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Abolishon i Liberashon na Korsou, 7/06 Papiamentu

ABOLITION & LIBERATION IN CURAÇAO
July, 2006
“NOUS SOMMES ICI POUR VAINCRE OU MOURIR”
“WE ARE HERE TO WIN OR DIE”

Eugène Godfried 

Caribbean specialist/journalist/author/social cultural activist/
Community organizer/researcher

Yomini Godfried
photoreporter
Yomini’s Productions
yominigirl_AT_hotmail.com (replace _AT_ with @)




1. INITIAL STAGE OF AWARENESS BUILDING 

In the year 1977, I began working as a community organizer at Hubentut 70, located at Penstraat 55, Willemstad, in Curaçao.  Hubentut 70 was founded just one year after the social upheavals took place on the island on May 30 of the year 1969. A new epoch was introduced with the democratization of youth care in Curaçao. Non-elitist, therefore popular initiatives started to appear. New voices started to sound that were questioning the existing political, social, cultural and economic dominant capitalist system. Hubentut 70 consciously adopted this social action model. It was an organization of humble progressive people, anti-colonial and in favor of social justice and cooperation.

So, the same year of my arrival from Holland to settle down in Curaçao, the board of Hubentut 70 took the decision to ask police authorities official permission to organize a commemoration activity regarding the Rebellion of enslaved Africans that took place on August 17 of the year 1795. The activity took place at Ref in Otrabanda. Our initiative meant to take up previous initiatives made by others, but that diminished the attention and output for many unknown reasons. Yet, we should always remember that there were others who showed the example before us and we are their followers.

I was then responsible for the official permission for the next two to three years that followed. . 

At the beginning, the response of the public was small in terms of their assistance to the activity, but the following years one could see a steady yet significant growth of the crowd. Many people were outright fearful that one another type of repression would take place if the people were to assist in the activity. The structure of the program consisted basically of discourses by the invited guest speakers as representatives of Hubentut 70. There was also a cultural section on the program with theatre and music groups performances such as Trinchera, Ban Uni, Doble R, and different other artists.

There was severe police control. Yet, no incidents ever occurred. There existed a sphere of Vigilance and distrust as if the rebellious youth of Hubentut 70 would incite another uprising like that of 1795 or such as more recently 30th of May 1969. The activities continued without any fear for repression nor possible doubts or rejections that the dominant political and economic system could have. This organization of progressive and conscious youth boldly continued to organize these commemoration activities yearly. 

As years went by, there appeared other individuals and groups who became eagerly interested and were aspiring to organize this important date. The Board of Hubentut 70 with great sense of solidarity handed the responsibility of the organization of the commemoration activities of 17 august 1795 to others. We should stress that years later when our colleague Gilbert Gibi Bacilio became the President of a Platform of organizers of the activity, we steadfastly supported him with advice and shared views with him . 

I decided to write this essay in order to launch of a process of reporting and dialogue that must take place among our social, cultural and community activists to compile and perpetuate our own experience as lived by us. It was not easy at all to operate in situations and circumstances that were often hostile and marked by persecution.

The post slavery elite of the twentieth century was not accepting of people’s initiatives which their class did not directly control through mysterious ways. Their intolerance was tremendous and just as in the dark days of slavery, the system, in order to ensure its existence, had prepared and mobilized its ‘slaven en vrijwilligerskorps van negers en mulatten’ , meaning its army of voluntary or paid descendants of Africans. Those forces were entitled to go up to the front and do the dirty work of trampling and destroying their own brothers and sisters of the same discriminated and exploited social origin. This same model is repeated over and over again in different forms and styles.

Dr. Fidel Castro Ruz, President of the sovereign and independent Cuba, once pointed out that because we are so busy, we often times fail to write down our own history. But we should consider it our duty to register our experience to the benefit and also well-being of future generations. True and illustrious statement. 

We will continue to expose some ideas concerning the struggles of our people.

2. THE YEAR 1750: PRELUDE TO 17TH AUGUST 1795 EXPLOSION,
FIRST POPULAR ATTEMPT TO IMPLEMENT ABOLITION IN CURAÇAO 

On several occasions one can hear discussions on the importance of the struggles carried out by enslaved Africans of Curaçao. Some even wonder whether they really fought for their emancipation. Some times they even state that in 1863 Holland out of goodwill gave emancipation as a present. That is outright Eurocentrism!

