Tuesday, November 13, 2007
The story behind the Sesemi
By: GODWIN YIRENKYI
THE inauguration on October 11, of the Community Museum at Sesemi village near Abokobi and Pantang, by Ghanaian and Danish officials and scholars (Ghanaian Times October 13) has added an interesting itinerary for tourists in the country, especially those trailing the trans-Atlantic Slave Route.
Called “Frederiksgave”, meaning “Frederiksgift” after Frederick VI, a Danish King of the 19th century, the intention for creating the museum at the site of a 19th century Danish plantation by the University of Ghana and the National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen, according to the official brochure “was to explore the common Ghanaian-Danish Cultural Heritage of past linkages and to inform the people of both countries about a chapter in their common history”.
Visitors to the museum, centred around the restored Frederiksgave, will see assorted artifacts excavated by Ghanaian archeologists led by Dr. Bredwa-Mensah of the University of Ghana depicting life on the plantation such as bottles, plates, pottery, beads, cowries, buttons and buckles left behind by the Danish plantation owners and their workers. Also on display are weapons, farm tools, photos, furniture and a map showing the location of ten other Danish plantations in the area.
Why the Danes established a number of plantations in the then Gold Coast, in the days of the slave trade is what this article seeks to highlight. And the answer to that is tied to the story behind why Denmark became the first European nation to abolish the obnoxious trade in 1803 – a decision that influenced the passage of the British abolition law four years later, followed by the other slave trading nations.
The significance of the story is that, the idea to grow crops in Africa for export to Europe so as to make unnecessary the practice of sending captives to the Americas to go and grow the crops required in Europe (such as coffee, cotton, sugar cane and others) originated from here in Ghana; the place from where many of the African slaves were sent away as evidenced by the largest number of medieval European forts, castles and other poignant reminders of the inhuman trade found here than anywhere else in Africa.
For Ghana, whose people distinguished themselves as masters of resistance and rebellion against slavery in the New World, it is also quite significant that another important idea for ending slavery also originated from here and this is how it happened.
The suggestion for the creation of plantations was a Danish physician Dr. Paul Isert, who worked with the Danish Trading Company in the country from 1783 – 1789.
Initially, Dr. Isert, stationed at Christiansborg, Osu, was also involved in slave trading like his European colleagues.
But unlike the others who confined themselves in their fortified coastal dwellings, Dr. Isert, whose other interest was botany wandered around the countryside and thus made a closer contact with the people.
In one of his journeys, he traveled to the Akuapem areas where he spent ten days at Akropong-Akwapem. A keen observer, he found the people to be very happy and self-sufficient.
He wrote many fine things about Africans – in an era when most European writers were keenly portraying black people as primitive savages and even soulless – as he compared them to the depraved livestyles of his white colleagues.
Travelling home to Denmark in 1787 aboard a slave chip and via the West Indies, Dr. Isert noticed the terrible conditions of the captives on board the slave ships (and was even nearly killed in a slave revolt) as well as the cruel treatment of the slaves in the plantations.
Badly shaken and repentant, Isert wrote: “Why did our ancestors (Europeans) not have the common sense to start plantations for the production of various crops in Africa”.
He went on: “for willingly would the Blacks give us the best and idle lands and for moderate wages even help us to cultivate them, if we come to them bearing in our arms the olive branch instead of the murderous gun”.
He resolved to do something about it and on reaching Denmark, Dr. Isert presented a proposal to the king for the setting up of such a plantation – the first of its type – in Ghana based on his intimate knowledge of the people and botanical knowledge.
Dr. Isert returned to Ghana in 1988 and with the support of the Akuapem king. Nana Obuobi Atiemo, flags were raised on December 21, 1788 for the official opening of the Frederiksnopel Plantation at Akropong-Akuapem.
According to Isert’s proposal, the plantation colony and missionary enterprise was to employ qualified European staff and African workers who would “enjoy the full rights of law and of ownership and disposal of property”.
Dr. Isert died “mysteriously” a few days after followed by his wife and baby (allegedly poisoned) by those who felt threatened by the idea of making the trans-Atlantic slave trade redundant.
After his death the farm continued yielding some good harvests that were sent to Denmark where the first abolition law was passed in 1803, though entrenched as it was the trading went on underground as it was with the other trading nations and it was not until 1820 that slave trading ended around the Danish settlements.
Meanwhile, the Akropong plantation finally closed down in 1805, but Dr. Isert’s dream prevailed and so it happened that “more Danish colonists such as Schoning, Truelsen, Meyer, Gronberg and others established plantation villages” nearer Accra at the foot of the Akuapem Mountains at places like Dwaben, Bebiase, Kponkpo and Sesemi”, according to the Ghanaian Historian Carl Reindorf.
Visitors to the Sesemi Museum can continue to Dakobi to see the ruins of one of the plantation buildings, passing through Kponkpo to see an ancient road lined on both sides by aged tamarind trees that the Danesn planted near their settlements.
Another footpath from Frederiksgave will take trekkers to the scenic heights above Brekuso where the foundation stones of yet another old plantation are found.
According to Dr. Bredwa-Mensah, remnants of the Frederikanopel Plantation at Akropong, known locally as “Tweedi” (named after a white man, Isert, who lived there long ago who “cut and ate” his food with cutlery), or “Amenapa-Atifi” located close to the Amenapa Waterfalls has been identified by Ghanaian and Danish historians.
Plans are afoot by the University of Ghana, with the co-operation of the chiefs and people of the area, to raise a monument to mark the settlement of Dr. Isert, who is extolled in historical circles as one person who, even more than William Wilberforce, did much to help stop the lave trade.
It is interesting that for many years a street in North Ridge, Accra, is known as Dr. Paul Isert Road.
Meanwhile, one advantage of Sesemi as a tourist site is its close proximity to Accra. Visitors can join a shared-taxi at the Adenta barrier to Abokobi and continued by a 20-minute hike or arranged transport.
Motorist should branch off the Akuapen road at Pantang Hospital junction and from Abokobi ask for direction to the “castle as the local people call the old Danish settlement.
The Ghanaian Times- Tuesday, November 13, 2007 Page: 18