Helping Statians write their family stories was an honor

Everything has been taken from our Ancestors. But I look at it like this: time has proven us right. We’re here to set things straight. When everything is taken from you, it is an opportunity to take everything you don’t have. You have the opportunity now to give everything back to them, by writing their stories. To do them justice."

This was a point of departure that I shared with my audience last week, during a writing training to a group of people who are investigating their history in the slavery archives. And that training I was allowed to do on the Caribbean island of St. Eustatius. What a pleasure it was to be back after at least 20 years to do this. It was like enjoying a 32 degree Celsius ice cream.

It all started in 2021 when the Project Memre was approved, my brainchild with which we searched the archives with Afro-Dutch people for stories from their past. This resulted in the Afro Magazine Memre Edition.

(You can still buy it)

That was a wonderful experience, so we set out to look for funds to carry out the project again, this time for Statia, in collaboration with the St. Eustatius Afrikan Burial Ground Alliance.

At that time, 16th, 17th and 18th century graves of enslaved Africans had just been found on the island and the Alliance, led by Kenneth Cuvalay, had prevented our Ancestors from being treated disrespectfully in death by European scientists. "What's not going to happen, is that European scientists hunting for their next PHD go rummage around in our Ancestor’s human remains," Kenneth reasoned activist.


He turned out to be an excellent partner.

We received funding from Mondriaan Fonds.

Almost a year went by with all kinds of meetings and preparations and we received support from the Center for Family History CBG. Then the project started. We named it Remember Statia.

First a training in archive research by Martine Zoeteman and Jacqueline Verkleij from the CBG. Over 15 people had registered for this.

And on April 14 I traveled to Statia to train the participants in writing the stories they had found in the archive about their past. It served a special kind of nostalgia to touch down in St. Maarten 14 years after I left this special place that I used to call home for 15 years.

Then I set off to Statia.

What a privilege it was for me to hear the participants' stories that they will write from the archival research that they did. And to give them tips on how to tell it most effectively.

We also talked about language; how loaded it is. I gave them tips on how to deal with this, and on decolonized writing. After all, you cannot honor the Ancestors with words that we still use every day, without considering that they were invented to denigrate us. We will soon be launching a course on this at the Broos Institute.

And that was the cherry on my ice cream. I find it rewarding when I am am able to utilize the best parts of me to help my fellow inhabitants of this earth, so that they can do something they want to do even better. That makes all of us better.

It will be an honor to publish the stories that will emerge from this exercise on AFRO Magazine. Maybe a Remember Statia edition?

Spending time in Statia was fascinating. Lunch and breakfast at the witty manager of Ocean View Restaurant, I enjoyed grilled conch like it’s yesteryear at Franky's Bar & Restaurant, I attended an impromptu wedding, paid my respects to a Commissioner, had a late-night drink at the Boardwalk Cafe.

And Kenneth arranged for me to have the humbling honor of paying my respects to the remains of the Ancestors that were found in one of the many African cemeteries on the island.

Heritage House

That was an experience that made me ponder the perspective of my own place on earth .

Who were these people whose bones I’m visiting with here? What did they go through to end up here and be buried here? Am I descendant of one of them?" I wondered.

Questions without answers, because not much was written about us in the archives kept by the colonizers.

I also addressed this during the training.

You're going to encounter gaps and plot-holes in stories you find in the archives. Allow yourself the freedom to bring the Ancestors and their legacies to life. Everything was taken from them, remember? Give them everything back, And more! If you cannot fix it non-fictional, fill it up with fiction. Change the narrative about who they were; about who we are as their descendants.”

The remains of the Ancestors have been safely and respectfully stored for the time being in the airconditioned Heritage House, where historian Raimie Richardson shared his extensive knowledge about the African history of the island.


The Heritage Inspector also took me on a tour of the many historical places on the island where Africans have left their mark despite through the marginalization and inhumanities they had to endure.

Statia is full of this type of history; like this lookout post with a breathtaking view of the sea, that was manned by two unarmed African men; if they saw a ship approaching, one of them had to run to the nearest house to sound the alarm. The other had to continue watching the ship.


A task with responsibilities. Raimi found a story in the archives about punishment one of them received for not arriving at the post on time.

Tons of stories to write. #moretocome


Raimi also proudly pointed at a red marker that he had erected next to the airport to mark the fact that Ancestors were buried there and that there are more.

“Hopefully there will be a formal monument to their memory, but for now I have already done this for them.”

MY PLAN was to also bravely climb the Quill, but I decided against that physical challenge; Without it I was already sweating from all kinds of places on my body that I did not even know were pores.

Maybe I can do the Quill next time I will be in Statia again. Who knows, life could serve up this type of party more often in the future.

First I went back to St. Maarten with Winair

And then home to the Netherlands.

Eight hours on a KLM plane, in the seat behind a man who for 6 hours was having this incessant monotonous buzzing monologue with his silent companion. “Jeeznpeas bruh. You don't shut up!? I wanted to "ask" him, but I held back.

I've been missing the Caribbean from the moment I boarded the KLM flight.


Marvin Hokstam


Marvin (HOX) Hokstam is a journalist, writer and educator, and a habitual things-upside-down-turner.