Results


/ The Water

The first of July, 2019 is exactly 156 years ago slavery was officially ended in the Dutch empire (however, in the year 1873, after 10 years of forced labor, people in the formal colonies were actually ‘free’). Keti Koti is the national commemoration of slavery that is annually held in Amsterdam. Right in the middle of my research, I had planned to go to Keti Koti, so I decide to go and record the Biki Spikri procession from Waterlooplein to Oosterpark that happens before the commemoration of Keti Koti starts. Biki Spikri is a procession in which people wear traditional clothing to celebrate the Surinamese culture. Bigi Spikri is widely known in Surinam and literally means ‘big mirror’ in Surinamese. During the annual parade in Surinam many people who were dressed up, walked by the shop windows of Paramaribo. These shop windows functioned as big mirrors in which people could admire themselves. 

When I drive towards the parade, I am not sure which route the parade takes from Waterlooplein as I bike in the city searching for the sounds of the parade. Then I hear drumbeats, music and singing. The sounds of the parade are loudly and happily colliding with the sound of the wind. The parade and/or the wind. 

We slowly walk towards Oosterpark, the park in which the annual commemoration and celebration is happening. Then I realize that we walk right past the colonial building that now houses the Tropenmuseum (Museum of the Tropics). Until 2014, the grand, stately building was part of the Royal Institute for the Tropics. The museum was functioning as a custodian of the country’s collections of colonial history. Also home to this building was the extensive colonial research for the sake of ‘development’ in the colonized countries within the Dutch empire. This building can be seen as evidence of the white, colonial gaze (and white, colonial ear) that researched ‘the Other’ during and after colonial times. I decide to listen to this building. I start recording with my back against the old and cold cobble stoned walls. The sound seems dimmed and further away than it actually is. 

The building is silent. The parade is loud and clear and cheerful and present. The building is present in another way. In a much more subtle, devious way as if the building knows what kind of presence to apply in order to last longer. As the parade walks away from the colonial building towards the national slavery monument located in the park, I stop at the market with its many different stalls of food, accessories, colored toys and traditional clothing from Surinam and the former Dutch Antilles. Many impressions come to me, so I decide to write notes in my field work diary. Then I suddenly realize I left it at home. So I write directly on my skin – the black ink of the pen on my white skin.

The black ink on my white skin makes me think about how I perceive the sounds. What do I hear and what is left unheard because of my own positionality? Just like the ways in which my white gaze influences the things I see, how does my white listening influence the sounds I position to the different archives? Schafer pointed out that our ears differ from our eyes when we think about the unprotected nature from information. In other words, we can close our eyes, but we cannot close our ears. The only protection we have is a ‘psychological mechanism for filtering out the undesirable sound in order to concentrate on what is desirable’ (Schafer, 1993, p. 103). Therefore, the relationship between whiteness and sound might be found in this psychological mechanism that is continuously blocking the ‘undesirable’. The question of ‘What is music and what is noise?’ is answered by white, dominant historiography by filtering out the noise because of its undesirable nature. From this perspective, whiteness can be seen as the privilege, and the ability within this privilege, to only concentrate on the desirable and filtering out the undesirable. While I do not know the exact history of the family side of my father, my surname ‘Lap’ is not quite common on the mainland or in cities of the Netherlands. However, ‘Lap’ is a common name on the island of Texel. Texel used to be the main harbour from which slave ships from Amsterdam were sailing off. Did my ancestors see the slave ships pass by? What does it say about the way I listen to the stories from their time? 

It is a hot afternoon, so I decide to drink something at a nearby coffeeshop. I lock my bike and place it below the sign that says: Institute for Tropical Hygiene Department of the Colonial Institute. The coffee shop is inside the building. I cannot explain what kind of resonance the coffee shop has, but it feels strange to me. The casual sound of coffee feels both out-of-place and at the same time oddly familiar in a building that used to be part of the big institutional ship of colonialism that once introduced the coffee to Amsterdam. I record the haunting sound of the coffee machine during the day of commemoration, celebration and resistance. 

As I try to look through the windows of the building, with its pillars in front of the glass like prison bars, I see Keti Koti in display without sounds. The whole experience feels surreal, like a dream. When I leave the building, the different smells and sounds of the many stalls from the market makes me happy and I feel light again.

