Results


/ The Shipped

From around 1600 many Portuguese Jews settled in Amsterdam, where they brought enslaved people when slavery was legal in Portugal at that time. In 1614 this community in Amsterdam created the cemetery of Beth Haim. For many years the position of the servants and enslaved on Beth Haim was a contested topic within the community (Amsterdam en slavernij, 2019). Did they have to be buried outside of the cemetery or was it allowed to lay alongside the others Jewish people? According to the second article of official regulation that was created during the founding of the cemetery, the enslaved (‘escravos’) and servants (‘criados’ and ‘moças’) who were Jewish, but not Portuguese had to be buried at a separate place (1). In 1627 an additional regulation was created for people of color. From that moment on, they had to be buried outside of the borders of Beth Haim unless they had a Jewish mother. In 1644 this rule was repealed again. In the burial register of Beth Haim from 1614 till 1630 different persons can be found being described as escrava (enslaved), mulatta, preto (Black) or moreno (Brown). Among them, the final resting place of a black man called Elieser has been found in 2002 trough the archival research of Hagoort (2005).

On the soil of the Republic of the Netherlands, slavery was officially forbidden. However, after a short look in the city archives it quickly becomes apparent that many enslaved people lived in Amsterdam. Quite a few people of color arrived in the Netherlands, starting from the end of the fifteenth century (Haarnink, Hondius and Kolfin, 2008, p. 70). From the beginning of the seventeenth century a few ‘free’ black people living in Amsterdam. Every fragment of information about a person of color living in Amsterdam, raises the question about the status of this person. Were they enslaved, or employed as servants and how long did the few Africans who came to Europe stay here? Apart from this ambiguity, most of these fragmented life stories, were most certainly impacted by slavery and the slave trade. But only a few of them can be found in written biographies or painted in portraits from artists (Haarnink, Hondius and Kolfin, 2008, p. 73). Most of the Dutch, white historiography does still not focus on their life stories. They are lost in the white redaction function of Dutch history-making.

As the wind blew the ships away from Amsterdam, it set off to the coasts of West-Africa. Upon arrival, the hold with its many guns, textiles and other goods was partly cleared and used to hold people. While this happened thousands of kilometers away from Amsterdam, the echoes of slavery did not stay in the vastness of the ocean; it traveled back with the ships, it settled into the shores, it grew into the buildings. Many suffered and many fought (2). The wake from the slave ship would not end when it entered the city.

 

The end of the water is the beginning of the path.
(*)

 

The wake of the slave ship crashed into the buildings of Amsterdam. The ships full of haunting goods. The end of the water is the beginning of the path. After the water from the trails of the ships crashed into the city, it travelled back to the ocean with less intensity. Many intensities stayed in Amsterdam. The rippling wake was absorbed by the city itself. The buildings absorbed the sound of the crash – absorbed the trauma, the suffering, the people, the horrific stories. The unheard sounds of the shipped.

Beth Haim; I bike to this place just outside Amsterdam which still resonates parts of this lost history. I find Beth Haim in a sleepy town alongside the river called de Amstel. A twenty minutes bike ride south-east from Amsterdam alongside the river brings you to there. During my bike ride, a friend calls me to share the news about the sudden death of an acquaintance of ours. It is a shock to hear the news; it feels unreal. As I notice later that day, death would feel very present that day. After I stopped my bike, I look around the small town called Oudekerk aan de Amstel. When I look around the site, I find the statue of Elieser facing towards the small road. The sounds of cars and bicycles pass by while church bells are ringing.

I take a picture of the statue of Elieser and with him on the background the road sign called the Elieserpad (Elieser path).

 

ELIESER
† 27 March, 1629
In commemoration of Elieser and the other abducted and enslaved Africans who have found their final resting place here.

 

Then I walk on the Elieser path. I notice the sounds of me walking and the birds that are singing. The sound of the cars, bicycles and voices are fading away, while an airplane is flying over.

Just like the rippling effects on water, or ‘the track left on the water’s surface by a ship’ (3), sounds can be seen as a similar representation of a past presence. The wake and the sonic are both manifestations from traces of the past. Elieser must have heard these sounds when he was around here himself. Maybe it was on the 15th of August, 1621. The burial register of Beth Haim not only shows that Elieser was buried there, his attendance to other funerals when he offered money is also documented. August 15, 1621 when he attended the funeral of Sara de Pina, who was married to the merchant Paulo de Pina. Elieser was the ‘servant’ of this family. At the funeral of Sara de Pina he offered six pennies. He must have heard the same sounds of this place when he handed the money on the same day of the year in August nearly 400 years ago. 

