Living in Denial: Sweden and the slave trade

Sweden is the country which is neutral, open-minded and anti-racist, if not in reality, at least in its self-image. Gustav lll, Queen Kristina, Axel Oxenstierna and Luis de Geer are known as national heroes. They were either royalty or intellectuals and extremely wealthy.  Little do the Swedish people know that these heroes were the frontier concerning Sweden’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade.

I was only twelve when I read the information provided at Cape Coast Castle. After a second my stomach ached. I read it over and over again to make sure I was not imagining it. Overall, the sign said that Swedes built Cape Coast Castle, that Sweden colonised a part of which is today present-day Ghana and that Sweden was one of the main providers of iron during the transatlantic slave trade. I questioned the facts and asked the tour guide as this was information I had not read about at school and he confirmed what I was dreading. Every step I took in the slave fort and every shackle I saw I started to think of why this information had been withheld from me in Sweden.

After the flight back to Sweden I gathered my pictures from Cape Coast Castle, prepared a presentation and went with uneasy steps to school because I felt that I had a mission to spread this information but simultaneously I felt that I would confront defiance. My intuition was correct as my teacher disregarded the information I had gathered and claimed that it was false and therefore there was no point of holding a presentation about this subject at school. In that moment my teacher made me neglect my past and surpass the reasoning that the racism I faced at school and other parts of society actually was deep-rooted and intertwined with our past.

In due time, I have realised that Sweden’s involvement in the slave trade was more complicated than I had previously comprehended. Up until the 9th of October 1847 Sweden had a colony in the West Indies called Saint-Berthélemy where there were thousands of slaves. When Gustav lll was asked to end slavery in the beginning of the 19th century by Great Britain where the abolitionist movement had grown strong the Swedish king firmly neglected that Sweden had had any participation in having slaves. This denial has lived to our days in Sweden as well on the former Swedish colony Saint-Berthélemy.

Our school books in Sweden mention the presumed Swedish heroes but the significant part of the slave trade is surpassed. Queen Kristina is recognised as a woman who was raised as a man to be able to rule Sweden but who despite this chooses to convert and abdicate. She is not recognised as, together with Luis de Geer, being an initiator for Sweden taking on slaves. Louis de Geer is not known for this initiative either, instead he is solely known as a merchant and industrialist. Axel Oxenstierna, a friend of Louis de Geer, was famous for being Queen Kristina’s confidant but it is not mentioned that he received four slaves as a gift from Luis de Geer. Gustav lll, the Swedish king, who not to mention bought Saint-Berthélemy in 1784 with the intention to trade slaves and other goods connected with the transatlantic slave trade.

In the former Swedish colony Saint-Berthélemy the ignorance on this particular part of history is just as immense. Most of the inhabitants on the island do not know that their ancestors were slaves as this is not taught of school. This denial is prominent on the island as well in Sweden. This denial has left Swedes to believe that racism does not exist in Sweden as Sweden “does not” have a colonial past. This denial has led to having a careless attitude towards malicious images of black people and derogatory words as the Swedish people generally have a hard time realising what is racist. Racism has been presented as something a few crazy people believe in and support and by that Swedes can comfortably close their eyes to the structural racism which dictates everyday life.

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  1. Sure, Sweden had a small part. No one can deny that. If you want real denial though, look at the middle east. Especially the turks in the ottoman empire, who is said to be the biggest actor out of the countries. The arab world is not to be forgotten about either.

    1. This is stupid there is no small or big part. Sweden had slaves like many countrys in europe. Its like saying i am less guilty because i killd 2 people but my friend killd 20. this is terrible thats all and Sweden are guilty too. Dont alwys try to hide behind the other people or countrys wich you swedish people are good at you never take the fool responsability of your actes.

      1. Ok , but also countries in western Africa should recognize their role in slavery , they sold the slaves to europeans … And they should remember that slavery was largely used in Africa … Slavery in Africa was abolished by the europeans countries

      2. No Swede today practiced slavery and the vast majority of Swedes at the time of slavery were not benefiting from it. What is the fuss about. Plus Sweden played a much smaller role in slavery than most black African countries did. There is in fact is a big or small part of it. Someone who kills one person is in fact less guilty than a mass murderer like Hilter. It is in fact stupid to think they are equivalent. If you think they are the same then you wouldn’t care if a murderer killed one person in your family or your entire ethnic group. Obviously you believe they are different but you reason ridiculously that all evils are equivalent. Why don’t you also believe that rape and murder are the same? Some idiot could also argue that rapists are criminals just like murderers so there is “no big or small part”. This is why I dislike leftists. They lack the capacity to reason properly.

