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I found my roots in Zealand, Denmark and Oslo, Norway.
I've been on a global journey that has taught me that we are all connected - regardless of gender, race and colour and we must listen to our inner voice for guidance.
I was born in Ghana. I spent my early years in Israel. But now by many strange and winding paths, including along the slave routes in West and North Africa – found my roots in Svestrup, Zealand in Denmark. It has been an epic journey that has helped me to discover my true identity.
I was only 11 years old when my mother and grandmother told me that the man I called father, was not my father. My biological father was a member of the royal family from the former Ashanti-Kingdom. He was a pharmacist and lawyer and had been a minister in Ghana’s first President Kwame Nkrumah's last government.
I spent my early years in Tel-Aviv in Israel because my stepfather was a Ghanaian diplomat. Memories from my childhood include the 6-day war in Israel; television pictures of Moshe Dayan with eye patch and the old woman, Golda Meir, the soldiers in the streets; also female soldiers. I still in my mind's ear hear sounds from the song Yerushalayim Shel zahav (Jerusalem of Gold). I was in the country where it all began.
It was a very formal occasion, when I met my biological father for the first time at my uncle’s home in Accra. This uncle was a veteran politician and diplomat. I was placed in one sitting-room while the adults were talking in another, and afterwards I came and had a conversation with my father. I subsequently moved and lived with him and his family for some time in Kumasi and then returned to my mother.
On Christmas Eve in 1973, I acted as shepherd in a nativity play in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Mamprobi in Accra. My mother was a trained music teacher and headmistress. She inspired me by singing solo in the same church, and in many cases to a packed church.
I felt shy because of the attention that her beautiful personality and voice gave when we - her three sons - were sitting there by her side in the pew. After the nativity play that night, the priest mentioned my name in his sermon and praised me for my brilliant performances. The instructor suggested to my mom that she send me to drama school.
When I look back now, I've been on stage in my own dramatic life events ever since. - I knew not that I on a cold November day in 2010 would voluntarily participate in a gospel choir in the Church - Fælleskirken in the village of Ølstykke in Denmark! On this occasion there was a retired Danish air force aircraft engineer standing beside me who admired my good singing voice.
Afterwards he invited me to his home to practice and sing Eric Clapton’s ‘Rivers of Tears’ with his band. - It was, however, my inner voice that led me to Denmark and Ølstykke. It has been a voice that combined my personal, national and global history.
At the age of 21 years, I left home in Ghana for the second time and successfully crossed the Sahara Desert. This was a tough trip; part of the journey was made on foot. It was along the routes, where enslaved Africans were transported to the Mediterranean for centuries. I worked on an apple orchard in circumstances akin to slavery in Benghazi, Libya to save money in order to continue my journey.
At my grandfather’s funeral prior to my trip, I discovered that many of my relatives were lighter in skin colour. My mother told me that I had a Danish ancestor. My great-grandmother's grandfather was Danish. My great grandmother was called Augustine Ablewoga Svedstrup. That day I had a premonition that I would one day travel to Denmark to look for relatives. My mother also told me later-on that a female African ancestor of mine was captured together with her little brother during a raid of their family compound by slave traders on horses. Little brother was enslaved and taken aboard a ship that sailed away into the unknown across the Atlantic Ocean. Never to be seen or heard of ever again by sister, family and community.
On the most challenging, unexpected and unpredictable journey across the Sahara desert, I discovered that my inner voice guided me with synchronicities to overcome obstacles and repeatedly deliver me to safety along the way. One day as we rested in a desolate place in the desert between Djanet and Ghat where we got lost and left behind, I took my small Bible and read from Psalm 23: "Though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil, for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff is my solace ".
A long detour
In 1998, I went to Norway and Denmark for the first time. I participated in a youth leader’s conference in Denmark. At Copenhagen airport I felt at home despite the fact that it was my first visit. When I arrived at the apartment that was made available to the group, I recognized the name Niels Christian Hvidt on the door. In 1994, I was introduced to a young woman who bore the surname Hvidt at an International peace conference in Switzerland by an elderly Danish couple Keld and Inger Jørgensen who had visited Ghana in the late 1950s. She turned out to be Christian Hvidt's sister. Now I had to stay in the author Niels Christian Hvidt's apartment. Niels Christian Hvidt studied in Rome at that time, which was before he wrote the book about miracles. I felt synchronicity in coming to this place.
After studying Law and Diplomatic studies at universities in Britain, I led a team to successfully organize a major conference in London on 6 November 2001 entitled "Slavery: Looking Back, Moving Forward" at the Goodenough College where I was resident.
In 2003 I found out on the internet that my Danish ancestor was Lieutenant Johan Wilhelm Svedstrup, who was stationed in the then Danish Guinea (South-eastern part of Ghana) from 1844 to 1849. Svedstrup's father, Commander-Sergeant Erik Nielsen Svedstrup and his ancestors were born in Ølstykke and lived in nearby Svestrup. His mother was the daughter of a Norwegian Shipmaster from Christiania (Old Oslo).
