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Our common past

Several Danish media have recently been interested in the common past of Ghana and Denmark. Although many of us have mixed feelings about this theme, it is a fact that in 1659 the first Danes came to the Gold Coast and stayed on until 1850 when the five Danish forts including Christiansborg (now Osu Castle) were sold to the British.

Christiansborgosu
Entrance of Christiansborg/Osu castle

Last week, a leading Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, published a series of five well-researched and well-written articles about Ghana. One of them about the King of Akwamu was titled “The king and Denmark have a common dark history”. The history about the slave trade and oppression is indeed dark, but the story about how the Akwamu people in 1693 managed to seize Christiansborg from the feverish and drunken Danish merchants and keep the castle for a full year shows that resistance and pride among local kings also played a role. When a few weeks ago, I visited King Odenho Kwafo Akoto III, he proudly showed me the keys to Christiansborg, which the Akwamu people took with them after the humiliated Danes had been forced to pay 3,000 ‘Rigsdaler’ to get the castle back. It is just amazing to consider that the rusty keys have been passed on from king to king in the Akwamu Palace for more than 300 years.  

The story will be on Danish television

A Danish TV team also recently visited us together with the famous Danish actor Lars Mikkelsen known to an international audience from his roles in ‘House of Cards’ and ‘The Killing’. They came to shoot an episode of a TV documentary on the ‘History about Denmark’. The Embassy managed to obtain permission for them to do some of the filming inside Osu Castle, and we are grateful for the support and  good collaboration of the Protocol Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, the Ministry of Information, the National Security Coordinator, and Ghana Museum and Monuments Board. The episode will be shown on Danish TV (DR1) in late August.  

Larsmikkelsen
Lars Mikkelsen as host in the new TV documentary "History about Denmark"

The story about the early Danish-Ghanaian relations has also been told in the literature by both Danes and Ghanaians. With his historical novel “Coast of Slaves” from 1967 Danish author Thorkild Hansen shook up the illusion of many Danes that we had been a model nation in our interaction with people on the Gold Coast. My good friend Professor Henry Nii-Adziri Wellington in 2011 wrote “Stone tells Stories at Osu, Memories of a Host Community of the Danish Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade” (Sub-Saharan Publishers) and counted more than 70 Danish family names in Ghana, including Aarestrup, Engmann, Hansen, Jacobsen, Lokko, Lutterodt, Malm, Palm, Pedersen, Quist, Richter, Sonne, Svanekjær, Truelsen, and Wulff to mention just a few. And in 2015 a group of Danish and Ghanaian researchers jointly presented “ Danskernes Huse på Guldkysten 1659-1850” edited by Anne Mette Jørgensen (Forlaget Vandkunsten og Nationalmuseet) (in Danish with English abstracts).

The history is complex and fascinating and we owe all those people who suffered from the cruelties to learn from our common experience.