Last Refreshed: 8/5/2021 8:53:37 AM
Press release

Interview: Honoring Keti Koti by having the courage to confront a difficult past

July 1, 2021 - Keti Koti, the Dutch “Day of the Freedoms,” is an annual celebration on July 1 marking the date when slavery was abolished in the former Dutch colony of Suriname in 1863. In honor of this day, we’re publishing an interview by a Dutch Ahold Delhaize associate, Maaike Leene with a descendant of enslaved people about the journey she and a descendant of a plantation owner took to uncover their family histories together.  

Interview with Peggy Bouva 

By Maaike Leene 

Two years ago, Peggy Bouva and Maartje Duin started digging into their common background. Maartje, as a journalist, wanted to find out more about one of her ancestors who was co-owner of the sugar plantation Tout Lui Faut in Suriname in 1863. Peggy delved into her family history as a descendant of the enslaved on that same plantation. They turned their research into an eight-episode podcast, “The plantations of our ancestors.” 

“Not for everybody is it normal to find out everything about their family history,” says Peggy as she starts talking passionately about the stories they've come across during their research. “We were able to find many historical documents in the archives about Maartje, her ancestor and co-owners of the sugar plantation. There is little documentation about the enslaved people who lived on the plantations themselves. For generations, people in slavery have been counted as inventory of the plantation owner, mainly keeping track of which enslaved people had been bought and sold, or what punishments they received for failing to comply with the owner's wishes. It is very special that through our joint research I have found more about my family history, my ancestors.” 

Peggy explains that they have found a book in which Marc Warnery describes the punishments enslaved people would receive if they disobeyed, Seul Au Milieu De 128 Negres, Un Planteur Vaudois En Guyane Hollandaise Au Temps. “The only way to let the slaves work hard is to punish them hard” – Marc Warnery wrote in letters to his parents. If an enslaved person didn't get back from the city in time, he or she got 20 lashes, for example. Or if someone didn't want to work on Sunday – 35 strokes of the cane. In the reports of the Court, the Picket Service is recorded with the penalties imposed. It contains the first names of the enslaved. 

I have goosebumps when I listen to Peggy tell her story. Not only because of the calm and open way she shares this with me, but also because of the knowledge our society lacks. “In 1863, all enslaved people were given a surname,” Peggy continues. “My ancestors got as a surname an abbreviation of the surname of the plantation director. My name is Bouva (pronounced Bau-fà), the plantation director was French and his name was J.B.F. Bouffare (pronounced Boo-fà-ree). The same surname as the owners was never given because you could 'legally' inherit the plantation and other inheritances then, if enslaved, as their heir.”  

During the eight episodes of the podcast you’ll discover, together with Maartje and Peggy, more about the living conditions, social ties, culture and behavior of their ancestors. Their research reveals a family structure that was not yet known by historians until now. Media from all over the world praise the podcast: it is unique that two descendants from different backgrounds join forces and talk about this dark stain in (Dutch) history. The Rijksmuseum also noticed this, and as a result, Maartje and Peggy spent three evenings in conversation with the “Friends of the Rijksmuseum,” during which they shared their experiences and found new insights from their research. Maartje shared the story of one of the plantation owners, and Peggy the story of the enslaved people who lived on the plantations. The curators of the Rijksmuseum have selected the art and incorporated personal and true stories about the slavery-related past into it. 

“Today many people feel ashamed about our Dutch slavery past, which makes talking about it a taboo,” Peggy continues. “There is a fear of talking about the slavery past, but there is no need to be scared. The exhibition in the Rijksmuseum tells ten stories of different characters who lived under slavery. For many people, the Rijksmuseum feels like a safe, honest place, which makes it easier to talk about this topic.” 

I ask why it is important to share this story right now. Peggy doesn't have to think long about the answer: "The history of slavery feels long ago but, in reality, it is only seven or eight generations ago. Before that, at least four generations back were born into slavery, were raised and died on the plantations where they lived. It is important to talk about it now because it is still felt every day in today's society.” I nod. Each new generation takes something from the previous generation. “Many people have a blind spot when it comes to our shared slavery history and the impact it has on the current form of our society. The world is still healing, we are still healing," Peggy concludes. 

These past years people feel the need to have more context. I am thinking of the death of George Floyd, who unwillingly helped shape the Black Lives Matter movement globally. Or the annual discussion around the Dutch holidays in December. “By showing empathy and respect for everyone's story we can be open to each other. It is therefore important that we all reflect on the abolition of Slavery on July 1: Keti Koti, the emancipation of Suriname. It's our shared history, of the black and white community.” Peggy continues enthusiastically: “Nowadays you see much more diversity in, for example, children's books. That is a very good initiative. I grew up with stories with mostly white children in textbooks. My daughter learns that society is made up of people from different backgrounds: Asian, black, white. You can only understand each other if you have respect for everyone's origins and have the empathy to really listen. I also encourage this in my daughter her growth. I tell her about our family history and take her to museums. She also asks about it herself, which is very nice to see.” 

I ask her how she sees the future. "It's important to not only talk about diversity. It's even more important to really do it. Within companies you see diversity in the operational layers, but the reality is that at management levels you see less diversity within the company. As a leader, you can have a strong vision of what a diverse corporate culture looks like, but this must be supported by the organization with all its teams and employees. In addition, setting up a diverse team does not always have an effect. The culture within an organization determines whether diversity succeeds in practice or not. The past teaches us that a good example follows. That is where the biggest challenge lies.' 

Would you like to know more? 

Listen to the podcast “The plantation of our ancestors” (in Dutch) by VPRO Maartje Duin in collaboration with Peggy Bouva on Spotify. ​​​​​​​

Visit the exhibition “Slavernij” in the Rijksmuseum until August 29 in Amsterdam 

For more information about Maartje Duin and Peggy Bouva follow their activities of the Tout Lui Faut Foundation via: 

Dialogues will take place on July 1 in at least 20 cities: The Keti koti Dialogue table. 

The Keti Koti Table is a dialogue while eating a meal together and performing rituals together. 

It is a new tradition in which, through the exchange of personal experiences, memories and feelings, the contemporary consequences of the Dutch slavery past are discussed. 

Last Refreshed: 8/5/2021 8:53:37 AM