I walk towards the entrance of Beth Haim, the Jewish-Portuguese cemetery next to the Elieser path. As I enter the cemetery through the creaking door, I smell the greenery of the space. It is summer, so the flowers are blossoming and the trees proudly present all of their shades of green. The sun is shining and with all of the colorful smells, I feel relaxed and at ease. The cemetery is well-structured with straight alleys surrounded by high hedges. As I walk the first steps on the long straight alley, a strange, uncanny feeling comes over me. I think: ‘I am surrounded by death’. I try to calm myself down by thinking: ‘you are surrounded by death all the time, so why worry now?’ That thought obviously does not help. While I walk further on the path, my uneasiness rises:

 

I do not like this. Why are you listening to ghosts? I do not like this.
(*)

Eventually I manage to not pay attention to these undesirable thoughts too much and make sure I find the resting place of Elieser quickly. The psychological filtering mechanism of my ear, described by Schafer, is working (Schafer, 1993, p. 103). But then I realize that I do not know the exact location of the resting place of Elieser. From the research of Hagoort, I know that he lies outside of the borders of the seventeenth century graveyard (Hagoort, 2005). But where Elieser has exactly been buried, I don’t know. From the photo’s I have seen online, I know it would be just a small stone tugged into the grass. So I know that it would be difficult to find.

 

Where would Elieser be? Where would Elieser be?
(*)

 

After a while I arrive at the newer parts of Beth Haim. I did not expect it would be such a big graveyard. At the newer parts of Beth Haim, there is less space between the graveyards. People who have recently past away are buried here. The green, spacious park makes place of strict and disciplined structure of many gravestones. I feel out of place. I look at a grave stone and see a date from 2008. Death feels too close today. I decide to go back to the entrance without much hope of finding his grave that day. Not being able to find the grave when researching lost stories of history seems like an odd and ironic situation.

When I am back at the entrance of Beth Haim, I look at the map of the cemetery. There I can read when each section is added to the cemetery. The first one is built before 1629, so the resting place of Elieser must be close to the entrance in the spacious park where I walked before. I feel a sense of relief: ‘I don’t have to walk back to the end of the cemetery’. As I walk between the old trees, I suddenly stop. I initially think that I nearly stepped on a stone, but luckily I am still standing on the grass. Then I notice the many squares of dry, yellow surfaces that are spread out over the much greener grass around the place. I later read at the website of Beth Haim, these places actually show the grave stones that have sunken in the ground many years ago. Because they have not been taken away, they are still present swallowed by the ground and sunken in far down the soil. On top of the peat of these stones, the grass cannot grow that well. The yellow grass shows an open-ended, haunting story, as if the story is still continuing to happen today. Now these places show the shadows of the graves. One of those ghostly, unnamed graves can be the final resting place of one of the other enslaved people that can be found in the burial register of Beth Haim. Do we perhaps find the unnamed at the unmarked? 

Finally, I find the grave of Elieser. Besides the few notes in the burial register, little is known about the status and life of Elieser. I hear the wind. The wind has taken him from his homecountry, to Portugal and then eventually in Amsterdam. The wind has taken him to this place.

The different intensities felt embodied in my visceral fear when walking around the grave yard, indicated the haunting in which the abusive systems of slavery made themselves known and their impacts felt in the ‘here’ and ‘now’. This insight links to hauntology through building upon the work of Gordon in which she continued this line of thought by stating that the over-and-done-with is felt in these instances (Gordon, 2008, p. 16). Slavery in the Netherlands is ‘over-and-done’ and this national amnesia is manifested in an innocence and ignorance around the annual black face tradition in the Netherlands. The national amnesia continues to be the soil for the everyday racism that people of color in the Netherlands experience (Essed, 1991). The continuity of this amnesia is also a reason for the passionate denial of racial discrimination and colonial violence in the Netherlands that coexists alongside aggressive racism and xenophobia (Wekker, 2016). The traces of this trauma are thus manifested everywhere in society including (and one might say, especially) Amsterdam. Despite the fact that not much is known about Elieser and far less is known about the other enslaved people that are buried here in Beth Haim. One thing is certain. They are, together with Elieser, the ones that lead the nation to the core of the trauma of slavery. They tell a story about forced migration on the water with oppression and violence as well as a story about resistance and resilience. This story does not particularly contain exact words or precise numbers, but can be felt through sounds that show us a space between what has happened (or better: what is still happening) and what could have been. 