In the park the municipality of Amsterdam is selling linen bags with the logo of Amsterdam, with its three red crosses. The city that used to own Suriname and profited from the trade of the enslaved, is doing its routinely branding. After I made a full circle around the park, I end up at the national slavery monument where the ceremony has already started. I listen to the words of Winti priestess Marian Markelo during the annual libation.

 

Ancestors, I call on you to be in our midst. (…) We need hands and ghosts that guide us.

 

After that, Markelo talks to the audience: ‘it feels that Dutch collective memory surrounding slavery is going through a new phase’, she says, ‘now that Keti Koti is all of a sudden more discussed in our society’. She thanks the ancestors and the mother goddess of earth for this beginning. People listen, think, dream, hold hands, look around and applaud.

 

However, this is just the beginning. There is a long road ahead of us and we still need to do a lot.

After driving home I look at my hand full of ink. I try to avoid holding the handle bar of my bike with my left hand, so my notes would not disappear. When I enter the place where I want to type in my notes on the computer, I notice that some of the lines on my skin have disappeared. The words on my hand say: Laborat… for the He… …on. The last sentence only shows the shadows of the words, as mere ghosts of a lost memory. I now feel in a physical and visceral way that I embody the white historiography with its white archives in which Black history and the complete story about slavery is automatically being erased. With me writing on my hand, I use my body as an archive in a more literal way. One could say that all our bodies are always moving and ‘living’ archives that are being affected by traces of the ‘dead’. The ink on my skin has given me these haunting insights.

The next day I bike through the city center of Amsterdam. The little bridges pass by. This time, I do not look at the facades in front of the warehouses or the small, cobblestone streets. I neither listen to the busy mix of bikes or the fragments of conversations. This time, the water becomes apparent. After my bike ride, I write at the third floor of the public library overlooking the water that moves through the city. From this angle and height I see the complexity of reflections on the surface from small waves together with larger, more distinct rippling effects from boats passing by. I follow the boats and then their wake. Within the bigger wake, the smaller waves and reflections continue. With my eyes, I follow the wake of the water that represents the presence of the boat long after it disappeared around the corner. The binarity of the concepts of absence and presence disappears in front of my eyes. 

Below the surface of the water, many more interesting aspects of the city as archive are shown to us. Water is not only a visible aspect of the city that holds its streets in a grip, it is part of the very fundament on which Amsterdam is built. The seventeenth century structure of the city-center of Amsterdam is built on poles on places where long stretches of swampy, wet marshlands used to be. The municipality of Amsterdam needs to invest millions of euros to keep its head above the water and stop the city from going down (www.at5.nl, 2018, np.). Around the city, many buildings are continuously being renovated due to the sinking of the city. For instance, one of the poles on the Bickersgracht, the street I visited before, is sinking more than 3,5 mm per year (Amsterdam.nl, 2019, np.). So Amsterdam is sinking, like an old ship.

Building on the arguments about ‘Atlantic modernity’ from Elizabeth DeLoughrey, water is not just a mere space of transit that possesses a certain neutral materiality (2010, p. 703). Water is a place that is occupied by wasted lives and where the haunting of the past is still resonating within this materiality. The water, the memory, the haunting, can be seen as a grip around and within the city.

 

The water holds the city.
(*)

 

By positioning the water as a historical archive, we can also hear the possibilities of resistance. Unlike ‘conventional’ archives, the water holds parts of history without erasing sound to maintain dominant power structures.

 

The water holds the city.
(*)

 

Looking into the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade Database, one can find that 20.831 slave voyages were registered in different countries from 1700 till 1800 (slavevoyages.org, 2019). In all these 20.831 slave voyages, there were 575 instances in which acts of resistance were registered by the crew members. Obviously, the actual number of instances in which people rebelled (and were able to do so) is unknown. Acts of resistance were ranging from refusing to eat till suicide attempts (Balai, 2011, p. 81). With this in mind, the ocean becomes a memory that holds the possibilities of resistance. DeLoughrey even went further to emphasize on the humanization of the sea, since ‘we carry the ocean in our saline blood’ (2010, p. 708). We thus carry the materiality and with that, the archival function of the water with us.

 

We need hands and ghosts that guide us.

 

The ghosts within the water that are flowing around the city and in the canals, along haunting places of the Ships and the Stored, show the real depths of our trauma. Building on the theoretical starting point of Derrida, the moment we listen to the water, we enter a non-binary space of the living/non-living. In this space we feel that absence and presence are human social constructs of a much more complex reality in which ‘there are only, everywhere, differences and traces of traces’ (Derrida, 1972, p. 24). 

