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This is a project by Michelle Piergoelam

‘The Untangled Tales’ is an ongoing project that visualizes the stories of hope and resilience, and the ways in which these traditions allow us to glimpse at the years of slavery and how somethings formed into new traditions afterwards.

Anansi stories

"Some people say Anansi is a spider, others say he's a human being, just like you and me. I know Anansi's awfully smart."

For those who didn't know it yet: Anansi is a cheeky rascal who is permanently hungry, but creatively avoids to working for his living. To fill his belly, he invents fantastic tricks; he even betrays his wife and children for a tasty meal. And if he ever does something good, for example bringing the yam (food) into the world, it is in spite of himself, by accident or by calculation. 

Anansi often gets in trouble, sometimes gets tricked himself, but he always stays calm and saves himself from the abashment with his cleverness and alertness, preferably when the noose is already hanging around his neck. He makes a fool of those in power, grinning with pleasure, and thus grotesquely demonstrates that the perspicacity of the little ones wins out over the stupid strength of the big ones. No matter how grossly selfish the little villain may be, he automatically wins everyone's sympathy. Besides being an underdog and anarchist, Anansi is also a life artist with a survival instinct bordering on the unbelievable.

Read the stories of Anansi in the publication

Text written by Wijnand Stomp 

The Angisa

The Surinamese angisa is a beautiful, colourful head creation folded out of a starched cloth or a traditional printed headscarf. Due to a certain folding technique, various artistic creations can be folded, each of which can convey a message. It demands patience, creativity, artistry and love.

This headwear is considered the most important part of the Surinamese Creole costume (the koto) and is much more than a beautiful or functional garment. The angisa harbours a wealth of stories, traditions and wisdom of life. In recent research(2024) it has come out that the angisa formed into the traditions that we know now after the slavery, during the slavery they wore head wrapped scarfs. The communication part subsequently came under development.

This headscarf functioned as a means of communication after colonial rule and contained hidden messages about the person wearing it. By wearing the angisa, the wearer could communicate non-verbal with her surroundings, for example, about her state of mind, her loved ones, and her social position.

At the moment the angisa is in the spotlight and there is international recognition for this Surinamese cultural heritage. In 2014 the koto and angisa were placed on the list of intangible cultural heritage in the Netherlands and Surinam.

Text written by Jane Stjeward-Schubert


Strange as it may sound, rowing a tent boat was one of the many occasions the enslaved people took advantage of to sing together. This also happened, for instance, when the enslaved had to process (stomp) the harvested coffee beans, to pit the cotton, to hood the sugar canes and to dredge the ditches. In short, all kinds of labour activities containing a certain kind of rhythm. (...) The rhythm of the activities strengthened the sense to sing and at the same time it made the heavy labour more bearable. That applied in particular to rowing. In all singing activities, one person acted as cantor. In the work sheds most cantors were women, on the boats mostly men, the so called trokiman. He indicated the rhythm with his oar. After each couplet the other rowers sang in unison a repetition of the words or chorus from this so called trokiman. This is a typical African question and answer structure, that is still widely used today. (...) Moreover, the songs often contained all kinds of comments about enslaved lives, or specifically about (mis)behaviour of the plantation owner who - at that moment - was sitting in the deckhouse. Although the language and imagery of those songs were meaningless for the European people, the songs were not at all meaningless for the Afro-Surinam people. And above all, the song could also be addressed to ancestors or gods and spirits. That is why, especially in earlier times, the Watramama, the mermaid-like water goddess, who lived at the bottom of the rivers, was one of the most important religious powers who should be stayed in good spirit. While rowing, she was often sung to and offered by the enslaved. She was deeply feared and if the Watramama was not respected, the consequences could be dramatic. It could also happen that while rowing, a small canoe filled with products was spotted in the river, floating there as an offering to the water goddess. 


Full text in publication

Text written by Alex van Stipriaan

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