Curaçao, a small island off the coast of Venezuela, was inhabited by Arawak natives until it was invaded by Spanish sailors in 1499. Following their discovery and invasion of Curaçao, a few Spanish explorers established temporary residences on the island before continuing their expedition, transporting the majority of the Arawak people to other colonies as slaves.
Despite its discovery, the island was not in high demand by Europeans establishing colonies in the Caribbean for some years. Curaçao was uninteresting because it lacked mineral resources, particularly gold, which was the most valued trading commodity at the time. The island was mostly populated by Arawaks, Spanish explorers and traders, and Portuguese sailors who were left on the island to recover.
The discovery that the Caribbean was a productive place for sugar, cotton, and coffee increased the value of the lands, and by 1662, the land had been largely taken over by the Dutch after they obtained independence from the Spanish.
By the late 17th century, Curaçao had established itself as a reliable sugar source and a vital trading route, particularly for the Atlantic slave traffic. Slaves were sold and bought on the island, with only a handful remaining to work on the island’s modest plantations.
Enslaved Africans, mostly from West Africa, made up a major percentage of the population by the 18th century. Because of the ill-treatment of the enslaved people, many of them lived and died in poverty, causing animosity between the Dutch and the Africans forced to work as slaves.
In 1795, there was a great deal of resentment between the colonists and the enslaved people, which resulted in a slave revolt. According to the Indie Wire, Tula Rigaud, a local slave on the Knip estate, led a group of slaves who demanded that the plantation owners discontinue collective punishment, stop working on Sundays, and let slaves buy their garments from anybody other than their masters.
Tula plotted a revolution for a few weeks after being ignored, then on August 17, 1795, he teamed up with three other slaves, Louis Mercier, Bastian Karpata, and Pedro Wakao, to launch an uprising against their slave masters after their demand was not met.
Tula led a group of about 50 slaves to their master, Caspar Lodewijk van Uytrecht, to inform him that they were no longer his slaves, following which they marched to Fort Amsterdam to free several slaves who had been imprisoned.
The growing group of rebels then traveled to numerous plantations to meet with the other leading rebels, proclaiming themselves free and abandoning the plantations immediately.
After leading the rebels at Saint Kruis in kidnapping Dutch commander Van der Grijp and ten of his soldiers and imprisoning them, Louis Mercier joined Tula on their mission.
Tula and his rebels had freed thousands of slaves by the evening of August 17 and had set up camp on the sandy bay of Portomari, where they were attacked by the Dutch but defeated them.
The slave insurrection on Curaçao in 1795 lasted more than a month and turned into a bloodbath between enslaved people and their masters.
Tula was inspired by the 1791 uprising in Haiti, which resulted in the enslaved’s independence, to free his people and establish an independent nation, and about 4,000 freed people fought and a thousand rebelled in support of Tula’s idea.
Tula and Karpata were taken by the Dutch on September 19, 1795, after being tricked by a slave. Shortly after, Mercier and Wakao were apprehended, and the uprising was declared over by the Dutch.
Slaves were encouraged to return to their estates, but any who refused were executed. Tula was publicly tormented till he died on October 3, 1795, as a warning to other slaves. Wakao, Mercier, and Karpata were all executed shortly after.
Despite the fact that Tulsa’s idea of an autonomous society was not realized, the terrible treatment of slaves in Curaçao was substantially decreased, and slave masters were given guidelines. Slave rights were also established by the government, which had to be followed. In 1863, slavery was abolished in Curaçao.
The people of Curaçao commemorate August 17 as the beginning of the struggle for independence, and a memorial to Tula was erected near the Holiday Beach Hotel on the island’s south coast.
Tula’s life and the 1795 revolt were the subjects of a film made in 2013 to shed more information on the uniqueness of Tula’s revolt, which enabled slaves to gain better care.