Read my article on Het Koto Museum on OZY.
Located in a quiet neighborhood near the center of historic Paramaribo, Suriname, Het Koto Museum celebrates the lives and legacy of Afro-Surinamese women. The museum is founded and run by Christine Van Russel-Henar, who is reviving the tradition of the Koto outfit. She shared her knowledge and passion with me during a visit the the museum.
The museum is dedicated to the intricate fashion of Afro-Surinamese women (also called Creoles in Suriname). In the face of Dutch colonial authorities, women imbued fabric patterns and the folds of headscarves with meaning -- secret meanings that only they knew. A woman who wears the traditional outfits are called Koto Misi and the outfit is called a Koto.
Christine has spent years tracking down fabrics, their meanings, and folding patterns. She opened Het Koto Museum about ten years ago after writing a book on the history of the outfit. She wanted to showcase her collection and make sure that the Koto does not disappear.
I spent almost four hours at the small museum, talking with Christine and learning about her, her family, and the tradition she is bearing. I was beyond honored when she asked to dress me in a Koto to see how the outfit comes together and how the fabrics feel.
Come in, the stacks are open.
Away from prying eyes, damaging light, and pilfering hands, the most special collections are kept in closed stacks. You need an appointment to view the objects, letters, and books that open a door to the past.