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If you go there—you who was never there—if you go there and stand in the place where it was, it will happen again; it will be there . . . it’s going to always be there waiting for you.

~ Tony Morrison, Beloved

 

/ The Ships

During a city meeting on the 25th of October 1718 the city board of Amsterdam, generally known as the Ten Gentlemen, decided to build a 33 meter long frigate ship for the planned travel to Angola and Suriname in May 1719. The Ten Gentlemen decided to assign the building of the frigate ship to the lowest offer made by the shipwright Jan Gerbrandse Slegt who was working at the shipyard called De Eendracht on one of Amsterdam’s Western Islands called Kattenburg (Balai, 2011, p. 125).

After finding the place of De Eendracht both on a seventeenth-century map and on a contemporary map of Amsterdam, I know to which area I will go with my bike. While I do know the general directions, I have never been to Kattenburg before. So I am not sure how to get to the exact place of De Eendracht. As I turn to Kattenburg Plein, the square in front of the old buildings of Kattenburg, I notice a small underpass towards a quiet, small communal park. The old trees in the park are home to birds singing passionately as if they want to tell me something. As I enter the square on my bike, the quietness and tranquility of the place comes into focus. The small park is surrounded by old buildings, so the loud sounds of the busy city with its cars, bicycles and trams are left out. The place is very quiet – surprisingly quiet for its central location in the city. After a couple of meters inside the square, I notice I can take a right turn towards the direction of the place where De Eendracht was located. As I slowly drive further and further to the South-Eastern side of the park, my heartbeat rises. I am not sure about the directions, but it feels like I am heading towards the exact place. While I drive deeper into the small green park, I notice a certain resonance of the place. I write in my field work diary:

 

I feel something heavy, something bigger that presents this place. (…) It is too quiet here.
(*)

 

Please click below on the play button to listen to the first audio recording. Please make sure to adjust the volume per audio recording in order to hear all the details of the soundscape.

After the decision of the Ten Gentlemen, the Leusden was built by Slegt’s carpenters crew in 8 months at De Eendracht. The total costs for building the structure of the ‘bare ship’ and its equipment was 53,094 Florins (Balai, 2011, p. 126). After delivering the bare ship, extra workforce and material was bought to build a double outer skin for the ship. The so-called ‘doubling of ships’ was a necessary task for the ship to become resistant to the ravages of the teredo worms in the tropic waters. Finally, the ship was dragged towards and beyond the small island Pampus in the river north of Amsterdam where the water was deep enough for the ship to be able to sail to Texel, the place from which all the ships started their long journey.

 

Carpenters standing on the oak beams. Dok, Dok, Dok. The dull, loud sounds of the axes smashing into the wooden beams.

 

The first voyage in 1719 of the Leusden became the first in a series of 10 slave-trading voyages. During these voyages, 6,564 captives were embarked, 1,639 of whom did not survive the passage. Before sale, another 102 captives died in the slave warehouses (Balai, 2011, p. 355).

 

The Leusden was a floating prison. Or moreover, a floating graveyard.
(*)

 

On January 1, 1738, De Leusden was caught in a storm close to the coast of Suriname. Fearing that the African captives would ‘murder them’, the crew decided to shut the hold and lock the captives below deck (Balai, 2011, p. 196). While the boat sank in the Maroni River, the crew escaped the Leusden, leaving six hundred and sixty-four people behind – making it a left-to-die-boat. In the Netherlands the story of the Leusden was never told. There was silence.

 

I feel something heavy, something bigger that presents this place. (…) It is too quiet.
(*)

I drive to a fence that marks the end of the gravel path. I lock my bike and look around. The end of the path is the beginning of the water. It is an open, windy space, looking out on the water. I start to record the sounds. I hear the sounds around me amplified through my headphone. It feels weird. The end of the path is the beginning of the water. I lean towards one of the bushes with my audio recorder to collect the sound of the rustling of the leaves from the wind. I am focused and not aware of myself being in the space, as a door opens behind me. A resident walks out and notices me. ‘Are you checking for radiation?’, he jokingly asks. I don’t want to start a conversation as I just started the recording of the rustling of the leaves. I just smile without making a sound. Although I wanted to disappear into the soundscape, I was caught by the soundscape itself. I am part of it. Part of everything. Part of the affective traces that still linger around the site of the Eendracht, painful and unresolved. As I look around holding onto the metal fence looking across the water at the other side of the canal, I hear something.

