A very short answer

Our Dutch word for today is tuthola (pronounced as: tut-hole-ah). It is a pejorative term for a member of the fair sex, displaying an overinflated sense of her own intelligence and importance. A substantial streak of busy-bodiness is a natural addition to this set of unfortunate characteristics.

Two fine examples of tuthola’s are on display in the news, reported by Elsevier (NL) that the Van Abbe Museum in Eindhoven is hosting an exposition in opposition to Zwarte Piet.

This typical Dutch tradition is full of racism and colonialism en needs to vanish, according to two foreign artists and the activist club Doorbraak.

With this exhibition museum in Eindhoven wants to reopen the discussion about a ‘cultural tradition that has been made a-political and neutral and is incorporated in the collective consciousness of modern Dutch society’.

The two artists, Petra Bauer from Sweden and Annette Krauss (Germany), view the feast of Sinterklaas as the ‘colonial relation between the old, wise and strict white boss and holy man on the one side and the young, not too bright and rather naughty help Pete on the other, who dances child-like, madly jumps around and does not have a good command of the Dutch language’.

They wonder if it is possible to reopen the discussion about the Zwarte Piet tradition.

From their description of the relation between Saint Nicholas and Pete it is already clear they haven’t got even a hint of a clue of what they are pontificating about. Zwarte Piet is (or they are) not bumbling, primitive idiots. Black Petes are usually portrayed as clever, resourceful and a bit more with the times then the elderly Sinterklaas. There used to be an unfortunate tendency to have Zwarte Piet talk with some sort of an accent. But that was done away with decades ago. Having personal experience with Zwarte Piet ever since the late sixties, I can testify I have never, ever met a Zwarte Piet with a (fake ‘funny’) speech impediment or an incomplete command of the Dutch language.

Furthermore, the charge of colonialism is historical revisionism. Zwarte Piet predates the colonial age by a considerable margin. This still shows in his usual outfit which is a variation of late 15th, early 16th centrury dress.

Additionally, these two blathering Gutmenschen are late to the party. The discussion around the ‘acceptability’ of Zwarte Piet has been around since the late eighties and early nineties (Amsterdam city briefly experimented with Blue Peters) and has all but died after the NOS (the Dutch BBC, if you will) introduced so-called Rainbow Petes.

The latter looked like Zwarte Piet, but could have any color BUT black. They were introduced in 2006 with the ‘narrative’ that Sinterklaas’ steamboat (with which he and his entourage traditionally travel to the Netherlands each year) sailed through a rainbow, coloring the Petes who were on deck at the time.

But the majority of the Dutch saw this turn of plot for what it was. The NOS received so many angry and upset commentary and reactions that the idea has died a quiet death. Last winter all Petes were their usual color again and nobody has dared to bring up the ‘racist’ issue for fear of public ridicule. It seems that the discussion is, after more then 10 years, finally over. And tradition won.

There are a number of narratives as to the origin of Black Pete. In the earliest tradition Sinterklaas was assisted by one Black Pete. The story about his origin comes closest to the ‘racist’ view: Pete is/was a slave to Arab/Muslim masters, freed by St. Nicholas. Grateful for his release Pete stayed with the elderly saint and served as his assistant.

Elsewhere in Europe Sinterklaas is assisted by a figure that is a lot scarier (See ‘Companions of Saint Nicholas‘ on Wikipedia). Presumably, the oldest tradition in the Netherlands started out in the same way. Sinterklaas was accompanied by a black devil character who’d punish or abduct bad children. In later centuries this character morphed into a black, negro like character.

It could be construed as racist, but the current accusations seem to be fixated on this particular point of the evolution of Black Pete. When the tradition as we now know it started to pick up in the 17th and 18th century, Black Pete already had become the freed and thankful ex-slave described above.

Ever since WW2 Sinterklaas’ entourage grew larger and larger. He now has an entire court of Petes. The explanation usually given is this: Traditionally the good children get presents, bad children get a lump of coal or a bag of salt. But the really nasty kids are taken by a Pete and brought back to Spain, where they are put back into shape. Most of them are returned the next year. But some of them chose to stay and are hence taken on as Pete. Because Petes have to climb down chimneys to deliver their presents, during their training, the soot on and in the skin of these children builds up over time, turning Pete into a Black Pete.

The latter explanation is used to circumvent the ‘imperialistic’ issues around the first explanation (even to the story predates imperialism by a good 400 to 800 years). But that explanation also pre-dates political correctness by a good few decades.

In the piece on Elsevier, these two fine examples of lily white tuthola’s complain about the hostile reactions they get for sticking their foreign noses into Dutch traditions. But as the above tries to show, both of them have only the most superficial idea about Sinterklaas, Zwarte Piet and the very long tradition they are part of. Even in parts of the world which they presume to speak for (picture; Taken in Surinam).

That the arrogance of coming over from Malmö, pronouncing your verdict over a tradition that isn’t yours and of which you do not know anything illicits such reactions seems to be beyond the understanding of these to superficial Gutmenschen. Proving all the more that the qualification tuthola applies.

And as to the question these two vacuous ‘artists’ pose on whether it is possible to reopen the discussion about the Zwarte Piet tradition: We would like to answer with a very short…

NO!

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