The settlement of Joden Savanne and Cassipora cemetery
Urban Heritage Foundation, Suriname
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The former settlement of Joden Savanne (Jew's Savanne) and the cemetery at Cassipora, mark an important stage in the European colonization of the Western Hemisphere . The synagogue at Joden Savanne, of which a ruin remains, is the oldest still present in the Americas. It is a reminder of pioneers of American Judaism.
Jews, fleeing the Spanish inquisition were welcomed in Suriname, first by the British and later by the Dutch, to settle and reclaim the land along the River Suriname. As part of the government policy to attract Jewish settlers, they were given special privileges, which granted them freedom of religion, freedom of ownership and the right to have their own judicial court. Jewish merchants were especially wanted for their expertise on international trade. In 1665 they achieved a piece of land close to the Cassipora Creek to build a synagogue and to layout a cemetery. Shortly afterwards, the community moved to a hill overlooking the River Suriname where the settlement of Joden Savanne was founded. In 1685 a synagogue, named 'Beracha Ve Shalom' (Blessing and Peace), was inaugurated. It was made of brick imported from abroad. The synagogue formed the central point of a rectangular village. Close to the synagogue is a natural well which was said to have healing capacities. At the end of the 17th century approximately 600 people lived in the flourishing agricultural settlement of Joden Savanne owning more than 40 plantations with over 9,000 slaves. Besides her important economic role the Jewish community also had part in the protection of the colony. In the vicinity of the settlement lay the military supply post 'Post Gelderland' of the defence line 'Cordonpad'. This line, which started at Joden Savanne and ended at the coast, was constructed to protect the plantations from attacks of maroons, i.e. runaway slaves. It consistod of a wide bridle path with military posts at repular intervals. In the 19th century, however, most of the Jews living in Joden Savanne had moved to the capital of Paramaribo due to the decline of the sugar-cane industry. After a great fire in 1832 the settlement was left desolate.
The cemeteries of Joden Savanne and Cassipora are of excephonal splendour. The cemetery of Cassipora counts several hundred tombstones. The oldest grave dates from 1667. The cemetery of Joden Savanna has approximately 450 graves. A large number of stones is of marble imported from Europe, other graves are made of bricks. Some stones are beaubfully ornamented. Inscriptions are in Spanish, Portugees, Dutch and Hebrew.
The synagogue and the two cemeteries are the major sites at Joden Savanne. More remains of the settlement still have to be excavated. The foundation of the synagogue reveals its ground-plan.The natural well is still there and the defence line at Post Gelderland is recognizable.