The general objective of the Keti Koti Table is to increase awareness of the internal- and social conflicts and blind spots that arise from the complex historical and social backgrounds of the Dutch slavery and colonial past and to gain new insights that lead to a society free from discrimination and racism.
The Keti Koti Tafel foundation aims to increase collective awareness of the legacy of the slavery and colonial past of the Netherlands. We do this by organizing Keti Koti Tables, with the accompanying workshop and various events.
Dialogue structure scheme of the Keti Koti Table:
Forming of couples
Subject of presentation and dialogue question
Silence (1 minute)
Dialogue part 1
First speaker (3 min)
Silence (1 min)
Listener speaks (2 min)
Dialogue part 2
Second speaker (3 min)
Silence (1 min)
Listener speaks (2 min)
Completion of the dialogue round
Shared reflection (5 min)
Farewell and possibly change of dialogue pairs
The Keti Koti Table is organized around a series of rituals and a meal
The main rituals are:
A prayer and libation to the ancestors
Participants then chew on kwasi bita, a Surinamese bitter tasting wood which makes them experience and reenact the bitterness of the past.
Participants then rub each other’s wrists with coconut oil to rub away the pain of being chained and with that the pain of slavery in general coursed.
Meanwhile, participants or a choir will sing lamentations
Urged by questions from the youngest participant, a brief history of slavery and its abolition is being told by the participants.
Emphasizing the importance of passing on such a (new) tradition, participants will pass on to each other the Keti Koti guideline
“A Tori” (Story)
An extra seat with plate and cutlery is set of an unexpected guest, both in order to commemorate (former) fugitive slaves and to symbolize the importance of hospitality
Participants will then share a reconstructed meal for the enslaved.
Through dialogue, participants will share personal stories and experiences with the history of slavery and its effects on the present.
To underline the sweetness of freedom and hope for the future, participants will eat finally a sweet cassava coconut cake and chew sugar cane, while singing freedom songs.
The end of the Keti Koti Table is signaled by puncturing 21 balloons, echoes of the 21 canon shots that were fired in 1863 during the slavery abolition ceremony.
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Explaining the Keti Koti Table
After several centuries of colonialism, trade and slavery in both the East and West Indies, the Netherlands were late in abolishing slavery on July 1, 1863. This abolishment of slavery in the Dutch Caribbean is celebrated nationally only since a decade or so, after the national slavery monument was erected in Amsterdam, during so-called ‘Keti Koti’ – meaning ‘breaking the chains’ in Sranantongo (Surinamese language).
Even though the shared history of slavery has left many traces in both the black and white population of the Netherlands, Keti Koti does not really address those issues as it consists of a formal ceremony, followed by a music & food festival. Mercedes Zandwijken - of Surinamese-Dutch descent-, who developed the Keti Koti Table, observed this lacuna particularly after having experienced Jewish Seder tables hosted by Machiel Keestra. Having noticed how this tradition facilitates valuable conversations and connections while being open to innovation, Mercedes and Machiel decided to develop a similar kind of ritual for Keti Koti.
Since 2010, Mercedes has developed, organized and disseminated this Keti Koti Table and drawn attention from both black – mainly Dutch Caribbean – and white people in the Netherlands. The Keti Koti Table focuses on the shared slavery history of black and white and can therefore only be successful if participants have a diverse background. Obviously, black and white participants will have different experiences with this problematic history: for black participants are usually well aware of the continued presence of racism, segregation and discrimination in the Netherlands while white participants often don’t recognize that this history still matters. By exchanging experiences and discussing relevant topics, both groups have the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the other group’s perspective and to acknowledge these relevant differences and the specific challenges that come along with them. In the ritualized and safe context of this Keti Koti Table, these groups will engage in communication and end the silences about this shared past, present and future.