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I bring you greetings from the former Dutch colony of Guiana, now known as the cooperative Republic of Guyana when it gained independence from the British in 1966.
We in Guyana were somewhat dismayed that our country was not mentioned in the apology by Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands because Guyana was a Dutch colony from 1616 to 1812, a period of 196 years.
Yes, 196 years. Not 20 years or 50 years, or 100 years, but almost 200 years.
The British, in contrast, enslaved Africans in Guyana from 1812 to 1838, a period of 26 years. Of course, the British, after emancipation in 1838, had Guyana as their colonial property for another 128 years, for a grand total of 324 years of enslavement and colonisation.
Indentureship also began under the British and lasted from 1838 to 1917, a period of 79 years
What do we know about the Dutch in Guyana?
In 1621, the government of the Netherlands gave the newly formed Dutch West India Company complete control over a large trading post in the Essequibo. The Dutch West Indies Company was a major owner of many plantations that produced cotton, tobacco, and sugar for more than 170 years. At one time, there were over 300 Dutch-owned plantations in Guyana.
Today an indelible Dutch legacy lives in Guyana through the names of many of our villages such as Goed Fortuin, Uitvulgt, Vreed en Hoop, Vergenoegen, De Haan, Deweever, Holland, Herstelling, Goed Reed, Sparendaam, and Wakenaam which is the birthplace of my African grandmother and Amerindian grandfather.
Today, the Capital city of Berbice is named New Amsterdam. We also have Dutch street names such as Vlissingen and forts such as Fort Zealandia and Fort Kyk-over-al. Even today, much of Guyana’s legal and land conveyancing systems are legacies of the long period of Dutch colonial administration
Dutch enslavement lives in the minds of every Guyanese because Guyana’s national hero, Cuffy, was the leader of the 1763 Berbice rebellion.
So every Guyanese is aware of the Dutch ownership of Guyana. Cuffy was an Akan man from west Africa who was enslaved in Ghana, branded, and brought in chains to Guyana as a very young man. He led the Berbice Slave Rebellion which began in 1763 and ended in 1764. Most people don’t know but Cuffy’s first letter to Dutch Governor Wolfelt Simon van Hoogenheim, was written in Dutch. As the rebellion continued, Cuffy and his men were also attacked by governor Wigbold Crommelin of Suriname. Today, names such as Laurens Storm van Gravesande and Abraham van Pere are well-known historical figures of Dutch enslavement in Guyana.
But so much for the brief history lesson.
The book “Blood on the River” written by Marjolene Kars vividly describes the horror and brutality and dehumanization of Africans in Guyana as well as the legacy of divide and rule as the Dutch protected Amerindians by law and used them to hunt down and killed escaping Africans while destroying maroon villages.
1n 1814, the three counties of Berbice, Demerara, and Essequibo were bought by the British from the Dutch and in 1831 became British Guiana.
Why did I begin my presentation in this manner simply because I have read almost every article on the apology and have read and listened to prime minster mark Rutte’s speech on Monday 19 December, and have not seen nor heard Guyana mentioned in any of them, neither did a Dutch MP or Vice prime minister or anyone visiting Guyana. Yet we were enslaved for 196 years by the Dutch and only for 26 years by the British.
We in Guyana welcome the courageous step taken by the Prime Minister of the Netherlands. We see the apology as a portal, a gateway between the mental, spiritual, economic, financial, health, cultural, and psychological crises that People of African Descent, live daily on foreign shores, in Africa, and in former colonies.
Slavery was a crime against African humanity. The humanity that enabled all human lives on this earth. Slavery annihilated Africa, African culture, African family values, African traditions, African pride, African growth, African institutions, and African commerce, and as Walter Rodney, a great Guyanese historian said “Europe underdeveloped Africa.
With this in mind, we see the apology as the beginning of a path of constructive dialogue that will lead to repair. Even in Guyana, we need a museum to ensure our citizens understand the daily negative legacies of enslavement of People of African Descent as reflected, education is key. Caricom’s 10-Point Plan provides a framework for future discussion.
I also hope the government of the Netherlands will engage civil society groups in Holland. Caricom had a very long conversation last Saturday through a program sponsored by the National Platform Dutch Slavery Past and other groups, led by chairperson Mrs. Barryl Biekman. This was a 2-hour conference that lasted 4 hours because of the emotions, earnest interests, and ancestral intervention.
Christmas is here upon us so I hope it will bring the seasonal fruits of constructive dialogue with these groups. The pain is deep. The hurts still remain but we are now entering 2023 with new hope. So let us seek justice so that the souls of our ancestors can rest in eternal peace.
There are 2 Guyanese sayings I want to share today. The first is “moutar and guitar are two different tars”. The second is “the hands that work are holier than the hands that pray”
This means we heard what was said. We look forward to the positive actions that follow based on the principles that harms must be redressed and partnerships and dialogue can lead to shared understandings, shared values, shared actions, and shared benefits.
The apology is a portal. It is an important first step.
Let us embrace a process of justice, especially during the final years of the International Decade for People of African Descent whose motto is recognition, justice, and development.
Let us recognize the crime, through an apology, which we received on Monday.
Obtain justice which is reparatory justice, and use the resources for sustainable development.
I spent 2 ½ years working on building the Ukraine telecommunications network with colleagues from PTT Telecom of the Netherlands and I have found the Dutch to be practical so I look forward to the type of inclusive constructive dialogue that could result in an even bolder declaration by PM Rutte on the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery by the Netherlands
In the name of our ancestors and generations afflicted by racism, discrimination, and mental slavery; and on behalf of all the Government of Guyana and all Guyanese, I bid everyone of the Press Conference….God’s grace.
Statement by Mr. Eric Phillips, Chairman, Guyana Reparations Committee, Media Engagement: From Apology to Action: CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC) Response to the Netherlands’ Apology for African Enslavement, 21 December 2022 (CARICOM Today)