The Black Side of Amsterdam, an untold story of the Capital

by Paola Pirovano

In The Netherlands, when it comes to the Dutch Golden Age, it is all about spice trades, Chinese porcelain, silk and expensive woods with hardly no reference to the slave trade. It looks like that no one is interested in digging deep into the story of the Dutch West Indies Company that until 1863 shipped over 500,000 African men and women to sell them on South American coasts.

Why has the Dutch historical debate shown such an “amnesia”? Jennifer Tosch, is the founder and CEO of Black Heritage Tours in Amsterdam. According to her slavery is not a public topic due to of a sense of public embarrassment by Dutch mainstream society. Neverthless the black and African presence in the history of the Netherlands is important and painful.  The work of Jennifer Tosch and Black Heritage Amsterdam Tours is to discover the hidden side of the official history of the Golden Age, embracing the point of view of the descendants of those enslaved.

The history of colonialism is often one sided but Amsterdam offers enough resources to rebuild the past. Black Heritage Tours focuses on a journey through images ignored by commercial tours: the moor’s heads, sugar cones, black children, tobacco leaves adorning the facades of the 17th century merchants’ houses are traces of an economy once based on slavery. From owners of sugar cane plantations to shipbuilders, most of Dutch society was directly or indirectly involved in the exploitation of slaves. Some decorations of  canal houses tell a story of domination, violence and injustice, a system that lasted until the abolition of slavery in 1863.

Jennifer Tosch, a US-born with Surinamese background, is the founder of Black Heritage Amsterdam Tours an alternative cultural sightseeing of Amsterdam focused on the untold stories of slavery in The Netherlands. According to her a full knowledge of colonial past heritage is the starting point for building the present. Being conscious of the abuses is the first step to change white-black relations, still highly influenced by a past that has never been fully accepted and understood by the mainstream society.


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