Keti Koti, the Surinamese holiday to celebrate the abolition of slavery, has also become increasingly common in the Netherlands in recent decades. Since 2009, an official commemoration has been held on July 1 at the National Monument to Slavery in Amsterdam, and the National Institute of the Dutch Slavery History and Legacy (NiNsee) established in 2002, organizes a Keti Koti program in June each year.
In recent years, more and more theater makers are using the commemoration to create a performance about the Dutch colonial and slavery past. The Black Lives Matter protests in June last year prompted some of them to join forces and work on a nationwide manifestation, the pilot edition of which will be launched in the coming days.
It is about getting a correct and complete picture of history geschiedenis
Marisa Monsanto Chairman of the Board
Theater maker and board member Ira Kip mentions Theater Na De Dam’s involvement in the initial process. “They have knowledge and experience in organizing a similar initiative, and they wanted to share their expertise and their contacts with theaters and companies with us. After a call, several meetings followed with various makers, programmers and companies: people who understand the importance of Keti Koti and want to make an artistic translation of it. From those first meetings, a working group arose that really set the organization on its feet.”
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According to board chairman Marisa Monsanto, this was not without a struggle. “You have to develop a common vision and mission, and that sometimes led to intense discussions within the working group. It consists of people from very different backgrounds, who all feel an enormous responsibility for the theme. In such a process, you must continue to listen carefully to each other in order to arrive at a joint position. And that all had to be done via Zoom.”
The final ‘mission statement’ is, in the words of Monsanto, ‘to represent through the imagination the other perspectives on Dutch colonial history, and its impact in the present’.
Kip: “Yes, and as an example of the internal discussions: I would never use that word ‘other’, that is too neutral, when it concerns perspectives that have been suppressed for centuries.”
Monsanto: “It’s about getting a correct and complete picture of history. As a person of color you quickly get the accusation that you are not ‘connecting’ when you bring up these kinds of things, but the point is that you create a society in which we interact with each other on an equal footing and there is room for those different stories. We therefore want to continue to emphasize the positive aspects of that mission.”
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Kip: “At the same time, there must also be room for theater makers who tell confrontational stories. You also need to be able to have the awkward conversation and then feel comfortable with each other again.”
However, the work must have a clear link with the theme described in the mission. Monsanto: “There must be a historical connection with the colonial past, with how the colonial attitude still plays a role in the present. People can also feel ‘chained’ under other circumstances, but that’s not what Theater for Keti Koti is about.”
At the same time, there must also be room for theater makers who tell confrontational stories
Ira Kip Theater maker and board member
Kip: “Like Theater Na De Dam, we are an umbrella that various initiatives can join, but we also make artistic choices ourselves. We have had a monologue written that will be presented as a connecting element in all participating theatres. The text is based on the texts of Tula, the leader of the Curaçao revolt of enslaved people in 1795. In this way we also show that Keti Koti is about the entire slavery past and not just about Suriname. We want to ensure that it gains support throughout the colonial diaspora.”