I have in my 18-year-long-life never really made the acquaintance of the Virgin Islands, or the Danish West Indies as the islands were called a 100 years ago, when they were still under Denmark’s control. Yes, of course I have been conscious about the fact that there are a number of islands somewhere on the other side of the Atlantic, who was once under Danish operate. But I have never had even the smallest suspicion of, what significance my mother country has had for the Virgin Islands and its inhabitants. And never have I had any idea about the awful conditions, the Danish conquered slaves have been exposed to.
A slave can briefly be defined as one, who are not in charge of oneself and one’s work. In a fundamentally free society as the one we have in Denmark, it sounds inconceivably in many ways that we as a country have been promoting something as frightening as slavery. Nevertheless, this is a reality we have to respond to. For our Danish ancestors to earn a great deal of money on the sugar trade, they had to invent the Triangular Trade, which, among other things, involved the transatlantic slave trade from the Gold Coast in Africa to the Danish West Indies. Even if the slaves survived the long trip on board on the narrow ships, they could look forward to a horrifying destiny that will make even the most muscular macho men to curl their toes today. This is where the essence of the problem lies. Because is it possible for one to curl one’s toes, if one does not have a knowledge about the terrifying conditions, the slaves has been exposed to?
In week 16, some of the second grade classes at our high school, Rødkilde Gymnasiym, had a feature week in the subjects, history and English. The course went under the name TST – Transatlantic Slave Trade – with the motto “Breaking the Silence”. The purpose of the course was to create knowledge about the slavery and to end today’s ignorance towards the slaves’ influence on the economy of the present time. Great parts of the Copenhagen that we know today, has been build by families, who have obtained their fortune through slave trade and/or sugar trade. This fact is for real, but for many people it is not something, they have ever been told. The memory and the communication of such information are the key of TST, which is a part of the academic goals that the UNESCO-schools have set up. The schools are a part of the world-wide network that intends to put global problems on the agenda.
The entire course has been a huge eye-opener to me and my fellow students, and we have all extended our horizon by getting an insight into the faith that our ancestors have laid on the slaves of the Danish West Indies. The course started out with all students reading a contemporary blogpost, written on the blog “Our Quest for Knowledge”, which is a blog started by a number of students from the Virgin Islands, after them being on a field trip to Denmark. In the blogpost, the writer commented on her newly discovered knowledge about the Danish’ lack of same on the subject of Danish West Indian-slaves. She tells about, how such information scares her, but also leaves her with a deep wonder. Because why is it that we Danes do not talk about such an epoch-making period in our history? I share her frustrations on the area in many ways, and I believe that there should be a reformation of the way, we talk about history in Denmark. We have to remember, why there is something called colonial produce, and why there on various coffee-packaging are pictures of hardworking dark-complexioned people.
The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of the author, and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of ALDA and the European Union.