De koopman en de dominee: Nederland heeft tijdens haar koloniale periode niet alleen economische en politieke invloed gevestigd op Curaçao, maar speelde ook op het gebied van religie een bepalende rol. Jermain Ostiana, een maatschappijkritische blogger, beschrijft in onderstaand artikel het leven en de invloed van de eerste zwarte priester op het eiland, Amado Römer. Duidelijk wordt hoe de lijn van de Nederlandse dominee en koopman met elkaar verstrengeld en in oppositie raakten.

Door: Jermain Ostiana

The Christ Of Curaçao, Mgr. dr. Amado Römer
Loved by everyday people, disfavored and obstructed by the upper-class toting the desire to stagnate any kind of progress of the working-class, hindering their social lives and making their emancipation episodes troublesome of all sorts protagonized by the dependence of the financial-economic elite system, a simple but luminescent, Mgr. dr. Amado Römer seized his future destined as the first roman catholic priest of color.

“You ain’t nothing, you can’t do nothing, you don’t know nothing”, the Dutch catholic educational dictum taken as an unquestionable truth in the 20th century after the abolition of slavery followed by a 91 year stretch of colonialism. The church’s civilizing enterprise to raid the minds of the proletariat with catholic doctrine always encountered a troop of individuals creating an escape from the social engineering of the clergy. One of them was Amado Römer who as a young kid felt uncomfortable from only seeing blond haired, blue-eyed, Dutch speaking priests. His early social justness consciousness made him wonder if God would understand him if he spoke in his own Creole language Papiamentu? From that moment on the decision was made to become a man of the cloth aided and initiated by bishop Verriet, an advocate for local priests, on the notable date of June 29, 1946.

Curaçao witnessed the advent of a profound spiritual disciplined being seeking betterment of the impoverished underclass, a man armed with the extramundane rootical teachings of Jesus the Christ fighting against the unjustness of Dutch creole capitalism. The virtuous works of Römer are abundant. In the book ‘Mgr. dr. Amado Römer: indefatigable social justice fighter’ (Mgr. dr. Amado Römer: luchado inkansabel pa hustisia sosial) Valdemar Marcha unravels the man of faith criticizing and distancing from the normalized way of practicing politics and economy. The stance he took was against modern day capitalist economists who neglect people and express human relations in monetary values. He realizes the impoverished working class needs socio-political leadership, an urgency for stable households that economically can hold their own heads up. Therefore consequently Römer embarks on a emancipatory quest founding a credit cooperative in 1958. Economic democracy as an effort to bring a downturn to the societal inequality, making people aware that they are not objects of business owners and politicians. These black owned cooperatives gives the people an understanding to unite, to realize that interdependency will benefit everyone reaching economic goals by participating together while at the same time functioning as a learning space where leaders get formed.

Shortly after Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) sees the light of day and as the cooperatives boom surges, a central credit union league is founded and contacts in the Caribbean, United states and Latin America are established to strengthen the cooperative movement.

Römer founded CBH, the Christian Union of Dock Workers, in 1959; Horecaf, the hospitality union in 1964; Boneco, the union for commerce employees in 1969; CCV, the Central for Christian Trade Unions in 1969; BEBA, the union for bank and assurance employees in 1970 and also a bakers union and a taxi chauffeur union. INFORSIC, the institute to form Christian union leadership becomes a reality in 1966 thickly influencing the union movements of that period.

In 1976, FESSKA commences a superior and scientific catholic studies institute for philosophical formation on the areas of moral and ethics based on catholic teachings aimed at university students.

“As a priest the well-being of the common woman and man was paramount, that was always misunderstood, then and even now”. Römer had his struggles with the social stiffness of the catholic hierarchy. “The church is debilitating. They are not helping out the needy, the working poor. They say hallelujah and sing amen but that’s not the church I need. My church is honest and doesn’t slack. That walks the path of righteousness.” A far cry from countless priests, Römer possessed a uniqueness devoted to getting rid of that competitive system where education is anchored on capitalism creating individualistic and egotistic persons completely separated from each other. His purpose to elevate spiritually was through counter-balancing the weaker embodiment of the church or as he describes: “They want to bring the religion of water and sugar, me I just want to offer funchi and bokkel (cornmeal and salted herring).” Implying his theology of liberation was the Creole religious soul-food needed feeding spirits to rise to new heights of humanism.

When the May 30th 1969 revolt was on the verge of breaking out the Royal Dutch Shell prohibited the priest to continue his premonitious preaching of blood and fire to the oil refinery workers. Years later after the inferno of racial and labor inequity simmered down he proceeded to lecture during 1st of May, Labor Day with fiery speeches in Santa Famia church in Otrobanda his stomping ground. Classic Amado Römer moments of eloquent chastisement as he roughed up the economic elite for exploiting the working class along with union leaders, politicians who caught flak for the degeneracy of their principles as labor shepherds.

The critical voice towards his own religious institution, his inexhaustible radical activism bond to love up the black oppressed classes made him ineligible for the position of bishop.
Had he become the highest ranking within the catholic jurisdiction, the ramifications would be that the breath of emancipation would have been blown into the religious apparatus, creating a Römerism sacerdotal cavalry guaranteeing a significant social humanizing makeover of the reigning capitalist system.

In 2012, the university of Curaçao installed a Amado Römer Chair of Social Justice which yet has to evolve into a scientific tool of educational knowledge and activism creating structural advances for the struggling class.

Ever since his April 17, 2010 ascension to a better universe his compassionate spirit is being missed. He left during a crucial decision making period when Curaçao had to make a political choice between Dutch recolonization or stand its ground like Römer did and continue the decolonization process on all levels in society.

His legacy is without a single doubt to be treasured and the last book he published is a must read for everyone wanting to understand the historical social, political, economic, religious context of the impoverished working class: ‘Curaçao in the 20th century, Development for the People or a Tragedy?’ (Kòrsou Den SigloXX, Desaroyo di Un Pueblo òf Tragedia?). A brilliant piece of Papiamentu written work triumphantly produced without the usual help from banks or other financial institutions. His investigative study illustrates why social injustice is the cause of poverty and why people with money don’t mean a thing unless people do acts of benevolence with that money to fundamentally uplift the masses. Clarifying the situation at hand in 1999 this easily is still valid in 2014, Römer breaks it down: “What will be the future of these islands is the great question nobody can answer with some precision. Difficulties in economics and otherwise are mounting, materialism and the easy money (drug traffic and lotteries) keep the population occupied with little attention to self-sufficient initiative. Crime as a logical consequence of the situation becomes a menace to the ordinary homes, with no solution in sight. This somehow sad picture of the situation make some people cry out: what is it this century brought to us: development or tragedy?”

Fading out from the vicious spiral of tragic capitalism is essential according to Römer’s vision. Emancipated working class minds need to occupy a wide variety of strategic influential positions in the higher divisions of society to structurally stir up institutional change for the everyday people down below. A true guarantee of a continuous liberating human reservoir, developing the spirit, mind and heart, manifesting a genuine know thyself and love up your community movement in honor of the heritage he left behind.

Jermain Ostiana is a social critic, workingclass member of Curacao currently deconstructing Dutch colonialism by all means necessary. This article was previously published at ‘Triunfo di Sablika’:

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