King and state praise slave leader Tula “who refused to bow”

Alexandra van Huffelen "faces history" over the murder of Tula. Photo: Ramsay Soemanta ANP

A ceremony to rehabilitate Tula, who led the slave population in Curaçao in an uprising against the Dutch colonial government in 1795, has taken place in Willemstad on Wednesday following a day’s delay caused by bad weather.

In a speech, junior minister Alexandra van Huffelen asked for forgiveness for the fact it had taken so long for the Dutch government to acknowledge the importance of Tula, “a man who had the courage to fight for his freedom” and who “has gone down in history as a hero with a just cause”.

She also said the Netherlands had “ tried to erase, intentionally and efficiently, the history of your forebears.”, adding that the Dutch government wants to “face history”.

Tula was one of a group of 50 captive slaves who downed tools on the Kenepa plantation on August 17, 1795, and marched towards the island’s capital, Willemstad, to demand their freedom.

After a bloody battle lasting weeks Tula and his fellow slaves were captured. He then underwent horrendous torture and was finally decapitated “a cruel crime, committed by representatives of the Dutch state,” Van Huffelen said.

The Dutch always depicted Tula as a criminal until, in the 1980s, the local population started to demand his official rehabilitation.

In a letter to the people of Curaçao from king Willem-Alexander, read out by governor Lucille George-Wout, he spoke of his admiration for the slave leader who “refused to bow and be silent”.

The ceremony followed the apology made by caretaker prime minister Mark Rutte for the Dutch role in slavery in December last year and the apology of King Willem-Alexander on July 1 this year.

Prime minister of Curaçao Gilma Pisas said in a reaction to the speech that the rehabilitation of Tula was “a condition for the healing process, and the material and immaterial reparations that will have to take place”.

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