Ghana, February 15, 2019

Interview with the chief of Sesemi

When Thorkild Hansen came to visit the former Danish plantation Frederiksgave in the late 1960s, it was a ruin. However, recently it has been renovated with support from the Danish National Museum, and today – since 2007 – it stands completely rebuilt following historical drawings, on a steep hill with a view on a clear day to Legon Hill on the outskirts of Accra, about 25 km away. I visited the cultural heritage site with William Nsuiban who works for the National Museum of Ghana and with Anita Adjetey, the Cultural Officer at the Ga East Municipal Assembly. Immediately upon arrival – and to my great surprise – we were greeted by the chief of Sesemi, Nii Anum Mumli II of Sesemi, who resides in a building adjacent to the rebuilt plantation grounds.

In postcolonial scholar Lars Jensen’s book Postcolonial Denmark – Nation Narration in a Crisis Ridden Europe (2018) he touches upon the paradoxical role of restoration efforts in the former colonies (this quote relating specifically to Tranquebar in India): “On the one hand it is emphasized the physical remains of the Danish presence still dominate the township. Yet, the question is whether that would have been the case if restorations had not taken place […]. Hence colonial legacy is arguably continuously restaged through restoration work.”

More specifically about Frederiksgave he quotes Kurt-Nielsen et al. (2008: 56): “With Mensah’s [Ghanaian archaeologist] experiences, with a plantation that was relatively well-described in the Danish sources and with a location that was extremely realistic in relation to the tourist potential, the choice for the National Museum’s intervention easily fell on Frederiksgave.”

Jensen continues in his own words: “The ease with which collaboration is initiated and the effortless rendering of how the colonial remains are dealt with illustrates the segregation of remains from aftermath. The past has literally been buried and everyone can only be interested in its excavation. Here is a mutually beneficial project which both satisfies a Danish need to reveal its historical globality and secure tourism as a source of income for local Ghanaians – a classic recipe for a neoliberal win-win situation.”

He continues to elaborate on the, according to him, potential devastating consequences of revisiting and not least restaging past relations. A critique which might as well be turned against my own research and this documentary site: “All the former tropical colonies have been revisited by contemporary Danes armed with colonial nostalgia and a business proposal to put the former colonies on the international colonial tourism circuit. Volunteer associations have worked either formally or informally to launch the tropical colonies as contemporary sites of an excavated, recovered and exotic Danishness, which contemporary Danish visitors can become part of through a partial reenactment serviced by restoration projects, travel agencies arranging scheduled visits and travel guides contextualising the contemporary experience. The colonial buildings restored to former glory provide a historical tableau on which contemporary fantasies of a leisured life in the tropics are freely imagined, since the dark aspects of colonial history – that is, the experience of being an exploited colonial subject – is an optional choice to be added to the contemporary experience of the tourist – not an unpleasant dimension that must be confronted. The contemporary visitor can choose to speak to local descendants of the colonial subjects, who are removed by more than 150 years of history in Ghana and Tranquebar from their (Danish colonial) ancestors, but it remains an option. Colonialism’s aftermath becomes in these two cases a visually and climatically pleasing experience, a holiday in a staged, architecturally sanitised and displaced reconstruction (…).”

Interview with the chief of Sesemi