 

(…) Tik, Tik, Tik.

Across the water, at the other Western Island called Wittenburg, I hear the sound of people working on the outside of the building. The sound is far away and through the loud wind, it is not always audible. I decide to look around the area and walk out of the small park towards the sounds. When I walk back away from the open place where the Eendracht used to be, the sounds of the wind vanish leaving space to the calm sounds of the birds and the trees again. The moment I leave the quietness of the small park, I enter the busy hum of the city. With its cars and bicycles, with people walking and talking. The senses of my body move back to the background as these sounds take over the stage. As I walk across the streets I hear one sentence of a jovial conversation. The sounds pass by my body like fugitive histories of interactions.

 

(…) How old are you?
– In September I will turn 70 years old.
Will you turn 70?!
– Do you want to drink something?
No.
– Maybe a glass of water? (…)

The rest of the conversation is lost, unrecorded and only memorized by them until their memory dimes. I walk over a bridge when I see the place of the Eendracht again. It is fifty meters to the right from the open space where I was standing five minutes ago. I look at the site where the Leusden was build. Wind. I cannot hear any other sounds.

From the corner of the building that is blocking the wind I am looking at the site. The moment I step away from the building the wind takes over. The red light of my audio recorder is on. Too loud. I take a step back again behind the building. Too much wind. I continue my walk. Another archway comes into focus. I can take a left turn towards the direction of the sound that I am after. But before I turn left, I see a builder merchant with do-it-yourself products called Wittenburg. Wittenburg is an island next to Kattenburg where slave ships were also built (Balai, 2013, p. 90). Building materials for the construction of the ships were stored, transported and sold at this island. Now there is a DIY builder merchant with the same name on the same island. As I enter the store, I ask one of the staff members if I can record sounds in the store. With a mix of surprise and honor he agrees. His thoughts are all written over his face: ’Why would you record in this shop?’

Objects settle into scenes of life and stand as traces of a past still resonant in things.
(Steward, 2007, p. 56)

 

Without truly listening to the unheard sounds of our archives this is just a shop without a story to tell. A story that goes maybe fifty years back in time. A story about family members taking over the shop. The longer history is left to die, mentioned, but not mentioned, recorded, but lost in archives. Silently, I walk out of the shop – I made a typo when I initially wrote in this sentence ‘ship’ instead of ‘shop’. Shop, ship. I believe that the men didn’t notice that I walked out of the shop. After leaving the shop, I walk underneath the archway towards the sounds.

 

(…) Tik, Tik, Tik.
(…) Dok, Dok, Dok.

 

However, the sounds are gone. The builders that worked on the outside of the building have disappeared. There is a strong wind instead.

On the 30th of December 1737, the Leusden was close to the coast of French Guyana, when it experienced bad weather. Strong winds came up with heavy rain falls. This caused a fog to form, dismantling the crew members’ ability to recognize the coast. When the strong winds disappeared and the fog slowly flew away, the crew made a navigation error and mistakenly decided to sail towards the wrong river. On the Marowijne river the Leusden stranded on shallow waters (Balai, 2011, p. 196). This was the beginning of the end. The only words that interpret the story are produced by the reports of the crew members and the letters from the WIC in which the disappearance of the ship was seen as ‘a significant damage for the company’. The reports about the disappearance of the ship showed a disappearance of voices that could tell another story.

As I walk back to my bike, I look back at the tensions, sounds and feelings that passed through my body within the hour that I spent around the site. It felt unreal what had happened, but just like a dream, it felt as real, vivid and physical as it could be.