Practice has shown that the enslaved people always resisted enslavement, actively and passively, by the Dutch colonial domination. Passive resistance could be all forms of acceptation of the manifestations of colonial domination and the system of enslavement, while at the same time in their own group of oppressed people they would think and perform totally differently. Other more active forms include fleeing and hiding in bushes on the island itself or taking boats and rafts to clandestinely go to the coast of Venezuela and Colombia. Many men and women preferred to eat salt or dust not to bend down and succumb to demands of the oppressors. When archives mention ‘slavenopstand’ as slave rebellions they refer precisely to rebellious protests, actively and militantly carried out against the inhuman system of enslavement. There were several major explosions of this nature. Official history mentions the one that took place on Sunday 5th of July 1750. On that date revolutionaries, who are thought to originally have come from the area now known as Ghana, rose up against their oppressors. They also had to fight back against some of the colonialists’ collaborators of African descent. Ipso facto, the struggle was against the system of oppression and exploitation as a totality. Official history wants to divert everyone’s attention by talking about alleged cruelties committed by some of the revolutionaries against so called ‘white’ innocent colonialists. That is another attempt of official power to clean its face and make that of the victim dirty. 

The revolutionary process of 5th of July 1750 should be looked at in the context of protest and rebellion. Dutch colonial military forces brutally suppressed that liberation movement. 

Bridge at Sòrsaka Plantation where merchants observed and bought the human commodity which was displayed here. This bridge of crime is located near to the former Master’s houses , now the official residence of the Lieutenant Governor (Gezaghebber).

Official history speaks with joy about its repressive acts. Not one auto critical analysis is ever done by the ‘winners’. Their expressions are filled with prejudice against those Africans who in their majority seem to have been brought to the island from the capturing area known as El Mina, Ghana. Ghanaian scholars taught us that the nations of Ashanti, Fanti, and other nationalities of that region knew an important, high level of social – economic development. They knew a political system based on democratic principles which existed long before the arrival of the Portuguese. These nations already had a tradition of military organization. Everything changed with the invasion of their empire by Europeans. Disorder was put into effect. It is of no surprise that some of those who were enslaved then would have been sent as prisoners to Curaçao. In many cases they must have been men and women who were educated, conscious, and naturally rebellious. Colonial slave trading and slave driving Europeans would have undoubtedly preferred submissive Africans with poor culture and low consciousness of freedom. 

3. 1750 MARTYRS ALWAYS PRESENT

The punishment imposed by the colonial system on rebellious Africans who participated in the struggle of 5th of July 1750 was extremely severe. Eight men and five women were deported. Two men and one women were beheaded. The bones of many were first crushed and thereafter their heads cut off. The skin of a few was burned off their body with hot iron. Afterwards their heart was taken out of the body and then their heads were chopped off. 

This bloody end could not detain the popular drive towards ending the cruel system of enslavement. The year 1750 is the prelude to another explosion which took place forty-five years later on 17th of August 1795.

Heroes and martyrs of struggle for abolition and liberation of enslaved Africans in Curaçao of 5th of July 1750 at Hato will remain eternally in our memory. We mention a few names of Brothers and Sisters, among others, Kodjo, Kwaku, Kwamina, Kakaraba, Ajiribi, Lucresia, Magdalena, Kofi, Akuba, Apia, Kwapasu, Diana, Servina, Amba, Afiba, Kwasi. PRECURSORS OF THE STRUGGLE AGAINST CORRUPTION.

Statue at Ref symbolizing the struggle for liberation. This is the result of decades of endeavour of various collaborators. Modest word of recognition to all.


4. ABOLITION ON OWN ACCOUNT – 17TH OF AUGUST 1795

Enslaved Africans proved to possess more political knowledge and consciousness than their oppressors. They were fully aware that since the month of May 1795 Holland was taken over by Republican Patriots who were anti-monarchists and anti-slavery. The Batavian Republic had just been created and was subordinated to France. The enslaved community also knew that the Convention of revolutionary France was obliged to recognize the abolition of slavery in 1794 in the territories it colonized such as Haiti and Guadeloupe. One year before, Africans had already broken the chains of slavery in those countries. Haitian Africans as well as the Guadeloupeans were virtually governing themselves. That lesson was well internalized by the Curaçao people. 

