July 23, 2021

Protests against excavations at 18th century burial ground of free and enslaved Africans on St. Eustatius, Dutch Caribbean

On St. Eustatius, Dutch Caribbean, an 18th century burial ground of enslaved Africans is being excavated by an international research team.

The excavations are carried out in a disrespectful manner and there is no involvement and input from archaeologists from the African diaspora nor the descendant community. The reasons why the archaeological research is being conducted are highly questionable. There is a lack of transparency from both the local government and the research team.

The research team is led by the archeological organization SECAR (St. Eustatius Center for Archaeological Research) that conducted a similar excavation at Godet, a plantation on the west coast of the island. "They worked in secret, left the site in a deplorable condition and put the remains somewhere without telling the local community where they are or what they did with them”, says Kenneth Cuvalay in a press release

Despite suspension of archaeological excavations announced by the local government on July 14, objections are still being raised. We have issued a press release on July 19. We still have many questions and concerns. It is one step forward, but we are not quite there yet. Suspension does not mean discontinuance. Does this mean scientific suspension and discontinuation of our ancestral remains in laboratories outside of St. Eustatius? The local government now talks about the installment of a 'commission of experts'. Who will be on this commission? Friends of SECAR? More parachuted civil servants from the Dutch mainland?

St. Eustatius is a small island with 3,500 inhabitants. In the 18th century, it was the largest transit port of the transatlantic slave trade in the Western Hemisphere.

Protest organizers

Protest objectives

The objectives of the protests are outlined in the online petition

http://www.change.org/LeaveOurAncestorsInPeace

Summarized:

  • the respectful treatment of the ancestral remains;
  • engagement of the descendant community in the decision-making and research process;
  • the reburial at the original site of rediscovery, and placement of a permanent memorial.

Broader goal

We need to work towards a more collaborative and participatory archaeology in the Netherlands, that has the ethics and sensibility to go into dialogue with us, as the Afrikan descendant community.

We need to start an urgent debate on decolonizing Dutch archaeological regulations and practices.

Moreover, we need to extend that debate to a global level for there are many more African Burial Grounds at risk in the Americas.

 

Events timeline

 

Media coverage

July 19, 2021

PRESS RELEASE: Criticism Remains Despite Suspension of Excavations at Caribbean 18C Graveyard




 
 UCF CARIBBEAN RESPONDS TO SUSPENDED EXCAVATION ST. EUSTATIUS
 
 
 
TILBURG / ST. EUSTATIUS / 19 July 2021 / -- Ubuntu Connected Front
 
 
"One Step Forward – Let’s Work Towards Memory, Repair and True Descendant Engagement" - Says UCF Caribbean Chair
 
 
Despite suspension of archaeological excavations carried out on enslaved ancestors on the small Dutch Caribbean island of St. Eustatius, objections are still being raised. Protest organizers, Ubuntu Connected Front (UCF) Caribbean, Brighter Path Foundation, and SEAD applaud this change in approach by the government, but “We still have many questions and concerns”, says UCF Caribbean chair Kenneth Cuvalay, “it is one step forward, but we are not quite there yet.”
 
Kenneth Cuvalay, "It is smart that our unelected administrators on St. Eustatius have suspended their soulless digging and are going to set up a St Eustatius Heritage Research Commission," Cuvalay points out. "Suspension does not mean discontinuance. Does this mean scientific suspension and discontinuation of our ancestral remains in laboratories outside of St Eustatius? Many people on St Eustatius do not trust the work of SECAR, the local archaeological society. The same organization secretly disturbed graves on the West side of the island and left them in a deplorable state."
 
True transparency and community engagement
 
“And who will be on this commission? Friends of SECAR? More parachuted civil servants from the Dutch mainland? The local government talks about this "group of experts". We have no conservation experts on St. Eustatius – apart from the very self-proclaimed experts who decided to poke around, remove hallowed human remains and artifacts if only to declare that it was scientific work. None of them were born on St Eustatius and yet they broke the faith of their own international archaeological codes.”
 
We have raised concerns, have written letters, and have almost a thousand signatures under the petition. Still no response from the government. From what we read in the government’s press release, our urgent call for more transparency and structural engagement with the descendant community is still not guaranteed. We want a seat at the table; we want to have an input in e.g. knowledge production and the decision-making process; we want our voice included in research planning, design, and interpretation as well. The announced decisions of the government all sounds nice, but is in fact a farce to appease the growing public pressure we made through our letters, the online petition, and media exposure.
 
