The Concept of ‘Hebi’ in Surinamian Folk Religion

Written by Dyami Millarson

What I heard on Friday 24 December inspired me to write this article. That day I heard about the Surinamian folk religious concept of ‘hebi’ in relation to receiving others’ animals. The same day a Frisian farmer told me that he uses only his own animals as much as possible since he does not know what others did with their animals.

‘Hebi’ may be translated as ‘burden’ in English. People who have been influenced by Surinamian folk religion through cultural contact with the Surinamian diaspora as well as those who have been influenced by Surinamian folk religion because they have lived in Surinam at some point in their lives will usually try to avoid getting a ‘hebi.’ In Surinamian folk religion, a ‘hebi’ is a bad spirit you may get from certain situations. One may understand ‘hebi’ as a curse. When a ‘hebi’ sticks to you, it will be hard to get rid of and will cause you bad luck. Based on this information, one may compare ‘hebi’ to the Norse concepts of hamingja (spirit of luck which attaches itself to a person) and fylgja (family spirit which attaches itself to a person).

The concept of ‘hebi’ influences Surinamian behaviour. For instance, people with Surinamian folk religious knowledge may seek to avoid receiving (bad) gifts from others, because they do not want to receive others’ problems. In the current gift-giving season, it seems appropriate to dedicate an article to this topic. In Dutch there is a saying ‘een gegeven paard moet je niet in de bek kijken’ which means one should not be too critical about what one gets for free, but Surinamian folk religion is not like that. A hebi may be attached to sick animals, broken items or items with a bad (family) history, so it is better not to receive these gifts while they carry a significant risk of transferring a ‘hebi’ to you.

When one possesses Surinamian folk religious knowledge, one may seek to avoid nightlife in order not to get a ‘hebi’. Nightlife is usually full of negative energies, and such energies can be detrimental to your spiritual well-being according to Surinamian folk religion. A final word of caution: a ‘hebi’ may be transferred to you in various ways, so not just by bad objects or bad situations. For instance, a ‘hebi’ may also be transferred to you by inheritance or an ill intention someone has towards you (a curse someone places on you). In other words, a ‘hebi’ may be part of your family inheritance or you may get it from negative interactions with others, such as personal conflicts or rivalries. All in all, the takeaway from the concept of ‘hebi’ is that avoiding bad energy in your life is key.

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