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Who knows what Keti-Koti means? This question is especially for Africans reading this piece.  Anybody?  Oh you do; do you sweet reader?  Now you really make me proud of you, even envious, because you are one of those rare Africans who does know what this extremely important event means.  I was well and truly mortified when I found that after years of living in the Netherlands I was totally ignorant of what Keti-Koti meant.... I had no idea about an event that not only defined the lives of people born in the islands and other countries that were once under Dutch law, but that affected my ancestors in Africa and me as an African today.


For those still wondering what keti-koti is, it is a phrase referring to the ending of slavery in Suriname and the Dutch Antilles. Keti-Koti literally means cutting the ketting - or cutting the chain (of slavery). Slavery was abolished in these Dutch-ruled regions on July 1, 1863 but really only came to effect ten years later. From this point forward, families in Africa no longer had to suffer being sawn apart like branches, being torn apart through theft, violence or manipulations. Tribal groups or teams of people did not have to continually run for their lives, or continually sell others to survive, or go into senseless wars to breed captives for sale.  From this time on, the need to earn a living over the head of another began ebbing - our humanity as a people began regaining centre stage.  From this time on a mother no longer had to stand and watch her child on auction, or stare as that child would be dragged away into captivity, if not raped in the view of others by his/her master to try him or her for size. From that day on a mother did not have to kiss the earth into which her child’s feet had left a mark on his way into brutal servitude and death.  Keti-Koti meant our brothers and sisters dragged into lives of servitude in the Diasporas no longer had to be guinea pigs until their deaths.  Keti-koti meant the opportunity for us in Africa to one day meet our lost families in the Diaspora... to reach out and wipe their dried out tears... to search their faces and see our lost hope regained had come.


We, Africans in the Netherlands and other parts of the world cannot afford to know nothing of Keti-Koti, or to desist from becoming part of its celebrations, or to not attempt to understand all its intricacies and what it says about the expectation of both those who were dragged into servitude and those who, left behind in Africa, bowled, mourned and ached for the disappearance of their loved ones.


If you have a jot of African blood in your vein... if you have ever hated the servitude of another or rejected the notion of the slave trade (be you African or not), then July 1 of every year must remain for you a day to celebrate and to solemnly reflect on life.


I am an African and I thank God for Keti-Koti.

I am an African and I thank God for the lives of all the peoples of Suriname, the Antilles and everywhere else where people were dragged to from Africa - specifically the lives of those who suffered the immorality of slavery.

I am an African and I thank God that neither I nor any African I know need ever to live in the kind of fear that official slavery and the slave trade inflicted on us.

I am an African and I thank God for all those fighting today to free women, children and even men from human trafficking and slavery.

I am an African and I thank God for every success that is gained every day against the indignity of slavery of any form.

I am an African and I thank God for Keti-Koti.


And on July 1, I shall celebrate Keti-Koti for all those who were once enslaved and for all those still in enslavement today but surely to experience their own Keti-Koti soon!!!!


*Barbara Gwanmesia is author, publisher and musical artist based in the Netherlands. She can be reached via

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