Fresh in the minds of many were the news on developments in Coro in Venezuela. Curaçao runaway descendants of Africans participated in a big revolutionary outburst to end enslavement there under the leadership of José Leonardo Chirino and his right hand from Curaçao Josef Caridad Gonzales (See JOSÉ LEONARDO CHIRINO - JOSEF CARIDAD GONZALES, African Venezuelan Fighters of the 1795 Revolution). 

Among those who did not or seemingly did not want to understand the seriousness of this affair was Gaspar Lodewijk van Uytrecht. He was the owner of plantation Kenepa. On 17th of august of 1795, it became clear to him that his social class had no longer control over the enslaved masses. They refused to go to work. Van Uytrecht decided to go to the capital of Willemstad to start organizing repressive reaction against the masses. 

Revolutionaries chose as their leaders Tula, Bazjan Karpata, Pedro Wakao and the military strategist Louis Mercier. The people de facto had broken the chains of submission and declared freedom and equality with all human beings on this earth. That was their demand to the dominant elite. The revolutionaries wanted a change for progress and social justice. There was no reason not to believe that the class of plantation owners, slave- traders and holders would not take reactionary repressive measures. Sacred principles of liberation had to be defended with heart and soul by any means necessary. The very same arms and ammunition deposit by colonialists in different parts of the island would also serve for the people’s defense against injustice. 


5. JACOBUS SCHINCK – COLONIAL MISSIONARY

Dutch colonialism had a pact with the Roman Catholic Church with regards to the Christianization of the enslaved African masses of Curaçao. The Dutch Reformed Church and the Hebrew religions were restricted to those factors called ‘whites’, therefore the elitist classes of merchants, plantation owners and bureaucrats.

The head of the catholic mission, a 47 year old Franciscan priest, Jacobus Schinck, joined the colonial army commanded by van Westerholt to go and talk with the revolutionaries He took an enslaved African to accompany him, not a free man. Father Schinck was completely committed to the dominant social system. Schinck adopted the task to ‘mediate’ between the colonial government and the revolutionary people. In practice he had hoped that as the official spiritual ‘leader’ of the enslaved people along with his preaching ability as a Franciscan friar that he would certainly persuade the rebels to resume work restoring the old order of submission. 

Tula and his comrades proved to understand the liberating message of the gospel better than this Franciscan priest. They reminded him that the gospel advocated equality among all human beings. These revolutionaries were well updated on political questions. But they were also trained in theological questions in service of the liberation of oppressed people. The Eurocentric vision of the knowledge and religious attitude of Africans describes the solemn encounters of enslaved people before beginning the confrontations as suspicious and mysterious. We are referring in casu to the ceremony led by the people’s priest Miguel Bulbai. When we deconstruct the Eurocentric description of the rites, we are reminded of similarities to the Voudoun religion of the Fon around Dahomey/Benin and Haiti, the Mayombe religion of the Kongo region and even the Yoruba religion of the Nigeria Dahomey/Benin region. Also one could find in those manifestations the phenomenon of white powder, goat horn either whole or ground, white spirits, etc. 

In the Caribbean, enslaved Africans traditionally used to perform a religious gathering to thank the Almighty and request his grace and support for the battle to be waged. In Haiti e.g. in the August 1791 battles at Bwa Kaiman, masses celebrated a Voudoun ceremony led by Bukman.

Jacobus Schinck had to deal with a great cultural confrontation. He was not and could not be prepared to understand this all. He insisted he wanted to bring back a positive response to commander van Westerholt and Governor Van Veer. Revolutionaries replied by their solid unbent position stating:

“NOUS SOMMES ICI POUR VAINCRE OU MOURIR”

“WE ARE HERE TO WIN OR DIE”

“WE WANT OUR FREEDOM!!!”

Mission accomplished on both sides. Jacobus Schinck could return to Punda on a horse thanks to the courtesy of the revolutionaries. His voyage back could be more comfortable. .


6. LOUIS MERCIER COMMANDER OF THE PEOPLE’S LIBERATION ARMY

Intransigence and shutting down the doors and windows of democratic dialogue necessarily opens up the way to find a solution with force. The only way left over is to negotiate existing critical political situations. It was widely known by all sectors including the enslaved communities that King William V had fled to England. Although the king and his followers wanted British protection for Curaçao against a French takeover of the island, still the Batavian Republic was installed on 16th of May 1975. That meant that French law was in practice. Thus, the stiff-necked position of the dominant class of slave and plantation owners to hold on through thick and thin to the system of enslavement required a heavier method for its solution. It was clear that those sectors would certainly use military force to crush any popular protest. Undoubtedly.

