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Ketikoti: Chains of Tyranny Have Been Broken and Many Still Remain to be Shattered

Ketikoti Day, celebrated on July 1st in the Netherlands, commemorates the abolition of slavery in Suriname and the Dutch Caribbean. It serves as a day of reflection and celebration, honoring the resilience and culture of the Afro-Surinamese community. The festivities include music, dance, and remembrance ceremonies, highlighting the ongoing journey of two worldviews toward equality and justice.

When I bring up the topic of slavery with my Dutch friends, they often reply: “that is the past, I didn't do it?” Alternatively, they can say, “These slaves were sold by African leaders themselves.” On the other hand, when I talk to my West-African friends, the topic is as fresh as if it happened yesterday! “There's a question that some of us West-Africans live with every day, we wake up with it, we think about it all day long” said an African pastor who worked with me. I asked him what the problem was that bothered them so much. “Why us? Why did Europeans treat us so badly?” he asked, referring to slavery and the ongoing anti-migration policies that cause thousands of Africans to die in the Mediterranean Sea. Such questions show that the legacy of slavery has created deep wounds that still need to be discussed. But how? As a sociologist, I look for answers first in the two worldviews that are sometimes diametrically opposed to each other, that of a Western European and that of an African, in my case West African. Although I am conscious that I am generalizing here, I believe it is important to explore these two worldviews.

Two Worldviews

There are numerous conflicting concepts within these two worldviews that differ from one another, including individualism, time, and storytelling. Individualism is the first notion to be introduced. Western Europeans value individual autonomy and accept personal responsibility. In other words, a child or grandchild is not liable for the actions of both parents. Ubuntu, an African philosophy that emphasizes “becoming self-being by others,” summarizes the African sense of individualism beautifully: “my humanity is bound to yours.”


Both individualism and collectivism are related to another facet of a worldview, namely time. Due to industrialization, Western European view about time has become individualistic. “Time is money” is an example of an industrial and post-industrial notion. In the past, a large clock was put in the center of towns and cities. However, as the clock evolved into a pocket/wristwatch, time became increasingly personal.

Further, the concept of time in Western Europe is linear. The day begins with many engagements and continues till its conclusion. Meeting agenda items are frequently scheduled to the minute in businesses or organizations. Visiting parents or close relatives and acquaintances in countries such as the Netherlands requires advance planning due to the hectic schedules. This is quite unusual in the perspective of an African or possibly an Asian person. To see one's parents, no appointment is necessary; one is merely paying a visit. Africans may equate a visit to the church with a visit to a family, and hence may afford to be five to ten minutes late. For them, the church is unlike a lawyer’s office or business in which punctuality is required.

The West African concept of time is cyclical and circular; it is not linear. I use here the coil spring as a metaphor for the African sense of time. Coil spring consists of circles and is flexible and can also be compressed in size. In other words, the past and the present are strongly intertwined. These circles can be expanded more apart, or they can remain in their current position. When a coil spring is compressed, the circles or rings move closer together, making the spring appear smaller or shorter. Metaphorically, when tensions or pressures (think racism, discrimination, etc.) develop, the circles of this coil spring move closer together. Although the ancestors passed away centuries ago, they are still alive and well in the present. In this coil spring, the rings of time get closer together, hence what was done to the ancestors is felt by the living! As a result, descendants of slaves hold descendants of slaveholders accountable for the past. The Western perspective is different here; an individual is responsible for his or her own deeds, not the actions of his or her ancestors. We live in the present, so the past is gone!

I use here the coil spring as a metaphor for the African sense of time... Metaphorically, when tensions or pressures (think racism, discrimination, etc.) develop, the circles of this coil spring move closer together.

The last point is how the story is told and passed down to future generations. Stories are passed down orally in West African cultures. Oral traditions fit into the cyclic and circular perspective of time since they are verbally repeated and thus more alive for the listener. Emotions are prevalent, and they can be heard and felt as the stories are being narrated. Hence, the stories of ancestors, slavery, and colonialism are brought to life and felt again and again. Western cultures, on the other hand, are more textual; everything must be documented, read, and archived. This is consistent with the linear worldview of time. In the Western context the past belongs in history books, in archives and museums; once read, you learn from it and continue. Obviously, the risk of including or omitting facts in a story is high in oral traditions. However, this can also be true with written texts, but the advantage is that the written texts can be compared, and alterations can be identified.

I take this opportunity to honor July 1st, the Ketikoti Day which holds great significance for all of us. While the chains of injustice and tyranny have been broken, many still remain to be shattered.


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