/ The Shipped

From around 1600 many Portuguese Jews settled in Amsterdam, where they brought enslaved people when slavery was legal in Portugal at that time. In 1614 this community in Amsterdam created the cemetery of Beth Haim. For many years the position of the servants and enslaved on Beth Haim was a contested topic within the community (Amsterdam en slavernij, 2019). Did they have to be buried outside of the cemetery or was it allowed to lay alongside the others Jewish people? According to the second article of official regulation that was created during the founding of the cemetery, the enslaved (‘escravos’) and servants (‘criados’ and ‘moças’) who were Jewish, but not Portuguese had to be buried at a separate place (1). In 1627 an additional regulation was created for people of color. From that moment on, they had to be buried outside of the borders of Beth Haim unless they had a Jewish mother. In 1644 this rule was repealed again. In the burial register of Beth Haim from 1614 till 1630 different persons can be found being described as escrava (enslaved), mulatta, preto (Black) or moreno (Brown). Among them, the final resting place of a black man called Elieser has been found in 2002 trough the archival research of Hagoort (2005).

On the soil of the Republic of the Netherlands, slavery was officially forbidden. However, after a short look in the city archives it quickly becomes apparent that many enslaved people lived in Amsterdam. Quite a few people of color arrived in the Netherlands, starting from the end of the fifteenth century (Haarnink, Hondius and Kolfin, 2008, p. 70). From the beginning of the seventeenth century a few ‘free’ black people living in Amsterdam. Every fragment of information about a person of color living in Amsterdam, raises the question about the status of this person. Were they enslaved, or employed as servants and how long did the few Africans who came to Europe stay here? Apart from this ambiguity, most of these fragmented life stories, were most certainly impacted by slavery and the slave trade. But only a few of them can be found in written biographies or painted in portraits from artists (Haarnink, Hondius and Kolfin, 2008, p. 73). Most of the Dutch, white historiography does still not focus on their life stories. They are lost in the white redaction function of Dutch history-making.

As the wind blew the ships away from Amsterdam, it set off to the coasts of West-Africa. Upon arrival, the hold with its many guns, textiles and other goods was partly cleared and used to hold people. While this happened thousands of kilometers away from Amsterdam, the echoes of slavery did not stay in the vastness of the ocean; it traveled back with the ships, it settled into the shores, it grew into the buildings. Many suffered and many fought (2). The wake from the slave ship would not end when it entered the city.

 

The end of the water is the beginning of the path.
(*)

 

The wake of the slave ship crashed into the buildings of Amsterdam. The ships full of haunting goods. The end of the water is the beginning of the path. After the water from the trails of the ships crashed into the city, it travelled back to the ocean with less intensity. Many intensities stayed in Amsterdam. The rippling wake was absorbed by the city itself. The buildings absorbed the sound of the crash – absorbed the trauma, the suffering, the people, the horrific stories. The unheard sounds of the shipped.

Beth Haim; I bike to this place just outside Amsterdam which still resonates parts of this lost history. I find Beth Haim in a sleepy town alongside the river called de Amstel. A twenty minutes bike ride south-east from Amsterdam alongside the river brings you to there. During my bike ride, a friend calls me to share the news about the sudden death of an acquaintance of ours. It is a shock to hear the news; it feels unreal. As I notice later that day, death would feel very present that day. After I stopped my bike, I look around the small town called Oudekerk aan de Amstel. When I look around the site, I find the statue of Elieser facing towards the small road. The sounds of cars and bicycles pass by while church bells are ringing.

I take a picture of the statue of Elieser and with him on the background the road sign called the Elieserpad (Elieser path).

 

ELIESER
† 27 March, 1629
In commemoration of Elieser and the other abducted and enslaved Africans who have found their final resting place here.

 

Then I walk on the Elieser path. I notice the sounds of me walking and the birds that are singing. The sound of the cars, bicycles and voices are fading away, while an airplane is flying over.

Just like the rippling effects on water, or ‘the track left on the water’s surface by a ship’ (3), sounds can be seen as a similar representation of a past presence. The wake and the sonic are both manifestations from traces of the past. Elieser must have heard these sounds when he was around here himself. Maybe it was on the 15th of August, 1621. The burial register of Beth Haim not only shows that Elieser was buried there, his attendance to other funerals when he offered money is also documented. August 15, 1621 when he attended the funeral of Sara de Pina, who was married to the merchant Paulo de Pina. Elieser was the ‘servant’ of this family. At the funeral of Sara de Pina he offered six pennies. He must have heard the same sounds of this place when he handed the money on the same day of the year in August nearly 400 years ago. 

