We Slaves of Suriname - Anton de Kom (1934)
Updated: Nov 17
We Slaves of Suriname, written by human rights activist and son of an ex-slave Anton de Kom, is close to a witness portrait of the time of slavery in Suriname under Dutch regime. It describes in great detail the horrors and gruesome deeds of the Dutch at the time. Anton de Kom, well known in Suriname where he maintains status of a folk hero, wrote the book before the Second World War as a means to tell the stories of his grandparents (and their grandparents, and theirs). The stories told are received from mouth-to-mouth narratives and were shared for years among communities. After WWII this book became a symbol for the independence of Suriname and with his book, De Kom succeeded in uniting different communities in Suriname.
This book shows the black page of Dutch history, that for many Dutch people is still unknown; simply because there is no (public) debate about it. Not in history class, in politics, or in daily life: it seems a topic long forgotten and never of any importance. In The Netherlands’ former colony – Suriname – however, the burden of this dark history is felt till this day. In his book, De Kom gives a detailed description of the slave trade itself, but also the barbaric treatment of slaves. It is a denunciation of slavery and the colonial reign of The Netherlands. Multiple times he mentions the status of the Dutch colonizer, seen as the most violent and inhumane of all colonizers. He often ironically calls them “civilization bringer”.
In my opinion, this book should be mandatory aliment for everybody. It should be part of the Dutch literature list, as this book perfectly describes this black page of history. As long as this piece of history has not been processed, there is no possibility to draw any lessons from it. Once this part of history is shared and well-known in detail, it will give many people more insight in their own history and it will create more support and understanding; for example in the current Black Lives Matter debate or more specific, the Black Pete debate in The Netherlands.
Maybe, when people understand fully how some people to this day are still branded by the inhumane actions of slavery under the Dutch oppression at that time, it will be easier to understand that no soul should ever be close to association with it. And maybe, when people understand that the Dutch “Golden Century” was a very dark and painful period for others, it will be more relatable and understandable why many people are still fighting for their pain to be seen, and for their voices to be heard in The Netherlands and that the anti-racism debate comes from a deeply rooted grieve.
Title: We Slaves of Suriname
Author: Anton de Kom
Publisher: Atlas Contact
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ (5 out of 5)