 

To attend to ordinary affects is to trace how the potency of forces lies in their immanence to things that are both flighty and hardwired, shifty and unstable but palpable too. At once abstract and concrete.
(Steward, 2007, p. 3)

 

So far my experience presented here was very palpable. It was a somewhat flighty and unstable encounter with my surroundings, but it was physically felt and heard. To further analyse this tension from things that manifest in this ‘potency of forces’, I now turn to the lost sounds that the buildings around the site of the Eendracht have heard. In a way these lost sounds as manifestations of violence, trauma and inequality are ‘folded into the open disguise of ordinary things’ (Steward, 2007, p. 19). Ordinary things like buildings thus show the outlines of impacts suffered. These buildings heard the crisping sound of fire when the carpenters were bending the oak beams for the Leusden. The buildings felt the impacts of the sounds of water splashing, when the Leusden first hit the water.

Moreover, the buildings encountered the sounds that came back together with the Leusden after its many travels. After every travel around the Atlantic, the ship was damaged. It had to be prepared at the Eendracht for its next travel (Balai, 2011, p. 142). All these sounds were stored in the hold of the Leusden or folded into the buildings of the Eendracht; from the sound of 400 guns shipped in big boxes on its first travel, to the million light ringing sounds made by kauri shells – which were used to buy enslaved people – on its second travel. At the end, after many hours of work at the Eendracht, I imagine there was silence again. Silence in the city that greatly benefited from the ship-building and its trade in and around Suriname and the former Dutch Antilles (Dillen, 1950, pp. 162-167). With a strong wind, the trauma finally sailed away, leaving many fragments behind. Fragments of trauma that can now still be felt. And these fragments are not just visceral continuations. One of the physical fragments can be discovered in the soil of Amsterdam. During excavations in 1982, just two-hundred meters from the site where the Eendracht used to be, these Kauri shells were found in the soil of the city. Until this moment when the shells moved to the city’s archives, they were still part of the streets of Amsterdam – part of our daily lives. Part of our soundscape.

/ The Ships

During a city meeting on the 25th of October 1718 the city board of Amsterdam, generally known as the Ten Gentlemen, decided to build a 33 meter long frigate ship for the planned travel to Angola and Suriname in May 1719. The Ten Gentlemen decided to assign the building of the frigate ship to the lowest offer made by the shipwright Jan Gerbrandse Slegt who was working at the shipyard called De Eendracht on one of Amsterdam’s Western Islands called Kattenburg (Balai, 2011, p. 125).

After finding the place of De Eendracht both on a seventeenth-century map and on a contemporary map of Amsterdam, I know to which area I will go with my bike. While I do know the general directions, I have never been to Kattenburg before. So I am not sure how to get to the exact place of De Eendracht. As I turn to Kattenburg Plein, the square in front of the old buildings of Kattenburg, I notice a small underpass towards a quiet, small communal park. The old trees in the park are home to birds singing passionately as if they want to tell me something. As I enter the square on my bike, the quietness and tranquility of the place comes into focus. The small park is surrounded by old buildings, so the loud sounds of the busy city with its cars, bicycles and trams are left out. The place is very quiet – surprisingly quiet for its central location in the city. After a couple of meters inside the square, I notice I can take a right turn towards the direction of the place where De Eendracht was located. As I slowly drive further and further to the South-Eastern side of the park, my heartbeat rises. I am not sure about the directions, but it feels like I am heading towards the exact place. While I drive deeper into the small green park, I notice a certain resonance of the place. I write in my field work diary:

 

I feel something heavy, something bigger that presents this place. (…) It is too quiet here.
(*)

 

Please click below on the play button to listen to the first audio recording. Please make sure to adjust the volume per audio recording in order to hear all the details of the soundscape.