Objectives still not met
 
“We still would like to get a response to our initial letter to the St. Eustatius government”, the protest organizers state. Questions asked in that letter were:
  1. A written plan on the excavation and commemoration with input from the descendant community and scientists from the Afrikan diaspora;
  2. Establishment of a scientific research protocol including a definitive timeline for completion;
  3. Establish a commemorative proposal that is distinctive and rooted in the history and culture of the Afrikan and Afrikan diaspora. This memorial proposal should include plans for: (a) A respectful treatment of these ancestral remains; (b) Plans for their reburial at the original site of rediscovery; (c) Plan for appropriate Afrika-focused ceremonies as selected by the offspring community; (d)Placement of a permanent memorial on the site of sacred ground (at the airport).
In addition to the above listed questions, we ask:
  1. Input into who will be on the committee of experts, and the Research Commission;
  2. A research and memorialization agreement established between the descendant community and SECAR/St. Eustatius Government;
  3. For SECAR to restore the burial site on the Godet plantation and return the human remains;
  4. All remains of the Golden Rock burial ground to be returned to the island, since the project is now suspended;
  5. Investigation on the granting of taxpayers' money for public relations activities carried out by the wife of the former Commissioner of St. Eustatius for the SECAR digging. It is a matter of record, and we have the records. The souls of the enslaved are tortured twice by this graft.
  6. Make a stand for protecting slave burials, walls, and all monuments that are testimony to heritage.
 Decolonize Archaeology
 
We hold the researchers of the excavations accountable for not to have followed common practices of community archeology. Structural engagement with the public is a common practice in modern archeology. The research team has failed to properly implement this. Especially considering that it concerns a burial ground of our Afrikan ancestors who were victims of horrendous crimes committed against humanity, we regard this as evidence of deep contempt and academic misconduct. It reflects the hundreds of years of racism and white supremacy that we are not prepared to deal with any longer. We therefore want the research team to be replaced and have more Afrikan centered archeologists in charge.
 
Call to the Research Community
 
We need a more collaborative and participatory archaeology in the Netherlands, that has the ethics and sensibility to go into dialogue with us, as the Afrikan descendant community. We need to start an urgent debate on decolonizing Dutch archaeological regulations and practices. Moreover, we need to extend that debate to a global level for there are many more African Burial Grounds at risk in the Americas.
 
 
 
###
 
 
Further Information: Kenneth Cuvalay
Press Release agreed and approved by:
  • Xiomara Balentina - President Brighter Path St. Eustatius
  • Derrick Simmons - Coordinator Ubuntu Connected Front (UCF) St. Eustatius
  • George Berkel - Vice-president of grassroots movement St. Eustatius Awareness and Development Movement (SEAD)
  • Kenneth Cuvalay - Chair Ubuntu Connected Front (UCF) Tilburg & Caribbean
 
UCF Black Agenda
 
Ubuntu Connected Front (UCF) won an absolute majority (50,5%) on St. Eustatius in the elections to the House of Representatives this spring. It is a grassroots community-based movement. Decolonization is on her Black Agenda as part of the party program calling for the decolonization and transformation within structures and systems in the Kingdom to combat systemic racism. The recognition of the impact and legacy of the Dutch transatlantic slave trade and colonization is subject of debate in the Netherlands. Dutch Afrikans in the diaspora are asking the government for apologies for the slavery past, calling for reparatory justice and declaring 1 July (Emancipation Day) a national holiday.
 
Our 'Black Agenda' can be found in the "Manifest for NL Transformation" at the UCF website (Chapter 5).
 
Ubuntu means "humanity" in Afrikan Bantu languages. It is often translated as "I am because we are", or "humanity towards others". It is Ubuntu Connected Front’s core belief that all people have rights, which promotes equality of treatment and eliminates marginalization and deprivation.


June 20, 2021

Letter to St. Eustatius Government and Island Council





To:

St. Eustatius Government Commissioner Ms. Lady A. Francis

St. Eustatius Deputy Government Commissioner Ms. C. Toet

Members of the St. Eustatius Island Council

 

Tilburg, June 20, 2021

 

Dear Commissioners and members of the Island Council,

Via concerned residents of St. Eustatius and through the media, we learned of the recent excavations at a cemetery of our ancestors (former Golden Rock plantation) by a team of international researchers. We were shocked by this fact and to see the human remains of our ancestors widely featured in national and international newspapers, television channels and social media.

We understand that the St. Eustatius government has ordered the investigation and we have been informed through the media that there is a necessity for the excavations and that the human remains will be moved. We have tried to get more information from the archaeologists, but they refer us to you the island government representatives.