The Danish King Christian IX was known as “The father-in-law of Europe” made Lieutenant Johan W. Svedstrup a Knight - The Order of the Dannebrog in 1882 for his brave efforts to help stop the slave trade along the then Gold Coast, now called Ghana. Svedstrup became bored on the coast. He took a year's leave of absence to return home on health grounds. But he'd heard news that Denmark was at war with Germany, its old arch enemy and he wanted to engage in some action. He arrived in Denmark and asked to be sent to the battlefront. He was sent with fresh horses to the battle of Isted, but the war ended as soon as he reached his destination. He asked to return to the Gold Coast where he also had a son Johannes and African wife Augusta whose paternal grandfather was a Dane. But Svedstrup wasn't allowed to return because Denmark had sold its possessions in the Gold Coast to Britain in 1850.
I found some relatives in Denmark, and they sent me a copy of a letter which Svedstrup's grandson had sent in 1948 to my mother's family in Ghana. I was on the track of my roots with synchronicity. Svedstrup’s grandson was Judge Gerner Svedstrup who lived in the next block of apartments to my friends Keld and Inger Jørgensen’s apartment. Little did I know when I visited the couple in 1998 that I was staring out at the window from their kitchen on to the rear window of my relative’s former residence.
In April 2003, I returned to Denmark to honour an invitation by living Svedstrup relatives. I visited Jørgen Svedstrup and his family in Copenhagen. I immediately felt at home with them. They had always known about relatives in Ghana, but were now meeting one for the first time. The family gathering was on Jørgen’s birthday, my elderly friend Keld had his a few days later. Mine followed at the end of the month. Synchronicity at its best! Subsequently, I moved to Denmark in 2004 and further serendipitous events led me to finding Lieutenant Svedstrup’s gravestone in Helsingør near Hamlet’s castle.
In September 2010, I followed my hunch to return to Denmark from London in order to complete writing my book. I received an invitation to attend a seminar and exhibition held at the Danish national archives and national museum. I was also asked to speak at the forecourt of Amalienborg palace, the winter home of the Danish royal family; to a group touring city sites linked with the Danish slave trade.
I visited my now octogenarian widower friend, Keld Jørgensen of Peter Bangs Vej in a care home for the elderly. After the conferences ended, I checked out of the hotel and stayed at Keld’s now spacious former apartment next to my relative the late Judge Svedstrup’s. At night, I would often sit and wonder what the Judge and his family would have thought if they knew that one day, an African relative would set up camp next to his home. I wanted to figure out the reason for this strong feeling. Later on, a Norwegian friend of Keld visited the flat and invited me to Ølstykke to stay with their family for two weeks. They didn't have prior knowledge about my ancestral connection to the village. I accepted and followed the synchronicity of the invitation.
In Ølstykke, I was invited to the local village church - Fælleskirken. I was asked to give coaching sessions to church leaders. On 6 November 2010, I led a dialogue on integration between native Danes and new-Danes in the Church. It was a moving event, where "old" Danes and immigrants including some with a Muslim background shared what was on each other's hearts. I have completed a circle. We can become free from our "cosy prisons" or "comfort zones" which are filled with stress and depression by following our inner voice.
I wrote a Master's thesis on ‘The politics of reconciliation, concerning the transatlantic slave trade’ at the Diplomatic Academy of London at the University of Westminster and organized a successful conference on the subject at Goodenough College in London in 2001. To fund and support research concerning Denmark, I worked as a personal life coach raising aspiration in schools and colleges in the London boroughs of Bromley and Croydon - the first project of its kind in Britain. I also toured schools and colleges across Denmark under the UNESCO schools program as a guest lecturer sharing my story.
I hope my quest for identity will raise awareness of the need to reconcile the legacy of Slavery, the Atlantic and Trans-Saharan slave trade, and the continuing need for reconciliation between the descendants of all those involved in the slave trade. - Africans, Arabs and Europeans, those who sold and transported them, agents and slave owners. I have worked to establish a 'doctrine of collective culpability' as a basis for reconciliation and sustainable development. I call it ‘healing history’. I sincerely hope that my story and journey will inspire people to listen to the inner voice that led me on such a fantastic trip. If we truly discover what ‘healing history’ can do, we will have fewer problems, personally, nationally and globally.
I don’t feel as a Dane, neither do I feel like a Ghanaian, but rather as a global citizen. If I had not listened to my inner voice, I would not have been on this exciting journey. I've certainly had a very good and exciting time.
I’ve developed a program called ‘WHAT COLOUR IS YOUR APPLE?’ that teaches, inspires and motivates others to find their true identity, life purpose, reconciliation, branding, and sustainable development by Jantuah-Svedstrup Institute (JSI).
I come out to communities in need of dialogue, schools, colleges, organisations, businesses and associations across the globe and share my successful quest for identity. Although we live our lives through a constellation of identities, our core identity is connected to all things. This journey has taught me that ‘Identity equals oneness’ and we must be present in the moments of life to have a great life.
Contact me by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
©Copyright 2012. Kojo Jantuah. All Rights Reserved.