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Historical Background

The historical ties linking Ghana and the Netherlands go back as far as the 16th century. Around this time, many Europeans began exploring this area of Africa, searching for new lands, resources, discoveries and trading commodities.  The first Dutchman set foot on Ghanaian soil in 1593, named Bernard Ericzoon. He brought back many valuable goods and stories of the area's wealth in resources that the Dutch began regularly trading with this area from then on.


The coastal areas around Ghana became known as the 'Gold Coast' during this period, due to its rich resources in gold and ivory in particular. Many Europeans began competitively trading in this area, each one vying for control over the land and its resources. They began to build defensive structures to stake their claim to certain areas, but also to built permanent trading bases to cement their positions. There is plenty of tangible evidence attesting to the presence of the Europeans with many of these defensive structures and their associated towns still remaining, the most famous being at Elmina and Cape Coast. 


Following the establishment of the Dutch West India Company (WIC), the trade relations with Ghana intensified. The Dutch conquered Elmina from the Portuguese in 1637, which then became the headquarters for the WIC on the Gold Coast. A small settlement developed around it, and many traders and merchants began to settle in the area, marrying with local residents. Many Dutch surnames such as Bartels, Van Diijke and Vroom can still be found in the town today. 


Many of the Europeans stuck up alliances with local merchants and rulers in order to gain access to the gold and precious commodities in the hinterland. This allowed the local rulers to enhance their own political and economic positions, as well as allowing the Europeans to cement their influential trading positions and monopolies. The Ghanaian tribes traded gold, ivory, and people from other tribes as slaves to the Europeans in return for guns and gin. A special working relationship arose between the Dutch and the Ashanti tribe, recognised from 1701, which is considered to be the official beginning of Ghanaian-Dutch relations. In 2001 both countries celebrated the 300 anniversary of these relations, including many heritage activities to celebrate the event. 


Following the conquest of Brazil in 1630, the WIC began trading and transporting slaves, when Nieuw Holland was lost to the Portuguese a short time later, these activities continued instead in the colony of Suriname. In just the short period of Dutch rule in Brazil, over 26,000 slaves were transported through Elmina to the South American colony. The WIC dealt further in forced migration of the population in the 19th century, when around 3,000 Africans sailed from Elmina to Indonesia between 1831-1872, to fight for the Dutch Colonial Army (KNIL). The majority of these military veterans returned to Elmina, receiving plots of land for their retirement from the governor. However many also settled in the East Indies and raised families there- they became known as the 'Belanda Hitam'- the Black Dutchmen. Therefore Ghana's history is heavily connected with migration heritage, which should be a major part of heritage cooperation. 


In 1872 the Dutch handed over all their Ghanaian territories to the British. Some Dutch priests and nuns ventured back to the area from around 1900, working as missionaries for the Roman Catholic Church, however Dutch trading activities did not make any recovery until the 1920s. A few firms did venture back to the area later on, for examples Henkes (Schiedam Schnapps) and Vlisco (Real Dutch Wax Prints) made good profits in Elmina and Ghana, with their products becoming part of the local intangible heritage traditions. For example the local chiefs are usually presented with a bottle of Dutch gin at the beginning of an appointment as a mark of respect. The Elminans also celebrate Dutch Christmas every January. Therefore the history of Ghana and the Netherlands are intricately linked with one another. 


Heritage Cooperation

In 1957 Ghana became the first sub-Saharan African country to gain independance from the British. The new state designated these tangible remains of the European presence as National Monuments in 1969, shortly followed by their listing as World Heritage Sites in 1976. The 3 castles, 15 forts, 4 ruined forts and 2 fort locations are all listed as a group monument, as a testament to European-West African contact and relations, as a focal point for diasporic memory, as well as to serve as a powerful reminder of the horrors of the slave trade. 


The tangible and intangible remains from the interaction between the Netherlands and Ghana is often referred to as Mutual Cultural Heritage. Between 2004 and 2012 Ghana was one of the Priority Countries for the Netherlands, in line with the Dutch Mutual Cultural Heritage Policy. This has influenced and encouraged many of the activities between the two countries in recent years. 


One of CIE's primary objectives is to foster sustainable preservation and management of cultural heritage between Ghana and the Netherlands. Our main focal areas for heritage activities have centred around mercantile, migration and diasporic herritage, under our core CIE theme of: 

Research and Academic Cooperation. 

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