On October 9th 1847 the Swedish Parliament/Riksdagen reluctantly passed a law which abolished the Transatlantic slavetrade, and the black slaves in the Swedish colony of Saint Barthélemy, (an island in the West Indies in the Small Antilles west of Trinidad with Tobago) were released from servitude – formally if not in practice. The colony was bought by the Swedish king Gustav III in 1784 as part of a Swedish colonization in the Americas and renewed attempts in the slave trade. Saint Barthélemy was owned by Sweden from 1784 to 1878. The first two governors were Salomon von Rayalin, (1785-1787) and Pehr Herman von Rosenstein, (1787-1790). When the Swedish law about abolishment of slavery was passed in 1847 James Haarlef Haasam was governor of Saint Barthélemy, (1833-1855). This week that abolishment is highlighted and commemorated by the Afro-Swedes. It started yesterday in the capital city of Stockholm, in Gothenburg/Göteborg on the west coast and here in southwest Scania, Malmoe. Yesterday evening a film was shown at the movie theatre Spegeln/The Mirror in central Malmoe. It was called “Africa Paradis”. I’ll return to that later in this text. The photos above I took just before the film was shown. Today there’s a seminar about the triangular slavetrade, and the Swedish involvement in it at Malmoe University. Tonight there’s an African Culture Night at Sofielund’s People’s House. Tomorrow night a TV documentary will be shown at Spegeln about the foul slave trade and this darker side of Swedish national history. It’s made by Gustav Fridolin, journalist, TV-reporter, school teacher, politician, Member of Parliament and one of the spokesperson’s for the Environment Party the Green. On Friday night yet another film will be shown as conclusion of this week’s commemoration of the abolishment of slavery – formally.
The Swedish involvement in the African slave trade began during the Swedish Super Power Era 1611-1718/1722. (Read more about that era in one of my June texts on this weblog). On December 15th 1649 the mighty merchant moghul Louis de Geer recieved a letter of privileges by queen Kristina to start the Swedish African Company/Svensk Afrikanska Kompaniet. It was financed by connections in Hamburg, Germany, Amsterdam, Netherlands and by Louis de Geer himself. The main office was placed in Stockholm, an important port in Gothenburg, but originally in the German coastal city of Stade near Bremen which then was Swedish. The Swedish African Company brought textiles, domestic articles and jewellery to Africa, while they took gold, ivory, sugar and African slaves with them back. The poor souls which were sold as slaves were taken by the Swedish merchants to the Portuguese plantages on São Tomé.
In 1650 the first expedition was led by sea captain Arent Gabbesen from Gothenburg and the German merchant Henrik Carloff who now was in Swedish service. In 1652 Fort Carolusborg was finished alongside some minor Swedish merchant stations along the Gold Coast. Henrik Carloff became the first governor in Cabo Corso, situated in today’s Ghana, West Africa. The Swedes were competing with the Dutch, Portuguese, the Danes and Brits about the European merchant dominion in West Africa. They all traded with local African kings and war-lords in Fetu, Gwira and not the least the Denkyira king. The local African kings and war-lords took captives from neighbouring African kingdoms in wars, or imprisoned political local enemies or dissidents and sold them as slaves to the Swedes, Portuguese, Danes, Englishmen and Dutch. In 1656 Johan Filip von Krusenstierna was named new governor of the Swedish dominions in and around Cabo Corso. This angered Henrik Carloff who returned on January 27th 1658 aboard the Danish pirate ship Glückstadt. Carloff attacked and took Fort Carolusborg and gave it to Denmark. This fact became one of the reasons for the Swedish king Carl X Gustav to start the second Danish war in 1658 which led to the Swedish conquest of Skåne, Halland and Blekinge. After the peace treaty in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1660 the Danes were supposed to give the fort back to Sweden. However Carloff’s accomplice Schmidt had in March 1659 sold Fort Carolusborg to the Dutch, taken the money and gone underground. The local African population didn’t like the Dutch rule, rebelled and the Fetu King offered the Swedes a new chance to rule from the fort. The Swedes regained control of Cabo Corso in December 1660. On April 22d 1663 Netherlands again conquered Fort Carolusborg, and on May 9th 1664 the Englishmen took the fort. In 1667 Netherlands payed Sweden 140 000 riksdaler to stay away from the West African trade. This part of the Swedish-African history is retold in the fiction albums and books from the late 1970’s and early 1980’s about Johan Vilde/John Savage by Janne Lundström and Jaimé Vallvé. I have written about them in my March text “Two Swedish high quality stories”.
