Thuistezien 194 — 03.03.2021

Stephanie Archangel
History of the Black revolution in Suriname, Caribbean and The Netherlands

Stephanie Archangel gives a historical presentation on Black revolution in the Carribean, as part of the Black Panther Symposium hosted by West in 2018. Specifically she focuses on how the protests for independence came to be through the first slavery uprisings in the 17th century. She describes the differences and connections between the developments of the islands of Curacao and Suriname. However, rather than serving as just a comparison, it might be more interesting to ask ourselves when, how and why these colonies became a part of the Dutch kingdom (a republic back then) in the first place and what role they played. According to her curious observation, The Netherlands became its own country through the Plakkaat van Verlatinghe in 1581, under the terms that society should not be repressed by their king (Philips II, king of Spain) and treated as slaves, and that it is appropriate then to take it upon oneself to detach from the sovereign. In this way, The Netherlands revolted against their domination and then started their own colonial imperialism. In implementing their revolt, the Dutch took over their colonies by looting their trading posts, which was beneficial for gaining war expenses also. This implied that they took over the same systems that were in place in the colonie: an old game of money and bad habits of the ones in power. Moreover, it is from this point on that the islands were a part of the Dutch, even before The Netherlands would settle peace with and independence from Spain. Still nowadays, the islands are in some juridical forms still part of the kingdom, including a Dutch passport for the inhabitants.

The islands of Curacao and Suriname both had different identities as slave colonies, and a different path to independence. Suriname being a bigger country with around 500 plantations, woods and mountains, had a lot of space for slaves to escape to and establish small free communities. People were sent after them, but in their groupings the communities posed a threat to the colonial system. This enabled an idea of rebellion and freedom within the circumstances, which would influence the way they later revolted and eventually gained independence. Curacao, on the other hand, has a small geographical territory with no possibilities to move away, the landscape consisting of leveled bushes and caves. Archangel argues that the concept (or as she frames it: myth) of freedom or revolt didn’t reside as it would have been in Suriname. In Curacao there were high prices to pay for attempts to flee or revolt and even as France invaded, as a nation that by then had abolished slavery (1795), uprisings were met harshly.

Describing the road to independence and Black empowerment throughout the 20th century, Archangel connects that it often involved pleas regarding labour conditions, class structures and social equality, even in a time when the Black population on the islands were in majority. She points out a striking difference between Curacao and Suriname: after protests in Curacao escalated, The Netherlands offered independence, yet it wasn’t accepted. Curacao did not request to detach. A few years later Suriname would follow with protests, which did result in independence. This goes to show that different circumstances generate different Black identities which realise other kinds of (desire for) freedom, concepts of citizenship and heritage.

Stephanie Archangel studied sociology at the University of Amsterdam and since November 2016 holds a function as junior conservator at the department of History at the Rijksmuseum.

Text: Yael Keijzer