A Girl from a Matriarchal Society Chooses to Serve the True God
I WAS raised in the last village along the Tapanahoni River far in the interior of Surinam. Reaching the village involves traveling for several days, and sometimes weeks, by outboard motorboat through dangerous rocky rapids and past roaring waterfalls. More than twenty villages belong to our Mis Djan tribe.
Ours is a matriarchal society. This means that the line of descent is traced from the mother’s side of the family instead of the father’s. Hence, the mother’s side has much more authority than does the father’s. As a result, my mother’s brothers had more to say about my upbringing than did my own father. In fact, I am considered a possession or piece of property belonging to my mother’s family.
Worship in Our Villages
Every village has many gods. Many of these are believed to be dead ancestors. In the village where I was born, the worship of idols has an especially strong influence on every aspect of life. The chief god resides there.
The villagers believe that sickness, and even death, is caused by the gods, and that these gods can heal sickness and ward off death. When the less powerful gods cannot help, the villagers finally come to the chief god to seek relief. This is what my mother, who had an infirmity, did before I was born.
After she was healed she could not return to her own village; otherwise, it was said, she would die. This was the stern warning of the chief god called Gran Gado, who was represented by the priest. This god really holds a powerful influence over the people. Every morning it is worshiped. I grew up amid such worship of idol gods.
Worshiping the True God
When I was ten years old, I first heard about the true God who made the heavens and the earth. One of Jehovah’s witnesses came to our village to tell us about God’s purpose to establish a new system of things for the blessing of humankind. The Witness was a young man from my family’s tribe. He had learned these Bible truths when he lived in the city of Paramaribo.
The majority mocked and ridiculed him. However, the message strongly appealed to me. I obtained some books from him. But since there are no schools, no one in our village could read. Nevertheless, the illustrations in the books helped me to remember things the Witness taught.
Sad to say, the Witness could stay only a week. But I was determined to apply in my life things that I had learned from the Bible. For example, I could see clearly that it was displeasing to the true God for humans to eat blood. (Gen. 9:4; Lev. 17:12; Acts 15:28, 29) So I refused to eat wild animals that were not bled properly. My mother opposed me in this.
Three years later, in 1962, I met a Witness couple who were assigned to this river to preach. At the time I was staying with one of my uncles at a village down the river. I obtained from the Witnesses the book From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained. When my uncle discovered that this couple was studying the Bible with me, he quickly returned me to my mother.
I continued studying by myself the meaningful illustrations in the Paradise book, and thus kept my faith alive. My mother brought me to our village chief for him to warn me about this belief. But this did not deter me. So she took me to the head chief of our tribe. However, he could not stop me from worshiping our Creator either, despite threats and physical mistreatment. Finally they brought me to their god and told me to worship it. I knew it was a powerless god, and so I was not frightened.
Thereafter everyone in the village began to put pressure on me. I prayed with all my heart that Jehovah would help me withstand this, and he did.
By now I was fifteen years old, but not old enough, according to the customs of our tribe, to live with a man. However, a man came to ask my mother’s consent to give me in marriage to his son. My mother agreed.
I met my future husband, who was then working in the city of Paramaribo, and told him that I was learning about the true God Jehovah, and that I would not quit serving Him even if I should become his wife. How happy I was when he said that he was also studying the Bible with Jehovah’s witnesses in the city, and was even attending their meetings!
After two years I was given to this man as his wife. My husband and I were brought before the gods and were bathed with beer and a variety of leaves. We were prayed over, those praying asking our forefathers for protection and support, and that we might have a happy life together. I did not feel good about submitting to these religious ceremonies. But, at the time, I felt that this was the only way my family would allow me to leave for the city.
Obstacles in the City
What a disappointment awaited me there! My husband had deceived me! He had only said that he was studying the Bible with Jehovah’s witnesses so I would become his wife. My father-in-law, who lived in the same yard, came by our home to warn me that I must not allow any of Jehovah’s witnesses in our home, otherwise I would be taken back to our village.
However, the threats did not break my determination to serve the true God. After a time I came in contact with my sister-in-law, who had become one of Jehovah’s witnesses. She gave my address to the Witness who originally had given me the Paradise book, and she came to study with me, but strategically. She entered my house by way of the backyard so that my in-laws would not notice. My husband worked two or three months at a time in the bush, so she could study with me regularly.
When my husband came back to the city he visited other women. A good deal of his money went to them. Also, he infected me with a venereal disease. I knew nothing about such a sickness, so it reached an advanced stage. In time I had an operation, and then went to the home of my sister-in-law to recuperate.
While with my sister-in-law I was able to attend a three-day circuit assembly of Jehovah’s witnesses. Here I could see what I had only heard of all these years—a people who truly do love one another and who zealously serve Jehovah God. How my heart overflowed with happiness to be with them!