        “Its like saying i am less guilty because i killd 2 people but my friend killd 20.” He would be less guilty. In fact guilty of exactly 18 less murders. Learn math you idiot.

  2. I think there is a lot of info out there on slavery and the Arab world. There is no denial there. The post is not about who was the biggest actor but more about denial and lack of information. Sweden comes as a suprise to me due to the lack of info on this country and slavery.

  3. I find Daniel’s reaction to this wonderful article simplistic beyond belief. With his reasoning, Idi Amin was noy a bad man because Adolf Hitler killed more people.
    Forming the Swedish Africa Company, building the castle at Elmina in what was then the Gold Coast, and purchasing the island of St. Berthélemy fore the express purpose of trading in human beings (up to 40 years AFTER the abolition of slave-trade) is NOT ‘playing a small part’.
    Denying dark moments in your past does not make it go away.

  4. Well, the Swedish trade was so minor, it’s been easy to forget.
    If you read Dick Harrison’s ‘Slaveriet’ (a good general history of slavery throughout history), you can find some of the details.
    The 17th century Swedish Africa company got wipe out militarily (by the Danes) after trading some hundereds of slaves, mostly to the Portuguese islands of Sao Tome and Principe.
    The 18th century St Barts colony was more succesful, and slave trade boomed during the Napoleonic Wars, when neutral Swedish ships were (fairly) safe from attack. After the war ended, this competitive advantage vanished and the colony slumped. By the time abolition came, there were only a few hundred slaves left there.
    I’m not Swedish, BTW. I’m Finnish, and since we got separated from Sweden in 1809, I get to say we had nothing to do with this.

  5. I am African American and have taken a DNA test, and of course have plenty of UK ancestry, but what really surprises me is my Swedish DNA cousins. Having Swedish ancestry let’s me know that they definitely played a significant role in the lives of my enslaved ancestors. What surprises me is that I had never heard of Sweden’s role in slavery.

    1. I am also African American and took a DNA test. I, as well as many other relatives showed Scandinavian DNA. So to me this confirms what you say, that Eastern Europeans had a significant role in slavery. I expected that I would find Irish/English blood, but only Central European and Eastern European blood.

      1. Likewise I am an African American and recently discovered, via DNA testing, that my Ethnic Make up is 5% Scandinavian. I am shocked to say the least.

        1. It’s incredible how ignorant you people are. Europeans have been interbreeding for thousands of years prior to African slavery. Nordic raiders were raping up and down the coasts of Britain and all the way into Spain. Various European countries would gain ascendancy invade others and establish colonies, or nobility there. England was controlled by the Normans at one point, and so they will have French genetics. The Angol-Saxons invaded England to and thus there is a Germanic genetic influence. The English you speak is a mismash of French/German/and other languages. A 5% Scandinavian genetic ancestry does NOT mean that a Swede raped a black ancestor.

    2. Sweden abolished trading European slaves in 1335,they were perhaps the largest trader of European slaves as they were constantly invading other areas of Europe. Later they became involved in trading African slaves and didn’t abolish that until 1847 or thereabouts. The Dutch were perhaps the largest trader in slaves from Africa. Most people not of Nordic decent have a history of being enslaved,most Europeans can only trace their history back to the mid 1300s to early 1400s because slaves were not registered in the churches. African people didn’t start being taken as slaves until most European countries finally outlawed taking European slaves,many especially Irish were taken to the new world in the black market trade. The worlds history of slavery is a dark one indeed. Modern Americans seem to have this misconception that only blacks were slaves,this is far from the truth. Americans,white black or whoever were taken to the Islamic world as slaves also. Europeans were also enslaved by the Islamic world in a very large degree. The crusades were to push the muslims out of Europe as they had invaded and were taking many slaves. The muslims hate the west today because of the crusades. Sure they went a bit overboard in their push but they wanted to be certain they didn’t come back. We are lucky to be living in this time in history. All of us.

  6. I just return from a citytrip to Stockholm, and on the bookshelf in the B&B I read about the subject … in a schooltextbook ! Queen Christina, Louis de Geer and their slavetrade.

  7. I think we african have to erase any trace of slavery in our collective consciousness. We have to do a kind of afro-revisionism, because the wounds caused by the slave trade will never be healed given that the perpetrators will never want to recognize their guilt.

