Showcasing the art and ritual of the African and African-diaspora religions

Surinamese and Dutch Winti

“Winti” is the name for both a religion and some of the spiritual entities worshipped in that religion. Winti is the belief in the supreme creator–Anana Kedyaman Kedyanpon–and the Winti, a pantheon of lower gods distributed in four categories: Earth, Water, Air, and the Bush. Among the most important Winti are Mama Aisa (the goddess of the Earth), Fodu (also known as Papa Winti), Leba (a cleansing spirit who dwells in particular at traffic intersections), Opete (the chief Winti of the air), and Ingi (an Amerindian spirit). The Winti deities are worshipped during Winti Prey (lit. Winti Play), which can be dedicated to individual Winti (e.g. Aisa Prey) or to the entire Winti pantheon (Ala Kondre Prey, lit. all countries play). Winti Prey are dance rituals in which Winti can manifest themselves by taking possession of participants in the ritual. The Winti thus manifested are welcomed and appeased by the particular substances and objects associated with them, such as water, perfume, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, various types of food, and herbs.

The Winti religion emerged in Suriname during the period of the Dutch trans-Atlantic slave trade and chattel slavery (1623 – 1863). Due to the significant cultural differences among the enslaved Africans, Winti has traces from various West African religious systems, including Vodun, Yoruba and Akan religions. In the past, due to legal prohibitions, Winti was often practiced in secret. However, it was part of plantation life throughout the period of slavery. Practicing Winti was officially banned in an 1874 law, and the ban was not lifted until 1971.

Today it is practiced by the descendants of enslaved Africans both in Suriname and in the Surinamese diaspora, most notably in the Netherlands. At present, Winti is experiencing a revaluation in the Netherlands and in Suriname, both as an element of the African Surinamese heritage and as a religion. In 2014 the Surinamese national government formally appointed a Winti priestess for the first time in history, and there are now two public servants who can officially marry couples according to Winti custom in Suriname. In the Netherlands, a project called Winti Renaissance was started in 2011, with the aim of safeguarding the cultural heritage of African Surinamese and of re-introducing African art in Winti practice.