Friday, February 11, 2011
Sunday, January 23, 2011
A blind spot in Dutch history
Time for a new post. Visited the literary festival Writers Unlimited last night in The Hague. Formerly known as Winternachten, this year's theme was Great Expectations with a special focus on - surprise surprise - Surinamese and Antillean literature. I went there because the author of The Black Lord, Rihana Jamaludin, was going to be interviewed. Her new book Kuis (Chastity) is out now.
Again it struck me how little the Dutch know about their own history. You tell me, how can you boss around tens of thousands people for some 300 years (read: slavery), be responsible for the displacement of thousands of immigrants from India, China and Indonesia and then basically know nothing about them, historically, culturally and religiously, let alone take responsibility?
Where the Americans and Brits draw inspiration from their past and its black pages, the Dutch have remained very very quiet. Oh yes, there is talk about the VOC mentality and about the heroics of that famous Dutch admiral Michiel de Ruyter (1607 - 1676), but there is an eardeafening silence when it comes to the man's cargo. Ignorance? Some form of collective denial?
In the UK they have the Booker Prize. It was established some forty years ago with the aim to create an English-language Prix Concourt, an award that would encourage the wider reading of the very best in fiction across the UK and the Commonwealth (former British colonies).
Winners of the prize can look forward not only to worldwide recognition but also a place in the history of English literature. Contenders over the years have ranged from well established authors to first time novelists. To name but a few: Arundhati Roy for The God of Smalls Things, Aravind Adiga for The White Tiger, Kiran Desai for The Inheritance of Loss, Michael Ondaatje for The English Patient, Salman Rushdie for Midnight's Children. The list goes on and on and on.
Is it then that Surinam does not produce quality literature? No, of course not. Don't even embark on that train of thought. It is just that this quality is unknown to a wider audience. I guess it was Cynthia McLeod who put Surinam really on the literary map with her books, especially The Cost of Sugar which is being made into a film. One might argue about the literary quality of McLeod's books, but no such argument would hold up in the case of The Black Lord, which in my humble opinion is a much better more mature book that should be made into a film (see my earlier post).
Mrs Jamaludin's second novel is out now: Kuis (Chastity) and again an amazingly intriguing cover. This time with a chastity belt. Now, according to Wikipedia a chastity belt is a locking item of clothing designed to prevent sexual intercourse. They may be used to protect the wearer from rape or temptation. Some devices have been designed with additional features to prevent masturbation. Chastity belts have been created for males and females.
This is where it becomes interesting. The Wikipedia definition continues by stating that the term "chastity belt" is also used as a metaphor in modern English to imply overprotectiveness ... providing unnecessary or unwanted protection.
Protection from what? From the truth? From that other perspective on Dutch history? The perspective where a spade is a spade? Where slavery is slavery?
Sunday, January 02, 2011
Saturday, January 01, 2011
- Haagse Markt in The Hague (no need to go to India or Surinam); it is one of the biggest markets in the Netherlands and goes back to 1938.
- The Kaieteur Falls in former British Guyana (next to Surinam). It is located within one of the largest and most deep rainforests in the world and said to be one of the most powerful and spectacular falls on the planet. By air, it is an hour’s flight from Georgetown, the capital of Guyana. I have no idea who took this magnificent picture, but thank you, thank you, thank you.
- Turtle Watching in Surinam. The beaches of Surinam are the nesting grounds to mainly four kinds of turtles. Tourists from all over the world flock to the country to have a glimpse of the natural wonder, the huge turtles nesting on the Surinam beaches. The Galibi Nature Reserve is said to be the best place for turtle watching.
- Visit Bangalore, not for the IT sector, but for the 65 feet tall Shiva Statue. The statue depicts Lord Shiva who is seated in Padmashan or Lotus position. This is the largest Shiva statue in India. The background has been made to look as if it is Kailash. The River Ganga flows from the entangled rocks. The statute looks majestic during the night when it is lighted.
Yes, he is indeed related to the master himself: Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Enjoy.
Saturday, November 20, 2010
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
You can say many things about Victorian England, but when it comes to their naval history they have kept excellent records. Thus I was able to track down a picture of the ship that took my great grandfather to Surinam: Indus III.
The ship's original name was the HMS Bellerophon. One should keep in mind though that four ships of the Royal Navy had been named HMS Bellerophon after the hero Bellerophon in Greek Mythology. The most famous HMS Bellerophon was the one that particpated in the Battle of Trafalgar (21 October 1805) and taking none other than Napoleon Bonaparte to his second exile Island of Saint Helena following the battle of Waterloo.
That HMS Bellerophon was NOT the one my great grandfather travelled on. His was a Victorian central battery ironclad battleship of the Royal Navy built in 1865 (a hundred years prior to my birth in the Netherlands). At the time, she was a major step forward in design technology as compared to previous classes in terms of engine power, armament, armour, hull design and seaworthiness.
She was commissioned at Chatham, and served in the Channel Fleet until 1871. She was flagship on the North America station until 1881. She was re-commissioned as port guardship at Pembroke until 1903. Bellerophon was converted into a stokers' training ship in 1904, and re-named HMS Indus III which eventually brought my great grandfather Ramran Ali to Surinam in 1908. When sold in 1922 she had completed 56 years service.
Photo © Copyright Bellerophon Alumni 2010.
Sunday, August 29, 2010
From 1873 - ten years after the abolishment of slavery - until 1916 some 34,000 Indian contract labourers came to Surinam to take over the work on the plantations. This is how my ancestors ended up in Surinam. My great grandfather boarded the Indus III in October 1908 and arrived in his new motherland on 5 December of that same year.
The Sarnami House has a permanent exhibition which tells the story of these immigrants, backed up by painstaking research and excellent photo material. Anyway, for the next couple of months the Sarnami House will host a great programme related to this Indian diaspora, or more precise, they have invited various well-known writers in diaspora to give lectures on the various diaspora issues and how they have translated this in their own literary works.
The kick-off was last Friday with none other than Dutch-Iranian writer Kader Abdolah. Naema Tahir, Anil Ramdas and Amal Chatterjee will also be honouring the Sarnami House during the next couple of months. For the full programma, check out Sarnamihuis.net.
Do check out the story of Shri Ram in the Ramayana. You might also want to immerse yourself in the Mahabharata and find out about how Arjun and his four brothers married Draupadi.
Photo credits: from Wikipedia but probably put there by the Tropenmuseum.