Sunday, 10 June 2012

Denmark on the Slave Coast.

Part One

Excerpts from ‘ROUTES - The journey from Ghana to Svestrup’.
By Nana Kojo Jantuah           

Denmark on the Slave Coast.

Denmark was actively engaged in the trade for enslaved Africans for almost 200 years. However, they were the first to abolish the slave trade in 1792.

On the 30th of March 1850, 162 years ago, the Danish flag Dannebrog, was lowered for the first time from the fortress tower Prøvestenen in Osu-Accra. That signified the end of an inhuman part of Danish colonial history that had gone on for 200 years.

It all began one morning in 1658, when a Swedish captain in Danish service Henrik Carlof, with the ships crew and 22 slaves attacked the Swedish fort, Carlsborg at Cabo Corso (now Cape Coast) at the Gold-coast in Guinea (now Ghana). The Swedish garrison of 16 men had no alternative. After a short shooting battle, they surrendered and the Dannebrog was raised on the flagpole.

The African fever and lust for Gold had infected Copenhagen prior to 1858. The Naval ship, Neldebladet, had returned to Denmark with a cargo of gold, ivory and palm oil. There was also jewellery and ducat from Guinea, and the king Fredrik III made a ducat with an inscription to Queen Sophie Amalie.

Carlsborg (Cape coast castle) was lost as early as the next year to the British, which renamed it Fort Cape Coast. Instead a fort, Fredericksborg, was built in the area and in 1660 the fort Christiansborg was erected at Osu in Accra. That became the main Danish post at the coast. It was at this time that the gold trade was coming to an end in Guinea. But the trade of enslaved Africans to the sugar plantations in the West Indies had become highly profitable.

When Denmark-Norway which was a dual monarchy from 1536 to 1814 became established in West-Africa with the trade in enslaved Africans, it was no longer based on raids on the coast. It was an established trade with local agents. It was mostly captives taken in battles with neighbouring tribes. But it was also a way to get rid of debtors, local enemies and political opponents.

The slave trade was based on the demand in the West-Indies for workers at the plantations, and on the tribal wars in Africa, which made it possible. Powerful leaders of feuding ethnic groups were happy to get guns and liquor. Drunken husbands sold wives and children. The legendary Danish slave trader L.F. Rømer, whose descendant Lawyer Jens Rømer I had lunch with in Helsingør in 2010, tells about a chief that sold several thousand women for liquor to his court.

The Danish slave ships brought a cargo of rum when they came to fetch a shipload of slaves. In the mid 1700’s the price for a male slave would be two guns, 40 pounds of gunpowder, or an anchor of rum. The price of women was less and exported duty-free during the 10 year grace period imposed on traders between 1792 and 1802 when the Danish abolition took full effect. The procurement of women in Africa was then at a premium because they could have children on the plantations to fulfil the labour needs

In 1693, the Akwamu trader and Caboceer (headman or chief) Asameni, who was a close confidant of the Akwamuhene, captured Fort Christiansborg at Osu from the Danes in the name of the Akwamuhene. He’d entered the fort to receive payment of guns in return for his service. Inside the courtyard of the fort, he used the guns to take over the fort.  The Danish flag was replaced by a black one, to the surprise of two Danish naval ships, which later came to Christiansborg. The sight of the guns as well as the sum of money offered him made the chief give up the fort.

Thousands of enslaved Africans were shipped every year. Many died during the inhuman travel over the Atlantic Ocean, where they were packed together in the ship’s hold. Every person had less space than a coffin. During one voyage that started with 419 enslaved Africans, 143 died.

At the end of 1700 the number of people that strongly resented the slave-trade was growing and on the 24th of February 1792, the Danish government as the first one, decided to outlaw the slave-trade from 1802. But mixed with the emotional initiative, was the considerations for the important sugar production in the West Indies, which resulted in the added import of slaves in the interval, especially women, to ensure that there would be enough workers for the plantations in the future.


©Copyright. Nana Kojo Jantuah. 2012. All Rights Reserved.

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