Published On: Tue, Jul 2nd, 2013

Abolition of slavery

Jacob Gelt DekkerWhat a change from fifteen years ago, when I started the Kura Hulanda Museum of Curacao with an exhibition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. I still remember the pickets blocking the gate and the many who swore a dear oath never to set one foot over the threshold of the exhibition; displays were defiled and even swastikas were painted on our streets and doors.

These days, we are celebrating the most exuberantly, or mark in the most dignified way, the abolition of the legal status of “slave” in 1863, 150 years ago. Fifteen years ago, not a single Maritime exhibition, neither in Holland nor Curacao, made any mention of the event or the trans-Atlantic shipping of nearly 230,000 people. A plaque on the wall of the Governor’s palace in Willemstad was, more or less, the only official marker. Later, a Tula monument was put in a remote, out of the way place, at the Riff.

Mrs. Els Langeveld, who only died a few weeks ago, was the most thorough historic researcher of this period by spending years in Curacao’s archives and meticulously going over tens of thousands of documents. Her findings were extensively published in a series of newspaper articles and books. Often, her findings painted quite a different picture from the one political revisionists tried to portray for their own populist gain.

Mythology tends to replace historic reality. Every person and nation create his own heroes and demigods. Obviously, the public is in need of such metaphors, such inspiring examples. Symbolism plays an enormously important role in our lives.

Once, as a schoolchild, I researched the “Dutch Lion,” and wrote a little paper on the subject. On flags, code of arms, as bronze and granite sculptures, etcetera, tens of thousands of lions can be found all over The Netherlands. In reality, in nature, the Dutch lion as a biological animal, never existed. At the tender age of twelve, I had a very hard time to come to grabs with such hypocrisy. I learned that the Dutch lion was just a metaphor, a symbol of our imagination to fortify ideas we are unable to express otherwise.

Mythology we create today, is created with ethics of today from the perspectives of today and may, or may not, look quite different from what really happened in history, and it does not matter much.

Unfortunately, things become very confused when people lose this perspective, when they force a newly created historic truth on others, irrespective of what happened. So, they wage fierce battles and new wars like Don Quichote.

Nydia Ecury, another dear friend who passed away, wrote on the wall of our Kura Hulanda Museum, “ Do not allow old sorrow to enslave you, once again.”

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