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Welkom to the Creative Archive of the performance Returning the Gaze where you can read some of the performance text.


Returning the Gaze takes the audience back to November 1596. That year, about 130 African men, women and children arrived in Middelburg by ship. They were prisoners aboard the ship of merchant Pieter van der Hagen and captain Melchior van den Kerckhoven. A viewing day was organized on the Abdijplein on November 18, during which they were exhibited to people in the city. As baptized Christians they could live in freedom, however two weeks later the children, women and men, were still reduced to commodities by the government of the Republic. After a short stay in Middelburg, they had to embarked again and were sold in the West Indies. 

Returning the Gaze presents the echo and resonance of these stories. What was the impact of this history on the residents of Middelburg in the past and in the present? The audience can expect a theatrical experience where local underexposed stories from the colonial history are shared through dance, poetry and music.


Luctor et Emergo

Oh no one saw

The power of Neptunes in my eyes

Except the sea


Oceans make mirrors

From heaven

In the black of the night


The stars light up

I receive a constellation

as a gift

As a crown on my reflection In the water


Luctor et Emergo

Nunquam non paratus

Never not ready

I am the struggle that lives on


Awake between stone and water

Awake when I arrive

here in the wooden belly of the devil

Awake between church and coast

Awake between time and access

Luctor et Emergo

Jus ad Bellum


We have the right to go to battle

For the forgotten names

Sold bodies

We have the right to go to war

For the forgotten names

Sold bodies

We have the right to go to war

our humanity has been spilled

among the crumbs of this city's history

Jus ad bellum

Nunquam non paratus

Luctor et emergo

Press Image Middelburg 4 (cropped with blur).jpg


We are here in Middelburg. The Abbey, built in 1127, bears witness to this. This city has been the center of international trade in products such as pepper, silk, tea and porcelain since the 16th century. The VOC, founded in 1602, had a Chamber in Zeeland, located in Middelburg. This was the most important chamber after Amsterdam and was the largest local employer. VOC ships sailed the seas from the port of Middelburg, as far as Batavia in Indonesia, Banda Islands, Sri Lanka, Madagascar, the Cape Colony in South Africa, Fort Elmina in Ghana to the Americas.

The people from Zeeland were everywhere. They renamed the fort in Paramaribo, Suriname to Fort Zeelandia and the city was given the name New Middelburg. It is the sea that has made this city what it is today. The sea that brought prosperity.

Here in Middelburg we lived from fishing, but it no longer enough.

My husband traded his cutter for a fluyt ship and has sailed the seven seas.


In his letters I read how they sail on the stars. How they find their way to Batavia, to Porto de Luanda. That they got lost because the stars are different overseas. He speaks of the Southern Cross. I look at the stars.


With a worried heart and an empty purse I stand on the shore. Waiting for a ship to appear on the horizon, waiting for a sign of life, waiting for my hero

Press Image Middelburg 1 (cropped) .jpg


The sea has brougth wealth, through slavetrade. The numbers don't lie.


The Netherlands conducted the transatlantic slave trade and is responsible for about half a million stolen people from Africa, and for 660,000 to over 1 million stolen people in Asia. The MMC, the Middelburgse Commercie Compagnie was founded in 1732. Their focus? Slave trade. About 300,000 enslaved Africans were brought to America by Zeeland ships of the MCC, as many as the entire population of Zeeland. This brought prosperity to this city. No matter the costs.



Yes, there was slave trade

But we have nothing to do with it.

It was the rich who traded in slaves, right?


But when I think about it… My cousin worked on the shipyard. My neighbor baked bread to supply the ships. The accountants, bookkeepers, suppliers. Farmers from Zeeland grew barley for stolen people on board.


In fact, everyone took part, the whole city eventually revolved around the colonial trade, the slave trade.

Everyone participated.



My name is Akua Djemi Ifeyi Dansi. Born on a Wednesday

My mother Leli Agyenim. My father Kofi Adofo I am the eldest of 4 children Adjoa, Femi, and our descendant Kodjo We call him Presenti.. our present. My father is leader of the Akan tribe. Our village is off the coast, just past Bojo. We are a close family and share a common passion; rhythm. The sound of the drums, the rhythm and singing of the farmers on the land the women who wash the clothes by beating the stones. Rhythm is everywhere and is the heart of our family and the village.


My parents are super protective of us It got worse from the moment the newcomers arrived in that… I don't know. I've never seen anything so gigantic on the water From our house those things were still high above the tallest trees.

My mom said don't judge people if you don't know them My father knew more and forbade us to go to the coast or make contact.

One morning I woke up to the sound of the apintie, my favorite drum. I got up and followed the sound. So many people 1.2 jump 1.2 jump; the dance I saw them doing in sync. It looked like a game. I was wondering what the prize was if you won this game because the players looked so tired. And they just kept going. Perhaps the grand prize is 1000 cowry shells. What could I buy from it? I was pulled in 1.2 jump 1.2 jump; Somewhere in the back of my mind I heard my father forbidding me to associate with the newcomers.


who can catch the time

to return it to us

seas of time takes on a different meaning

Based on where you are on the ship

Based on where you were on the ship

who can catch the time

between a warm shore and a cold port

From love of the sea to a fear of the waves

from a low sun to low clouds

from special for what you can to different for what you look like

how would you do that

How would you repay our time

in coins in buildings in canals, in cities, in churches and palaces

built with my grief

Built with our grief

see my tears in your walls

hear my sorrow through your windows

Still feel my blood trapped between these stones and the water

Who can catch the time

Our time lost, our time traded


November 1596, Here in Middelburg a ship arrived with 130 men, women and children. They were stolen from Angola. They were enslaved there and baptized by captain Melchior van de Kerckhoven and merchant Pieter van der Hagen. Because they were now Christians, the States of Zeeland and Mayor Ten Haeff decided that these people were free. All churches in Middelburg announced that these 130 people would be brought to the Abdijplein. Whoever promises to "bring them up in the fear of God" can employ them. And so the 130 people were driven from the ship in the harbor of Middelburg to the Abdijplein on Monday 18 November.

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