On the other hand, enslaved Africans took necessary measures appointing as their strategist and commander of their liberation army the dynamic leader Louis Mercier. Louis Mercier was blessed with great leadership capabilities and organized a big number of Brothers and Sisters on different plantations such as Santa Krus, Porto Mari among others. In order to avoid a surprise attack by the colonial forces led by Plegher, Louis Mercier then commanded his men to capture colonial colonel Van der Grijp at Santa Krus and also Thieleman at Kenepa. Among their units arrested, there were also some descendents of Africans who collaborated with the colonial system. 

Governor Jacobus van Veer was often replaced when absent by Michiel Römer who was responsible for the post of Slavenhandel = Slavetrade in the Colonial Council, the most important position on that council. The Council decided to intensify the colonial offensive against the revolutionaries. They mobilized van Westerholt and afterwards Heshusius to go and massacre the rebels. It is noticeable that the dominant system always had the ability to include descendents of Africans in their midst to carry out the dirty work for them against their class brothers and sisters. Evidence of this is the existence of the so called ‘korps vrije negers, mulatten’ ‘army of freed negroes and mulattoes” under the command of African descendent Marcus Anthony.

This phenomenon of treason exists during the entire epoch of slavery, colonialism up until present times. It was manifested in different forms. Louis Mercier together with other leaders were aware of that situation. They made no distinction. Marcus Anthony was also imprisoned in due course. The struggle was wholly anti oppression, anti exploitation. For the liberation of all 

Louis Mercier, of African decent by way of Haiti or maybe Guadeloupe, proved to possess knowledge beyond geographic limits. His military quality was broadly shown in all battles he had waged, including the heroic performances at Ser’I Neger. Curaçao was virtually within the hands of the revolutionaries during those days. At any rate Banda Bou became a liberated area for some time. One should also take into account the help of the enslaved comrades of Banda Riba in the east. At Santa Catharina and surroundings for example, the enslaved people had already cried out their desire for abolition. 

7. OCTOBER 3RD 1975 – DAY OF RACIST ANTI – AFRIKAN MASSACRE 

The systematic repression and suppression methods of the revolutionary process in August and September 1795 was an outright case of massacre against Africans. The climax of all was the sentences dictated by the official power through Governor van Veer and his Colonial Counsel. Then on 3rd of October 1795 followed the brutal and bloody execution of the leaders Tula, Karpata, Luis Mercier, Pedro Wakao and other comrades at Ref. A very cruel act with the objective of paralyzing the pro liberation movement. It was also meant to fill the body of citizens with fear. The elite wanted to make sure that there would be no more repetition of Haiti or Coro in Curaçao itself. They wanted to make it clear to everyone that no new leaders would be tolerated to come out from the masses. Only submission, obedience, and total surrender to the monarchic colonial system would be permitted. Thus, only people with a deformed cultural identity.

Ref shore – scene of the 1795 massacre



8. FIRST OF JULY 1863 – FINAL ABOLITION 

Oppressed people continued to resist slavery and Dutch colonialism in different forms. That occurred actively and was suppressed by official forces. They were also halted by means of laws which limited the movement of people of color in a general sense. Yet, protests and rebellious attitudes continued to manifest themselves passively through other means which were not of aggressive confrontation. E.g. the persistent use of the papiamentu language and the performance of African rooted music like Muzik di Zumbi and Seú, among others. Cultural expressions stimulated protests and awareness building among oppressed people, they mobilized and prepared them for a change in the existing situation. Finally, the development on other islands also should be taken into account, such as the uprising of enslaved Africans in Bonaire on 10th of November 1834. On the other hand, Great Britain decided to abolish slavery after lots of battles of enslaved people in their territories. That process started in 1833 in which Antigua gained full abolition with no apprenticeship. It was finalized in 1838. France had to take into account that both in Martinique as in Guadeloupe the enslaved people stood up again to firmly abolish slavery themselves in 1848. The French government was also supported by Victor Schoelcher. He sympathized with the enslaved people in Parliament to demand abolition of slavery which was finally put into effect in May of 1848. The Danish government had no other option than to succumb for the persistent demand of enslaved people for abolition in the year 1848

The Dutch colonies are in no sense different. Saint Eustatius knew serious uprisings and also did Saint Martin. Why slavery was abolished on the neighboring islands and not yet with them was the key question. Holland was de facto forced to recognize the desire of the enslaved Africans on those islands in the year 1848. 