/ The Water

The first of July, 2019 is exactly 156 years ago slavery was officially ended in the Dutch empire (however, in the year 1873, after 10 years of forced labor, people in the formal colonies were actually ‘free’). Keti Koti is the national commemoration of slavery that is annually held in Amsterdam. Right in the middle of my research, I had planned to go to Keti Koti, so I decide to go and record the Biki Spikri procession from Waterlooplein to Oosterpark that happens before the commemoration of Keti Koti starts. Biki Spikri is a procession in which people wear traditional clothing to celebrate the Surinamese culture. Bigi Spikri is widely known in Surinam and literally means ‘big mirror’ in Surinamese. During the annual parade in Surinam many people who were dressed up, walked by the shop windows of Paramaribo. These shop windows functioned as big mirrors in which people could admire themselves. 

When I drive towards the parade, I am not sure which route the parade takes from Waterlooplein as I bike in the city searching for the sounds of the parade. Then I hear drumbeats, music and singing. The sounds of the parade are loudly and happily colliding with the sound of the wind. The parade and/or the wind. 

We slowly walk towards Oosterpark, the park in which the annual commemoration and celebration is happening. Then I realize that we walk right past the colonial building that now houses the Tropenmuseum (Museum of the Tropics). Until 2014, the grand, stately building was part of the Royal Institute for the Tropics. The museum was functioning as a custodian of the country’s collections of colonial history. Also home to this building was the extensive colonial research for the sake of ‘development’ in the colonized countries within the Dutch empire. This building can be seen as evidence of the white, colonial gaze (and white, colonial ear) that researched ‘the Other’ during and after colonial times. I decide to listen to this building. I start recording with my back against the old and cold cobble stoned walls. The sound seems dimmed and further away than it actually is. 

The building is silent. The parade is loud and clear and cheerful and present. The building is present in another way. In a much more subtle, devious way as if the building knows what kind of presence to apply in order to last longer. As the parade walks away from the colonial building towards the national slavery monument located in the park, I stop at the market with its many different stalls of food, accessories, colored toys and traditional clothing from Surinam and the former Dutch Antilles. Many impressions come to me, so I decide to write notes in my field work diary. Then I suddenly realize I left it at home. So I write directly on my skin – the black ink of the pen on my white skin.

The black ink on my white skin makes me think about how I perceive the sounds. What do I hear and what is left unheard because of my own positionality? Just like the ways in which my white gaze influences the things I see, how does my white listening influence the sounds I position to the different archives? Schafer pointed out that our ears differ from our eyes when we think about the unprotected nature from information. In other words, we can close our eyes, but we cannot close our ears. The only protection we have is a ‘psychological mechanism for filtering out the undesirable sound in order to concentrate on what is desirable’ (Schafer, 1993, p. 103). Therefore, the relationship between whiteness and sound might be found in this psychological mechanism that is continuously blocking the ‘undesirable’. The question of ‘What is music and what is noise?’ is answered by white, dominant historiography by filtering out the noise because of its undesirable nature. From this perspective, whiteness can be seen as the privilege, and the ability within this privilege, to only concentrate on the desirable and filtering out the undesirable. While I do not know the exact history of the family side of my father, my surname ‘Lap’ is not quite common on the mainland or in cities of the Netherlands. However, ‘Lap’ is a common name on the island of Texel. Texel used to be the main harbour from which slave ships from Amsterdam were sailing off. Did my ancestors see the slave ships pass by? What does it say about the way I listen to the stories from their time? 

It is a hot afternoon, so I decide to drink something at a nearby coffeeshop. I lock my bike and place it below the sign that says: Institute for Tropical Hygiene Department of the Colonial Institute. The coffee shop is inside the building. I cannot explain what kind of resonance the coffee shop has, but it feels strange to me. The casual sound of coffee feels both out-of-place and at the same time oddly familiar in a building that used to be part of the big institutional ship of colonialism that once introduced the coffee to Amsterdam. I record the haunting sound of the coffee machine during the day of commemoration, celebration and resistance. 

As I try to look through the windows of the building, with its pillars in front of the glass like prison bars, I see Keti Koti in display without sounds. The whole experience feels surreal, like a dream. When I leave the building, the different smells and sounds of the many stalls from the market makes me happy and I feel light again.

