“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.”
Following the research conducted by Erfgoed Gelderland and Barbara Esseboom and dance choreographer Farida Nabibaks about the traces of slavery in Gelderland for years, I wondered: How do I, together with the Rozet Education team, stimulate that diverse stories about heritage and history are being told? How can we bring the traces of Gelderland’s slavery past into schools with the power of art, language and heritage? Starting with children and teachers from primary schools.
There were of course many questions that this raised for me: How do you activate a commemoration of a charged history? How do you talk to children and teachers about this past and the consequences in our present, e.g. unequal starting opportunities? How do you want to use cultural education for this? And what better way not?
Education program Keti Koti Junior Arnhem
In this context, Rozet Education and the 30 June/1 July Arnhem Committee offer primary schools the opportunity to book various artistic activities around Arnhem’s history of slavery and its abolition.
Anna van Vossenburg as trace one
The starting shot of Keti Koti Junior Arnhem 2023 was the dance theater production ANNA on Friday, May 26, 2023 by the Reframing HERstory Art Foundation. It tells the story of Anna van Vossenburg, a black woman who lived in the eighteenth century. She was born into slavery on the Vossenburg plantation in Suriname and brought to Arnhem when the owner of the plantation died. But who was she? Farida Nabibaks is the choreographer of the performance, and tells more about the performance in this interview.
Quaco in Arnhem as trace two
After a call in the field, we have now found several guest teachers who want to activate this theme in primary schools, with the power of language, art and heritage in their backpack. They carry out the lessons inspired by the life of the young man Quaco, based on the historical graphic novel Quaco – My Life in Slavery.
In the 18th century he lived as a young man with the owners of Rozendael Castle in Rheden/Arnhem. This makes him one of the traces that connect us with the past of slavery in Gelderland.
Writer Evelien van Dort challenged the children to put themselves in Quaco and imagine what he would have dreamed about. Words such as ‘missing home’, ‘freedom’ or ‘family’ came to the children’s minds and they processed their thoughts and feelings into poems or diary entries. Dancer Kei Kevin Maturbangs triggers the pupils by the fact dat dancing and making music was not allowed for the enalved people. Despite of that the very ruch heritage of West African inspired dance and music styles developed.
How do you guide the children in this process?
Students were genuinely upset about the transatlantic trade in enslaved people and working on the plantations, or labor camps. The teachers had not spared the children. The children kept asking questions about why. And so the teacher was often speechless. But of course that’s part of it. Listening, hearing all kinds of stories, becoming silent with all kinds of mixed feelings. And then be able to incorporate these into your own text, dance, image or piece of music.
A glimpse into the classroom
Muzikant Tio Ali, or Ali Inecia is known from the Curaçao tambú group Ali i su amigunan and often gives rhythmic poetry readings and is a good friend of the guest teacher Evelien van Dort. He happened to be in the Netherlands and came to the class too. Tio Ali brought his own tambú, a percussion instrument. Tambú is also a type of music and a dance, which arose in Curaçao from the sixteenth century onwards from various West African dances, music types and rituals. Tio Ali first took the class back in time by taking a towel and placing it on his tambú. He explained that in the past, enslaved people did not play the tambú directly and loudly, but muffled it – more like drumming. So that the plantation owner or actually the labor camp supervisor would not hear the music. Making music and dancing was forbidden for them. Tio Ali invited a boy to play the tambú, another boy to be the dancer and went on to explain how it might go: The musician was absorbed in playing his tambú, pulled back the curtain and started playing loudly. One of the dancers was frightened, pulled back the curtain and tried to get the musician to stop for fear that they would all be punished. Then it was time for the children to recite their own texts with musical accompaniment from Tio Ali. True spoken word artists stood up. What touched me most was that Tio and Evelien shared their emotions about the fact that they can now share different stories about mental freedom and slavery with the children as equal friends. Tio Ali as – grand-grandchild of enslaved people from Curacao together with Evelien van Dort, as grand-grandchild of people who lived in the Netherlands at the same time.
Overcoming Colonial Aphasia
I find it very special that I can experience this process of awareness and knowledge sharing in the world of education, help shape it and manage it myself within Rozet, together with many colleagues and partners. 10 years ago when, as an artist of German descent, I first delved into Dutch and European colonial history, it was very different. It’s also great that I can now use all my research to overcome my own Colonial aphasia (Ann Stoler, page 225) within the cultural-educational work for Rozet! We are finally taking the time to find words to talk about this with each other and to see what non-verbal forms of processing the arts can offer.
Image text from student group 8 Jozef Sartoschool, Arnhem