Oroonoko The Country of Surinam

Surinam is the primary setting for Oroonoko. It is the smallest independent country in South America, located on the northeast coast. It now has about half a million people of the various ethnic groups in the narrative.

Arawak and Carib tribes lived in the region before Columbus located the coast in 1498. The area was thought to be rich in gold. It was colonized by Dutch traders around 1600, but because of continued fighting (especially with the British), Holland did not gain full control of the region until the signing of the Treaty of Breda in the 1660s. Thus, we see a great deal of political uncertainly and upheaval in the work--just who is in charge? The narrator remarks that Willoughby the lord-governor is killed in a hurricane after she has left for London because of the Dutch takeover, but prior to that, he commands that a guard be put at the mouth of the Amazon River which leads to the gold region, in order to keep others out. The Dutch, the narrator insists, instead of the King of England will now have the advantage of the gold, and "it is to be bemoaned what his majesty lost by losing that part of America." Incredibly, the Netherlands traded the island of Manhattan to the British for Surinam in 1667.

The Dutch colony, named Dutch Guiana, did not flourish primarily because Holland remained occupied with its larger territories and because of continued violence between the whites and the native tribes as well as numerous slave uprisings, like the one led by Oroonoko, among the imported slave population. Many slaves fled to the interior of the country, where they maintained their original West African culture--which remains in existence today.

Surinam became an autonomous part of the Netherlands in 1954 and gained full independence in 1975.