  8. I am afro europeen and i am chockt when i ear african people tellingthat we have to forget… we dont have to forget anything because we havent been slaves. But i am thinking about our brothers and systers in the caraibs Usa and so on how do you want them to forget?????? some of them are born from a ripe, the majority dont know where they are from in africa,,, stop asking people to forget there is nothing to forget because it still here today but in a other form.

    1. You have nothing to remember. You didn’t experience it. I’m part Irish. The Irish were enslaved by the British and some Irish women were even forced to breed with African slaves. This however was not something that happened to ME. That’s something you need to remember. This didn’t happen to you, and nobody alive today of any race did it to you or anyone else. Also, if you want to remember something then remember that it was mostly Africans who had originally captured and enslaved the black slaves that were eventually sold to Europeans. Also remember the millions of Europeans that were enslaved and shipped off to Africa by Muslims (long before and during the African slave trade). Europeans didn’t invent slavery but they (not me) sure did spill a lot of blood ending a practice that goes back thousands of years in Africa (think Egyptian slavery of the Jews for example).

      Funny thing is that some black nationalist racists claim that the Egyptians were black. Which makes them one of the first races to institute slavery. Of course, it isn’t true but it is a funny consequence of invented history.

  9. My DNA shows 29% European and14% of the European is 14% Scandinavian. 66% is Africian. This was a shock to me. I did not expect to learn Scandinavia was in my blood. DNA don’t lie, they may as well fess up! Wow!

    1. As stated before in these comments, the Scandinavians or more commonly known to people as the Vikings, raided, raped and pillaged, (as well as trading, it wasn’t all bad) all the way from Scotland to west Africa and all the places in between, and this was before the 11th century, which can help to explain your heritage. I’m not saying Sweden did not take part in the slave trade but considering that they made up less then 1% of the overall slave trade I think Sweden has more then made up for it in its selfless refuge policy throughout the years and have certainly done more than a lot of other countries that were part of the slave trade.

  10. Although we had slavery in world history, in many different forms and not even as cruel as the Jews were treated. So it was planned to round up Jewish people and gas them and put in camps. Truly I am not comparison of the two.
    In Sudan the Arabs and the Sundan black Muslims are totally today killing Christians. These Christian are from Sudan. Stop pointing fingers at the countries who did slavery and stop modern day slavery. Those Arab oil rich nationsource fund The Arabs in Sudan.
    We are so caught up in the slavery thing we as Blacks in America are being murdered by the police and they get off free with no charges. Be a true humanitarian and treat all people with respect, I am not trying to forget. Dr Martin Luther King did and died for blacks in America their Civil rights. Mandela didn’t sit on his behind and said woe is me.
    Every nation on the face of this great earth have done something terrible in their just we as people have bad things in their past.
    But believe or not North Korea is a threat they want to mess up the USA.
    As a US Soldier deployed and was a Plattown Sargent leading over 60 soldiers in combat. One day we caught a I’d explosion and we as American soldiers didn’t have time to think about racism, Why because we had Americans who so happen to be Cauasian6, Hispanic African American. In my opinion if you identify people by any color is preschool. I learned about colors in pre school nge, green and of course I never seen people in green or orange. But to look as a person as another color is preschool thinking and hating that person is pure damm evil. I came up with this saying “In order to move as humanity we have to move as a whole “. By me humbly Thomas Washington Retired US Army 22 years.

  11. I am having a hard time making my mind up on this. I don’t have much information on Sweden and the Slave Trade, I mean the Wikipedia page about it is almost blank. And so I came here to inform myself a bit more. However I now find myself very confused. I am sure that there is still slavery in Sweden, as it is the case in basically every country. Although saying swedes are denying the fact that there is is a bit rough. They know very well of it, and take the right measures to diminish it. Maybe those measures aren’t enough, I’m not saying it is, but it’s still a LOT more measures than most countries. I mean, look at the facts, there are 1,800 estimated people living in modern slavery in Sweden. Yes, it may seem like a “lot”, but compared to their population of 9,754,000 people, and 1,243,400 estimate enslaved people in Europe, it’s really not that much. Now don’t get me wrong, I am NOT saying this isn’t an important issue because it does exist and takes place, and slavery is indeed a terrible, inhuman thing. But what do you suggest they do more than what they are already doing? If you have ideas I’m sure a lot of people will be happy to hear about it. But simply complaining about something they are “denying” when, in fact, they educate children in schools about the issue… I think that just comes off as a bit demeasured.

  12. Got my DNA genetic makeup, turns out I am 6.3% Finnish. More questions than answers. Maiden name is Bonaparte, thus the confusion from this end. Guess that’s that – stark reminder of the far reaching effects of slavery.

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