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culture

Curaçao Island


Slavery

In case anybody is misguided enough to outragedly and willfully feel I would be a guy to like any form of slavery,
those persons please be so kind as to get lost here, now.
Please come back only after you've wised up.



Don't get fooled
It's in the bible, the quran (no capitals) and who knows where else: Slavery was an institution backed by the holy will of god. If you want to know how anybody could possibly know what god willed, that's a good question. The priests had written it up so, and that settled it as bumper stickers have been known to say. (If your neighbor told you he had heard god speak to him, what would you think? Now, if it were your oh-so-friendly local politician...)



Be all that as it may be, it seems there's a pretty strong correlation between religion and slavery. The weaker the forces of religion grow in society, the less chance of slavery there is in that society. I'm not drawing any conclusions, just pointing out an interesting observation.

The more recent past
Slavery was quite common all over the world only a few centuries ago. If you are a caucasian with European roots, chances are your family used to be slaves then. They may have been called serves — they were slaves. This is sometimes denied: the Europeans supposedly did not sell their slaves overseas. But R.L. Stevenson's novel Kidnapped starts with the hero being kidnapped from Scotland to be sold as a slave to the tobacco plantations in Virginia (put that in your pipe and smoke it. But agreed, it didn't happen as a large-scaled enterprise.) In Asia, child slavery is still a rather common occurrence, and, interestingly, often connected with religion. In Africa slavery is still practised as well.
As usual, all that doesn't matter one bit. To hear some people rave and rant, it were the Europeans who invented slavery and practiced it. And yes, the Europeans, like good businessmen, exploited the African system of slavery, bought their product there from those in power (African tribe heads) and exported it to the Americas. Here it gets interesting: After a couple of centuries, they, those white honky Europeans, stopped this practice and set their slaves free, while business in Africa went on. It was also carried on by Arab muslim traders, blessed be their names—until those same much-loathed Europeans kicked them right out of Africa.
Just a thought: Slavery, serfdom, had to be abolished in Europe with the start of the Industrial Revolution. Then, the economy needed 'free' workers, for whatever reasons (you can get pretty sarcastic about those, like in The Jungle Amazon.usa Amazon.de Amazon.uk Amazon.ca by Upton Sinclair). So it was only natural and a matter of time for the slave owners overseas to come to the same conclusion and to set their slaves free, as well.
One estimate is that, in 2005, there are 200 million people in bondage. The right to hold slaves is still in the Koran (just like that to theft, pedophilia, lying, breaking contracts with non-Moslems, and more.) The only continents where it does not exist are North America and Western Europe. Ironically enough, these parts of the world not only get the blame for slavery in the past; they also seem to feel that guilt themselves.

But if you take a little trouble and look into the historical circumstances themselves, you are forced to another conclusion. One of the strongest insights I got out of C.S. Forester's books; he describes the general conditions aboard ships for the crew in those times, which can only be characterized as another form of slavery.
If we see pictures of the conditions in which the slaves were transported, our stomachs turn over and our hearts break. But the ship's crew was allotted just as little space as the slaves, in just as cramped and filthy conditions. It was very rare even for a captain to have a cabin in which he could stand upright. Food and drink were literally crawling with vermin. Loss of lives among the crew was just as high as among the cargo; on the Dutch slave ships more crew was lost than 'cargo'. Using the word freedom for the crew is an obscene joke. To the standards of today, they simply were just that: slaves. If you don't believe me, check out Ben Traven's The Death Ship; and that's from the 1920s.
One example: In 1717, Blackbeard the pirate captured Le Concorde de Nantes in the Grenadines; it was on its way from Africa. The ship started with 75 crew and 516 black slaves 'of all sexes and ages'. By the time of the capture, 16 crew had died, 36 were sick with scurvy and dysentery. At least 61 slaves had died. Figure it out: 21% of the crew had died against 12% of the slaves.
In Jan de Hartog's Hollands Glorie there's a captain who has his crew whipped, around 1910. And in the three weeks I stayed at the Stella Maris sailors' home in Willemstad I learned that sailors still had very little rights in companies like Shell Tankers GB and especially the Holland-America Line.

Around 1980, I was talking to two Curaçao government workers who handled cultural subsidies. They had just had a request for some performance and were discussing the script. It was full of texts complaining about the evil committed in the past to the author's forebears. The two guys shook their heads and commented: Ai no. E kos ta kansa hende. [Come on. People are tired of that stuff.]
Now, however, you would have a much better chance to get subsidized for that. Only, there's no money for subsidies left—maybe not entirely coïncidental?


