Black History Studies were invited by the Circle of Afro Surinamese and Caribbean Men to visit Amsterdam during 28th June – 2nd July 2013. This weekend coincided with the 150 year anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the Dutch colonies which occurred on 1st July 1863. On this day, enslaved Africans in Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles were declared free.
We had a brilliant time in Amsterdam. We took a train to Rotterdam to have an interview at Radio Brasa with Marciano which is a self-funded internet radio station. We had a good time talking about our work and the upcoming celebrations. We then went to see the slavery monument in Rotterdam which was located behind some buildings in an industrial estate. I was not impressed with it at all.
We went back to Amsterdam and joined Jennifer Tosch who took us via canal boat on her Black Heritage Amsterdam Tour exploring the ‘hidden histories’ of the 17th – 19th centuries in Amsterdam. I encourage all when visiting Europe to look carefully at buildings, as you will see the African presence everywhere such as a building built in 1663 with Moors holding tobacco leaves, which was a former tobacco warehouse.
As part of the tour, we visited the Van Loon Museum which tells the story of the Van Loon family who were co-founders of the Dutch East India Company. As the family was heavily involved in the trade of enslaved Africans, you could see the wealth generated from their activities and the Moors Heads in the family crest. We learned about Johanna Jacoba Borski-of de Velde who married into the Van Loon family. She was the richest woman in the Netherlands at that time, owning over 200 plantations and used her wealth to rescue the Netherlands banking system from bankruptcy.
During our trip, we were invited to the symposium ‘Cultural Trauma?: Transatlantic Slavery in Perspective’ held at the City Archives which was organised by the National Institute of Dutch Slavery and Inheritance, Free NiNsee University and the University of Amsterdam. The well attended conference was brilliant and I learned a lot from the different speakers from around the world. We also met Professor Stephen Small who despite not having lived in Liverpool for 30 years had strong Liverpudlian accent. He was interested in our work and gave us a book that he co-edited with Marten Schalkwijk titled ‘New Perspectives On Slavery And Colonialism In The Caribbean.’ The first half of the symposium was in English and the second half was in Dutch so during the Dutch section, we went downstairs and had an amazing conversation with a sista named Astrid Elburg about identity.
After the conference, we went with Marciano to the African Homecoming event which had a nice atmosphere with live music, spoken word and stall selling items from clothing to herbal drinks. We also made links with some Ethiopian brothers who were fundraising for a school in Ethiopia.
The next day we went to the Keti Koti festival in Oosterpark, attended by over 60,000 people even though it was not a national holiday. The Suriname people made their presence known and the park was filled with people both young and old coming to commemorate and remember their ancestors. There was stalls, food, displays, children activities and live performances on stage. We also had a look at The National Slavery Monument, which commemorates the abolition of slavery in the Netherlands in 1863. The monument was unveiled on 1st July 2002 in the presence of Her Majesty Queen Beatrix. My highlight was seeing the live performance of Morgan Heritage which we partied to along with our new Surinamese family.
I would like to give special thanks to Dr Artwell Cain and Marciano Daanas from the Circle of Afro Surinamese and Caribbean Men for their hospitality on this trip. We will be back!