MEMRE WAKA – Memorial march of the abolition of slavery

by Paola Pirovano

Photocredit: ©Martina Bertola

On June 1st, along the canals of Amsterdam the Memre Waka – the memorial march – officially inaugurated the month dedicated to the commemoration of the abolition of slavery, culminating on July 1st with the Keti Koti, literally meaning “broken chains”.

For this symbolic date, the Afro-Caribbean and Surinamese community has chosen an emblematic place: the mayor’s residence in the Dutch capital, on the Herengracht canal. The first citizen of Amsterdam lives in the former home of the merchant Paulus Godin, governor of the West Indies Society and director of the Suriname Society, whose name is to be found in a contract that stipulates the delivery of at least 1600 slaves to Curaçao.

A plaque in front of the house remembers the victims of the slave trade: a rare public admission in Amsterdam, where the dark side of the Golden Age trades often goes silent.

Memra Waka’s aim is rather to remember the violence suffered and the consequences of this ignominious traffic on today’s society. An engagement that is reflected in the combative spirit of the theme that will characterize the commemorations this year: “Afro Caraibische Amsterdammers voorwaarts mars!”. A march forward that also translates into a desire for a national recognition of the legacy of slavery and diaspora.

Officially abolished in 1863, slave labor has been prolonged for another decade in Dutch colonies: as a form of compensation for the owners, slaves were forced into working for their masters to assure the “transition period”, without receiving any sort of payment.

After a minute of silence, rituals and traditional songs paid homage to the ancestors, followed by the official speeches of representatives of the Suriname and Caribbean associations, the NiNsee – National Institute for Dutch Slavery past and heritage- and a speaker on behalf of Mayor Van der Laan .


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