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AMSTERDAM–The call for an apology for slavery from the Dutch authorities got an unprecedented boost last Saturday, when the Council of Churches released a statement in which it acknowledged its involvement in the inhumane practice. “As churches we know of our part in this blemished past and we have to acknowledge that theology was misused to justify slavery,” the statement said. The council said it regretted that it did not have these insights earlier.
“(Slavery) is a story of white Dutchmen, of Government and also of the church,” said Council chairman Klaas van de Kamp in a televised discussion on Friday. He said the church held a prominent place in the community back then, but systematically chose to look the other way. “We have a beautiful gospel, but we failed to apply it. Instead we chose to make money (from slavery),” Van de Kamp said. He said it is time the white Dutchman acknowledges his role in the “black holocaust.”
The extensive statement by the Council was presented to the Moravian Church on Saturday at a ceremony in the north Holland city of Amersfoort. It was addressed to the “churches and the descendants of people who were once traded and put to work as slaves.” The statement noted that descendants live in Suriname, Aruba, Curaçao, St. Maarten, the Dutch Caribbean and the Netherlands.
By Marvin A. Hokstam
AMSTERDAM–Derk Vermeer, Chairman of the Board of the Royal Tropical Institute KIT in Amsterdam sounded full of confidence last Monday when he said that all efforts were being made to keep the institute’s historical collections in the Tropical museum and the KIT Library accessible to the public. KIT harbors one of the most comprehensive collections that detail Dutch colonial dealings in the Caribbean, and social media has buzzed alive lately with fears that much of this colonial heritage may get lost per January 1st 2014 when budget cuts take effect. But Vermeer said there is a solution. “I trust that the collection will not get lost; everything that involves our colonial heritage will remain accessible one way or the other,” he said resolutely.
His response may console the thousands of people who have raised their voices in recent months in fear that much of their history on display at the stately building at Mauritskade in Amsterdam would disappear. KIT’s fate has been in the balance since 2011, when Government announced that the institute would have to make do with 20 million euros less in subsidies; with half of their budget gone, , the library will be closed and museum faces in any case a reduction with 23 of the 52 jobs, 35 % of the staff. KIT’s Research and Intercultural Professionals Departments are among the lucky ones to escape unscathed.
“Talk about erasure,” St. Maartener Deborah Jack reacted last weekend when she heard the news. She was one of many who are expressing shock with what some call Dutch disinterest in its colonial history. “Dutch politicians and even a lot of Dutch people wouldn’t mind (the KIT collections disappearing), as they don’t feel that part of their history is important and/or feel it’s an embarrassment they want nothing to do with,” worldly Dutchwoman Sasha Dees commented.
The objections are also taking official form. Close to 10,000 people from all over the world have so far signed a petition that urges the Rutte Kabinet and the Second Chamber to grant structural financing and keep the museum open. The petition called the budget-cuts a “frontal attack on the flagship store of ethnology museums”. Urging preservation of the expertise and the collection at the Tropics Museum for future generations, it warned that “when the prestigious library and museum are closed, knowledge will be destroyed that will never be restored.” The petition will be presented to Government and Parliament on June 17th.
PARAMARIBO–With just over a month to go before Suriname (and other former Dutch colonies) marks the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery, an Afro-Surinamese foundation has refueled the calls for an apology from the Netherlands. Rudi Bottse, chairman of the Broki (Bridge) Collective said that if the Dutch don’t apologize in 2013, he will lodge a complaint at international organizations against the former colonizer.
“If the Dutch don’t apologize this year, I will seek support from other countries with a slavery past to bring this matter to the attention of the European Union and the Unit Nations and force the Netherlands to formally apologize,” Bottse said.
The history of Slavery in the former Dutch colonies is about as old as Dutch colonial history. Over more than three centuries a lively slave trade existed, during which the Dutch shipped an estimated one million Africans from their continent to work on plantations in “the new world”. Slavery was officially abolished on July 1st 1863, but it has always remained a sour point that the Netherlands didn’t actually free the slaves out of humanity and never offered a formal apology to their descendants.
While the USA in 2008 passed a formal resolution apologizing for slavery and segregation and a London Mayor in 2007 apologized for that part of Britain’s history that is tainted by the slave trade, the Dutch have so far stopped short of saying they regret slavery took place.
