Parke Lucha pa Libertat, Rif.
Purpose of Memory
To commemorate the enslaved people who were killed during the 1795 rebellion on the island of Curaçao and to remember the fight for the abolition of slavery.
On the coast of Willemstad, the capital city Curaçao island, stands the Desenkadená (break the chains) monument that commemorates the fight against slavery during the 18th century. At the entrance of the site there is a plaque with the inscription “Park of the fight for freedom” and next to it are listed the names of the 1795 slave rebellion’s leaders killed on that site by the colonial government of Curaçao.
The monument consists of three bronze statues that represent a chained woman and a man, and in the middle of them, another man holds a hammer up high to break the chain that keeps them imprisoned. The scene symbolizes the struggle of the slave Tula, who led the 1795 rebellion in Curaçao to abolish slavery. Next to the monument, a plaque with the phrase “Free at last” written in English and Dutch, and the date March 10, 1795 commemorates Tula and the day he was executed.
In front of the monument, there is a statue that represents an outstretched arm holding up a broken chain, symbolizing freedom and the abolition of slavery. There are replicas of this statue elsewhere on the coast of Curaçao to commemorate the period of slavery on the island.
Every August 17, events in which officials of the Government of Curaçao participate are organized at the Desenkadená monument to commemorate the fight against slavery.
Between 1633 and 1636, the Netherlands conquered the Central American islands of Curaçao, Aruba and Bonaire, located in the Caribbean Sea. The three islands, which were part of the Netherlands Antilles, were located in a strategic place for trade with Spain and the United States. During the following centuries, the economic development of Curaçao was based mainly on the trade, both legal and illegal, of products and enslaved people brought from the African continent. Most of the slaves were transferred to Spain or to other Caribbean colonies, and a smaller proportion were employed in the Curaçao estates that were dedicated to cattle breeding and the lumber industry.
Curaçao’s slave population was smaller compared to other Caribbean countries since the main economic activity on the island was trade, while on most Caribbean islands plantations were the main production posts. Enslaved people lived in inhumane conditions and were economically, culturally, and racially oppressed. During the years 1716, 1750 and 1774, slave rebellions broke out in Curaçao and were brutally suppressed.
In the context of the French Revolution, at the end of 1794, the Netherlands were conquered by French troops who proclaimed the Batavian Republic in Dutch territory, a tributary state of France that functioned until its dissolution in 1806. On the other hand, in 1791 the Haitian Revolution for Independence was unleashed, culminating in the abolition of slavery in 1804. This news reached Curaçao through the ships that landed on the island’s shores.
On August 17, 1795, a rebellion began on the Knip plantation, when a group of forty to fifty slaves who had been punished began a march led by Tula to Willemstad, the island’s capital, to complain to the colonial authorities. During the first two days of the strike, nearly two thousand slaves joined the rebellion, which soon became an island-wide revolutionary movement led by Louis Mercier, Bastian Karpata and Tula. After a month, the colonial government troops controlled the rebellion and executed dozens of slaves. The leaders of the revolt were publicly tortured and killed on October 3. According to the testimonies from that time, Tula affirmed that the rebellion was a right of the slaves due to the mistreatment and abuses to which they were subjected, evidencing his knowledge of the French and Haitian revolutions.
After the rebellion the Dutch government investigated the slave system in its colonies and formulated regulations for enslaved people, such as the right not to work on Sundays, to buy clothes and food, and reduced punishments. However, the slave regime continued in Curaçao until in 1863 slavery was definitively abolished in all the Dutch colonies.
In 1984, the Government of Curaçao officially designated August 17 as “Fight for Freedom Day” to commemorate the fight against slavery. Subsequently, the project of designing an official monument to remember the leaders of the 1795 rebellion was proposed.
The construction of the monument was entrusted to the visual artist Nel Simon, a native of Curaçao specialized in the design of sculptures linked to African culture. The Desenkadená monument was inspired by the ideals of the 1795 rebellion: freedom, power and dignity. It is made up of three figures: two men and a woman who symbolize the leaders of the rebellion; the middle figure represents Tula, who holds a hammer to break the chains that hold them prisoner. Nel Simon built the monument in the Netherlands between 1996 and 1998, and it was later transferred in 1998 to Willemstad’s south coast in Curaçao, so it could be located on the site where Tula was executed. In 2010 the space was recognized by UNESCO as a site for peace and culture.
Every August 17 events are organized at the monument to commemorate the fight against slavery, in which officials of the Government of Curaçao participate. On the other hand, the organizations Plataforma Sklabitut, Herensha di Sklabitut and the National Archeological and Anthropological Memory Management Foundation (NAAM) carry out events and commemorations every October 3 to remember the leaders of the 1795 rebellion.
In 2007 the Tula Museum was established in a country house located on the Knip plantation, where the 1795 rebellion began. It exhibits paintings, statues, objects, work tools and artifacts from the slavery era, which recreate life on the plantation from the point of view of the slaves. The museum offers the possibility for the visitors to know the history of Tula and the slaves; guided tours of the surrounding area are also organized.
In 2009, the Government of Curaçao officially proclaimed Tula as a national hero.
In 2013, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery, the Netherlands Mint minted a commemorative coin bearing the image of the Desenkadená monument on its reverse.
Links of interest
Oostindie, G. (2011). “Slave Resistance, Colour Lines, and the Impact of the French and Haitian Revolutions in Curacao”.
Tenekiah, F. (2018). “Monuments of Rebellion Against Caribbean Enslavement: An Apraisal”.
“The Tula Museum at Landhuis Knip”.
“Conmmemoration Slave Revolt and The Leader Tula”, en Curaçao Chronicle, 18-8-2015.