Keti Koti Festival 2018

Happy Friday to all you readers out there! It’s been a while, but I’m back and excited to share with you all the goings on in Amsterdam. This summer has been hot a hot one. There has been much to do, and many exciting life changes on the horizon so let's rewind a little.

Last month, ever on the quest to find things to do in my increasingly familiar adopted city, I read about the Keti Koti Festival commemorating the 1 July 1863 abolition of slavery in the former Dutch colony of Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles. Members of the ABW group I recently joined planned to attend, so I decided to meet them and check out what I read was a powerful festival honoring the Surinamese concept of Keti Koti, which translates to broken chains. The brainchild of the event, NiNsee - National Institute of Slavery and Legacy in the Netherlands, asserts that there are more than 345,000 Surinamese and over 130,000 people with Antillean or Aruban backgrounds that live in the Netherlands. “Knowledge and insight into each other's past and mutual recognition of shared history are necessary to be able to live together successfully.” Even though I’m not Surinamese or Antillean, I am a child of the African Diaspora, so I was excited to go and connect with others in celebration of freedom and equality.

On a gorgeous Sunday afternoon, after everyone was accounted for at the meet-up point, we trekked to nearby Oosterpark. The popular Amsterdam Oost neighborhood was teeming with what seemed like double the number of people as usual. Since we arrived later in the afternoon when things were in full swing, I regretfully missed the Bigi Spikri parade, from Waterlooplein to Oosterpark, with attendees adorned in Surinamese cultural garb and the commemoration which immediately followed at the Oosterpark Slavery Monument, a memorial erected in 2002 designed by Surinamese sculptor Erwin de Vries.

The event was no charge open access and massive with 100 vendors tightly packed along the crammed walking path. Each held the typical festival fare, cultural clothing, artwork, books, and food. Several stalls offered Surinamese favorites of BBQ with noodles, fried rice, telo, black pudding, bara, rolls of pom, and soato. After perusing a few vendors, everyone was ready to eat, so we decided to split up in pursuit of fare to suit our various palates. I, of course, am a long-time pescetarian took the longest and got separated from the group. My new acquaintance, Rubi and I finally found a seafood dish and settle in a shady spot near the stage.

While the festival featured vendors, it also hosted exhibitions, debates and lectures. Dr. Coen van Galen from Radboud University presented the Slave Registers from 1830 to 1863 where almost all of the enslaved and slave owners from Suriname can be found and followed. There are 80,000 names in total. In addition, there were spoken-word stories of ancestors during imprisonment were performed by Cotton & Tobacco, panels hosted by Keti Koti talks, and a declaration of Unity by Bigi Bundru.

Main stage performances by Young Cosje, Curaçao-Dutch singer and songwriter Izaline Calister, and Mitchell Brunings & the Redemption Band also known as the voice of Holland maintained the vibes. The Kas Stage was blessed by So-A-GO, Pilar Di Ambiente, and Black Harmony. I was able to catch the famed ZO Gospel Choir. It was a sweet, peaceful time, camped out on the grass in the wonderous sun enjoying the soulful music that reminded me so much of back home.

As I looked around and noticed an array of people from different backgrounds and experiences all sharing and just being human together, I was struck by how fortunate I am to get to travel and live in a place like Amsterdam. It’s small and almost village-like, but chock-full of cultural exchange. This little international hub is always brimming with festivals, cultural events, and of course the arts. I can’t wait to tell you all about it.

'Til next time



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