On 1st July 1863 slavery was abolished in the Dutch colonies of Suriname and the Netherland Antilles. This year will be its 150th anniversary. African slaves were still tied to an extra 10 years of labour before they were officially free.
The Keti Koti Festival (meaning broken shackles) being held in Amsterdam in July is commemorating this anniversary with talks, a remembrance ceremony and the laying of wreaths at the National Monument of Slavery.
Jennifer Tosch organises black history tours in Amsterdam which offers visitors an insight into the lives of enslaved and free blacks who lived in the Dutch colonies. Her inspiration to start the tours came from her attendance at the Black Europe Summer School (BESS) and seeing a lack of positive narratives about the presence and contributions of the African Diaspora in the Netherlands.
The stories included in the tours are Quassie van Timotibo who became a Surinamese herbalist and a notorious slave hunter. Born in 1692 Guinea, West Africa and transported to Suriname as a child. In recognition for his work he was presented in 1730 by the Court of Policy with a breast plate that read “Quassie faithful to the whites” for his efforts. He died in Paramaribo, Suriname in March 1787.
Jacobus Elisa Johannes Capitein was born in Ghana and sold as a slave to a Dutch captain Arnold Steenhart. He became a Christian minster. Controversially he wrote a dissertation in 1742 defending the rights of Christians to keep slaves!
Surinamese resistance fighter and anti-Colonist author Cornelius Gerard Anton De Kom who worked tirelessly to highlight the conditions of the Surinamese population, putting him on the radar of the colonial government who accused him of being a communist. He was arrested by the Germans on 7th August 1944. Dying of tuberculosis in a concentration camp in 1945. His book “Wij Slaven Van Suriname” (We Slaves of Suriname) was censored when first published in 1934.
Visits to the canal side homes once owned by wealthy merchants and shareholders of the VOC (East India Company) or WIC (West India Company), still bear connections to Africans by the depictions of “moor’s heads” on buildings and families’ coat of arms.
The City Archives in Amsterdam have launched a useful website www.amsterdam-slavernij.nl about Amsterdam and Slavery. Make sure you brush up on your Dutch as it hasn’t been translated yet!
Also the Municipal Archive has presented an 1863 map of locations in Amsterdam where slave owners lived. http://geoplaza.ubvu.vu.nl/cms/education/95-student-research/109-slaveneigenaren-in-amsterdam-1863
Dutch slave owners and shareholders of plantations that used slave labour received financial compensation. Most owners lived in Paramaribo or the Antilles, but some lived in the Netherlands. There are plans to expand the research to compile maps showing where all 17th and 18th century slave owners lived.
Before writing this article my knowledge of the Dutch slave trade was basic. Only after reading some of these stories I’ve discovered there is so much more out there to learn.