Dutch black people: My celebration of 150th anniversary abolition of slavery

@Johan Gerrits. In the middle the door of no Return - Cape Coast castle

The door of no return is a classic image of the Atlantic slave trade. Somewhere between the 16th and 18th century my ancestors walked on a path like this and never returned back to Africa.  

On the 1st of July The Netherlands will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the Dutch colony of Suriname and the Dutch Caribbean in 1863. But somehow it seems like yesterday.  

My only tangible personal item of something that is linked to slavery is this photo below. Her name is Celina Grunberg and she was born in Paramaribo in Suriname in 1878, 15 years after the abolition of slavery. She became 93 years old. The rest is a mystery.  Her photo reminds me of the door of no return, slavery and freedom.

To celebrate the forthcoming 150th anniversary of the abolition I've put together a small personal celebration of my own. 

To start, the main celebration of abolition of slavery is the Netherland and Suriname is called Keti Koti.It's Surinamese for 'the chains are cut'. The festival is held every year in Amsterdam on 1 July, more information at www.ketikotiamsterdam.nl.  

People from Curaçao celebrate the abolition of slavery with the commemoration of  the Tula revolt on 17th August. Tula was the leader of a 1795 slave revolt that convulsed the island for more than a month. 

From a Curaçaoan perspective the Surinamese celebrate a date wich is given by the oppressors versus a date of resistance by Tula against the oppressors.

The new Dutch film Tula the Revolt, which has sparked a lot of debate.  


There is great website about the history of Curacao at www.curacaohistory.com

Reading about slavery and colonialism

The Narrative of a Five Years Expedition against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam (1796) of British–Dutch soldier John Gabriel Stedman (1744 – 1797) . 

The book, written in 18th century Dutch,  gives a detailed description of how enslaved black people lived in a slavery society. 

I remember how Stedman wrote, how he saw a group of white soldiers hit a enslaved black man with a stick on his head on how he saw his head started to bleed.  

He wrote everything so detailed you can almost feel the whole slavery atmosphere. But for the most part he wrote about his encounter with enslaved women, mosquitoes, and about his diving in the Suriname river.

 I read the Dutch version of this book in secondary school to write a paper about slavery.

Another favorite book is 'Black skin, White masks' of Franz Fanon. As James Baldwin would have said it, he takes you to the dungeons of your mind. It's a very direct book, it's a psycho analysis of the colonized black mind.  That is perhaps the reason why some a people  hate, it can be very confrontational.  


You can see full video here

Book: Wij slaven van Suriname/We slaves of Suriname

"Wij slaven van Suriname ("We slaves of Suriname) by Anton de Kom ( 1898 –  1945).  The book gives a detailed description of slavery in Suriname. It was published in 1934 and it's an authentic black Surinamese perspective on slavery and colonialism. De Kom was a Surinamese resistance fighter and anti-colonialist author, he died in a German concentration camp.

When I started reading creole literature and poems I didn't understand some of the spiritual references. So I read books about the Afro-Surinamese religion Winti, which is a religion that combines aspects of Christianity and West-African religions. 

Most books about Surinamese literature are written in Dutch, but Creole drum - An Anthology of Creole Literature in Surinam is written in English.

The film and video (below) 'Looking for Apuku' reminds of my spiritual knowledge gap. The film is inspired by the bush-spirit Apoekoe; a lively, smart figure taking various shapes and with many special features. He can make you loose your way in the jungle, or take possession of your wife. 

But he can also help you hunting, and make you invisible to your enemies. He is like a bewildering cascade of words. According to the maker, 'It's a mysterious and enchanting trip to the pristine rainforest of Suriname.'

Slave owners in Amsterdam

Amsterdam is a historical city, but some of it's wealth was generated by former colonies and slavery. If you want to know where all slave owners in Amsterdam lived,  check out this map below. But if you look up the word 'slavery' on the Wikipedia page of the history of Amsterdam, you won't find it.