Why Curaçao, Bonaire, Aruba and Surinam had to wait fifteen (15) years more before the colonial power decided to abolish slavery. We reject all myths stating that the enslaved people themselves did not want a change of the situation. The fundamental reason was the claim for indemnification demanded by the slave-owners and plantation holders class for each freed enslaved person. These elite considered it a loss to them when a worker who was officially their property just like an animal or a material without a day payment for his or her labor obtains the right to become a free human being.

Bishop Martinus Niewindt, himself a slave-owner, collaborated in all forms with the dominant political system to come to a negotiated solution of abolition. His Roman Catholic Church would take responsibility of social cultural care of the 
Africans. In this way slavery could be abolished which was the demand of his African church members, while at the same time he would see to it that this social category would continue to accept Dutch colonial domination without any discussion. Of course the clergy and hierarchy should be compensated and allowed to construct more temples around the island. 

All spiritual and psychological conditions were prepared. Only material conditions were left to be taken care of to the benefit of the dominant class. Thus, indemnification. 

9. WHAT WAS THE SITUATION IN HOLLAND? 

Meanwhile the government of Holland presented in 1856 a proposal to parliament motivating the abolition of slavery. Parliament rejected that amendment. Those who voted against were preoccupied with the financial consequences for the plantation owners and the economy of the colonized Dutch countries. Six years later another amendment was proposed to the Dutch parliament. They succeeded to guarantee precisely what was the concern of the plantation and slave exploiters class. 

Plantation owners in Surinam received a compensation of 300 florins on each enslaved man. Those of the Netherlands Antilles could earn 200 florins on each enslaved African. Plantation exploiters of Saint Martin could count on a payment of 100 florins per capita of enslaved Africans. 

So, the delay in recognizing what the enslaved people were demanding and wishing through passive actions was due to the interests and blockade imposed by the elitist classes who did not want to let that hated system of exploitation and oppression of human beings loose. If any gift was granted to anyone, then it was the privileged class that treated themselves with indemnification benefits. It was merely a matter of money in the interest of the ‘master’ and not in the interest of human beings. 

We are compelled to commemorate 1st of July 1863 as a people’s victory. The colonial slave – system was obliged to step back and recognize the will of the people. If we do not commemorate this significant date, then we will only be pleasing those sectors that prefer to falsify history instead of them learning for the future. 

10. INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION & LIBERALIST IDEOLOGY 

It is a fact that the Industrial Revolution which took place in England introduced a process of transformation of the capitalist mode of production on an international scale. 

Consequently, that made the system of enslavement redundant and obsolete at the same time. It became needless. For that reason former slave - traders turned over to invest in studies to develop the steam – engine which should gradually replace human hand – labor. One of the major driving forces for Britain was to go against its former colony the United States, which became independent and remained with the lucrative slave – business. All benefits of the American cotton and textile production based on slave – labor would now remain with plantation and businessmen in slave affairs in the USA. No more taxes and benefits to their ancestors in London. As a consequence Great Britain started to persecute vehemently all traders of enslaved Africans in trying to destroy that business which they aspired to outlaw internationally. They also started to advocate ideas of abolition of slavery in England. 

In the meantime Britain also started to intensify its colonization process on the African continent itself. Thus, they could not tolerate that hand - labor was being drawn from the continent and which they needed for production on African soil itself. Political and economic situations have changed a lot. 

Humanist ideas began to gain more and more terrain. France knew Victor Schoelcher and “Les Sociétés d’amitié avec les Noirs” (Friends of Black Society). In England there was Wilberforce and different associations which stood up for abolition of slavery and slave trade. Other European countries also knew organizations which advocated abolition of slavery. E.g. in Holland “Maatschappij voor Afschaffing van de Slavernij” the Society for the Abolition of Slavery”. 


CONSULTED AND RECOMMENDED LITTERATURE 

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- TULA
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- LOUIS MERCIER: UN INTERNASHONALISTA 
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- BUSCANDO A DIOS EN EL CARIBE
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- ZWARTE HUID BLANKE MASKERS
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