Three weeks later my father-in-law returned from the bush, and forbade me to associate with Jehovah’s witnesses. However, I resolved to obey God as ruler rather than men, and so continued my Bible study as well as meeting attendance. (Acts 5:29) But then my father-in-law told me that the following day he was going to take me by plane back to my home village. What would I do now?
Early the next morning, as I packed a items, my father-in-law followed my every move. I tried reasoning with him, suggesting that he postpone the trip because I was still under the doctor’s care. But he refused to listen.
He hired a taxi to take us to the airport. When out in the street, I tried to run away. However, he caught me, and in the wrestling we both fell into a muddy ditch of water. My brother-in-law was awakened by the commotion, and assisted in getting me into the taxi.
As we came to the airport, I began screaming. People came running, asking what was wrong. I told them that I was being forcibly taken into the interior where there was no doctor. And I showed them my doctor’s card, which disclosed I was still receiving treatment.
The bystanders telephoned the police. In the meantime, my father-in-law had gotten me to the aircraft, but the pilot refused to take me aboard because he realized something was wrong. My father-in-law then paid a taxi to take me away from the airport, and he left on the aircraft because he feared trouble with the police.
Rather than let the taxi driver take me home, I had him drive to the residence of one of Jehovah’s witnesses, where I was cared for. In the meantime my husband’s family began looking for me. My uncle rented a bus, and with men armed with sticks they besieged the house where I was staying. But while they went upstairs to get my belongings, I escaped.
Fortunately, almost as soon as I got outside, a policeman offered to take me to the nearest police station. My uncle came to the station to take me home. However, when the police heard what was happening, they ordered that my personal belongings be returned and that I be left alone, as I was old enough to decide where I wanted to live. The Witnesses then took me to a different address to prevent another kidnap attempt.
Soon afterward my husband returned to the city and learned where I was. What should I do now?
My decision was made. When he came, I let him know that our relationship was ended. Surinam does not recognize tribal marriages as legal, so we were not actually married according to government law. I told my husband that he and his family must leave me in peace because I desired to serve Almighty God. I knew that our tribal customs required that either he or his family return me to my family if our relationship was broken. But I told him that he should tell my family that I did not want to return, and that I did not want the things that my family had given him. He agreed to the dissolving of our relationship on such terms.
After a few months my health returned. I already had dedicated my life to serve Jehovah God, and so I was baptized. However, more problems presented themselves.
My family insisted that my former in-laws return me, otherwise a young woman from their family would be held as hostage. The pressure from my family was so great that a whole delegation from my former in-laws came to the city to take me back.
They contacted the presiding overseer of the congregation where I attended meetings, asking that he cooperate so that I could be returned to my village. An appointment was made to speak with me regarding the matter at the Kingdom Hall. However, my former in-laws did not hold to the agreement, for instead of just one person coming, as promised, six came.
The congregation meeting had just concluded. The purpose of the men was evident. They were going to take me by force! My former father-in-law rushed at me, and with the help of others dragged me away, although I was fighting with all my power against them. The overseer advised that none of the Witnesses join in the struggle, and this was wise since my former husband was armed with a revolver. In the meantime a Witness had run for the police, but before they arrived I was forced into a car and driven away.
I was taken to the house of my former husband, and a guard of some twenty-five people was posted. I screamed from inside for help, and it came! The police arrived and my former husband was taken to the police station. Police reinforcements were sent to the house, forcing my release, and I was taken to the police station also.
After listening to my account, the police allowed me to return to where I was living. Our village chief, who had also come to the city, went to the chief of police demanding that I be returned to my mother. He was warned, however, that neither he nor anyone else should cause me further trouble or he would be jailed immediately. This frightened him, and he told the other members of the tribe that if my family wanted me they should come after me.
The police inspector told our village chief: “If this woman is studying with Jehovah’s witnesses you have no reason for concern. I know Jehovah’s witnesses. They do not steal, commit immorality, nor are they drunkards. They’ll look after her well.”
The Witnesses have helped and encouraged me tremendously, both spiritually and physically. Perhaps because of my terrible experiences, I still have health problems once in a while. At the moment I feel healthy again and, thanks to Jehovah, I can share in the preaching work.
I am especially happy that I have learned to read, as have many other bush Negroes, at the special school arranged for by the local congregation of Jehovah’s witnesses. What a pleasure it is now to read from the Bible at the homes of the people and thus direct their attention to the grand promises of our loving God, Jehovah! (Ps. 37:9-11; Rev. 21:3, 4) It is truly a privilege to know and serve him! My hope is that someday I will have the opportunity to help my mother and other relatives also to learn about the true God, Jehovah. (Jer. 10:10-12)—Contributed.