In the park the municipality of Amsterdam is selling linen bags with the logo of Amsterdam, with its three red crosses. The city that used to own Suriname and profited from the trade of the enslaved, is doing its routinely branding. After I made a full circle around the park, I end up at the national slavery monument where the ceremony has already started. I listen to the words of Winti priestess Marian Markelo during the annual libation.

 

Ancestors, I call on you to be in our midst. (…) We need hands and ghosts that guide us.

 

After that, Markelo talks to the audience: ‘it feels that Dutch collective memory surrounding slavery is going through a new phase’, she says, ‘now that Keti Koti is all of a sudden more discussed in our society’. She thanks the ancestors and the mother goddess of earth for this beginning. People listen, think, dream, hold hands, look around and applaud.

 

However, this is just the beginning. There is a long road ahead of us and we still need to do a lot.

After driving home I look at my hand full of ink. I try to avoid holding the handle bar of my bike with my left hand, so my notes would not disappear. When I enter the place where I want to type in my notes on the computer, I notice that some of the lines on my skin have disappeared. The words on my hand say: Laborat… for the He… …on. The last sentence only shows the shadows of the words, as mere ghosts of a lost memory. I now feel in a physical and visceral way that I embody the white historiography with its white archives in which Black history and the complete story about slavery is automatically being erased. With me writing on my hand, I use my body as an archive in a more literal way. One could say that all our bodies are always moving and ‘living’ archives that are being affected by traces of the ‘dead’. The ink on my skin has given me these haunting insights.

The next day I bike through the city center of Amsterdam. The little bridges pass by. This time, I do not look at the facades in front of the warehouses or the small, cobblestone streets. I neither listen to the busy mix of bikes or the fragments of conversations. This time, the water becomes apparent. After my bike ride, I write at the third floor of the public library overlooking the water that moves through the city. From this angle and height I see the complexity of reflections on the surface from small waves together with larger, more distinct rippling effects from boats passing by. I follow the boats and then their wake. Within the bigger wake, the smaller waves and reflections continue. With my eyes, I follow the wake of the water that represents the presence of the boat long after it disappeared around the corner. The binarity of the concepts of absence and presence disappears in front of my eyes. 

Below the surface of the water, many more interesting aspects of the city as archive are shown to us. Water is not only a visible aspect of the city that holds its streets in a grip, it is part of the very fundament on which Amsterdam is built. The seventeenth century structure of the city-center of Amsterdam is built on poles on places where long stretches of swampy, wet marshlands used to be. The municipality of Amsterdam needs to invest millions of euros to keep its head above the water and stop the city from going down (www.at5.nl, 2018, np.). Around the city, many buildings are continuously being renovated due to the sinking of the city. For instance, one of the poles on the Bickersgracht, the street I visited before, is sinking more than 3,5 mm per year (Amsterdam.nl, 2019, np.). So Amsterdam is sinking, like an old ship.

Building on the arguments about ‘Atlantic modernity’ from Elizabeth DeLoughrey, water is not just a mere space of transit that possesses a certain neutral materiality (2010, p. 703). Water is a place that is occupied by wasted lives and where the haunting of the past is still resonating within this materiality. The water, the memory, the haunting, can be seen as a grip around and within the city.

 

The water holds the city.
(*)

 

By positioning the water as a historical archive, we can also hear the possibilities of resistance. Unlike ‘conventional’ archives, the water holds parts of history without erasing sound to maintain dominant power structures.

 

The water holds the city.
(*)

 

Looking into the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade Database, one can find that 20.831 slave voyages were registered in different countries from 1700 till 1800 (slavevoyages.org, 2019). In all these 20.831 slave voyages, there were 575 instances in which acts of resistance were registered by the crew members. Obviously, the actual number of instances in which people rebelled (and were able to do so) is unknown. Acts of resistance were ranging from refusing to eat till suicide attempts (Balai, 2011, p. 81). With this in mind, the ocean becomes a memory that holds the possibilities of resistance. DeLoughrey even went further to emphasize on the humanization of the sea, since ‘we carry the ocean in our saline blood’ (2010, p. 708). We thus carry the materiality and with that, the archival function of the water with us.

 

We need hands and ghosts that guide us.

 

The ghosts within the water that are flowing around the city and in the canals, along haunting places of the Ships and the Stored, show the real depths of our trauma. Building on the theoretical starting point of Derrida, the moment we listen to the water, we enter a non-binary space of the living/non-living. In this space we feel that absence and presence are human social constructs of a much more complex reality in which ‘there are only, everywhere, differences and traces of traces’ (Derrida, 1972, p. 24).