After the decision of the Ten Gentlemen, the Leusden was built by Slegt’s carpenters crew in 8 months at De Eendracht. The total costs for building the structure of the ‘bare ship’ and its equipment was 53,094 Florins (Balai, 2011, p. 126). After delivering the bare ship, extra workforce and material was bought to build a double outer skin for the ship. The so-called ‘doubling of ships’ was a necessary task for the ship to become resistant to the ravages of the teredo worms in the tropic waters. Finally, the ship was dragged towards and beyond the small island Pampus in the river north of Amsterdam where the water was deep enough for the ship to be able to sail to Texel, the place from which all the ships started their long journey.

 

Carpenters standing on the oak beams. Dok, Dok, Dok. The dull, loud sounds of the axes smashing into the wooden beams.

 

The first voyage in 1719 of the Leusden became the first in a series of 10 slave-trading voyages. During these voyages, 6,564 captives were embarked, 1,639 of whom did not survive the passage. Before sale, another 102 captives died in the slave warehouses (Balai, 2011, p. 355).

 

The Leusden was a floating prison. Or moreover, a floating graveyard.
(*)

 

On January 1, 1738, De Leusden was caught in a storm close to the coast of Suriname. Fearing that the African captives would ‘murder them’, the crew decided to shut the hold and lock the captives below deck (Balai, 2011, p. 196). While the boat sank in the Maroni River, the crew escaped the Leusden, leaving six hundred and sixty-four people behind – making it a left-to-die-boat. In the Netherlands the story of the Leusden was never told. There was silence.

 

I feel something heavy, something bigger that presents this place. (…) It is too quiet.
(*)

I drive to a fence that marks the end of the gravel path. I lock my bike and look around. The end of the path is the beginning of the water. It is an open, windy space, looking out on the water. I start to record the sounds. I hear the sounds around me amplified through my headphone. It feels weird. The end of the path is the beginning of the water. I lean towards one of the bushes with my audio recorder to collect the sound of the rustling of the leaves from the wind. I am focused and not aware of myself being in the space, as a door opens behind me. A resident walks out and notices me. ‘Are you checking for radiation?’, he jokingly asks. I don’t want to start a conversation as I just started the recording of the rustling of the leaves. I just smile without making a sound. Although I wanted to disappear into the soundscape, I was caught by the soundscape itself. I am part of it. Part of everything. Part of the affective traces that still linger around the site of the Eendracht, painful and unresolved. As I look around holding onto the metal fence looking across the water at the other side of the canal, I hear something.

 

(…) Tik, Tik, Tik.

Across the water, at the other Western Island called Wittenburg, I hear the sound of people working on the outside of the building. The sound is far away and through the loud wind, it is not always audible. I decide to look around the area and walk out of the small park towards the sounds. When I walk back away from the open place where the Eendracht used to be, the sounds of the wind vanish leaving space to the calm sounds of the birds and the trees again. The moment I leave the quietness of the small park, I enter the busy hum of the city. With its cars and bicycles, with people walking and talking. The senses of my body move back to the background as these sounds take over the stage. As I walk across the streets I hear one sentence of a jovial conversation. The sounds pass by my body like fugitive histories of interactions.

 

(…) How old are you?
– In September I will turn 70 years old.
Will you turn 70?!
– Do you want to drink something?
No.
– Maybe a glass of water? (…)

The rest of the conversation is lost, unrecorded and only memorized by them until their memory dimes. I walk over a bridge when I see the place of the Eendracht again. It is fifty meters to the right from the open space where I was standing five minutes ago. I look at the site where the Leusden was build. Wind. I cannot hear any other sounds.

From the corner of the building that is blocking the wind I am looking at the site. The moment I step away from the building the wind takes over. The red light of my audio recorder is on. Too loud. I take a step back again behind the building. Too much wind. I continue my walk. Another archway comes into focus. I can take a left turn towards the direction of the sound that I am after. But before I turn left, I see a builder merchant with do-it-yourself products called Wittenburg. Wittenburg is an island next to Kattenburg where slave ships were also built (Balai, 2013, p. 90). Building materials for the construction of the ships were stored, transported and sold at this island. Now there is a DIY builder merchant with the same name on the same island. As I enter the store, I ask one of the staff members if I can record sounds in the store. With a mix of surprise and honor he agrees. His thoughts are all written over his face: ’Why would you record in this shop?’