In the meantime, we have received many alarmed, angry and dismayed reactions from people on St. Eustatius and beyond who do not approve of the exhumation of the remains of our ancestors, who do not find the reasons for this credible and who believe that they have been poorly informed and are insufficiently involved by the government, which therefore as such has hampered and prevented the involvement of a broad community and social engagement.

Cemeteries are sacred places and our ancestors deserve to be treated with respect. Our ancestors were once given these resting places and they cannot be dug up and treated with disrespect without great national importance, interest and necessary legal reasons and certainly not without structural involvement of their descendants. We want reinternment of these ancestral remains.

Ubuntu Connected Front, Brighter Path Foundation, SEAD and EcoRAY are organizing the protest movement. On June 8, we organized the mini-symposium “A Sacred Space For Our Ancestors” with experts from Curaçao, Aruba, St. Eustatius and the Netherlands. We have also made contact with, among others, African historians in Barbados (Newton Slave Burial Ground) and the United States (African Burial Ground) and also CARICOM. Naturally, many residents of St. Eustatius are also involved in this protest.

On behalf of all these individuals, African descendants and organizations, we ask the government, Commissioners and Island Council members the following:

  1. Immediate cessation of our ancestors' excavation on this sacred ground;
  2. The submission of a written plan about the proposed excavation and commemoration of these ancestors that includes input from the community and scholars from the African diaspora;
  3. Adoption of a scientific research protocol which includes a definitive timeline for completion;
  4. Adoption of a commemorative proposal that is distinctive and rooted in African and African diasporic history and culture.  This commemorative proposal should include plans for the:
    1. respectful treatment of these ancestral remains;
    2. plan for their reburial at the original site of rediscovery;
    3. plan for the appropriate African centered ceremonies as selected by the descendant community;
    4. placement of a permanent memorial on the site of sacred ground (at the airport).
With regard to the assignment given to the team of archaeologists, we have the following questions:
  1. What exactly is the assignment given to the archaeologists by the government of St. Eustatius and where can we see it?
  2.  What are the exact research objectives and questions of the research team?
  3. What has been recorded about handling the human remains currently being excavated (will they stay on the island?)
  4. Several protocols exist for handling human remains during archaeological research. Under which protocols, regulations or laws are the current excavations taking place?
  5. Is there independent supervision of the execution of the excavations?
  6. What happened to the human remains of our ancestors exposed by erosion at the Godet site? SECAR does not provide information on this despite repeated inquiries.
  7. Is the Cultural Heritage Agency involved in the project, given the enormous historical significance of the cemetery for the whole world?
  8. The Transatlantic Slave Trade has been recognized by the United Nations as a Crime Against Humanity. Do you agree that an eighteenth century cemetery of free and enslaved Africans therefore demands special attention and treatment?
We would like to receive a response to these questions, thank you very much in advance.

Sincerely,

Kenneth Cuvalay, Chair Ubuntu Connected Front Tilburg

Xiomara Balentina, President Brighter Path Foundation St. Eustatius

George Berkel, Vice President of grassroot movement SEAD (St. Eustatius Awareness and Development Movement)

Teresa Leslie, Director Public Health Research EcoRAY

Cc
  • House of Representatives Committee on the Interior and Kingdom Relations (BZK)
  • House of Representatives Committee Education, Culture and Science (OCW)
  • The Cultural Heritage Agency of OCW

June 08, 2021

“A Sacred Space For Our Ancestors” | Online Mini-symposium | June 8, 2021



 
UCF Presents Online Mini-symposium “A Sacred Space For Our Ancestors”

Topics Symposium

Part 1 – Discovery of at least 18 remains of our ancestors at the beach of Godet

Part 2 – Africanism in the diaspora and Caribbean

 

When:  Tuesday, June 8 2021

Time:    4 pm Caribbean time, 16:00 European time

Where: Online Zoom 

 

Join us

Greetings and welcome to all our Afrikan Sisters and Brothers,

If you would like to participate in the Mini-symposium "A Sacred Space For Our Ancestors", please send us a message and we will send you the Zoom meeting details. 

