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#8 A New Year Bringing Old History

2019 is “Year of Return” in Ghana, welcoming all descendants of Ghanaians who were enslaved and transported to other countries during the slave trade from 1500’s to 1800’s.

2019 as Year of Return

We have started a new year and can look forward to many interesting activities, events, and cooperation in 2019. President Nana Akufo-Addo has declared 2019 “ Year of Return”. With this, he and Ghana are inviting the African-American diaspora to visit Ghana and see the land of their ancestors. CNN has recently placed Ghana as number 4 on the list of places to visit in 2019 as has referred to the “Year of Return” campaign as a key reason. It will surely be an exciting year with a lot of cultural events happening, celebrating the Ghanaian culture, history, and people.

Tamarind trees

Denmark has a dark past of slave trading in West Africa. In the years from 1659 to 1802, approximately 110,000 enslaved people were transported on Danish ships from the West African coast to the West Indian Islands close to America. Officially, Denmark was the first country in Europe to ban the slave trade in 1802 but in practice, the trade continued many years after the official ban. In the years following the official ban against the slave trade over the Atlantic, the Danes constructed 17 plantations for growing coffee, tobacco, cotton, sugar, indigo, wine, and figs. The plantations were still using slave labour, but the enslaved people were no longer exposed to the long transport away from their motherland.

One of these plantations was Frederiksgave that was also used as a health retreat for Danish officials with feverish illnesses. A 25 kilometre long road went from the Christiansborg fort (Osu Castle) to Frederiksgave, and to protect the sick persons transported to the health retreat, tamarind trees were planted alongside the road so that they could be carried in shade without being exposed to the strong West African sun. As the years have passed, most of these tamarind trees have been cut down and today only a few are left.

During the state visit in November 2017, when H.M. Queen Margrethe of Denmark visited Ghana, she suggested that tamarind tree cuttings could be replanted to preserve this special footprint from the original Danish presence in Ghana. In the summer of 2018, a handful of seeds was transferred to the Botanical Garden in Copenhagen, and the news have reached us that the seeds have germinated and the young trees are now growing in the greenhouses.

Tamarind cuttings growing in the Botanical Garden in Denmark.

Freedom Monument

The year of 2019 might also manifest our common history in another symbolic way. On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in 1998, the Ghanaian-American artist Bright Bimpong created a monument called ‘Freedom’. The monument is 2.4 m tall (incl. its plinth) and shows a person blowing the seashell horn, which was used in the former Danish-owned islands in the Caribbean (now Virgin Islands) to call for uprisings against the Danish colonial power.

Three copies of the monument are placed on the three islands, which were previously Danish: St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Vincent. A fourth monument was given to Denmark as a gift in 2017 by the three islands as an expression of wish for dialogue, reconciliation, and recognition.

A group of interested people in Denmark has proposed that the artist should be asked to make a fifth monument, which could be given to Ghana as a present and possibly placed close to the sea like the other four monuments, e.g. near Osu Castle. Preliminary response from relevant Government authorities and traditional authorities has been positive, and currently funding is being sought in Denmark for the monument and its transport.

The realisation of the plans are not yet certain as it depends on the successfulness of the fundraising activities, but the monument would seem to be an appropriate Danish contribution to the “Year of Return”, symbolically connecting the Virgin Islands, Ghana, and Denmark.

Freedom monument at the Virgin Islands.

Happy New Year

2019 is likely to bring new attention to the history of Ghana, including to the common Ghana-Denmark history. It will be an exciting year for Ghana and for the rest of the world, and we are looking forward to the cultural events, the many expected visitors, and hopefully an increased awareness of Ghana as a tourist-friendly country with a rich and very interesting historical heritage.

Happy New Year to all our collaboration partners in the Government, the private sector, civil society, research, international diplomatic representations, and so many others who we will be meeting and working with during the coming year!