EDITOR, The Tribune
The latest in a long line of protests for equality in the United States has pricked the consciences of some here who are again questioning the symbols of veneration that dot our landscape.
None stands out more than the sculpture of the Italian sailor who in 1492 got lost on a Spanish government funded expedition to find the East Indies and ended up on a tiny island here that the inhabitants called Guanahani.
Three hundred and thirty-eight years later, in 1830, a statue to Christopher Columbus was erected at the base of steps leading up Mount Fitzwilliam to Government House.
The House was then 107 years old and the British occupant, Sir James Carmichael Smyth, newly arrived at the time, was responsible for its installation. The statute was reportedly designed in London by an American and is more reflective of the stereotypical bias of that time. It is hard to imagine that a 15th century Italian would present himself dressed as one of the Spanish conquistadors who came in the 16th century.
It is an example, perhaps, of the inadequate teaching in our public and private schools that some see nothing wrong with having this man venerated as a national symbol.
There is a monument erected to Columbus on the beach in San Salvador where he first set foot in this hemisphere. It is only right that the spot is marked with a cross, ostensibly to offer up prayers for the death and destruction that followed Columbus on his first trip over and the three others that followed.
Because of its overall significance to world history, we should petition the United Nations to have Guanahani declared a UNESCO World Heritage site with a more appropriate, elaborate and tourism friendly monument and museum erected.
Historians agree that Columbus was no hero. He got lost on his way to Asia where he was hoping to find gold, steal it and take it to Europe.
We can logically debate whether discover best describes what happened in 1492. Neil Armstrong didn’t discover the Moon when he landed there in 1969 and astronomers last year merely confirmed the existence of a new planet six times larger than Earth and named it GJ 357.
To discover something is to confirm the hypothesis that it already existed. Columbus knew other lands existed beyond the European coast or he would not have set out on a fool’s errand. His significance to history is of no greater importance to us than it is to mankind, connecting a new world with the old one. History cannot deny our place in that story.
We are now shaping the modern Bahamas. This new modernity is just 60 years old and while we have done a lot to correct injustices of the past, we still have a long way to go.
Properly removing the statute of Columbus from Government House front entrance and perhaps having him look out at the sea from another venue is more than appropriate for these times.
We can debate whether a replacement statute is needed for that spot and if so, who that person (or persons) ought to be. They should be deserving of such high honour and they should be Bahamian. The name Milo Butler, Government House’s first Bahamian occupant, should be on everyone’s shortlist.
While we are at it, we should uproot the statute of Queen Victoria in Parliament Square. How about we commission a statute depicting a circle of black, brown, white and Asian children playing in the sun, at the entrance to Parliament so that politicians are constantly reminded of the next generation for whom they are fighting?
Victoria gets undue credit for freeing the slaves in the British colonies which is dubious at best because the Slavery Abolition Act in the UK was passed in 1833 and the Emancipation Act in 1834, three years before she became Queen.
If we still want to honour British people who were instrumental in the abolitionist movement then let’s lift up William Wilberforce, a profoundly Christian man who opposed slavery on faith grounds. Or Sir Thomas Buxton who campaigned against slavery and never took his foot off the pedal, calling slavery “repugnant to the principles of the Christian religion”.
And we should be prepared to go deeper than the figures history has taught us to like. The same historians made a hero out of Blackbeard, an English pirate who terrorized merchant ships in our waters.
Not a peep is made of Henry Caesar, known as Black Caesar, a Robin Hood type pirate said to have been a Bahamian who operated between here, Cuba and Florida. The Floridians named a Cay after him.
It’s time we rename a Cay for Black Caesar. Given the similarities in its recent history, how about Norman’s Cay?
June 14, 2020