African-Surinamese woman Elisabeth Samson, new play


This video says about itself:

Lecture: UC Regents Professor Cynthia McLeod about Elisabeth Samson and the Surinamese Slave Society

14 November 2013

Cynthia McLeod, UC Berkeley Regents Professor in Dutch Studies and African-American Studies, presents: “Elisabeth Samson: The Life of a Remarkable Black Woman in the Surinamese Slave Society.”

Elisabeth Samson (1715-1771), a free black Surinamese woman, who challenged the prevailing racial stereotypes of her time, is the central character in this lecture. Set amidst the backdrop of eighteenth-century Suriname, McLeod’ s biographical account depicts the complex social and racial stratification of the slave society. Introduction by Jeroen Dewulf, Queen Beatrix Professor in Dutch Studies at UC Berkeley. Co-sponsored by the Dutch Foundation for Literature.

In the eighteenth century, Clevia near Paramaribo, the capital of Suriname, used to be one of the plantations owned by Ms Elisabeth Samson. She was the first Black woman in Surinamese history allowed, after a long legal fight, to marry a white husband. Before that, in another long legal fight, she had been exiled from Suriname to the Netherlands “forever”. The background to that: Governor Raye tried to introduce some minor reforms, like allowing African slaves as witnesses in trials against their masters. There was much anger against those proposals among white slave owners. When Governor Raye asked her, Elisabeth Samson reported to him a seditious remark about the governor by a slave owner. This caused much anger against this free African-Surinamese woman among the slavocracy. Governor Raye shamefully betrayed her. Defamed as a “whore”, she had to board a ship to the Netherlands.

There, she got much insight into the trade networks between Suriname and the Netherlands. After her appeal against the exile verdict was granted and she was allowed to return to Paramaribo, this knowledge helped her to become a successful trader and plantation owner. Surinamese author Cynthia Mc Leod wrote about her.

On Friday 14 March 2014, there will be the premiere in the Amsterdam city theatre of a new play about Elisabeth Samson. Especially about her court cases against the Dutch colonial government in Suriname.

Karin Amatmoekrim wrote this play. Theatre group Urban Myth performs the play. The cast is Raymi Sambo, Denise Jannah, Sergio IJssel, Noraly Beyer, Helen Kamperveen, Thirsa van Til, Yootha Wong Loi Sing.

Actress Helen Kamperveen plays Ms Samson at mature age. Dutch Max TV interviewed her today about the play. She said Cynthia Mc Leod had said that Elisabeth Samson had only African ancestors. So maybe casting Helen Kamperveen, of both African and European ancestry, for the role was questionable. Ms Kamperveen said that though much is known about Ms Samson because of Cynthia Mc Leod’s research, much was still unknown as well. In her biographical novel, Cynthia Mc Leod filled in blank spots with her imagination. In the play blank spots are also filled in by imagination; not Cynthia Mc Leod’s imagination, but Karin Amatmoekrim’s.

These differ. We don’t know why Ms Samson wanted to marry a white man and fought a long legal battle for that right. In Cynthia Mc Leod’s novel this is because Ms Samson and her European fiancé were genuinely in love. The theory in the play is that though Ms Samson was one of the richest people in eighteenth century Suriname, she was still discriminated against. Marrying a white man might help to remove some of the obstacles of discrimination.

Theatre group Urban Myth writes about the play (translated):

Historical and contemporary witnesses tell their views on the life of Elisabeth Samson. About her behavior and actions. About justice and morality. Should she be applauded for her contribution to the emancipation of black Surinamese or reviled for her role in the history of slavery [she owned slaves]? And is your identity determined by where you come from or by where you want to end up?

6 thoughts on “African-Surinamese woman Elisabeth Samson, new play

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