So much has happened since the official launch of the project that it is prudent to perform my griot duties and document my impressions so their elusive effervescence will be captured in a medium in which they can be re-viewed.
So this was the project launch at the Flensburg Maritime Museum or Schifffahrtsmuseum as it is called in Deutsch i.e. German.
If you copy and paste the text from this story into Google Translate, you will get the English version.
I am also a part of the Fellow Me! Academie:
Click on the images and film at the bottom to get the atmosphere of the first encounter of all 17 fellows and our mentors in Leipzig last May. We are located in musea around Germany and are working on various projects. On this site, click on Fellows and scroll down and you will see my name, which links you to a summary of the project. Of course, all projects and fellow Fellows, our Mentors and the organisers are all amazing too!
I will be one of four presenters focusing on colonialism at the next Fellowship, which will be held in Bremen in August. More on that anon.
As you see from the calendar of events on that site, we are travelling around the country to interact in discussions pertinent to how exhibitions are curated and the political economy served by such endeavours.
I am sharing these videos to give you information about some of the work I have done in Jamaica:
By the way, when I started working at the Schifffahrtsmuseum, this was the first time I was encountering three fs in one word, a recent linguistic innovation, which you should research. It seems to me actually, as I learn some Deutsch, that like Amharic [which I encountered when I visited Ethiopia] and German have the habit of composing a long word with many meanings built into it.
My introduction to Flensburg included participating in the 37th annual Rum Regatta, which brands Flensburg as “Rum City” – didactic of the wealth derived from the unrecognized and unremunerated labour of Africans enslaved in the so-called Virgin Islands.
Incredibly, the blurb on the Braasch Rum Manufactuur Museum, which offers tours mon to Friday in Flensburg, mentions these islands in the context of rum production thus:
The “Caribbean Gold once made Flensburg rich and famous. Sugar and rum and lots of other so-called “colonial” goods were transported on sailing ships from the West Indies to the then Danish city on the fjord. In the private collection of distiller Walter Braasch you can experience the history of rum in the city of Flensburg. Take a short voyage to “the three small islands” in the Caribbean and learn lots of interesting facts about the production and history of rum and sugar…”
Not one word about Africans and their Holocaust of enslavement in this marketing blurb. The Braasch site is as intent on glossing over this messy history with golden odes to rum and leveraging the political economy of the wealth creation project that provides this autonomy.
What is amazing about this mythicized re-enactment of the arrival of the rum and sugar in the Flensburg port is the concerted colonial amnesia that characterizes this commemoration. Participants in this spectacle are oblivious of the bizarre contradiction in which they are entrenched because this colonial amnesia was contrived by the powers that be to represent the production of rum wealth as an exclusively European endeavor.
The narrative of Flensburg as wealthy rum city sanitizes the process of “Caribbean Gold” production from the brutality of the Holocaust of enslavement and the violent transatlantic trialogue it entailed. It is may seem obvious to overstate the fact that three centuries of Denmark being the 7th most powerful European enslaver/colonizer caused rum production profits to flow in the coffers of the King of Denmark, the merchant class and ultimately, Danish-German society. Tautological as this is however, it is a fact that is stunningly absent from the body politic; colonial history is not taught in schools so citizens are disconnected from their history and thus celebrate their development in a decontextualized manner. A kind of cultural schizophrenia.
The consequence of this systematic epistemological and ontological subterfuge is a corresponding anxiety about revealing these cupboarded skeletons in the public sphere. The naked emperor desires to consider himself fully frocked.
[As I write this, Burning Spear is singing “Christopher Columbus is a damn blasted liar…”]
As a result of the sanitization of history [watch Prof. Zimmerer who is working on this theme in Hamburg], the majority of the approximately 90 thousand inhabitants of the German [formerly Danish] city of Flensburg is unaware of where the rum came from. Like seriously.
There is a paucity of critical thinking about the source of this resource of wealthy Rum City. Or the Africans whose Holocaust of Enslavement, which started from their kidnapping from Africa and continued to their incarceration in Danish forts in Ghana, their transshipment to those three small islands (indeed!) and their brutal dehumanization and enslavement on the said islands’ plantations (read Neville Hall’s detailed account of this travesty). Enforced labour, blood, sweat and tears of Africans produced the sugar cane, that made the sugar, molasses, rum and all derivatives, including the money.
I just returned to Flensburg after an extra-ordinary visit to the Virgin Islands (research the ridiculous fantasy concocted by that brigand Christopher Columbus that influenced the moniker choice for these strategically important not-so-meta-physically-small islands). The complicated identity politics playing out on that landscape begs the question that truth and reconciliation are perquisites for the realization of transitional justice. Flensburgers could also benefit from acquaintance with their own history; I will also go to Ghana to engage in this process of critical re-membering..
In the next post we will consider the significance of the Kultur Transfer concept, which derives from Denmark’s outlandish sale of the Virgin Islands and its people to the USA in 1917, trumping the Emancipation victory finally won by Africans in 1848. Suffice it to say, in an Orwellian turn, the majority of people in the Virgin Islands – partially incorporated by the United States of America (how come?), has never heard of Flensburg, the city that rum built, although this city in more ways than one, constitutes the opposite side of its own coins (or lack thereof).
More on this complicated state of affairs and the decontexualisation of historical events in the next post.
The featured image is the waterfront in the Frederickstead township in St. Croix, USVI, the largest of those so-called three small islands which have been ruled under seven flags as popular culture records….
Contact: Dr. Imani M. Tafari-Ama