full of stereo types, prejudices and limited upward mobility. One can expect to get only so far depending on the whiteness of one's skin. There are prejudices among the races, xenophobia, fear and superstition.

There are plenty examples of hiring preferences: the Hollanders and Surinamers have only Creoles for house servants. Proper punishment for the 'coolies' (here meant Hindustanis) is to maim them first. They are not afraid for death as they believe in reincarnation. If maimed they come back as criples.

Around 1902, there were some 3,000 contract workers and with their families some 12,000 people lived at Marienburg. The Hindustanis were mostly recruited from the poorest sectors of society and most were glad to have for the first time a roof over their head. Marienburg around the year 1902 is full of rumors about unrest, brawls, fights among coolies. The management pretends as if nothing is going on. At this time Paul (Jetjes favorite brother) gets involved in an amorous meeting with Shakuntala (a coolie daughter) with the result that more tempers flare up especially when the girl ends her life tragically. There is now fear and superstition among the Bergen family members. The world price of sugar collapses and the wages of the coolies must be lowered which results in a violent insurrection. Mr. mavor tried to mediate the wages and is hacked to death inside the factory. The miltary and law enforcement officers are called for assistance. There are at least 3 officers, 126 soldiers and 30 police officers plus the attorney general, advocate general and district commissioner.

The coolies confront the military/police force. They refuse to disperse and attack the military. Shots are fired and at least 6 are dead with some 40 wounded. There are arrests and the insurrection is over. What to do with the dead ? That is a question that confronts and agonzie the decision makers. ...I do not wish to give the plot away...read the book.

In the end it brings a curse over Marienburg and its residents. Kitty de Vries calls it 'kwalat' when mysterious illnesses and deaths occur at Marienburg. Even those who call it superstitious nonsense are affected by the curse. Jetje gets mysteriously ill and is brought to Paramaribo to get better and to live with Tante Henriette and Oom Ernst and their son Laurie. The trial is held of the 21 British Indians and one Javanes and when eventually the outcome of the trial is made public not many of the Paramaribo citizens are satisfied. Life at marienburg continues and numerous strange things and coincidences keep occuring. Some say the sudden death of a heart attack of Ludwig Bergen was caused by the curse. There are changes with the death of Ludwig for the Bergen family as Mathilde comes to live with Ouma McDonald in Paramaribo and so is tante Waasje. Paul leaves for Europe where he also meets a tragic death.

It is now March 1917. Jetje Vaneycke-Bergen is maried to Dr. August Vaneycke a Surinamer. Oom Ernst passed away. Brother Gerard is a physician in the military hospital. Paul had left for Holland to study but was drafted in the military and lost his life while serving for Holland. Ouma McDonalds had passed away. Sister Louise lived with her husband Henri Jessurun up-stairs of the house while mother Bergen lived down stairs. Eline did not finish her education and had a son from a Baron van Wijck.

Jetje cannot believe the news that Dr. August is transferred to Marienburg. She goes reluctantly. The director at this time is Mr. Shedden also a Scott. Jetje can not sleep the first night back at Marienburg. They live now in a house designated for the Marienburg doctor. Trude (Tante Waasje's daughter) comes to work for Jetje. Changes have taken place at Marienburg. There are more block quarters for the field workers. There are many more Javanese workers and only a few Hindustanis working at Marienburg. Prejudices are still alive - as Trude will look for a Javanese woman to take care of the children as Javanese are good with children. Tante Waasje is a sister of Ouma McDonalds as she had a black father while ouma had a white father. These facts led to to different life styles.

Strange fatal or serious accidents still happen at Marienburg. The curse they say. Prevalent diseases were: tuberculsis, asthma, measles, whooping cough, diphtery and many children died after these outbreaks. Pa Wangso, a grounds keeper, came to Suriname as a Javanese contract worker. He thought first that he was back in Java when the ship arrived. The people were however different although they had a brown skin. These brown colored people were called 'coolies' and they spoke a foreign language. From that moment on Pa Wongso had only one wish to return to his beloved Java. Jetje as the wife of the doctor is not too much involved with the wives living at Marienburg. They have their cliques and all thrive on local gossip.

Franklin Kromhout is Dr. Augusts's best friend at Marienburg and they both talk for hours about the NHM and politics. They talk also about Hindustanis and Javanese workers. The NHM prefered the Javanese as they are shy, timid and quiet. Also because a plague epidemic in British India halted the importation of workers from British India to Suriname and thus more Javanese were recruited from Java.

It is now 1918. The agriculture in Suriname is doing poorly and more and more plantations were liquidated. Holland had to pump more money in the budget for Suriname. Then, one day a ship the Gorton arrived from New York with 16 bags of flour for the people at Marienburg. They all will be baking bread with the flour. Some 3000 bags of sugar were loaded on the Gorton for New York. Everybody was waiting for the return of the train with the bags of flour. It was getting dark, thus Mr. Shedden, the director, took a trolly to check the whereabouts of the train. He was around a corner, it was getting dark and the train was there too. The train collided with the trolley and Mr. Shedden was killed instantly.

Jetje has her third child which they named Paul. Then, around Christmas that same year the spanish flu epidemic made almost everybody sick and also many elderly and infants died from the flu. Even Jetje was struck with the flu. In the year 1921, the colonial government decides to bring in only Javanese contract workers. The Javanese were less thrifty than the Hindustanis because the Javanese gambled away their money. The Javanese would not work overtime even if they were offered more money. The first cars arrived at Marienburg so that the director and important staff members could drive to Zoelen and Nieuw Amsterdam while being gawked by the workers in the field. At this time, tante Henriette hears about Lauries car accident in Holland. Laurie was killed in that accident.

The year 1923 arrives. The sugar factory gets new German engines. While inspecting the assembly of the engines the director Juta falls and dies from the injuries. The NHM celebrates its 100th year birthday and a big party is given at Marienburg. Three weeks later Paul gets violently sick. The drugs and medicine do not seem to help. The child is unconscious and dies at Marienburg. Jetje decides to leave Marienburg forever. Paul is buried that same day in Paramribo. Jetje refuses to return to Marienburg and August departs for Marienburg without her. Two weeks later Dr. August returns and tells Jetje that he had submitted his resignation as Marienburg's doctor. Jetje never returned to Marienburg and died in March 1979 in paramaribo.

...and Rita Cheong Lee-Van Eycke, grand daughter of Jetje lived for years in Florida, USA.

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Met dank aan Albert Buys










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