Decolonising Norway: What Does It Mean?

By Katlego Mereko

Knowledge about Norway’s role in colonialism in Africa is rather nebulous. Due to the more prominent colonising nations such as your Great Britain, Germany, France, etc., who were already in prime position to sink their claws in the colonies when the “scramble for Africa” took off, and whose colonial legacies are still readily traceable in their wake, the role of Scandinavian nations during colonisation and slavery is almost blocked from view.

When the summer season announced its arrival in the upper reaches of Europe in June last year, the temperature of decolonial discourse was already rising in the Norwegian academic spaces, with pupils of colour demanding representative curricular at their universities.

But what does that mean?

Grace Tabea Tenga, a Psychology student on exchange program at the University of Cape Town from the University of Oslo, contends that the call for decolonisation in Norway is a justified one.

“Although there’s a very small population of African peoples in Norway, for me what decoloniality will mean is that the perception or how people of colour are viewed will be different,” says Tenga.

 “I think that is where there needs to be changes because, for instance, continental Africans are still portrayed as people who are uneducated,” she continues, “…so they see Africans as very physically adroit, but not necessarily very intellectually ept.

"It is so bad, in fact," she continues, "...that whenever I give a talk in Norway, white people are surprised, giving feedback such as ‘Wow you’re so intelligent for a black girl. Are you half-Norwegian?

"So, it is so sick that there’s an idea that to be a black person of intelligence you must be of mixed-race parentage. It goes even further whereby African Americans are accepted as “cool” and as those who make likeable music, but for continental Africans, they are backwards, sexist, violent, lack development, etc.

“So, I would say what decoloniality in Norway would be is; to change this very perception with which black people are held,” she asserts.

With this submission, racism qua white supremacy is inextricably tied with colonialism, at least where black people are in view.

“Also,” she adds, “…decoloniality in Norway would be to acknowledge their role in colonisation, even though they were a minor player. However, they tend to play innocent as if they had no role.”

Although Norway was itself under Danish rule at the time, Norwegians did take part in the Danish-Norwegian transatlantic slave trade, which involved the transportation of an estimated 100,000 African slaves from West Africa to the Danish West Indies in the period between 1626 and 1825.

“In fact,” Tenga adds, “…the best-preserved slave-ship was actually found on the shores of Norway in Arendal. The ship is called Fredensborg. Being a country with a long coastal line, Norway has an even longer history of building ships, with the ships built by Vikings over 1000 years ago being the one of the most advanced of their time.

"So, Norway participated in the slave trade and built many slave-ships, but this is very under communicated in the country. So, a decolonial understanding, for me, would be the recognition that the nation is not innocent player, it was very much active.

"Also, quite interesting is that there was a time in Norway where regular grocery stores were called Kolonial, which basically means the colonial shop. So, these shops sold colonial goods such as coffee, sugar, cocoa, and all the stuff one couldn’t get in Norway but had to get from the colonies was from those stores, which were very common.

"Thus, I think a big step Norway can take is to firstly acknowledge its role in colonialism and slavery and not feign innocence. I think this would be a major achievement,” she concludes.


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