Celebrating Keti Koti in the Netherlands

| Leiden International Centre

Keti Koti is a celebration commemorating the abolition of slavery in Dutch America and the West Indies in 1863. The day is celebrated annually on July 1st by thousands of people in Suriname and Netherlands Antilles. This year marks the 150th anniversary of this event, so below you will find some of the important things you need to know about it. 

The name Keti Koti comes from a Surinamese language called Sranan Tongo (an English-based creole language) and it translates to "Broken Chains". It is celebrated in Suriname, St. Eustatius, and St. Maarten, with a parade called "Bigi Spikri" or "Big Mirror". During the parade, locals go out wearing traditional colourful costumes as they dance, eat and drink together. As of 2009, this festival is also celebrated in different cities in the Netherlands, such as Deventer, Bern en Dal and Utrecht, while a big "Bigi Spikri" parade takes place in Amsterdam's Oosterpark, where the National Slavery Monument is located. There is a formal ceremony attended by the mayor of Amsterdam and other representatives, after which the festivities begin. The parade features various performances and lectures, is free to attend and can be watched live on national television. In Rotterdam, the day is celebrated with church services and various educational and festive events. Finally, The Hague also has a special programme for Keti Koti, organised by the National Theatre, and includes a theatrical performance and a city walk.

While the Emancipation Law was passed in 1863, enslaved people were not fully free until 1873, following a 10-year transition period. During that time, they were forced to work on the plantations for minimal pay and under strict state supervision. If they were caught outside the plantations without a pass, they could be imprisoned.

Additionally, slave owners received monetary compensation for the loss of the "free labour" offered by the slaves. However, in some cases that did not mean full freedom for them, as they proceeded to work for their former masters for a poor pay and under exploitative conditions. Still, many of them were able to enjoy a new and better life, even if still limited. Therefore, the celebration of Keti Koti commemorates not only the "broken chains" but also the lives of the former slaves. In 1963, the Kwakoe Statue was erected in Paramaribo, the capital of Suriname, to honour the abolition of slavery. This and other statues that were unveiled after are important reminders of the stories and experiences of the freed slaves.