RETHINKING SCANDINAVIA – CSS Publications Web Quarterly

Issue II: Looking In, Watching Out

Published in July 2018

Traveling to “Caribbean Sweden”

St. Barthélemy as Tourist and Tax Paradise

Lill-Ann Körber, Aarhus University

1 “Ett karibiskt Sverige,” Svenska Dagbladet, November 8, 2013: Unless noted otherwise, all online sources have been accessed on July 1, 2018.

“Underbart att vara här, helt otroligt att detta varit svensk mark. Synd vi inte behöll ön Tack för att ni bevarar historien!!”

[Wonderful to be here, unbelievable that this was Swedish soil. Shame we didn’t keep the island Thanks for preserving the history!!]2 All translations are my own.

I found this entry in the guest book of the Wall House Museum in Gustavia, the capital town of the West Indian island St. Barthélemy (Fig. 1). The museum is located in a recently restored building from the period when the island was under Swedish rule (1784–1878).3 For the history of the “Wall House,” and the mystery around its name, see “L’histoire du Wall House”: One of the article’s authors, Arlette Magras, owns the island’s most comprehensive, private, collection of archival material on the Swedish period. Its address is the corner of Rue de Piteå (named after the island’s twin city in northern Sweden; the original Swedish name was Köpmansgatan) and Place de Vanadis/Vanadisplatsen (after the frigate “Vanadis,” the last Swedish war ship that left the island in 18784 See Bharati Larsson (2016, 49-117) for a discussion of the Vanadis Expedition with the very same ship (1883–5) and its function within a national colonial iconography.). It is the only public museum on the island and displays historical artifacts. The quoted entry, written by a Swedish tourist on June 16, 2016, is telling as it represents the Swedish discourse about its former colony in several significant respects: The experience of the place as “underbart” (“wonderful”) in its double meaning of great and pleasant, but also almost unreal; the description of the fact of Swedish colonialism in the Caribbean as surprising, or “otroligt” (“unbelievable”); the nostalgia pertaining to the loss of the territory (“shame we didn’t keep the island”); and the questions of historiography and commemoration: how does one preserve, or “bevarar,” the island’s Swedish legacy?