The exhibit “Slavery: Ten True Stories of Dutch Colonial Slavery from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam” will be displayed in the lobby of the United Nations in New York City through March 30, 2023. It is organized around ten stories about people who were involved in slavery in the Dutch empire from the 16th through the 19th centuries. The ten stories include people who were enslaved in the Caribbean and South America, people who led rebellions against slavery, people who challenged the slave system, and people who owned slaves and profited from the slave trade and the sale of slave produced commodities. These stories, especially the story of Wally, expose the horrors of chattel slavery.
The exhibition, organized by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, is based on objects and archival and oral sources. While the exhibit is in English, QR codes provide translations of the text into Arabic, Chinese, French, Hindi, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Swahili. The Rijksmuseum has a brief video describing the exhibit on its website.
These are the ten true stories depicted in the Rijksmuseum exhibit at the United Nations.
João Mina was captured in West Africa. He was given that name by Portuguese enslavers at Fort Elmina in present day Ghana when he was sold. João was enslaved on a Portuguese sugar plantation in Brazil. In 1646, he escaped to territory controlled by the Dutch, where he was interrogated by agents of the Dutch West India Company (WIC). Portugal and the Dutch Republic were at war in Europe, the Americas, and Asia and the Dutch West India Company seized parts of Brazil from Portugal and commandeered lucrative sugar plantations where sugar cane was cultivated by enslaved indigenous people and enslaved Africans like João.
After a series of wars between Great Britain and the Netherlands in the second half of the 17th century, the Dutch colony of New Netherlands was transferred to the British becoming New York and in return the Dutch received Suriname on the northeast coast of South America. Wally worked his entire life planting, harvesting, and processing sugar cane on a plantation in Dutch Suriname during the 18th century. Jonas Witsen of Amsterdam inherited three sugar plantations when he was 25 years old. To increase profits, Witsen enforced a stricter regime on the enslaved population of his plantations including forcing people to work an extra day each week and restricting freedom. Wally and 155 other enslaved men, women and children lived on Witsen’s Palmeneribo Plantation. After a series of conflicts, Wally fled with a group into the tropical rain forest, but they were recaptured and condemned to a slow and painful death by being burned alive. After they died, their bodies were decapitated and their heads displayed on spikes in the surrounding area as a warning to the other enslaved people who might consider resistance.
The Rijksmuseum exhibit tells the stories of Januarij (January), Amon, Marij, Susanna, Augustus (August), and Baron van Bengalen from Bengal in modern day India and Bangladesh. People were stripped of their names and renamed with the last name Van Bengalen, which means from Bengal. Between 1620 and 1795, hundreds of thousands of women, men and children were enslaved around the Bay of Bengal and taken from villages along the Ganges River in northeastern India and trafficked by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and its employees. They were taken by boat to central slave markets in the region, sold, and shipped to places where the VOC was active, Batavia (Jakarta) and the Banda Islands (Moluccas) in modern Indonesia, Cape Town in South Africa, and the Netherlands.
Oopjen was an affluent Dutch woman in 17th century Amsterdam. She was married twice, to Marten Soolmans and to Maerten Daey, and had a son with each husband. Oopjen and Marten Soolmans were so affluent that Rembrandt painted a life-sized portrait of them when they were married. Soolmans’ wealth came from slave-produced raw Brazilian sugar that he refined in Amsterdam. Before they were married, Oopjen’s second husband, Maerten Daey, lived in Brazil where he owned enslaved Africans. While in Brazil, he was accused of raping and impregnating an enslaved woman named Francisca, but Daey was never tried for his actions.
Paulus was born in Africa and worked as a servant in the Nassau La Lecq household in the Netherlands during the 17th century. Although slavery was illegal in the Netherlands, wealthy Dutch families often had Black “servants” called “Moors.” Paulus’ status as free or slave is unclear. He was later able to marry, start a family, and become a drummer for a guard unit in The Hague. At that point he was no longer referred to as a Moor but as Monsieur Paul Maurice Agulard.
Surapati was originally from Bali. He fled enslavement in Batavia (Jakarta) and became the leader of a group of other Balinese runaways who rebelled against the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in Java. Surapati succeeded in establishing his own court in East Java where, as a sovereign, he surrounded himself with allies. He died in 1707 from wounds he sustained in a battle with the VOC. In 1975 he was proclaimed Pahlawan Nasional Indonesia (National Hero of Indonesia) for his struggle against the Dutch.
Sapali hid unpeeled rice grains in her plaited hair until she had enough food stored up to flee from a Dutch plantation in Suriname. She joined other runaways in a Maroon community in the tropical rainforest. The Dutch colonial regime fought against the Maroon communities for centuries and used brute force and unfair peace treaties in an effort to subjugate them. Women like Sapali played an important role in the Maroon rainforest communities. They grew crops and maintained the food supply. The surviving Okanisi Maroons are Sapali’s direct descendants.
Inspired by the French and Haitian revolutions, Tula called for resistance against slavery in the Dutch colony of Curacao. He argued that because the Netherlands was occupied by the French and slavery had ended in France, slavery was abolished in the Dutch colony of Curacao. Tula and his supporters traveled from plantation to plantation gathering support and eventually two thousand people marched on the capital of Willemstad where they demanded freedom. After a five week long rebellion. Tula was captured, tried, convicted, brutally tortured and beheaded.
Dirk van Hogendorp lived in Surabaya on the island of Java where he worked for the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and “owned” 153 people. Influenced by the ideas of the French Revolution, van Hogendorp supported a gradual end to slavery. To promote his ideas, he wrote a play based on novella written by his father about a cruel Indo-European female slaveholder in Batavia (Jakarta). Despite advocating for the end of slavery while in Java and employed by the VOV, van Hogendorp moved to Brazil where he owned a coffee and orange plantation and bought and sold enslaved individuals.
Lohkay fled from the Diamond Plantation in the Dutch Caribbean colony of Sint Maarten. She was recaptured and as punishment one of her breast was cut off. Undeterred, Lohkay fled again into the interior hills and this time was successful in securing her freedom. In 1848, the entire enslaved population of Diamond Plantation escaped to freedom in the French portion of Sint Maarten where slavery had already been abolished. Dutch plantation owners had no choice but to declare the remaining enslaved inhabitants free. Slavery was not officially abolished in Dutch colonies until July 1, 1863.
Professional Development Conference on Holocaust Education
“From Documentation to Social Media: Empowering Students to Analyze (Mis)Information"
March 19, 2023 / 9:00 am - 2:00 pm
In-Person Attendance or Online
In-Person: Ramaz Middle School - New York, NY
Virtual: Zoom link to be provided via email closer to the event
To Register: https://flowvid.typeform.com/to/mmEfwnxG