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Home Dutch News History of Dutch empire intertwined with slavery

History of Dutch empire intertwined with slavery

Published on 19/12/2022
Written by Jan HENNOP
Published from AFP.com

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is expected on Monday to make a speech about the Netherlands’ role in 250 years of slavery.

AFP answers five questions about the Dutch involvement in the slave trade:

– How did the Dutch slave trade start? –

Dutch involvement with slavery went hand-in-hand with the expansion of its colonial and trading interests across the globe in the 17th century, referred to in the Netherlands as the “Golden Age”.

After the establishment of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) trading company in 1602 and the Dutch West India Company (WIC) a few years later, trading, including slaves, rapidly expanded.

The Netherlands and its cities like Amsterdam became fabulously wealthy and the riches helped fund an explosion in art and culture that produced artists like Rembrandt.

The first significant Dutch foray into slavery started in 1634 when the initial thousand slaves were abducted from the Gold Coast (today’s Ghana) to Brazil by the WIC to work in plantations.

The same year the WIC captured Curacao, which rapidly became a slave-trading hub and in 1667 the Dutch captured Suriname on the northeast coast of South America, which developed into a plantation colony and was heavily dependent on slave labour from Africa.

Around 200,000 slaves were brought to Suriname and around 650,000 in total to the “New World”.

– What about the East? –

The Dutch involvement in the slave trade in the Indian Ocean and Asia is less-well researched, but of equal importance, experts say.

Slaves were brought mainly to Cape Town from modern-day Madagascar, while in the Dutch East Indies, today’s Indonesia, the slave trade thrived with people captured from the Indian subcontinent.

– When did the Dutch abolish slavery ? –

The Netherlands was one of the last countries to abolish slavery on July 1, 1863.

However, it took another decade in Suriname because there was to be a mandatory 10-year transition and many slaves had to keep on serving their masters until 1873.

Interest groups in the Netherlands say that July 1 next year is the correct date for an apology as it would be exactly 150 years since slavery in the Caribbean was actually done away with.

– Why apologise now?-

The issue of a Dutch apology has been floating around for years but concrete steps were finally taken last year.

A 272-page report by a commission recommended the Dutch state recognise slavery as a crime against humanity and say sorry.

Critics say the date of Rutte’s announcement on Monday, December 19 is arbitrary, but national public broadcaster NOS said the government’s reasons were “pragmatic” including that ministers were available.

The I&O Research Agency found that in a poll among 1,457 Dutch respondents of all backgrounds, only around 40 percent support the idea of an apology.

– How did other empires compare? –

The British Empire was the biggest in history. At the start of the 20th century, it stretched from Canada in the west to the Fiji islands in the South Pacific, leading to the saying that the “sun never sets on the British empire”.

In 1913, it ruled over 400 million people, around one-quarter of both the world’s population and its land surface.

In the early 20th century, the next biggest collection of colonies belonged to France, which in 1931 ruled over 12 million square kilometres of territory and 60 million people, from French Guiana in South America to most of west Africa and New Caledonia in the South Pacific.

But at its height in the late 1700s, Spain’s empire was bigger, encompassing about 13.7 million square kilometres of territory, including vast portions of the Americas.