Anton De Kom, freedom fighter, anti colonialist, and labor leader.
Anton De Kom can bast be described as the conscious of our nation Suriname.
Adek as we call him in Suriname, wrote a vigorous indictment of the Dutch colonial domination and exploitation of Suriname in 1934. His sentiment no doubt will be familiar to all the colonial countries at the time because the policies were very identical towards the non European population, whether they be of African descent or indigenous Indians.
I translated part of his foreword to his book “Wij Slaven Van Suriname”(Us Slaves of Suriname), from Dutch, but unfortunately I cannot do it justice. De Kom was a very skilled writer. But hopefully you will get the gist of his message.
When we, little black kids, children or grandchildren of slaves, sat in class to learn history, it was always the history of the European heroes we learned about. The teachers, the honorable Dutch, who brought my grandmother here as a slave, who taught us about Piet Hein and De Ruyter, about Van Tromp, about Evertsen and Banckert, all Dutch heroes. Us little black kids, strained to learn the important dates of these Dutch heroes, us little black kids who were beaten if we dared speak Sranang Tongo in the schoolyard let alone in the classroom. No. We had to learn about people like Claudius Civilis, and the brave Willem De Zwijger. Us little black kids who searched in vain to find the names of Boni, Barron and Joli Coeur, brave maroon warriors in these history books, had to learn the dates of the Surinamese Governors, under whose leadership the slaves were brought in by the thousands.
The system was very effective. There is no better way instill an inferiority complex in a people than to teach them history that exclusively hailed the European heroes, who were the only ones being praised.
It took me a long time to free myself from the notion that a Negro will always be inferior to a European.
I remember how proud I was as a little kid when my Dutch schoolmates allowed me to play marbles with them, even though they won my marbles. These same boys who would not stoop so low to invite us to their home. It did not bother me because the history lessons stamped on my conscious that I was not worthy of such an invite.
No people can reach it’s full potential if its being indoctrinated with a sense of inferiority simply because of the color of their skin.
That is why this book will try stir up the pride of the Surinamese and demonstrate the injustice perpetrated by the Dutch colonials. – 1934 Anton De Kom Wij Slaven Van Suriname(Us Slaves Of Suriname)
I can only hope that my brothers and sisters who live in Holland, get more culturally inclusive lessons in school than what Anton De Kom wrote about. How about my brothers and sisters in America? Latin America?
In the 1930’s Anton De Kom was also involved in successfully organizing strikes among the laborers in Suriname which included East Indians, Javanese, Maroons & former slaves, all who were being exploited and mistreated by the Dutch colonials. He is considered a hero by the entire Surinamese population. Some workers even defended him against the colonial police with their own lives!
One time when he was arrested by the colonial police, a large group of laborers, which consisted of East Indians, Javanese, Creoles, stormed the police quarters intending to get him out, and would only hesitantly leave after Anton De Kom admonished them to let peace prevail.
He was eventually sentenced for anti colonial activities and banished to Holland. In spite of this he joined the Dutch underground resistance against the Germans during the WWII, but was betrayed by a Dutch citizen. He was arrested by the Germans and eventually died in a Nazi concentration camp during WWII.
What didn’t die was his idea that we, as Surinamers should be proud of our heritage.
One would think that the Surinamese harbor animosity against the Dutch. Surprisingly this is not the case in Suriname. The Dutch tourists and immigrants are treated with respect and friendliness.
The Surinamese who live in The Netherlands however have a much different experience. They are still confronted with pretty much the same attitudes Anton De Kom wrote about in his book, and are often reminded that they are outsiders, regardless if they were born in the Netherlands or not. They are labeled as Allochtoon, which is a “polite” term for outsider.