  • Email cuvalay.kandidaat3/at/ubuntuconnectedfront.com 
  • Or use UCF Facebook messenger

 

Panel members

Host Kenneth Cuvalay, UCF Tilburg

Co-Host Zamir Ayubi, Bonaire, Chill-FM Radio

  • Derrick Simmons, former Commissioner of Constitutional Affairs St. Eustatius, BA Anthropology 
  • Dr Richenel Ansano, former director of the National Archaeological Anthropological Memory Management (NAAM), Curaçao
  • Drs Johnny Tujeehut, Specialty-Adult-education,Groningen, Academic level known as -Andragoog Curaçao 
  • Charles Woodley former-commissioner from 2017 to 2018 
  • Denicio Bryson, lawyer, St. Maarten 
  • Xiomara Balentina, psychologist and member Brighter Path Foundation, St. Maarten/St. Eustatius 
  • Regillio Vaarnold, chair UCF, Amsterdam, human rights lawyer
  • Melvin Sille UCF, Groningen 
  • Angelo La Cruz, Curaçao 
  • Chip Kwabena, fighter for Afrikan liberation, Curaçao/ St. Maarten and St. Eustatius 
  • Gilbert Bacilio, Curaçao 
  • Kenneth Cuvalay, from December 2009 to July 1, 2017, one of the principal founders of Mental Health Caribbean and clinical manager Mental Health Caribbean (MHC), UCF Tilburg

Guest speaker Part 1: Walter Hellebrand, Director of the Monument Foundation op St. Eustatius

 

Background

St. Eustatius is steeped in rich history. Recently, burial grounds of our enslaved ancestors were discovered at the former plantation Golden Rock. Because of erosion, also at least 18 remains were found at the beach of Godet. Archeologist worldwide are doing research on the island, under supervision of local Archeological Foundation SECAR. The community is not involved nor informed. Newspapers mention that the remains of our ancestors will be transported to the local museum after research is finished.

Archeology needs to decolonize, and we as African ancestors in the diaspora must be part of the process to make sure that the remains of our ancestors are treated with dignity and respect, and not treated as an artefact. See the inspiring example of the “African Burial Ground” in Manhattan, New York here: https://www.nps.gov/afbg/index.htm

Program, Introduction

All panel members will introduce themselves briefly

 

Program, Part 1 - Addressing our ancestral remains

Mr Walter Hellebrand is involved with the location of the historical location of many of our ancestors resting places on the island and presents the situation;

  1. Giving a description of the current situation regarding the removal of our Afrikan ancestors remains, how much, how far is the community and partner organizations are been informed or even are involved?
  2. Is it known as to which government is responsible for making decisions as to what is eventually going happen to our ancestors remains and where would be there final resting is going to be place?
  3. There are rumors that the remains of our ancestors would be placed partly possible to seen online, is this true, how much do you know about this?

 

Program, Part 2 – Africanism in the diaspora and Caribbean

Mr. Derrick Simmons presents the situation giving insight to the happenings on the ground;

  1. Impact on a people and their community since there democratically elected government was dissolved in 2018 and their democratic rights, self-determination and freedom to elect their own government was taken away by the Dutch colonial powers.
  2. As far as you know which government is in charge as to what is taking place, is it the central government in the Hague or is it the undemocratic appointed so call local government which been installed by the colonial Dutch powers that has the region in its grip? 
  3. Is there financial mismanagement and corruption on the island by the Dutch, the issues which the democratically elected government of the people of St. Eustatius was dissolved on by the Dutch?
  4. As we know the island government of the people of St. Eustatius was dissolved on the thums up charges by the so called three wise men report and an undemocratic appointed so call local government has been installed by the colonial Dutch powers that has the region in its grip?

Mr. Denicio Bryson, lawyer:

  • He will have 10 minutes to present the situation the regarding on St. Maarten, taking steps going to the UN against the Dutch domination and how their action coo insides with that of St. Eustatius.

 

The final aim of this symposium is the following

  • How we people of African descent reclaim our culture heritage which are being continue to be stolen and take the control of rewriting of our history which continues to be written and distorted by white historians and as Afrikans give direction and input to the narrative from our African perspective?
  • We are also seeing a mass development among white scholars promoting themselves and graduating on the issues of anti-racism from their position from the lens of white privilege.
  • We Afrikans we still continue to live the pain and suffering and effects as a consequence of the legacy of Dutch Transatlantic slavery and colonialism within the systems, Eurocentric education, discriminatory legislation, within the institutions at large, statues which present images of which illustrate white supremacy over Afrikaans the portrayal as inferior in public spaces which has damaging image forming on our children self-esteem,
  • Shouldn't we be determining our narrative and if so, how do we collectively come together and develop that process and also determining the narrative of anti-racism and not the other way around?

After the presentation we will all have together with the other speakers' integral discussions with their input hoping we can conclude collective answers and solutions taking us forward building a future determined by us while changing the false historical and distorted history of our ancestor's historical narrative. In other words, we are the one absolutely responsible for our historical story and the narrative of it.