AMSTERDAM–A foundation has kicked off a donation drive in the Netherlands to raise the funds to erect a national slavery monument in Suriname. Winston Wirth of Green Hearts Foundation International (GHFI) said at the foundation’s first information session in Amsterdam that the intention is to raise at least US$ 400,000.
The intention to erect monument that would pay homage to the heroes of the days when slavery was norm, was first announced last February by President Bouterse. “The national heroes should be honored with a monument that is a powerful tribute,” the President said then. Veteran artist Erwien de Vries, who also sculpted the Slavery Monument in Amsterdam’s Oostpark, has offered to create the monument, but it turns out that the necessary funds are not in Government’s budget.
PARAMARIBO–Jan Ernst Maltzeliger, the Surinamer who revolutionized the world’s shoe industry may get proper recognition in his country. Daily newspaper De Ware Tijd reports that the Matzeliger Institute last Thursday submitted a formal request to the board of the University of Suriname, to bestow a posthumous honorary doctorate from the Technological Faculty upon the Black 19th century inventor.
Matzeliger was born in Paramaribo on September 15, 1852, the son of a Black slave and a Dutch engineer; at an early age he learned engineering from his father, but at the age of 17, he left Suriname to work as a sailor. He settled in the US two years later. In 1876 he moved to Lynn, Massachusetts, the emerging center of the American shoe manufacturing industry. On March 20, 1883, Matzeliger received patent no. 274, 207 for a “Lasting Machine” that rapidly stitched the leather and sole of a shoe.
This task was previously done manually by a “hand laster”, who could produce 50 pairs in a ten-hour day; Maltzeliger’s machine could produce between 150 to 700 pairs of shoes a day, cutting shoe prices in half.
AMSTERDAM–Finally there may be peace for the 680 Africans who perished when the Dutch slave ship Leusden sank off the Suriname coast in 1738. At least that’s the hope of the organizers of the first Afro spiritual ceremony not far from the underwater grave of the ill-fated captives. “This mission was a great success throughout,” said Henry Strijk, a senior journalist who, prompted by a book on the Slave Ship Leusden by historian Leo Balai, had spearheaded the project with funding from the Dutch Government.
The Leusden was a ship that was built in the Netherlands specifically for transporting captives from Africa to work as slaves on the Dutch colonies Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles. Reports are that the vessel made no less than 10 trips, carrying 6,564 captives, 1,639 of whom did not survive the passage. On January 1st 1738, the ship made its final voyage; it ran aground in the estuary of the Marowijne River, and just before it sank into the murky depths, the captain ordered his crew to lock the compartments where the slaves were kept. The crew sailed off and left the Africans to drown. Historian Balai, who obtained his doctorate title with the study into the ship, characterized this as the worst naval disaster in Dutch history. His book –The SlaveShip Leusden- has unearthed a touchy part of the country’s past that not much was written about before.
In The Netherlands, the book prompted journalists Henry Strijk and Jessica Dikmoet, both of Surinamese origin, into submitting an elaborate proposal that not only included the spiritual ceremony, but also featured a session in which budding journalists would be involved. It all took place in Suriname in the past few weeks. Back from Suriname, sipping on a cup of coffee in Amsterdam last Tuesday, Strijk spoke in superlatives about how the project went.
PARAMARIBO/AMSTERDAM–Public opinion seems to support the notion that the Dutch Government should unseal secret archived documents about Suriname. A Facebook drive a group of actors in Holland started to collect signatures has so far gotten good response. “We expect 25,000 people to sign the petition, and we are already at 3,000,” initiator Anoek Nuyens said in the Dutch press this week.
Together with fellow actors Marjolijn van Heemstra and Tjon Rockon, Nuyens produced a theater production called “Bouta”, which is short for (Desi) Bouterse, Suriname’s president.
Bouterse was an army sergeant when he lead a coup d’état in February 1980, following which he became country’s military leader. During this time the still unsolved “December murders” of 15 of Bouterse’s political opponents were committed (December 8 ’82) and Bouterse also became suspected of facilitating large scale drug shipments from Suriname. He was convicted in absentia in The Netherlands in the early nineties, always maintained his innocence, hinted that there’s much more the stories than Holland lets on, and often casually fueled the rumors that the former colonizer had a hand in his 1980 coup.
