18 May, 2015: Bonno Thoden van Velzen (Leiden University, KNAW)

Title: The Ancestor Cult in a Surinamese Maroon Society: The Gerontocracy and its Discontents
15:30-17:00h, Room 5.A41, Pieter de la Court building.

About Prof. Dr. H.U.E (Bonno) Thoden van Velzen

Bonno Thoden van Velzen is a member of the Royal Academy of  Sciences of The Netherlands (KNAW) and guest staff member at Leiden University. He was Professor of cultural anthropology at the University of Utrecht (1971-1991) and professor by special appointment at the Amsterdam School for Social Science Research (1991-1999).

His field of expertise is religion and politics in the Suriname Maroon society for which he has done extensive fieldwork in Ndyuka Maroon villages along the Tapanahoni River in Suriname. He also studied the Tanzania’s Southern Highlands and was associated with the Africa Studies Centre at Leiden (1966-1971).

Black Jesus movement

In 2006, a new witch-hunting movement irrupted among the Ndyuka Maroons of eastern Suriname. Its leadership, operating without any clear form of religious legitimation or traditional political support, exploited a cache of asocial feelings. The movement was dependent upon the mass mobilization of young Ndyuka men and women in both the tribal area and in Paramaribo, Suriname’s capital.

Unchecked violence on a scale never seen before appears to have added to the attraction of this self-styled Black Jesus movement. Films of brutal interrogations of people suspected of witchcraft were sold in great numbers to Ndyuka living in Paramaribo. The leadership’s ambitions included the rallying of support through the Internet and the production of media clips showing aggressive pursuits of suspects.

The threat of more violence paralysed the traditional political office holders while at the same time galvanizing a younger generation. Most of this has been reported in Thoden van Velzen and Van Wetering (2007). The present paper continues the discussion by drawing attention to the dramaturgical features of the witch-hunting arguing that the success of the movement was based in part on the theatricalization of key witch beliefs by its leadership.

Research Seminars Spring 2015