Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Danish Ex-Colony Travel: Paradise Discourse, Commemoration, and (Not Quite) Dark Tourism

Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Danish Ex-Colony Travel: Paradise Discourse, Commemoration, and (Not Quite) Dark Tourism

Article excerpt


In the conclusion of her book Danmarksgamle Tropekolonier (Denmark's Old Tropical Colonies) from 1946, geographer, writer, and traveler Sophie Petersen wrote that

ved Siden af Sorgen over, at disse [de tidligere kolonier] ikke la:nger er dansk Jord, [er der] ogsaa ... Mulighed for Glaede over, at der er saa mange Minder tilbage derude om Danmark baade i Form af Bygningsvaerker og i Menneskers Minde. Derfor er det en stor Oplevelse for en Dansk at fserdes i vore gamle Tropekolonier, i Egne, hvor Slaegt efter Slaegt af Danske har virket, og hvor Dannebrog engang har vajet i mer end 200 Aar. (Petersen 1946, 407)

   (while there is regret that they [the former colonies] are no
   longer Danish soil, [there is also] an opportunity for joy, for
   there are so many memories about Denmark on the islands, both in
   the form of buildings and in the people's memory. It is therefore
   an incredible experience for a Dane to visit our old tropical
   colonies, where generations of Danes once worked, and where the
   "Dannebrog" flew for more than 200 years.)

Petersen's Danmarks gamle Tropekolonier (194.6) and the multivolume Vore gamle Tropekolonier (Brondsted 1952-1953; 1966-1968; Our Old Tropical Colonies) were, for a long time, among the most influential publications on Danish colonial history. Petersen's book is part historiography and part travelogue from her extensive travels, and the chapters are organized accordingly: they start with overviews of the history of the respective places, and end with sections about the situation at the time of the author's travels, for instance, "A Visit to Present India." Petersen's travels to Danish former colonies are travels on a collective memory lane, and nostalgia is easy to discern.

Commemoration and Tourism

The memory of, and travel to, Danish ex-colonies is gaining new relevance in the context of the 2017 commemoration of the transfer of the former Danish West Indies, today's US Virgin Islands, to the United States in 1917. It seems that with the commemoration, a new phase is reached of Danish cultural remembrance of their circum-Atlantic colonial history and the triangular trade. There is a clearly recognizable new interest in the former Danish Caribbean islands: journalistic, artistic, political, and--not least--touristic. A large share of the material for this article on Danish tourism to former colonies is, indeed, advertisement for "jubilaeumsrejser," anniversary trips, to "Dansk Vestindien," the name still widely used in Denmark for the US Virgin Islands.

Ian Gregory Strachan argues that "tourist advertising ... maps and commodifies the region for the world consumer" (2002,1). Tourism and tourism advertising can be seen as complicit with colonial and capitalist practices, and this complicity has specific implications in the case of tourism to former colonies. Another argument for the inclusion of tourism in studies of postcolonial relations is that scholars of tourism have found evidence for what they call "lingering effects of colonialism on tourist movements" (McKcrcher and L'Espoir Decosta 2007). Danes are no exception to this pattern: they are the second largest group of tourists to the US Virgin Islands, and the former colony is the most popular destination for Danes in the Caribbean. Tourism, I argue, reflects and generates a discourse about the postcolonies, their relation to Denmark, and about Denmark as a colonial power. Tourism is also de facto one of the most important "contact zones" (Pratt 1993) of Danes with their former colonies.

For this article, I have studied tourism marketing material related to contemporary travel to two former Danish colonies: Danish tourism to the US Virgin Islands and to Ghana, the former Danish Gold Coast (in Danish, "Guldkysten"). I have chosen to contrast the two destinations not only to balance the present one-sided attention to the West Indies, but also to be able to present a combination of different nuances and foci of tourism advertisement. …

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