Get Familiar: Katibo Ye Ye
Patta & Tommy’s first collaboration takes on Pan-Africanism as a focal point. We felt it was imperative to showcase the breadth of the African diaspora.
Before we reveal the collection, we’d like to draw your attention to Katibo Yeye, a 2003 documentary about Suriname-born Clarence Breeveld, who, together with director Frank Zichem, traces the shipping route from Ghana to Suriname. Along the way they meet Stephen Korsah, a man who knows a lot about the history of slavery in his native country of Ghana, as well as in Europe. Completely unaware about what happened at the final destination of Suriname, Korsah travels with them to South America. Suriname is also where Patta founders’ roots lie.
As a foreword to the narrative, we sat with Director Frank Zichem to discuss the aims of his documentary and why it’s more relevant than ever
Hi, I am Fatima Warsame, I'm here with Gee from Patta and Frank Zichem. Documentary filmmaker, director, and so much more than that. And also, the director of the film Katibo Ye Ye. Which is our talking topic today. I'll kick it off with you, Frank. I've seen the film. Like I just said, the film was made in 2003, which is a long time ago. But now, watching it in 2021, it feels more relevant than ever. What was it like, directing this in that era? In 2003, when you decided to research the history and Clarence, the main character.
This story, about Clarence Breeveld, is centered around slavery. Mental slavery. I got in touch with the term when Anton de Kom in the 1960's.
Anton de Kom was an activist and writer of history in Surinam. He died in Auschwitz, he had been murdered. And I thought to myself, I'd really like to film a documentary about mental slavery. But, you can't capture mental slavery. It's not something you can just show one the screen, that's difficult. So I looked around for someone who actually portrays mental slavery. And then I ran into Clarence Breeveld. An old friend of mine.
Clarence was a man whose body-language said everything. He always looked defeated in life. For instance, when he wouldn't get a promotion. It felt like it [was] always the Dutch who did it.
Everything that happened to him. He felt like the Dutch people did it to him. He would tell me they ruined us. They conditioned us into mental slavery. And for the most part, he is right.
So I thought I'd shoot the film with him. Since mental slavery was visible with him. Mental slavery as a term did not even exist in Surinam. I made it up. You weren't even aware of experiencing mental slavery.
So to clarify the story: Clarence lives in Holland, has a nationality in Surinam, but travels to Ghana to research his origin and history. Suspecting that his ancestry lies there. And that the connection between Suriname and Ghana is still so visible.
That’s the gist of the story. But regarding mental slavery, I actually felt like Clarence barely spoke. Yes, but that's already sign. That he has been muted. Anyways, I took him with me to places where the slaves used to arrive. You've probably seen it. They used to wash and prepare the slaves to be sold.But before that, they would just "store" the slaves into dungeons. Man and woman.We were so shocked, I shed quite some tears even though I had seen my fair share.
But as the director, could you keep distance emotionally?
No, that's almost impossible. I'm Surinamese, my parents experienced slavery. The moment I stepped into frame, I felt so much pain. Whilst looking at him I saw how much pain he was actually in. He was stunned. In the film, the Ashanti, they talk about this too. Clarance was in lots of pain due to his history.My white film crew I was with were also crying.
We really went through something. I walked from set that day. I was really done with everything. Those things were important to the heart and soul.
That's when I realised this is my moment. This is my moment to end mental slavery. Mental slavery actually is just an extension of the false identities they've put onto slaves 400 years ago. You know, by dehumanizing and devaluing us. And they managed to succeed. Because after slavery, there were only sheeps left. Their minds were totally controlled.
Meanwhile, the dutch continued by bringing in people from Java, India. Using a lot of the same tactics on them. So, for a really long time, our grandparents were walking around clueless of what to do next. There was one thing they did know. Never working on land again. Even though the demand lies there. But the trauma was too much. Fathers being humiliated. Moms being raped. Giving birth not knowing if it would be a mixed or black child.
So, the film is called Katibo Ye Ye, which means?
Katibo means slavery. And Ye Ye means the mind. That definition did not exist yet. Because we didn’t know. We thought slavery was a thing that only existed in the US.
Yes, scarred for life. That's what I read at the beginning of the movie. I thought that was really beautiful. Especially in these times. Because now. Colonialism is something we openly talk about. Looking at the Black Lives Matter movement last summer. It feels like something. Way easier to discuss. Well, we've been at it for a while now.
No, definitely! We’re standing on the shoulders of giants.
There were plenty of brothers and sisters who were very in-your-face with their message. Fists raised. And I feel like the youngsters now are taking that on. Exactly, back then these subjects were being discussed more privately, among each other. And now, way more transparent, with social media. People don't shy away from terms like colonialism, racism and discrimation anymore. That's why your film seems even more relevant at this time. But how does that feel for you?
You know how the film ends, right? I had a really different ending at first. As a filmmaker, I just think of an idea and hope it works out better than I imagined.
Yes and it ties in really well with Patta's new collection. Where they've incorporated the Pan-African flag. Which also represents connection. You've brought together the history of multiple communities.Which in a way, are all connected. History that is connected in a direct or indirect way. I myself, originate from Somalia. We have no direct connection, as far as I know, to slavery.But there is a strong connection with the people that did experience multiple trauma's. Which again, ties in really well with Pan-Africanism. Uniting forces, and finding strength in that. Why did you, with Patta, decide to use the Pan-African flag in your collection?
So, Tommy Hilfiger, in their clothing, they usually use a lot of the Anglo-saxon colours like blue, red and white. So at Patta, we always try to find some common ground between the brands. And looking into how we can bring our own touch to it.
Like with the Pan-African flag, what it speaks and resembles for us. It was only the most logical and really cool choice. It's really important to us that we, besides education, also empower people.
So we collaborate, highlight untold stories, and in this case, educate via Katibo Ye Ye. It really shows our shared history between the Dutch, Africans and Surinam. How they are all intertwined connections.
Frank also just mentioned Arabic people. The back of one of our sweaters also incorporates the Moroccan flag.We hired a Morrocan photographer. We worked with a Nigerian filmmaker. So we try to bring people together in a multifaceted way. Which also raises questions sometimes. But that's a responsibility we're happy to carry. This is really the base of Pan-Africanism. A sense of belonging. We are scattered everywhere in the world, but we have this all encompassing flag that unites us. Which is the Pan-African flag.
An important extension of that is, that we as people of colour think about who we are and where we stand. And also have this place to unite and lift each other up.
So this stems from the power of unity, instead of individualistic thinking. Which is really important in our current society. It's all about me, me, me.
Whilst different social justice programs are starting to operate from the strength of unity, or ubuntu again. It seems to, in a way, recur again. Are you experiencing the same shift? The importance of unity?
I think it's important that people of colour find each other, and turn into powerhouses. Because we have been kept from unifying for a long time.
We are just now starting to break patterns of devaluation.We are finally seeing each other's value.
It really touches me to see us. A while back there was this award that was handed out. I was sitting in the room just so proud I started tearing up. Look at this. One step at a time, we're crawling out of the crab-bucket. With each other I used to be a loner in this. But I did it my way. Now we're like this. Now we empower each other. I’m proud of these gentlemen at Patta. That they do more than sell ‘patas’ [sneakers] alone.
These were beautiful last words. Thank you both for that.