Transaction – Et nutidig kulturmøde mellem De Amerikanske Jomfru Øer, Danmark og Ghana

2017 var 100 året for Danmarks salg af de Vestindiske øer til USA. St. John, St. Croix og St. Thomas var i mere end 300 år dansk sukker koloni. Som i sine sidste 50-70 år var en økonomisk belastning, Danmark den 30. marts 2017 solgte sig ud af. Projektet havde udmagret både land, danskere og slavegjorte afrikaner. Udstillingen Transaction undersøger den nutidige indflydelse den fælles historie har haft på land og folk, i to nutidige kunstneres Jeanette Ehlers(DK) og Brigth Bimpongs (GH/USA) værker.

-An exhibition about a shared brutal history and the people who fought for human dignity. 

Funded by Dansk Vestindisk Selskab / Danish West Indian Company.
Curated by Helga Thomas
Assisting Historian Johanna Lerche
Photograph Michael Thomas

To mark the 100th anniversary of the sale of U.S. Virgin Island, the West Indian Culture Embassy revisited the historic heroic Islanders fighting for freedom.
These heoric peoples was involved in a fight for labours rights and self-determination in the previous Danish West Indies, now U.S. Virgin Islands.

Two international artists Jeannette Ehlers and Bright Bimpongs are representing US Virgin Islands historic heroes. Their works are commenting the suppressed story of slavery. Both Ehlers and Bimpongs are interacting with history and reflections of their own cultural heritage.

In a collection of quotes from 1916 visitors can read the atmosphere and attitude towards the colony in danish society in 1916.
These quotes are taken from interviews of prominent Danes during the time, when the danish public was voting for or against selling the Islands to the American government,The quotes bring to mind the feelings about colonialism and humanity just hundred years back.

‘Fireburn’ 1878

 

The exhibition set to investigate, how we understand the past and does it have a present meaning?

By asking ourselves does the action of colonization impact people lives today,  in researching the story we experienced a great the split between USVI and Denmark. We are motivated to bridge, reconcile and heal.

Denmarks actions as colonial power in the West Indies, and how Danes remember it today, or choose to remember it, is two very different actions.  This is linked to ‘a collected historic memory loss’ in the Danish discourse and national identity. But the centennial of the transfer brings history into present, as the centennial of abolition and other cultural historical markings. In USVI the structual settings of the colony is still visible and some even administrative as well. Just relate the status of USVI as a territory and not a state or country reflect past in present.

In commemoration Denmark received a gift to the Danish people from U.S. Virgin Islands; three sculptures made by artist Bright Bimpong in 1998, commissioned by the former Governor Roy Schneider. These sculptures are monuments of slavery, of cultural heritage and of the heroes that led their people to freedom.

On the initiative of The Preservation Commission on St. Thomas,  St. John Historical Society collected funds, so that the gift could be send to Denmark. With this gesture follows acknowledgement and cultural exchange based on friendship, genealogy, reconciliation and visibility.

 

Preface on the historic survey in this exhibition:

In more than 250 years Denmark where colonizing the three islands: St. Thomas from 1671, St. Croix from X and St. John from X.
This evolved into the transatlantic slave trade that shortly after the possession of St. Thomas was establish in 1674. This is the date of the first ship sailing from The Gold Coast – Ghana, across the Atlantic with kidnapped Africans to the Caribbeans. The enslaved peoples where sold and the ships continued to Denmark with sugar and rum. Then to return back to the Gold Coast with arms.
Numbers on how many people the Danish nation shipped from Africa to the Danish West Indie colony variate, but among historians it is around 100.000 people.  These people was the ones making it alive to the Islands. It is regarded to be a small percentage of the amount of people captured into slavery on the West African soil.

The delimitation for this exhibition is limited to the three historic events; the 1848 abolition of slaves, and the insertion of work rules in 1849, and the sale and transfer of the danish colony to the American government in 1917. It covers two historic riots on St. Croix, one that lead to the abolishment of slavery in 1848 and ‘Fire burn’ in 1878 was a result of the strict rules set by the work regulation created in 1849.

In this period many people tried fleeing the Islands. But the regulation made conditions in fact worse for the now ‘free worker’, and made fleeing the situation close to impossible. On top of that, the colony was really bad business with close to no returns. It was debated long that the project was a bad investment creating depth, the harvest was poor and paying people for work gave less returns. The regulation demanded that the workers had a passport to travel and a passport was given by the colonial administration. Clearly the administration was not interested in loosing their workforce. This left the very poor and unsuccessful colony and the workers in a desperate state. Both in Denmark and in the West Indies people thought too change the situation, especially the West Indian workers rights fighter David Hamilton Jackson, took the the situation to the Danish politician. Finally this lead to heated debates and election in Denmark, whether to sell or to keep the Danish West Indies. In December 1916 Danes voted yes to the sale of the colony.

