When thinking about a guided tour about Caribbean stories in The Hague (Netherlands) related to the Dutch colonial period, rain is not the first thing that comes to the mind. Alas, it rained cats and dogs that afternoon in The Hague. Nonetheless, the participants of the tour were eager to know what stories the tour guide Valika Smeulders will unlock that afternoon on May 13, 2017.
This tour was made possible in collaboration with Stichting WeConnect. Valika Smeulders is a Curaçao-born freelance researcher, and works at the KITLV on research projects about heritage and identity experience amongst Dutch citizens with roots from Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao. Furthermore, Smeulders is specialised in history of slavery in the context of Caribbean islands and (West) African countries. With her company PasadoPresente, she researches the past and makes the results publicly accessible through tours, lecture, and so on.
The tour Dekubrí bo mes starts at the Binnenhof, the inner courtyard of the House of Parliament in The Hague. Here, Smeulders introduces the public with several 17th century paintings by. In these paintings, black figures were also included, but mostly in the background. Several of these figures could be traced back through research, revealing who they were and why they were included in the paintings.
When the rain calmed down, we walked towards the junction Buitenhof and Lange Vijverberg. Along these two streets is where Smeulders unlocks slave stories related to the Caribbean. From all the individual stories – some gloomy and some triumphant – one can find a silver lining in this tour: Black people, be it slaves or born free, were standing up for their rights as human beings. Moreover, several court cases happened in The Hague, where several Black people won their case; even if the cases took them years or a decade to go through. At the end of the tour, it was remarkable, but perhaps biasedly chosen by Smeulders to include in her guided tour, to know that there were quite a lot of Black women who fought for their rights, as well as in The Hague and in the former colonised islands in the Caribbean. How come these stories are not widely known or included in the glorified Dutch colonial history? Is this a case of whitewashing of the Dutch colonial history? Maybe the answer is in the question itself.
After the tour, the whole group headed towards a café at the Grote Markt in The Hague to freshen up with some beers, wine, or hot chocolate. There, we all could socialise, network, and exchange ideas about politics in the Caribbean. Specifically, politics on Curaçao and Aruba.
All in all, this tour is a must for not only the public with Caribbean roots, but also for everyone interested in history. But most importantly, such tours should become mandatory – for the time being – for every elementary, high school, and university in The Netherlands. This way our youth in The Netherlands can expand their historical knowledge of Dutch colonialism critically.
Decolonise education, decolonise your mind.
Featured image by Tomasz Piessens.