The Winti: the Gods of Surinamian Folk Religion

Written by Dyami Millarson

Surinamian folk religion or nature religion, simply called Winti religion or Winti sometimes, may be characterised as animistic, polytheistic, totemistic or shamanistic, because the core belief of Surinamian folk religion, which influences Surinamian society, is that the world is inhabited by a multitude of Winti, which are kami-styled nature deities/spirits, and humans may be brought into contact with this magical world that is invisible to common folk or liberated from evil spirits through a bonuman or obiaman who may be understood to be a Surinamian medicine man or shaman (*1, *2, *3, *4, *5, *6, *7, *8, *9, *10, *11, *12, *13, *14, *15, *16 *17, *18, *19, *20, *21, *22). There are four types of Winti: those pertaining to the earth, sky, forest and water, which are the four basic elements according to the Surinamian nature religious system (*6, *7, *15). So there are Gron Winti, Tapu Kromanti, Busi Wenu and Watra Wenu respectively. Surinamian people may have a negative view of the Winti and it is taboo in Surinamian communities to talk about the Winti (*1, *3, *8, *14, *15). However, the belief in Winti, which is a defining feature of Surinamian nature religion, is helping with nature conservation in Suriname (*9). Surinamian folk religionists believe there is both black and white magic; there are evil sorcerers who seek to make others sick and there are medicine men who seek to heal others. The antithesis of the obiaman or bonuman is the wisiman, an evil sorcerer or worker of black magic (*4, *7). The wisiman uses a yorka (deceased person’s spirit) or apuku (forest spirit) to make someone sick (*4, *7, *10, *22). A yorka may be a kabra (a deceased person who received baptism, i.e., a Christian) or profen (a deceased person who did not receive baptism, i.e., a pagan or heathen) (*21). The bonuman, who functions as gatekeeper of the spiritual world and guardian of his local community’s spiritual well-being, opens the gateway to the spiritual world for the local community and increases his local community’s spiritual knowledge as he opens their eyes to a magical world whose nuanced realities they could otherwise not perceive. In conclusion, the bonuman or obiaman in Surinamian shamanism may assume the role of lukuman (seer) or dresiman (healer) (*13, *21, *23, *24, *25, *26, *27, *28).

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