Slaveneigenaren in Amsterdam 1863 weergeven op een grotere kaart

Dutch King apologizes for the Netherlands’ role in slavery in 2023

This a post update. I wrote this post in 2013 and in 2023 I saw the royal apology on television. 
Interesting to note is that the anniversary in 2023 was called the 150th anniversary instead of 160th. This is because although 150 years ago in 1863 slavery was abolished by law, in Suriname people were forced to work another 10 years before they were finally free. 

Later that that day I went to the afterparty. 

Suriname and the national poem 

I think part of my cultural toolbox is the poem  'One tree' of Surinamese poet, radical and militant nationalist Dobru.  

With his poem he summed up what Suriname is all about. In Suriname they say that nowhere in the world you will find so many cultures on one square meter and it's the only place where an Islamic mosque and Jewish synagogue can stand next to each other. And it's the only place where Jews and Islamic people attend each other parties as good neighbors.

But beneath that celebrated multiculturalism there is also racial prejudice and friction.    

ONE TREE (1973)
one tree / so many leaves /one tree
one river/ so many creeks /all are going to one sea
one head /so many thoughts /thoughts among, which one good one must be
one God /so many ways of worshipping /but one Father
one Surinam/ so many hair types / so many skin colours / so many tongues/ one people

Music: Na Wi Dey (Today is our day)

I am going to end with the Surinamese song  "Na Wi Dey"  ("Today is our day") of Norman van Geerke from his debut album Eygi Sani (Eigen Ding).  

It' s typical Surinamese creole music.  Although it's not written for Emancipation day, it does have the vibe for this special day.

Na Wi Dey - Today is our day

The production team Van Geerke Music was so kind of enough to translate the song text in English. 

The language is Surinamese, a creole language which is spoken by Creoles (or Black people), Asians, Marroons, the Indigenous people of Suriname and all other ethnic groups.  

Na Wi Dey
Na wi dey, na wi dey
Na wi dey tide.  Backing (na wi dey 4x) 
Today is our day, it’s our day
Tide w’ala e sing’ iniHer’ grontapu
Wan fasi w’e bar’ na wi dey
Tide w’ala e sing’ iniHer’ grontapu
W’e bar’ na wi dey
Today all over the world we are singing,
And all shout that it’s our day
today all over the world we are singing
and shout that it’s our day

Mi hat’ e firiF’
ala sma e prisiri
Un n’e go af’afu
W’ala dya f’ lafu
W’e tan dansi, w’e singi
Yu breyt’ na ini
Libi sma ala sey
na wi dey

I feel it in in my heart,
Everyone is having a good time
We’re going all the way
And are all here to share the laughter
We’ll keep dancing and singing
And are joyful within
All people, all over
It’s our day
Today all over the world we are singing,
and as one voice we call out that it’s our day

Na verjari dey
Trow-oso a liba sey
Yu p’kin ‘e dopu
wan breyti boskopu
Tek wan koyri na foto
Tide y’ bay wan oto
Fu prisiri w’e bar’
Na wi dey

Whether it’s a birthday,
A wedding ceremony down by the river
Your child being baptised
Or just receiving some good news
Taking a stroll trhough the city
Or buying a car today
With great joy we will shout
It’s our day
Today all over the world we are singing,
and as one voice we call out that it’s our day

Na wi dey na wi dey na wi dey tide

Ai, tide na wan f’den swit’ s pesrutu dey,
Te den sisa e prodo,
Te den mek’ den modo
Na fa w’e bar’ en tide

Yes today is one of those special days
Where the sisters all dress up
And want to look their best
We’ll shout it out today

Ala nowtu ala sari
Now mi frigiti
Winsi sa’ e kon Tamara
Tide na wi dey fu hori dya
Mi n’e spang
M’e prisiri
Atibron m’ n’e firi
M’e bar’ na wi dey

All my troubles and sorrow
Are all forgotten
Whatever comes tomorrow
I’ll hold on to what today will bring
I am not worried
I am joyous
And free of angry feelings
I shout it’s our day

Tide w’e way anu fu prisiri
W’e dansi w’e singi
W’e sor’ na grontapu
Fa un breyti na ini

Today we joyfully wave our hands
We dance and we sing
And show the whole world
How happy we are within

 Read more about Black people in The Netherlands:

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post

Contact Form