Now, Where Did I Leave My Kwakoe?

1 Aug

KwakoeIn 2011 the Dutch government refused to grant a license for the yearly Kwakoe (Kwaku) festival in Amsterdam, and for the first time in its history there would be no festival for the Surinam community to enjoy. The government claimed that it could only allow for a budget of 100,000 Euro when a total of about 200,000 Euro was needed.

The government did not want to invest, even though it would see a return on its investment in the form of jobs, license fees, public transport and parking fees, and of course taxes. The festival was said to have had about 250,000 visitors in 2010. Besides, the festival is a promotional tool for the area called the ‘Bijlmer’, since many people still hold a negative view of that area.

Kwakoe has developed from a small soccer (football) tournament organized by the Surinam community in the 70s, into a big Caribbean festival. The festival had not only become big in the number of people who attend the six weekends in July and August, but also in revenue. Still, the Dutch government could not care less about the money it lost by refusing to invest in the festival.

The reason behind their reason is that the government wants full control over it. Alike the July Roots festival in Amsterdam that has turned away from its Surinam and Antillean roots, the government seems eager to want to push a multi-cultural festival that can be cut off from its roots. The official name of the Kwakoe festival has already been changed to “Zomerfestival” (Summer festival).

As I visited the festival this year (2012) to see about the intellectual side of the Surinam culture, I was sourly disappointed. I did not even recognize the festival grounds. Haphazardly laid mats and planks were to provide a path across the sand and few spots of grass. I saw children tripping over the boards left and right. And I was amazed at the sisters in high heels performing an excellent balancing act. For a festival this big, a proper plan for a path should not have been treated as a minor detail.

Yet, it was as if the Kwakoe organization was trying to prove a point when it came to the needed investments. The unsophisticated planks were in poor contrast to how Kwakoe used to be. I remember walking in almost endless circles as a youngster, watching people watch people. We would eat, drink, enjoy music, and watch soccer (football). Were was the football?! City council had moved the soccer fields to the side. Walking around in circles was pointless now. There simply was no field to circle. That makes it quite difficult to watch people watch people too.

Old Kwakoe With Soccer Field In the MiddleAs desperate as the state of the festival seemed, I might not have cared if I would have been able to get an intellectual fix. If the middle of the terrain was not used for the soccer tournament, then there should have been a big tent offering education of our own past, present and future. We have stories to tell, and Kwakoe podium could be used to do so. But, I could not find any of that. Kwakoe lost its mojo.

The only thing left to do was to fantasize about my ideal Kwakoe, with the soccer tournament in the middle, and four big kulturu tents from the entrance to the back on one side, and then the food stands, music stands and whatnot all around. One of the big tents would be designated to artists. A tent with an exhibition of paintings and drawings, with books and brochures. A place where writers and poets read from their own work, where linguist explain the development of the different Caribbean tongues. A place where faulty schooling gets traded in for real education.

Another big tent should house other types of professionals. Doctors, lawyers and other self-employed people who can host work shops or educate the next generations on their professions. Those who have information handy on what it takes to become successful in a society that does not have our best interest at heart. A society that might not even have a heart. Those who know how to be of service to our own community without having to bend over backwards.

The next big tent houses seamstress, jewelers and other traditional craft people. They should be able to show people how they go about their craft. People should be able to walk away with an understanding of what it takes to make a koto, put together an ala kondre keti, to make a traditional mask or bench.

Kwakoe Statue ParamariboThat leaves ourstory and spirit for the fourth tent. Our real story, and our real spirit. What was our story before African enslavement as trade? Who were the Black people already living in the Americas before white people ‘discovered’ it? What other tribes and cultures joined us in the latter day massive Trans Atlantic slave trade? What became of our story after physical enslavement as trade? What knowledge from the Africans and American Africans did the Europeans copy? What happened to the African kingdoms that became wealthy – and broken – of enslavement as trade? And, what happened to our spirits during all this ‘trading’?

In between readings, work shops and whatnot, one can get a bite to eat at one of the many food stands and whine down – or up – in one of the Kauna (Kawina) music stands. And as one circles the football field, and watch people watch people, one can get informed about other people’s business. That is part of the culture too.

It is a nice fantasy. The city council is not going to move one of the soccer fields back, so the circling will not return. And, as I watch all the young ones with weaves and tattoos, I can only feel sadness. I know they are bright children as I witness to tell that they have been able to memorize all the words to the kauna songs that are played in one tent near the new soccer fields. And they are able to speed type on their BlackBerry phones at the same time.

Who is educating our children if we cannot do it? Are we going to let Little Wayne show them how to sag their pants and get tattooed up, or do we show them that we have a culture that allows for plenty of self-expression in dress and jewelry? As far as that might seem too boring for them, then it is up to us older ones, to be creative and allow for other forms of expression that have much to do with our rich heritage that predates Trans Atlantic enslavement by millennia.

So, it is painful to see that the government succeeded to stop the festival from further evolving to allow for more self-awareness, self-esteem and self-love. The sabotage worked. What is the point of another ‘Zomerfestival’?! The Dutch government turned what was a real podium for awakening, into an empty celebration, void of meaning. It is another attack on the foundation of the Black community. Kwakoe has become an aimless gathering of people that leaves me craving for soul substance instead of only barbecued pork.




2 Responses to “Now, Where Did I Leave My Kwakoe?”

  1. berealblack July 23, 2013 at 11:32 am #

    It seems like they read this article.

    • No Black Pete July 24, 2013 at 9:17 am #

      They may have. Clearly, it was well organized this year. But, you always have to look beyond the obvious. Peace.

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