Speech by State Secretary for Kingdom Relations and Digitalisation Alexandra van Huffelen on Curaçao


Tula warda no wak ahinda
Ya ku nos tin algun kos di drecha
Kere nos ta trahando duru

(Tula be patient, don’t look yet
We still have some things to improve
Believe me, we're working hard to get there)

esteemed attendees,
dear residents of Curaçao,
apresiado presentenan,
apresiado habitantenan di Kòrsou,

These lines from the song ‘Tula Warda’ by Doble R
occupied my thoughts in the run-up to this important day.

Because the apology made by the Dutch government today is an important first step on the road to rectification.

Everyone I spoke to about this emotionally charged subject during the past year taught me that.

Time and again, they told me:
we still have much to do together.
And I have heard that message.
And I feel it.

Under a tamarind tree, Maria Liberia-Peters told me about a boy.
He drew his black mother and gave her a white face,
because he wished that his mother was white.

Many young people – in their twenties or thirties – told me how they are affected by the trauma that has been carried in their DNA for generations.

And, at the Juan Pablo Duarte school, I met pupils who pointed to the colour of their own skin…

Point to your own arm

and said something heartbreaking:
‘We feel like second-class citizens.’

Brief pause

I want no child in our Kingdom to grow up with that feeling.
Mi deseo ta, ku nunka mas, ningún mucha
den nos reino ta krese ku e sentimentu aki.

That is why I am grateful that we are all here today
at this special memorial to Tula.

Because the apology made by the Prime Minister on behalf of the Dutch government is an essential first step towards reaching that goal. 

Let me be absolutely clear:
slavery is a crime against humanity.
For centuries, people were exploited and abused in the name of the Dutch state.
Lagami papia klá:
sklabitut ta un krimen kontra humanidat.
Siglonan largu, hendenan a wòrdu malhusá i maltratá den nòmber di estado Hulandes

This also happened on Curaçao.
With unspeakable cruelty, people were turned into goods to be traded.

Due to its location, Curaçao was primarily a staging post where enslaved Africans were transported for sale to Spanish, English, Portuguese and French slave owners.
Enslaved men were purchased for 40 guilders and sold for an average of 200 guilders.
This fact is as disturbing as it is absurd.

Some enslaved people were also sold here, however.
Deprived of their dignity, freedom and autonomy, they were forced by their owners to work on the land, on the water or in the salt pans.

They were underfed and forced to work for increasingly long periods in the burning sun.
Their owners abused and raped them.
Those who did not listen were tortured or murdered.

But 17 August 1795 was a special day.

On that day, this man, Tula,
(point to or look at the man in the centre of the monument)
started a rebellion against the owner of the plantation where he was enslaved, Casper Lodewijk van Uytrecht.

With the support of Bajan Carpata and Pedro Wacao, around two thousand slaves joined Tula’s rebellion.

In the days following the rebellion, Father Jacobus Schinck was sent to Tula as an intermediary.

From his notes, we know what Tula said to him:

‘We have been excessively abused.
We do not wish to harm anyone, we only seek our freedom.’

‘Nos a wòrdu demasiado maltratá.
Nos no ta buska pa hasi ningun hende daño,
ma nos ta buska nos libertat!’

And also:

‘Oh Father, they take better care of their animals.
If an animal breaks a leg, it is healed.’

Ai pader, nan ta sòru mihó pa un bestia.
Si un bestia kibra un pata, e ta wòrdu kurá.

Tula and his companions fought an unequal and unfair battle.

The mission failed after a few weeks:
the rebellion started by these heroes was crushed.

On 3 October 1795, Tula, Bajan Carpata and Pedro Wacao were executed in a horrific manner. When I read this, I was struck dumb.

Unfortunately, slavery was only officially abolished seventy years later, on 1 July 1863.

Tula’s heroic deed taught us that it is important to fight
for your principles, for freedom, equality and fraternity.

Curaçao can stand on his shoulders with pride.
Brief pause, look at the audience

Because we want to make amends for this historic wrong, the Dutch government – following the government of Curaçao –
will formally rehabilitate Tula.
Awor nos ke hasi hustisia na Tula.
Pa e motibu aki gobiernu Ulandes
– meskos ku gobiernu di Kòrsou a hasi kaba –
ta bai rehabilitá Tula formalmente.

With this act, I can finally say that we are fulfilling a justified wish
that many of you have long fought for.

Just as Tula deserves a dignified rehabilitation, many people who came after him should also be mentioned today.
In my first year as Minister for Kingdom Relations, I met many people who had spent years fighting for greater recognition of the slavery past and its effects today.

Look around: and many of you are here today.

These conversations made a profound impression on me.
They showed me how important it is to strive for reconciliation
with the past and with one another.
Because that is the only way we can shape our common future together.

The lyrics of ‘Tula Warda’, which I began with, tell us that this is no easy goal.

I wish to dedicate my heart and soul to achieving that reconciliation.
I believe and feel in my heart that we can do it.

I have seen how the effects of the slavery past can still be felt today on Curaçao.
By people as individuals, in how we live together as a society and in the relationship with the Netherlands.

The road to reconciliation and rehabilitation will not be a smooth, paved road.

It will more closely resemble the steep, rocky path to the top of the Christoffelberg.
Through patient struggle and carefully feeling your way ahead, you can slowly reach the top, one step at a time.

I can’t tell you when we will get there.

But today, we took the first step.

Let us continue along that road together
in a spirit of mutual appreciation and respect
and by harnessing our collective strength.

I am grateful for the opportunity to work with you towards that goal in the years to come.
Mi ta gradisido ku e añanan ku ta bini mi por traha huntu ku bosonan riba esaki.

The first step is the rehabilitation of Tula,
and setting up an independent committee to organise a worthy memorial to the slavery past.

Next year, from 1 July, we will remember that past throughout the entire Kingdom during the Slavery Past Memorial Year.

We will do so together.

Of course, we urgently need to invest in education, awareness and commemorating,
and not just during the Memorial Year, but forever,

so we can continue to work towards a future based on recognition, reconciliation and equality after 1 July 2024.

A future where everyone knows and accepts that history.

A future where we preserve the cultural heritage of Curaçao,
including the beautiful Papiamento language
and the wonderful Tambu and Tumba.

And a future where everyone in the Kingdom has the same opportunities,
where we don’t allow anyone to fall by the wayside
and where it doesn’t matter in which part you were born.

I un futuro kaminda tur hende
den reino tin mesun chèns i den kuá
nos no ta laga ningún hende kai.

Kaminda nó ta importá unda bo a nase

Where no child of the Juan Pablo Duarte school
or anywhere else feels inferior.
Ya ningun mucha na kolegio Juan Pablo Duarte,
ni na niún otro kaminda,
ta sinti nan mes menos ku un otro.

Thank you.
Masha danki.