Contributor: Aspha Bijnaar
With thanks to Frank Wijdenbosch
Blaka Lola (Paramaribo 20 July 1909 – Paramaribo 28 April 1990)
Sometime in the 1970s, Frank Wijdenbosch and his brother were walking in the red light district. His brother wanted to show Frank the red light district of Amsterdam. And suddenly there she was! A large black woman in a wig, wearing a dirty coat. Onlookers were ridiculing her, but she swore back at them. ’That’s Blaka Lola!’ whispered Frank’s brother to him. Black Lola was a Suriname penny prostitute, now old and senile. Wijdenbosch had never heard of her, but Blaka Lola would cross his path again more than twenty years later.
Very little is known about Nicolina Sant, alias Black Lola, or Blaka Lola in Sranantongo (Surinamese). In preparation for his successful theatre production of Blakka Lola that premiered in September 2001, writer and actor Frank Wijdenbosch researched her life in the Netherlands and Suriname. He spoke to a few people who had known her personally. Yet many questions remained unanswered. The production of Blakka Lola, consisted partly of facts and partly of fiction. Wijdenbosch himself played the character of Black Lola. As a further tribute, he took the initiative to place a headstone on the grave of Black Lola at the Vrede en Arbeid cemetery in Paramaribo in 2003.
Who was Blaka Lola? Apparently, she was the first Surinamese window prostitute in Amsterdam’s red light district. She was born in 1909 in Suriname as Nicolina E. C. Sant. Her parents were Nicodemus Nicolaas Sant and Frederika Evelina Gondel. She was orphaned at a young age: her mother died when she was three years old and her father six years later. They left behind three children, Nicolina and her brothers William and Hennie. Nicolina ended up in an orphanage of the Moravian Church in Saron. She was later sent to the Netherlands to work as a housemaid, where she was employed by a patrician’s family that she was not fond of. She was treated badly: if she did not observe the family rules, she was punished by being forced to spend the night in the coal-shed. In the middle of winter, she was evicted from the house following an argument. After this, she briefly worked as a nurse in the Onze Lieve Vrouwen Hospital. During this period, she met a Dutch man who introduced her to Amsterdam nightlife. She then started a career as a dancer at La Cubana nightclub owned by Max Woiski.
Nicolina finally ended up as a window prostitute, whether or not by force. One of her working places was Stoofsteeg 9 in Amsterdam. In the world of prostitution, she stood out with her unusual appearance. She was black, had a harelip, a plump figure and a well-groomed appearance. Although she did not like the skimpy sexy clothing that prostitutes usually wear, she appealed to the imagination of many. Nicolina was always dressed in a long dress, which had a split and deep cleavage. And she spoke Dutch perfectly and without an accent. From all corners of the Netherlands, people came to stare at her, whether or not they paid for her services. She endured all this attention, but she did not like it. She was clever enough to exploit her exotic appearance commercially. She presented herself to her clients as an African princess: who could only expose herself if more money was paid. Lola enjoyed this pretence.
During the more than 20 years that Nicolina was a prostitute in the red light district, she was known as Black Lola, Blaka Lola or Aunty Lien. In 1974, a dirty song was written about her that included the words: ‘red lips, black nylons and a mass of curly hair’. A dishwashing brush was also marketed under the name Black Lola. Aunty Lien was a household name in the red light district, along with her equally famous Dutch best friends: Red Wil, Belgian Gonnie and Groninger Annie, girls who along with Blaka Lola frequented nightclubs such as Casablanca, Paps en Mams and the Cotton Club.
Aunty Lien was also famous for her cooking and her generosity. During the Dutch Hunger Winter of 1944/1945, many could sit at her table and enjoy a meal. Black Lola sold her body and yet at the same time she strove for economic independence. She could neither read nor write, but hoarded her money so well that at a certain point she could afford to buy three windows and lease them. She also had enough money to buy the famous café Babeloo on Rembrandtplein. Blaka Lola also had a wealth of golden jewellery, which can be seen from the few photos that exist of her.
However, life as a whole was not kind to Black Lola. Particularly in her love life, she had very little luck. The white Dutchmen with whom she had lasting relationships, seem to have profited from her illiteracy. There was no trace of her possessions after her death. Black Lola always kept her distance from other Surinamers. Almost no one ever saw her with a black man.
She was apparently happiest with Anton Geesink (notv the famous judo champion, but a namesake), operator of the Babeloo bar with whom she was married for 16 years. At the end of the 1970s, Geesink died and Nicolina ended up in Flessenman nursing home on the Nieuwmarkt in Amsterdam. She was old, senile, and unable to care for herself. She also suffered from diabetes. Her only solace was her parrot Flora, who had been her loyal companion since 1959. Black Lola had no children.
Aunty Lien also found no peace at Flessenman. Her difficult behaviour forced staff to keep her in a closed ward. In 1985, she travelled to Suriname where she found shelter and care in Huize Albertine. It is unclear how she ended up in Suriname. Did she voluntarily travel there or was she deported? According to stories, in her later years she cried from nostalgia for her native land, where she returned after 56 years.
In Huize Albertine in Suriname, Black Lola was just another unknown woman like so many other residents. No one knew of her past, but her unusual appearance and behaviour made her difficult to get along with. Her physical and mental condition deteriorated rapidly. She had a leg amputated as a result of diabetes. She died alone in 1990: only 14 people came to her funeral. Her parrot Flora, that could mimic her manner of speaking and laughing accurately, died about nine years later…and took the final echo of Black Lola to its grave.
• Rudie Kagie. De eerste Neger. Mets & Schilt pubishers, 2006, zp
• Blakka Lola, theatre performance produced by Seven Arts Foundation 2001.