Objects settle into scenes of life and stand as traces of a past still resonant in things.
(Steward, 2007, p. 56)

 

Without truly listening to the unheard sounds of our archives this is just a shop without a story to tell. A story that goes maybe fifty years back in time. A story about family members taking over the shop. The longer history is left to die, mentioned, but not mentioned, recorded, but lost in archives. Silently, I walk out of the shop – I made a typo when I initially wrote in this sentence ‘ship’ instead of ‘shop’. Shop, ship. I believe that the men didn’t notice that I walked out of the shop. After leaving the shop, I walk underneath the archway towards the sounds.

 

(…) Tik, Tik, Tik.
(…) Dok, Dok, Dok.

 

However, the sounds are gone. The builders that worked on the outside of the building have disappeared. There is a strong wind instead.

On the 30th of December 1737, the Leusden was close to the coast of French Guyana, when it experienced bad weather. Strong winds came up with heavy rain falls. This caused a fog to form, dismantling the crew members’ ability to recognize the coast. When the strong winds disappeared and the fog slowly flew away, the crew made a navigation error and mistakenly decided to sail towards the wrong river. On the Marowijne river the Leusden stranded on shallow waters (Balai, 2011, p. 196). This was the beginning of the end. The only words that interpret the story are produced by the reports of the crew members and the letters from the WIC in which the disappearance of the ship was seen as ‘a significant damage for the company’. The reports about the disappearance of the ship showed a disappearance of voices that could tell another story.

As I walk back to my bike, I look back at the tensions, sounds and feelings that passed through my body within the hour that I spent around the site. It felt unreal what had happened, but just like a dream, it felt as real, vivid and physical as it could be.

 

To attend to ordinary affects is to trace how the potency of forces lies in their immanence to things that are both flighty and hardwired, shifty and unstable but palpable too. At once abstract and concrete.
(Steward, 2007, p. 3)

 

So far my experience presented here was very palpable. It was a somewhat flighty and unstable encounter with my surroundings, but it was physically felt and heard. To further analyse this tension from things that manifest in this ‘potency of forces’, I now turn to the lost sounds that the buildings around the site of the Eendracht have heard. In a way these lost sounds as manifestations of violence, trauma and inequality are ‘folded into the open disguise of ordinary things’ (Steward, 2007, p. 19). Ordinary things like buildings thus show the outlines of impacts suffered. These buildings heard the crisping sound of fire when the carpenters were bending the oak beams for the Leusden. The buildings felt the impacts of the sounds of water splashing, when the Leusden first hit the water.

Moreover, the buildings encountered the sounds that came back together with the Leusden after its many travels. After every travel around the Atlantic, the ship was damaged. It had to be prepared at the Eendracht for its next travel (Balai, 2011, p. 142). All these sounds were stored in the hold of the Leusden or folded into the buildings of the Eendracht; from the sound of 400 guns shipped in big boxes on its first travel, to the million light ringing sounds made by kauri shells – which were used to buy enslaved people – on its second travel. At the end, after many hours of work at the Eendracht, I imagine there was silence again. Silence in the city that greatly benefited from the ship-building and its trade in and around Suriname and the former Dutch Antilles (Dillen, 1950, pp. 162-167). With a strong wind, the trauma finally sailed away, leaving many fragments behind. Fragments of trauma that can now still be felt. And these fragments are not just visceral continuations. One of the physical fragments can be discovered in the soil of Amsterdam. During excavations in 1982, just two-hundred meters from the site where the Eendracht used to be, these Kauri shells were found in the soil of the city. Until this moment when the shells moved to the city’s archives, they were still part of the streets of Amsterdam – part of our daily lives. Part of our soundscape.

*  These fragments are collected from my field work diary.