Since I as humanitarian, social liberal, being neither right-wing nor left-wing, but believing in individual progress, relative monetary success, combined with a social conscience and awareness, as well as being profoundly anti-racist from that middle position I try to discuss with people high and low: upper class, middle class, working class, “ethnic” Swedes and people with various ethnic and religious background, young and old. In the photo above you see Tom Magnusson/Dodko from Malmoe Municipality, Charlene Rosander from RGRA and a young man from Ghana whose name I don’t remember. In one of the first photos you see Malcolm Jallow Momodou from the Afro-Swedes National Association/Afrosvenskarnas Riksförbund. We all met at Spegeln/The Mirror between five and six p.m. yesterday and that’s when these photos were taken. The film we were going to see was called “Africa Paradis” from 2006, directed by Sylvestre Amoussou from Benin. At the Verona African Film Festival in 2007 it was rewarded as that year’s best film, and it also won first prize the same year at the Tarifa International Film Festival. Another blogger, Hein de Haas, has also written an interesting piece about this film which you can read at this link: http://www.heindehaas.blogspot.se/2011/10/africa-paradise.html
When we came into the movie salon and took our seats the film was first introduced by Jallow Momodou and Charlene Rosander who also talked about the background to why this day, October 9th, is commemorated. We began with raising from our seats and having a minute in silence to honour the memory of those hundreds of African refugees who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea a few days ago outside the Italian island of Lampedusa. After that minute of silence in honour we sat down and saw “Africa Paradis”. The movie by Sylvestre Amassou is very thought-provocative and turns the now common black and white perspective the other way round. The story is set in 2032. Europe is in decline. High unemployment rates, famine and poverty. The Catholic Vatican State has been taken by Fascists, Germany has been taken over by the Turks, Sweden is in decline, the United Kingdom is in uproar and in France everything is destroyed and the days of glory gone. The African continent has united in one big union, is now rich and wealthy. The African Parliament is led by a female moderator, and has both humanitarian parties and fascistoid ones. Modibou Koudossou, party leader of the African Liberal Party tries to lead a humanitarian and pro-European immigrant policy, but is harshly opposed by the MP M’Doula who also is Chief of Police. He hates the Europeans and sees them as low-lifes, white trash. The Europeans for him are lazy, not trustworthy, irresponsible and down rotten scum-bags. In Paris, France the highly educated couple Olivier Morel who’s an engineer and his girlfriend Pauline who’s a teacher are both unemployed and only get the worst jobs imaginable if anything. In frustration Olivier get in touch with a gang of human traffickers, and Olivier and Pauline are smuggled to Africa. There they end up in a colony of European white illegal immigrants, and get chased by the African police and other authorities. Pauline gets a job as maid in Modibou Koudoussou’s home. She’s treated with kindness by him, but not by his sister who hates Pauline. Olivier meanwhile struggles on in the white unemployed colony, meets Charlotte, while Chief of Police and Party leader M’Doula makes his plans to get rid of the Europeans.
In the currrent situation there are many things we have to consider. Where is our world heading? Where is Sweden going, Scania, Malmoe, the world? There are imminent threats such as the green house effects, melting ices, worse storms and tsunamis, rising sea levels, drought and famine. At the same time we have to consider the value of human life, what our identities are, what our technology ought to be used for, and how we might make alliances between us that might easen the conflicts and avoid risks for a human-annihilating World War III?
Not only the white Europeans exploited the African continent, but also the Muslim Arabs used Africa as a place to take prisoners and sell them as slaves. Some Saracen, North African pirates also attacked Europe, even Iceland in the far north and took prisoners to sell as slaves. Poor Irish people were sold as white slaves by the Brittish in North America, a dark side and less known part of our history. In fact most cultures through history has used slaves in one way or another. The ancient Egyptians and Sumerians used slaves, the ancient Greeks and Romans, the Vikings had their serfs/thralls often taken on Ireland, in North Germany, Russia, Estonia or Finland. The problem is the human dignity in all this. We only have one world which we must take care of and one humanity to cherish.
Let’s take a look at the word use. The word “Negro” is Latin/Italian and simply means “black”, neither more nor less. On the other hand the word “Negro” and then “Nigger” has been used as a demeaning expression for people of African descent, and then in a racist way to robb dark-skinned Africans of their human value. The word “Negro” does not mean “slave”, even if they have been abused that way. The word “slave” is derived from the fact that many serfs in the Middle Ages were taken captives in East Europe among the Slavic people’s, and so that connotation developed and has come to mean “all serfs”.
In different parts of the African continent there are clashes between various clans and groups, even though of the same skin-colour. Take the clan-wars in Somalia as an example. We also still remember the horrendous Hutu-Tutsi genocide not that long ago. There are clashes between different religions like the Christian Ethiopians belonging to one of the world’s earliest Christian congregations and the Muslim surrounding countries. There are ancient African religions with shamans, totems etc. There are clashes between different social groups and various professions in Africa, just as everywhere else. But there is also wealth, modernity, empowerment and prosperity. Neither must we forget old African high cultures like Great Zimbabwe and others. The name “Africa” is Latin and was originally used by the Romans 2000 years ago about what’s now Tunisia and has later been applied on the entire continent. We as a human race have our origins in Africa – we all have “black” African ancestors 100 000 – 200 000 years back in time, independent of what skin colour we now have, what culture, religion, social group or nationality. Then from a human perspective we all have an obligation to pay some respect for our common African origin, and avoid unncessesary conflicts and abuse. How do you want to be treated? What world do you want? What future do you want for yourself and your loved ones? Please, consider that.
Anders Moberg, October 9th 2013