Dutch Museum’s Slavery Exhibition confronts Cruelty of Dutch Trade

This is a bit of old news, but it sheds more light on the participation of European nations in slavery… it is about the Dutch part in the slave trade. This may be a hard read for some. Excerpts below are from the article on the Guardian website. For the full article, go to the Guardian.

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The aim of a first exhibition on the Dutch slave trade to be shown at the Rijksmuseum, launched on Tuesday by King Willem-Alexander, is not to be “woke” but to be a “blockbuster” telling a truer story of the Golden Age, the director general of the national institution has said.

…The Slavery exhibition, showcasing 140 objects, ranging from two Rembrandt portraits of married and lavishly wealthy owners of enslaved people to a display of ankle chains, examines 10 lives caught up in the Dutch slave trade between the early 17th century and 1863, when the practice was finally made illegal in Suriname and the Antilles.

An audio guide for the exhibition includes the voice and thoughts of a Ma Chichi, a woman born into slavery in 1853, who in turn tells how her grandmother, enslaved in 18th-century Curaçao, urged her to always remember that she was equal to anyone. “She never did what the lords wanted,” Chichi says in the recording dating from 1958, when she was 105 years old.

Valika Smeulders, a curator of the exhibition and the Rijksmuseum’s head of history, said it had been vital to unearth oral history due to the lack of property and written evidence of enslaved people. “[Chichi] talks about her grandmother telling her you are equal to everybody else, you are equal to the children of the master of the house,” she said. “It gives you a female perspective, which is pretty rare, and it gives you the perspective of the people who were so aware of their humanity even though they lived in a system that took all that humanity away from them.”

Documents on show also detail the horrific fate of many of those who resisted. One, Wally, who worked on a sugar plantation called Palmeneribo, Suriname, in 1707 was sentenced to be slowly burned to death, with the stipulation added by the magistrate Cornelis de Huijbert that he was to have his flesh torn off with red hot pincers in the process in order for his death to be “the most painful and protracted possible”.

Dutch traders shipped over 600,000 Africans [as we now know, this number is mosy likely higher] to north and South America and between 660,000 and 1.1 million people around the Indian ocean. Last year King Willem-Alexander apologised for the “excessive violence” of the Dutch colonialists in Indonesia. There remains a live debate in the Netherlands about the treatment of empire and slavery in schools and public places through street names and statues, as there has been in the UK.

… One of the confronting revelations of the exhibition, Smeulders said, was that a richly decorated brass collar donated to the Rijksmuseum in 1881 and engraved with the family crests of the Nassau, Vianden and Dietz families, dated 1689, was likely not to have been a dog collar, as originally thought, but one worn by black enslaved people brought back to the Netherlands as servants. “For the longest time people have not wanted to come to terms with the meaning of those collars,” she said. “They were always described as being dog collars but if you look at the paintings, the ones wearing those collars are never the dogs, they are the men.”

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