Danish colonialism and the sale of the Virgin Islands

Start date
Monday, 1 May 2017, 16:15
End date
Monday, 1 May 2017, 17:15
Room 2.01, ISS

'Rum, Sweat and Tears: Danish Colonial Legacy in Flensburg, Ghana and the Virgin Islands of the United States' - a presentation by ISS PhD alumna Dr Imani Tafaris-Ama

Imani Tafari-Ama

2017 marks the centenary of Denmark's sale of the Virgin Islands and its inhabitants of the USA for $25 million (509,752,155.17 in today’s money). In her presentation, Imani Tafaris-Ama will explain the historical context of the Danish colonial legacy in the Virgin Islands and talk about the associated museum exhibition and online materials produced for the Flensburg Maritime Museum.


The Rum, Sweat and Tears: Danish Colonial Legacy in Flensburg, Ghana and the Virgin Islands of the United States project is a partnership initiative of the Flensburg Maritime Museum, Museum Sønderjylland – Cultural History Aabenraa and the Collection Schleswig of the Danish Central Library Flensburg. The overall project is co-funded by KursKultur with the support of partners of the Region Sønderjylland-Schleswig, the Danish Cultural Ministry and the Ministry of Justice, Culture, European Affairs of Schleswig-Holstein and the European Regional Development Fund.

These partners conceived of this initiative because 2017 marks the Centennial of Denmark’s sale of the Virgin Islands and its inhabitants to the United States of America (USA) for $25 million (509,752,155.17 in today’s money). As Virgin Islanders contend however, the sale of the three islands that comprise the Virgin Islands – St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John and their inhabitants was convenient for Denmark because they had no use either for the predominantly African population or those of mixed and European heritage 69 years after Africans had won their freedom. 

Labour was restive in the nearly seven decades preceding the Transfer because socio-economic conditions had changed only minimally since 1848’s Emancipation. The uncertain citizenship endowment of Virgin Islanders as a result of the USA’s settler colonialism is the troubling centerpiece of identity concerns in this so-called Territory.  Demark also colonised Ghana for two hundred years until it sold territory it had confiscated in that to the British in 1850. 

Slavery and racism

Despite the tremendous contribution that enslavement made to the enrichment of colonisers and the corresponding underdevelopment of its victims, it is remarkable that for reasons of racism on the part of the protagonists and guilt and shame on the part of all partakers in this tragedy, there is a pervasive reluctance in the three continental spaces implicated to address this past and its protracted influences. 


My task is to formulate an African-Caribbean analysis of Danish Colonialism and Legacy in Flensburg, the Virgin Islands of the United States and Ghana, with the outputs of contributing a chapter to a 400-page Anthology and curating an Exhibition.

These media will demonstrate the Flensburg Maritime Museum’s commitment to critically reflect on the 2017 Centennial and the implications of this transaction for the protagonists and victims, past, present and future.  The Centennial is thus a flashpoint for re-considering our common colonial legacy; Denmark’s empire embodied the infamous transatlantic colonial route.

Travelling exhibition

Through individual interviews, focus group and round table discussions, we envisage developing a Transatlantic Trialogue in order to identify ways we may collaborate to produce the project outputs. Having undertaken research in the Virgin Islands of the United States between June and July, 2016, Flensburg (May 2016-December 2016) and Ghana (December-January 2016-17), I am currently in the process of producing the Exhibition in collaboration with the Flensburg Maritime Museum Team and Impuls-Design, the creative directors. 

The planned exhibition, which will open June 11, 2017 in Flensburg will be a travelling one, spending consecutive years in Ghana and St. Croix (Virgin Islands)  and informed by a participatory model of museum curation. This is our preferred methodology to ensure that the multi-media exhibition and paper will be relevant to its targeted publics.

About Imani Tafari-Ama

Dr. Imani Tafari-Ama is International Fellow and Curator at the Flensburger Schifffahrtsmuseum, tasked with formulating an African-Caribbean analysis of Danish Colonialism and Legacy in Flensburg, the Virgin Islands of the United States and Ghana.

With a PhD in Development Studies, a Masters degree in Women and Development Studies and a BA in Communication with Langage and Literature, Dr. Imani Tafari-Ama has lectured across a broad range of disciplines and on a number of topics including:

  • feminist methodology/epistemology,
  • action research and the policy process,
  • the culture of Rastafari and African religious retentions in the Caribbean,
  • thought and action in the African Diaspora, Dancehall,
  • sex and religious ideology and culture and community development,

as well as being invited to give special lectures on colonial history, violence and gender and development issues and Rastafari at institutions around the world.

Dr. Imani Tafari-Ama is the author of: Blood, Bullets and Bodies: Sexual Politics Below Jamaica's Poverty Line, Up For Air: This Half Has Never Been Told (an award-winning novel; https://youtu.be/qQNYGjRFlwk) and Lead in the Veins (poetry) as well as several book chapters and articles.

She is also a multimedia journalist who has produced several audio-visual documentaries including 'Setting the Skin Tone', which explores the catastrophic social practice of skin bleaching (https://youtu.be/VNwIZ_xHjm0). This eight-and-a half minute video documentary (produced in 2006) is an excerpt from her doctoral thesis.

Publication date: 11 April 2017