Owru Yari: an unrivaled year-end experience

PARAMARIBO–Ask any Surinamer what time is best to visit his country and the answer will always be unanimous: year-end. Weather-wise December is a tricky time of the year, but this is the month when this country on the north-eastern shoulder of South America erupts in an all-out celebration that culminates on December 31st and that trumps everything. Imagine a week of Caribbean Carnival, with parties all around, molded and jam-packed to fit into one day and the picture should be somewhat clear. Suriname’s diaspora travels home from all over the world, just to be part of the Owru Yari (Old Year’s) party, and to enjoy the almost tangible atmosphere that’s thick like smoke in the air.

Old Year’s has always had a distinct meaning in this country. Here a Chinese tradition of fireworks blended with an Afro-Surinamese tradition of shedding hebi (loads) of the old year to start fresh in the new one, so loud bangs of firecrackers have always escorted Suriname through the last month of the year. A dash of the Christmas cheer mixed in with the excitement of welcoming a New Year, and what some consider the greatest Old Year’s/New Year’s celebration in the world, was a fact. In the nineties the atmosphere was bottled and packed into “Surifesta”, a string of events that kick-off around mid-December and lead to the wild, wild parties at the end.

The Surifesta Foundation was charged with organizing some of the events surrounding the year-end celebrations, and the foundation didn’t stop short at those who rather party it away. Surifesta included those people who want to close off the old and welcome the new a little more conventional and reflective. The Bank of Suriname DSB hosts its annual Christmas concert, as does telecommunications company TeleSur. Afro Surinamese foundation Krin Konsensi (Clean Conscience) does its annual cultural Swit Watra (sweet water) wash at the Independence Square, where people can come to take a spirit cleansing bath.

Still the two main events are the Kawina Festival on December 30th at Tori Oso café on Fred Derby Street and the Surifesta Owru Yari Streetparty on December 31st at the entertainment area near ‘T Vat terrace and Hotel Torarica. The Kawina Festival 30th features the hottest bands that master the exotic and pulsating rhythms of Kawina Tori Oso from midday, with main sponsor, Suriname’s Parbo Beer factory, supplying endless quantities of its brew. This year The Generals, the kawina band whose lyrics and showmanship won first prize at the recent Kawina competition, will be on stage together with the other favorites.

The figurative fireworks that are expected at the Kawina Festival then continue on December 31st , … albeit now literally. Around midday businesses string hundreds of meters of fireworks alongside Paramaribo’s main street –Dominee Street. This unique pagara relay  is set off in a loud crescendo of bangs and smoke that slowly crawls over the streets, cheered on by onlookers, as the businesses men say goodbye to the old, and set the stage for the street party at ‘t Vat or the party at Dolfijn, both notorious for their fun. Here’s where people really let loose.

The parties wind down just before midnight, when everybody is rather at home, either in prayer or just to be with family in reflection of the last year, lifting a glass while making resolutions for the new one ahead. At 12.00am sharp, the country explodes; every household lights off a pagara at the front door; the bigger, the longer and louder, the better. Tradition then demands that you leave the snippets of red fireworks paper in front of the homes, to show that you have truly blasted the old away.

The next morning, New Year’s Day January 1st, Suriname slowly crawls from under the heaps and heaps of snippets, ready to take on whatever challenges the New Year has in store. Have a good one!