zaterdag 16 november 2013

The Black Chapter...A Shocking Exhibition...

While I was in Amsterdam last Sunday, I also visited ScheepvaartMuseum which tells the Maritime history of the Netherlands. 
Situated close to Central Station, it was just a small walk to go there. I had never been there and I think Bram hasn't been there either during his life. (but He would have loved it, I thought after my visit)

It was built in 1656 as 's Lands Zeemagazijn (the Arsenal), so over 350 years old, and it has been the museum's home since 1973. Very impressive and it exudes history.
More info about the building can be read HERE.

It has been renovated and had a grand opening in 2011. One of the most spectacular part is the roof which covers the whole courtyard and gives beautiful shadows when the sun shines.

It is a very modern museum and after coffee and "appeltaart", I did the tour.
Very modern and spectacular at some points.

You hear sea-waves...while passing beautiful objects.
There is a book which shows you a 17th Century sailing trip from The Netherlands to The East..

You turn the pages and you can follow the trip..while a voice every now and than brings you in the perfect mood..

There is a room filled with comfortable chairs and Photo-albums on tables in front of you. Like staying on a luxury liner. But when you press the button on the chair..the story which matches the album is been told to you. And you dream of sailing on that ship and visiting ports and unknown places.

But what was the reason to go there....
It all had started with book I read when I was a young boy, and which borrowed from the Library, and which I have read over and over again. I never had it myself, but a few years ago I bought a used copy at the local library here in Deventer

The title of the book is:
"De scheepsjongens van Bontekoe" .

Situated in the 17th Century (28th  of December,1618)it tells the story of a group of  3 young boys named: Hajo, Rolf and Padde who take a job as cabin boys on a big Dutch Sea vessel under the name: "Nieu-Hoorn". The Captain is Willem Ijsbrantsz. Bontekoe.
They set sail from the isle of Texel to Batavia (Indonesia).

There is adventure, exploring, excitement and the book ends with the scene that Hajo comes back home to meet his mother (she is a widower) and he falls down and cries. It is also known as: The book with the sob, and I must confess that every time I come to that part I always start sobbing too. Guess there is still a little boy in me.

When I read it now I notice the attitude to inhabitants from other countries is not always correct. Nowadays it might be seen as racism, or feeling superior above other races. I know it was the attitude in those days..
As a child I never had those thoughts. I was just sailing with them and just loved that book....

But there is a connection with the book and a rather shocking exhibition in the museum with the title: "The Black Chapter".

It is an exhibition about the slave trade and it tells the dramatic story of the slave ship named "the Leusden".
The Leusden was involved in a major disaster on the River Maroni (or Marowijne) in Suriname in 1738. The ship was never found.

You enter the exhibition and arrive at the hold of the ship or lower deck.
Image 700 people. Women, Men and children, who were meant to be slaves.
Living there, sleeping there for Months. This drawing shows it. It must have been a Nightmare for all of them.

The ship came from Afrika and was on it's way to Suriname. In the mouth of the Maroni the ship arrived on January 18, 1738  and got stuck on a sandbank.
The slaves were chained below deck, while water penetrated the ship. The Captain was afraid of a big uprising of the slaves ant they would be murdered by them. All entrances 
and "windows" were closed. No one could leave the ship except the Captain and his crew.
700 people drowned..A horrible massacre

There are 700 labels hanging. On each one is a name, and gender written.
Nr. 438 is a big Boy named Elmina and he was brought to the ship on June 28, 1737

I felt so sad for this boy..and it touched me deeply. 
Only one..699 more with names and gender. 
I don't know him of course, but I imagined him living with his family. Maybe in a little village in Africa. Playing with friends and relatives and than picked up to become a slave and died in this shameful accident.
The exhibition tells it all..the slave trade..step by step..

And I felt shame also. I know..I have nothing to do with this tragedy, but in a way I do. I am Dutch with a Dutch history. And this history is a black page and we are part of it.

I might read my favorite book of my youth again, but with a different view perhaps..

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