There are indeed sources who say that Colonel Hans Valk, the Dutch military attaché in Suriname in 1980, was the architect of the coup. Valk passed away in early December last year, at age 84. The formal reading from the Dutch Government is that they only knew of the unionized unrest among the military, which eventually lead to the coup.
PARAMARIBO– President Desi Bouterse wants to erect a national monument to honor the heroes who resisted slavery during colonial times. Bouterse announced this at the celebrations Sunday night of the 33rd anniversary of the February 25 1980 coup that first brought him in power. There is a catch to the plan though: the President wants the public to pay for it.
Slavery in Suriname is about as old as the country’s colonial history. After unsuccessful attempts to put native Indigenous people to work on the promising colony, the colonials turned to African slaves for the heavy labor on the sugar plantations. During the three centuries that the transatlantic slave trade lasted, close to 1 million Africans were shipped over. The Africans didn’t always make it easy on the colonials. There were many revolts and Suriname’s history makes note of many heroes who fought the oppression.
Thousands fled into the country’s impenetrable jungles, where they established villages -that exist even today- and from where they waged a ferocious guerrilla war on the oppressors. There’s the tale of Boni, Baron and Joli Couer who pestered the colonial army from their jungle base, until they fell victim to treason and were killed in 1793. And there’s also the story of Cojo, Mentor and Present, three escaped slaves who would raid plantations and burned down half of Paramaribo in 1832. And the heart wrenching account of Alida, a beautiful slave who caught the attention of her master, which brought on the wrath of his cruel wife Susanna Duplessis; the jealous wife slit off Alida’s breast and served it on a plate to her husband. Until slavery was abolished on July 1st 1863 there were many more of these types of heroes in Suriname, who fought and fell victim to the system that allowed for humans to be property.
PARAMARIBO –The Military Court has denied an appeal by Desi Bouterse’s lawyer Irwin Kanhai to dismiss the “December Murders” court case. The decision, taken behind closed door, fell last week. Kanhai who had submitted the request on behalf of three other suspects he represents -not Bouterse-, told ANP he does not know yet why it was denied.
Bouterse and 24 others are accused of the murder of 15 prominent citizens a little over 30 years ago. The men were political opponents of Bouterse’s –who was then the military leader of the country. The murders were never properly investigated but in November 2007,a trial against Bouterse -who was elected President in 2010- and fellow suspects began. The case is at an impasse since May last year though, when Parliament passed an amendment to the country’s Amnesty Legislation, which could see the suspects pardoned. The Military Court stated last December hat only a Constitutional Court could decide whether the amnesty law indeed impedes the case. As long as such a Court does not exist, the postponement stands, but attorney Kanhai disagrees; he says he Military Court cannot refer justice to a nonexistent Institute.
Text: Marvin Hokstam | Photos: Suzanne Koelega, The Daily Herald
AMSTERDAM–Bet your bottom dollar on this: nine out of ten attendees attempting to describe the kick off Saturday evening in Amsterdam of the 2013 activities of Stichting Herdenking Slavernijverleden (Foundation Remembrance Slavery Past) SHS, used words like “majestic” and “distinguishable”. Any other words, truthfully, would just weaken it up. Outside the Royal Tropics Institute KIT in Amsterdam an icy wind was stacking snow two feet high, but inside the imposing Grote Zaal (Big Auditorium) it beamed a warm, respectful atmosphere; the sets of beautiful marble statues of angelic children that hold up the beams of the room seemed to be there just to keep guard of the proceedings.
The traditional offering by Marian Markelo and the inspiring performances by Black Harmony, Raymi Sambo and Izaline Calister assisted MC Noraly Beyer perfectly in tying it all together. But it were the speeches by Amsterdam City Councilman Eric van der Burg and SHS chair Joan Ferrier that really touched the nerve of what place in the future the heritage of Amsterdam’s slavery truly deserves. Attendees were left speechless more than once.
On July 1 this year it will be exactly 150 years ago that the Kingdom of the Netherlands abolished slavery in its former colonies Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles. For almost 400 years colonial plantation owners kept Africans on their estates. Over the course of those four centuries, a lively (transatlantic) slave trade existed in the Kingdom, solely aimed at making a profit.