The April murders

Current work

Curacao was a colony of the Netherlands from 1791 to 1954. In 1940 Curacao owned the largest oil refinery in the world. The oil was extracted in Maracaibo (Venezuela) and transported to strategically located Curacao by the Curacaosche Scheepvaart Maatschappij, a subsidiary of the Curacoasche Petroleum Industrie Maatschappij (Shell). There were about 400 Chinese stokers and other engine room personnel. The Chinese could do this work because they smoked opium and were addicted to opium, otherwise this work could not be done. The engine rooms could become 55 degrees Celsius hot and anyone not smoking opium would physically be written off at the age of 35. Despite their life-threatening work, they were treated worse than the other employees: they were paid less, their safety was less well taken care of and they were forbidden to enter Willemstad, to get off the ship. In February 1942, the number of sea incidents on the CSM's shipping route increased and Chinese people died. In addition, the Germans torpedoed ships with their U-boats (submarines). The fear this aroused among the Chinese, combined with their poor position within the company, led them to lay down their work en masse on February 24, 1942 in order to negotiate better working conditions. A number of Dutch officers also went on strike. But it was war. The CSM requested the Curacao government to arrest these men on the basis of labor obligation; Strike was prohibited because of the importance of the oil transport for the war. This went on, the strikes and the camp they were put in became full. There was a shortage of space, food and sanitation. A very explosive situation ensued. On April 20, 1942, the chief inspector of the police, Van der Kroef, was ordered by the commander of the military police forces to select 85 Chinese and transfer them to another camp. They received help from the Immigration Service and 13 police officers and a number of guards from the CPIM. This separation resulted in a violent confrontation in which 12 Chinese were shot dead, 44 were injured and 3 more died of their wounds. After that, the Chinese are still separated. The dead were buried in the early morning of April 21, 1942, secretly and they were buried anonymously in the "graveyard of disgrace" Colebra Bèrdè. The Curacao government forbade the press to publish the incident. An independent investigation was not allowed and the incident dubbed "the Chinese conflict" was covered up. The Curacao government, nor the Dutch State have never accounted to the relatives of the murdered or injured Chinese in Curacao. Due to research into the Netherlands Antilles during World War II, individual historians have delved into this incident and books have been written about it. (Source book: The April Murders)

Artist Avantia Damberg commemorates this historic event by means of 15 porcelain vases, and touches on the theme slavery or exploitation. She painted with Delft blue this unknown story, a vase for each killed Chinese stoker.

China. Porcelain comes from China and has a long tradition in each Chinese dynasty. Not only is this a link to the Chinese stokers who are the topic of this work but these vases were crated in Friesland, Leeuwarden where the artist is born. This part of the Netherlands has a long tradition of Delft Blue porcelain, which is the Dutch version of the original china.