Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by this author are their own and do not represent the official position of the Barbados Today.
by Suleiman Bulbulia
In ceremony, the statue of Lord Horatio Nelson went up in the area known as Trafalgar Square outside the Parliament Buildings in our capital city of Bridgetown in 1813 and 207 years after, in 2020 and in ceremony, the statue came down, from the same area but now known as National Heroes Square.
Only in Barbados, they say, do we have such transitions from one era to another. It has been controversial, but long overdue.
When Trafalgar Square was renamed National Heroes Square, that statue should have been removed. But it took just over 20 years for that final decision, stamp of approval and the intestinal fortitude of a Government to do what needed to be done. Of course, the events of the past months and the strength and intensity of the Black Lives Matter Movement worldwide, including here in Barbados, helped create the momentum that led to the decommissioning of the statue.
Decommissioning – a grand word for removal. In Barbados, that is how it is done, unlike other parts of the world where more radical actions were taken and statues of bygone eras and oppressive figures removed forcibly from their pedestals and rolled down the streets and dumped unceremoniously into the water. But even with a decommissioning and an exhilarating ceremony to accompany the event, there are still those who are highly critical of the move. That is democracy at its best.
Barbadians in their numbers did turn out in Bridgetown last Monday to witness the decommissioning of the statute. Many dressed in national colours. And the event was well coordinated and served as a poignant reminder of our complicated history.
I commend the organizers of this event for they not only took down Nelson’s statue in style, but they allowed for the showcasing of this nation’s young and extremely talented youthful men and women.
The young lady who pulled together the varying strands of the evening’s activities through her powerful poetic representation of historical accounts was outstanding. It was certainly a change from the familiar Master of Ceremonies type role in such events.
The display of theatrical talent in the recollection of what actually did happen in those environs during the brutal era of the enslaved was a stark reminder of why we were there to witness this event. How could we forget that the same persons who pooled their resources in the early 1800s to erect the statue
of Lord Horatio Nelson, the hero of the great British Empire
(who disliked Barbados) were the same men who purchased enslaved African men, women and children in a market in the same environs?
Our history is complicated they say, but is it really? I think it is as clear as black and white.
The drummers and the singers created the atmosphere for those assembled to witness history in the making. Finally, Nelson was coming down and moving on to where such historical relics must be stored and displayed – in a museum – not in the heart of our city, where daily hundreds of people traverse and where the best opportunities for us as a people is to witness and observe, intentionally or unintentionally, consciously or unconsciously, images that enhance us, that uplift us, that remind us of who we are in a positive way.
One of the highlights of that evening was Prime Minister Mottley’s speech; for me, one of the better speeches she has made. She spoke to the people assembled there, not specifically the invited guests seated under a tent and surrounded by the barricades, but to the masses of Barbadians and perhaps visitors beyond the barriers.
She deliberately turned towards them as she spoke so as not to back them and she spoke from the heart as to who we are as a people and to the fact that the simple act of taking down a statue does not immediately erase or heal or emancipate us. Mental emancipation, words made famous through the songs of Bob Marley, is truly what was required. But it is important that such symbols do not pervade our cities.
“Images that populate our town must be images that edify our people.” I made a note of this statement that PM Mottley made as she spoke. To me, it summed up the essence of why we were at this decommissioning and why the statue of Nelson that stood there for over 200 years had to go elsewhere.
What happens next, some have asked. What difference does it make if Nelson is there at the top of Broad Street or not, several have argued. These are the difficult conversations that the Prime Minister spoke about in her address. We must have these difficult conversations in order that our nation can continue to grow and mature. We are ever changing as a people, as a community and as a nation. If we don’t change, then we stagnate. Of course, we must always seek to change for the better, and that can be at times difficult and at times relative depending on the type of change being proposed.
I am not an advocate of the erection of statues, and that is perhaps due to my faith teachings that shun such practices. But I understand that we have inherited as modern nations this practice of treating our heroes and heroines with the erection of statues.
Perhaps technology will allow us to replace stone and cement structures with more environmentally friendly ways of celebrating our legends. But beyond the erection of statues and the cosmetic changes of names of places and buildings, that mental and psychological change is so very necessary. It is an ongoing process that must continue and never end.
We mature as a nation, now at 54 years of Independence, by having the hard discussions on who we are as a people in this 21st century and where we want to go in the future.
Our young generation must be given a sense of self-worth and the tools that allow them to face a world that is highly competitive and not very kind to the weak.
Happy Independence, Barbados. The country gives thanks this Sunday at the National Service of Thanksgiving at the Gymnasium at 10 a.m. All are welcome. May Almighty God continue to guide and bless this nation.
Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace; Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association; Muslim Chaplain at the U.W.I, Cave Hill Campus and Chair, Barbados Childhood Obesity Prevention Coalition. Email: [email protected]