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NWO celebrates… Keti Koti

A total of around 2600 people work at NWO and NWO-I, all of whom are from different backgrounds. The section, ‘NWO celebrates …’, highlights special days all of us can celebrate together. In July Keti Koti was celebrated and reflected on the abolition of slavery. Colleague, Jane Olf (Financial Administration, NWO-D) shares her personal impressions of what is both a celebration and a day of commemoration. Jane: ‘Keti Koti literally means “the chain is broken”. Although the announcement that slavery was to be abolished was made on 1 July 1863, my forebears had to work for another ten years: it wasn’t until 1 July 1873 that they truly became free. It means a lot to me personally; 148 years of freedom is really not that long and to me it doesn’t feel very long ago either.’

I never knew my forebears, but they are the reason I am now on this earth. It’s unbelievable, actually, that I’m now a Dutch national of Surinamese descent but I have no idea which African country my forebears came from. It’s so strange to think that my roots have been erased and yet I carry my forebears’ bloodline and I am a descendent of enslaved people.’

That’s heart-breaking – and heart-warming at the same time, Jane. How did you celebrate Keti Koti last week and in previous years? Did you celebrate with family, what sort of things do you do? Please tell us something about it.
‘When I lived in Surinam, up until I was 14 years old, we celebrated it in the Garden of Palms, a park in Paramaribo where everyone goes to celebrate. When I came to live in the Netherlands, I just had to go to school as usual during Keti Koti and, as an adult, I was generally at work that day. I haven’t often thought about how I feel about it as an adult. Occasionally, I’d go to a park in Rotterdam where I’d meet some family and friends so that I could still have a bit of a party to celebrate. This year it fell on a Thursday. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, there were no extensive activities this year or last year. I just worked from home and turned it into a day of reflection. I’m sometimes in two minds about it: is it really a day to celebrate?  Or should we always treat it as a quiet day for reflecting?’

That brings us nicely to the next question… There’s a lot of debate in the Netherlands about whether Keti Koti should be a national holiday; what do you think?
‘It should certainly be a national holiday. The Netherlands established slavery and grew rich from the sugar, tea and coffee plantations where my forebears worked so punishingly: hundreds of years of blood, sweat and tears. And that’s not to mention the rapes and murders to which enslaved people fell victim. The least that could be done for the descendants of this group is to make this day a national holiday.’

Which prejudices around Keti Koti would you like to disprove?
‘People say that we descendants weren’t even born then or that people didn’t know their forebears. That is not true. I never knew them but many others did. My grandma (who is no longer with us) did know her grandma. And she used to tell stories about her grandma. Many other older people like her are definitely still around, people who knew their forebears and who carry the pain inside them. If people (those who are prejudiced) were to learn more about history, they’d understand where we are coming from. It is and remains our heritage. You never forget it! There are plenty of books, such as “Wij slaven van Suriname” (We Slaves of Surinam) by Anton de Kom. It would also be nice if this dark period in Dutch history were included extensively in school textbooks, starting in primary school, instead of the few lines that are now included in the school books. Many people don’t know Dutch history and that’s why they just make things up and spread division.’

Do you have any photos for us to end with?
‘I wanted to share a photo of myself in Surinamese dress, but it didn’t come out well. I do have a photo of my grandma’s mother in traditional costume, also known as ‘Koto’. We call this ‘Koto misi’: woman wearing a koto dress.’

Text: Seray Ünsal
Newsletter Inside NWO-I, September 2021


Diversity and inclusion at NWO and NWO-I

This new section will be published on both the NWO intranet Joost and the newsletter Inside NWO-I. This is an initiative from the NWO-D and NWO-I wide Diversity team. We aim to realise working in an inclusive organisation with inclusive procedures. We believe that we can achieve our strategic ambitions as NWO if we also seek to be a diverse organisation with an inclusive culture. Diversity brings us creativity, innovation, and renewal. In addition to this, we are convinced that we will have more societal impact as NWO if our organisation reflects the society we are part of. This means that as an employer, NWO needs to ensure that everybody is welcome, can be themselves and can perform at their best. This Diversity and Inclusion calendar contributes to that. You can read more about diversity and inclusion on the NWO website. And in the January edition of Inside NWO-I, we published the article “Striving for an organisation where everybody can be themselves” about diversity within NWO and NWO-I.

Section NWO celebrates … based on an annual calendar

We base the section “NWO celebrates…” on an annual calendar that we have produced ourselves. You can find our calendar here. An annual calendar does not necessarily have to start on 1 January. Various Roman emperors and several popes changed the dates making a year start on 1 March, or 25 March or perhaps 1 January? That set us thinking: which dates do we still take for granted, and how do others view that? Time for a calendar that includes all special days: days that we as NWO employees can celebrate together. We hope this calendar will help us to get to know each other better, increase our knowledge about other festive days, and give us opportunities to open up the conversation and discover which (festive) days are special for us and why.

Read the other articles and see the calender  from the section 'NWO celebrates...'

Would you like to participate in this section?

Is your (festive) day missing from the calendar? Or would you like to say something in the section “NWO celebrates…” about one of the special days on this calendar? If that is the case, then please send an email to Nicole Verhoeven ( Then we will add your date to the calendar and contact you for a possible interview for this section.

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