Letter Of The Day | Time To Decolonise The Caribbean
Published:Friday | June 12, 2020 | 12:06 AM
THE EDITOR, Madam:
THE PROJECT of iconographic or symbolic decolonisation has a long history in the Caribbean. Part of that project involves erecting monuments to those who fought for Caribbean Freedom on the landscape. This explains the proliferation of statues to freedom fighters or supporters of Caribbean decolonisation on the regional landscape from the Guianas through Haiti to The Bahamas and Bermuda.
Alongside this project of ensuring that our own icons are transferred from text to public space has been a parallel movement to remove the stamp and image of colonial figures from the Caribbean, rename streets and buildings and indigenise awards and honours. This latter movement has resurfaced in the wake of the protests over the murder of George Floyd in the USA, which have included a war on anti-black racism and the symbols that perpetuate white supremacy and act as reminders of past tragedies.
It is within this context that statues of Christopher Columbus (whose voyages unleashed such terror on the indigenous peoples and paved the way for the enslavement of Africans); traders in enslaved Africans (Edward Colston and Robert Milligan); US Confederate leaders and monarchs like King Leopold II of Belgium who unleashed terror on the Congo (and who was first cousin of Queen Victoria, whose statue stands in many Caribbean countries), are being toppled in the USA , UK and Belgium, respectively. The Rhodes must Fall Movement has been revived and mayors of major cities are scrambling to remove statues that might be targeted.
We are still debating the question of whether or not to lobby for the removal of similar reminders of colonialism, especially Lord Nelson (Barbados), Queen Victoria (several countries) and Christopher Columbus (e.g., in Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago). The Cross Rhodes Freedom Project in Trinidad & Tobago, headed by Shabaka Kambon and historian Dr Claudius Fergus, has gone ahead to ask for signatures and to request a meeting with officials for the removal of two Columbus statues in Trinidad from their present location, to a museum.
I salute them for their courage in a region that is mostly apathetic about this issue, preferring to coexist with these reminders of conquest, colonisation and slavery, and wish them every success. They have rejected the question posed recently on Twitter: “How many of us would be here if Columbus had not sailed?”, preferring to lament: “How many more of us (especially the indigenous peoples) would have been here had Columbus not sailed!”
VERENE A. SHEPHERD
Director, Centre for Reparation Research
The University of the WestIndies
[Photo caption: statue of Jean Jacques Dessalines, first leader of independent Haiti]