How did Anton de Kom become national heritage? This essay argues that De Kom’s successful canonization is owed in significant part to his sacralization. It shows that in De Kom’s case, the sacralizing power of heritage has three dimensions: his narrative framing, his image, and his status as ancestor. Highlighting these processes of sacralization allows a critical rereading of how De Kom is inscribed in postcolonial politics of memory in the Netherlands. The focus by postcolonial historians on historical accuracy and reading archives against or “along the grain” is crucial, but a secular perspective does not fully answer what makes certain historical narratives persuasive to particular audiences. Paying closer attention to this sacralizing power of heritage can provide new insights into workings of postcolonial memory and heritage.
Canonizing De Kom: Sacrality, Blackness, and the Nation in Postcolonial Netherlands
Markus Balkenhol is an anthropologist based at the Meertens Institute, Amsterdam. He works on issues of colonialism, race, citizenship, cultural heritage, and religion. He is the author of Tracing Slavery: The Politics of Atlantic Memory in the Netherlands (2021) and the coeditor (with Ernst van den Hemel and Irene Stengs) of The Secular Sacred: Emotions of Belonging and the Perils of Nation and Religion (2020).
Markus Balkenhol; Canonizing De Kom: Sacrality, Blackness, and the Nation in Postcolonial Netherlands. Small Axe 1 March 2023; 27 (1 (70)): 59–66. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/07990537-10461828
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