The African King of Copenhagen

The night between the 25th and 26th of November 1844
A bloody event is taking place this night in the village Orsu outside the Danish fortress Christiansborg (Christian’s Castle) on the African Gold Coast. In the flickering candle light local tribesmen are frantically beating the village’s war drum as part of a fetish ceremony lead by the local chieftain Adum Takori. The former translator at the nearby Danish fort, Sebah Akim, drags two children to the drum, where he cuts their throats so that their blood gushes over the drum. The locals are of the belief that it will keep the souls of the children in a state of agony every time the drum sounds. The next day five siblings to the murdered children are sold to a Portuguese slave trader.

The war drum used during the fetish ceremony, picture courtesy of the Danish National Museum.

The father of the children was chieftain Adum Takori’s rival, chieftain Ursu Akim. Earlier that day they had both been invited to negotiations by the Danish governor, Edward James Arnold Carstensen (1815-1898) in order to settle which of them would be the new Okuampemhene, meaning head chieftain of the small kingdom Akuapem. Despite the fact that the kingdom was independent and not a part of the small Danish colony, it was of so big importance to the Danes, who imported palm oil from Akuapem, that the governor had seen it necessary to support one of the two candidates for the title in order to ensure the flow of palm oil would continue. At first Carstensen had supported Adum Takori but when he turned out to be unpredictable and an alcoholic the governor had decided to support the opposing candidate Ursu Akim a cousin of Takori. During the last couple of years the conflict had escalated to the point where governor Carstensen saw it necessary to invite the two candidates to a meeting at the Danish fortress during which the conflict would be settled once and for all. But things turned out much differently. On their way to the fort the two chieftains with their groups of supporters ran into each other in the village Orsu. The local villagers, who supported Takori started attacking Akim, whose supporters started firing on the villagers. The events turned into a small battle during which Ursu Akim was killed and seven of his children were captured. Two of which were the ones who had their throats cut that same night.

Dinner party for the French Prince Joinville at the Danish Fortress Christiansborg, 1843. Governor Carstensen is toasting to the French King. Picture courtesy of the University of Copenhagen.

The Danish governor could not stand silent to this attack on his authority as a peace dealer, and he ordered his small contingency of soldiers to hunt down and capture Adum Takori and the translator Sebah Akim, who had killed the two children. After troublesome hunt, the two men were finally captured and sentenced to death, which was later changed to life in prison. But it would be impossible to keep them as prisoners in the small fort for long, as a public uprising, in order to set them free, would threaten the existence of the Danish colony. A solution to the problem came when the Danish ship “Ørnen” (The Eagle) arrived on its way to the Danish West Indies in the Caribbean. The two prisoners were put on the ship and arrived in the West Indies on December 6. 1845, where they got a chance to see what had happened to many of their fellow Africans, who had been sent there as slaves decades earlier. Trading in slaves had been abolished in Denmark and the Danish colonies since 1803, but the existing slaves would not be set free until 1848.

As the two Africans had been sentenced to life in prison the local authorities would not let them stay in prison in the Danish West Indies, where prisoners sentenced to more than two years in jail were sent back to the motherland to serve their time, and thus the two were sent on another journey across the Atlantic, to the Danish capital of Copenhagen. Here they were imprisoned in the fortress Kastellet in a small cell which they had a hard time keeping warm, in the, for someone used to the equatorial heat, unbearable consistent Danish cold. They were allowed to take walks on the bastions of Kastellet, where they quickly became a bit of an attraction for the many citizens in Copenhagen who used to take their Sunday walk their. Despite Denmark having been a slave-owing country for generations, few of the slaves made it back to Copenhagen, and those that did, were often kept indoors. So it is perhaps not surprising, that the sight of the two African prisoners scared many of the children in Copenhagen, who soon found a new pass time habit in seeing who was brave enough to actually touch “The Negro King of Copenhagen” as Adum Takori was soon nicknamed.

Adum Takori and Sebah Akim in Copenhagen at the walls of Kastellet. picture courtesy of the Danish Royal Library

Adum Takori’s and Sebah Akim’s stay in Copenhagen would not be long though. In 1850 Denmark sold its African colonies to Great Britain, and governor Carstensen pleaded for the Danish King to set the two free, a plea the King was only happy to accept. On August 14th 1850 they set sail on a British ship from England to sail home.

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