Don't talk to me about the Black Holocaust, either. The very name is yet another obscene distortion of history. Hitler with his Nazis were out to destroy the Jewish race. Slave traders did not have this in mind with negroes. Using the same term shows you up for a non-thinking nitwit. (It was first used by Martin Luther King.)



In another book, The Sky and the Forest, Forester describes the life story of an African chief who is enslaved by Arabs, and escapes. The characteristics you can find in there of the African forests make clear how, while the human race found its origin in Africa, civilization did not stand a chance of developing in the heart of that continent. Apart from that, there are hardly any minerals to be found in 'Dark Africa', a seemingly necessary incentive to development. It is because of these depressing circumstances that some years ago I drafted the following daring hypothesis:—

It was thanks to the West Europeans
that a number of Africans were freed from their isolation.

Those who managed to escape have done much better than those who
were forced to remain there. It then is unjust to ask the Europeans
(=whities, let's face it) to ask for recompensation. Why not ask descendants of those fellow-Africans, the brothers, who sold your ancestors to the honkies.

Of course, agreed, they don't have any money to give—those who made good their escapes have more:
Pro-Capita Income of the two poorest, Zimbabwe $621 — Haïti $1760; in two of the richest,
Ghana $2500 — Curaçao $16000. In 2006 the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe and Burundi were at the bottom of a list of happy countries.
Still, pretty rough on those ancestors.


Now, before you explode in holy wrath (touché), please also consider that the abolitionists have heavily exaggerated on the evils of slavery. The way they talked, the owners acted in their own worst interests, as if a slave was value-less. Nonsense, of course. Might as well smash up your car when it misbehaves, like, it won't start. (Which is exactly what some people do, of course.)
You can find more on all this in a recent book (P.C. Emmer, De Nederlandse Slavenhandel 1500-1850, Amsterdam 2003, ISBN 9029515600) which at least tries to put the affair in proper perspective.

And also, for once, sit back and think: Would you want to live in Africa? Aren't you, if you happen to be black, deep down very very glad your ancestors got out?
The biggest of the black men was obviously drunk and kept shouting to anyone who'd listen that he wasn't no African American, damn it! He was a plain ole American same as anyone else born in this country.
Do I look like I drink goat's milk and blood? You see flies eatin my eyes, man? Fuck Africa!
Ed McBain, Gladly the Cross-Eyed Bear (1996) Amazon.usa Amazon.de Amazon.uk Amazon.ca

Relative ValueA lot has been said and written about the maltreatment of slaves. No doubt this went on. But let's face it: in 1854 a slave kid was sold for $1,150 in North Carolina. This now would be, depending on how you figure, between $200,000 and $500,000. That's quite an investment; most of us are "worth" less when you count money on the bank and possessions.


Let us now look at the proceeds. Many people of African origin, with a beady eye on Holland and its proverbial riches naturally want their cut. A clamor goes up for compensation for the fact that their predecessors were slaves and much money was made over their backs. Apart from legal problems (you can sue for compensation if something happened to you, but not if it happened to somebody else) there's this to consider:
There's a continuing debate on how much Holland has made on slavery in the past, what with possible Wiedergutmachung payment claims sounding highly attractive to some people. Researcher Karwan Fatah-Black of Leiden University in Holland has figured it all out; present value of Dutch earnings is €700 million. 600,000 slaves brought a profit of 120 guilders each.
However, that was not the nett profit of sales price minus the purchase price and costs; it was the total sum earned by all related economic activity like trade in weapons, textile, jenever [Dutch trade gin] and gun powder.
We can only conclude that Holland, by taking over Curaçao's debt to the tune of 4.5 billion guilders (2 billion €s) has amply, generously and honorably acquitted itself.

Slavery Here, Right Now
When my parents went back to Holland at the age of fifty after having built up their full pensions here (yes, they worked for the government; no, I had to go along) we had a servant girl from one of the British islands. At a certain point it looked like our departure would be delayed, as the girl was still here and nobody else had been found to take over the responsibility. You see, and it still is that way, when you get a foreign servant you have to accept full responsibility: When you leave, they must have gone first. If you wonder what rights the servant has, that is a very good question.
A people that accepts such conditions for its own foreign workers has no business to complain about injustices caused to its ancestors in the past, be they imaginary or ever so real.
One also looks very askance at the scandalous exploitation of workers from the Philippines and Cuba in virtually government-owned institutions like Curaçao Dok Maatschappij and BOO, in absolutely slave-like conditions. Not to mention the infamous Campo Alegre bordello.


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