The Slave-riot in 1848 and the abolition of slavery in Danish West Indies.

In the evening of the 2.th of Juli 1848 the rumors of a smoldering riot and rebellion among the enslaved reach the Danish colonizers. Frederik Von Scholten stayed that night at Fort Frederik on St. Croix where the rebellion crowd gathered around the walls.

At first he did not believed the rumors, but during the night and the next morning the riot was the inevitable truth. In Charles Erwind Taylors historic report from 1888 describe testimony from Fort Frederik as quote:

”They cried and shouted, demanded their freedom, and called on the soldiers to fire upon them. This the commander of the Fort had some difficulty in preventing.

Many who were present begged him also not to do so, as the town would surely be burnt to ashes. Of this there could not be any doubt, as near by, behind a corner house, which could not be commanded by the guns of the fort there where several negro women gathered together with ”trash” or dry cane leafs, which, at the first Shot from the fort, it was arranged they should lit and throw into the Doors and Windows. The fire would thus have spread quickly through the town, as the houses where mostly deserted, and there was no one to check it. ”

”Massa, we poor negroes Cannot fight with the soldiers, as we have no guns, but we can burn and destroy if we do not get our freedom, and that is what we intend to do.”

Frederik and the many Danes inside the fort was not equipped or able to stop the rebellion, the numbers counted thousands, and they send for Peter Von Scholten, whos residence was on the neighbor Island. Shortly after he arrived the 3th of July and declared all enslaved free.

 

’Fireburn’ The labour riot in 1878

Illustreret Tidende
November 1878

The year is 1878 and 31 years have past since the abolition of slavery, but in The Danish West Indien colony people continued to live under slave like conditions. The slave regulation was replaced by the despised work regulation, that forced and banded workers to work and live at their place of for one year at the time, with a daily salary of 10 cent. Only one day a year was applying for another job, negotiating salary or applying for a passport possible. This day was called ’skiftedag’ or changing day. Then with a passport leaving was possible.

On the changing day 1 of October 1878 the workers on St. Croix had enough. It had been a extremely hard year marked by a bad harvest and a high infant mortality. To add up rumors of improvement did not keep promise, the worker  Many workers on that day went to Frederiksted to look for work or to celebrate the yearly ‘day off’. From this a riot developed and the next day half of Frederiksted and many of the plantations was burned down by the workers. Therefore this day  and riot have since been called Fireburn.

The four queens long known only as three queens, was researched in the Danish National Archive, and here we sum up the knowledge we found.

The Four Queens

Painting by El’roy Simmons.
The four queens was long known as three queens. But research found one more in the Danish National Archive in 2004.

The riot was organised and lasted about five days and around hundred workers lost their life in the battle, compared to only three Europeans. 12 rebellions was convicted to death penalty and was shoot soon after, while 39 was convicted with death penalty and send to Copenhagen. Out of these 34 got appeal to heard labour and five was send to prison, where they should do hard labour. Among these was four female rebellions. They where detained in Fort Frederik to have their case processed.

read more:

Queen Agnes.eng

Queen Bottom Belly

Queen Mary

Queen Mathilde

 

The Danish voters chose to sell Danish West Indies.

Quotes from this debate is a part of the exhibition to reflect on the debate and how class and humanity where discussed at that time. quotes from voters in 1916

This election was the first election to include Danish womens vote on the 14. December 1916.
In total the Danes voted:
283.670 for selling  & 157.157 against selling


David Hamilton Jackson made an unofficial election with Danish West Indies on St. Croix. In total they voted:
4.027 For & 7 against.

The newspaper Social Democrat encouraging voters for selling the Islands with the headline ‘place your vote on yes’

 

The European labour movement

Besides the many events on Danish Westindies leading up to the sales and transfer, it is essential to include the global context of the European labour movement. The fight for labours rights influenced the world in the end of the eighteenth century. Denmark had it’s first labour rights demonstration: ‘The battle on Fællen’, ‘Slaget på Fællen’ May the 5th, 1872. David Hamilton Jackson took much inspiration from the Danish labour and class fight. As you can read under the paragraph about Who was David Hamilton Jackson. From 1905 until 1917 there was a series of protests and political events in Europa, starting first world war in 1914 and the Russian revolution in 1917. The pressure for getting Danish West Indies as American territory was on its pick when USA agreed to enter the global alliance, just 6 days after the transfer of US Virgin Islands. This due to its military strategic use for America.

 

‘Fireburn’ 1878

 

 

Gallery