I walk towards the entrance of Beth Haim, the Jewish-Portuguese cemetery next to the Elieser path. As I enter the cemetery through the creaking door, I smell the greenery of the space. It is summer, so the flowers are blossoming and the trees proudly present all of their shades of green. The sun is shining and with all of the colorful smells, I feel relaxed and at ease. The cemetery is well-structured with straight alleys surrounded by high hedges. As I walk the first steps on the long straight alley, a strange, uncanny feeling comes over me. I think: ‘I am surrounded by death’. I try to calm myself down by thinking: ‘you are surrounded by death all the time, so why worry now?’ That thought obviously does not help. While I walk further on the path, my uneasiness rises:

 

I do not like this. Why are you listening to ghosts? I do not like this.
(*)

Eventually I manage to not pay attention to these undesirable thoughts too much and make sure I find the resting place of Elieser quickly. The psychological filtering mechanism of my ear, described by Schafer, is working (Schafer, 1993, p. 103). But then I realize that I do not know the exact location of the resting place of Elieser. From the research of Hagoort, I know that he lies outside of the borders of the seventeenth century graveyard (Hagoort, 2005). But where Elieser has exactly been buried, I don’t know. From the photo’s I have seen online, I know it would be just a small stone tugged into the grass. So I know that it would be difficult to find.

 

Where would Elieser be? Where would Elieser be?
(*)

 

After a while I arrive at the newer parts of Beth Haim. I did not expect it would be such a big graveyard. At the newer parts of Beth Haim, there is less space between the graveyards. People who have recently past away are buried here. The green, spacious park makes place of strict and disciplined structure of many gravestones. I feel out of place. I look at a grave stone and see a date from 2008. Death feels too close today. I decide to go back to the entrance without much hope of finding his grave that day. Not being able to find the grave when researching lost stories of history seems like an odd and ironic situation.

When I am back at the entrance of Beth Haim, I look at the map of the cemetery. There I can read when each section is added to the cemetery. The first one is built before 1629, so the resting place of Elieser must be close to the entrance in the spacious park where I walked before. I feel a sense of relief: ‘I don’t have to walk back to the end of the cemetery’. As I walk between the old trees, I suddenly stop. I initially think that I nearly stepped on a stone, but luckily I am still standing on the grass. Then I notice the many squares of dry, yellow surfaces that are spread out over the much greener grass around the place. I later read at the website of Beth Haim, these places actually show the grave stones that have sunken in the ground many years ago. Because they have not been taken away, they are still present swallowed by the ground and sunken in far down the soil. On top of the peat of these stones, the grass cannot grow that well. The yellow grass shows an open-ended, haunting story, as if the story is still continuing to happen today. Now these places show the shadows of the graves. One of those ghostly, unnamed graves can be the final resting place of one of the other enslaved people that can be found in the burial register of Beth Haim. Do we perhaps find the unnamed at the unmarked? 

Finally, I find the grave of Elieser. Besides the few notes in the burial register, little is known about the status and life of Elieser. I hear the wind. The wind has taken him from his homecountry, to Portugal and then eventually in Amsterdam. The wind has taken him to this place.

The different intensities felt embodied in my visceral fear when walking around the grave yard, indicated the haunting in which the abusive systems of slavery made themselves known and their impacts felt in the ‘here’ and ‘now’. This insight links to hauntology through building upon the work of Gordon in which she continued this line of thought by stating that the over-and-done-with is felt in these instances (Gordon, 2008, p. 16). Slavery in the Netherlands is ‘over-and-done’ and this national amnesia is manifested in an innocence and ignorance around the annual black face tradition in the Netherlands. The national amnesia continues to be the soil for the everyday racism that people of color in the Netherlands experience (Essed, 1991). The continuity of this amnesia is also a reason for the passionate denial of racial discrimination and colonial violence in the Netherlands that coexists alongside aggressive racism and xenophobia (Wekker, 2016). The traces of this trauma are thus manifested everywhere in society including (and one might say, especially) Amsterdam. Despite the fact that not much is known about Elieser and far less is known about the other enslaved people that are buried here in Beth Haim. One thing is certain. They are, together with Elieser, the ones that lead the nation to the core of the trauma of slavery. They tell a story about forced migration on the water with oppression and violence as well as a story about resistance and resilience. This story does not particularly contain exact words or precise numbers, but can be felt through sounds that show us a space between what has happened (or better: what is still happening) and what could have been. 

*  These fragments are collected from my field work diary.

1. ‘Livro de Bet Haim do Kahal Kados de Bet Yahacob’. Registration, regulations, and statement of income and expenditure of the Beth Haim cemetery in Ouderkerk aan de Amstel, also serving as a burial book and burial register. (5374-5390) (http://archief.amsterdam/archief/334/1/). (334:1)

2. As Balai wrote about resistance of the enslaved on the water (2011: 81).

3. In the words of Christina Sharpe who introduced the Wake in her book In the Wake: on Blackness and Being (2016: 3).