Culture Clinic is a blog written by Dr. John
Since the Golden Square Freedom Park in Bridgetown opened last year I have only ever gone past it to walk to town. It looks nice, the transformation is stupendous. My issue is with the Builders of Barbados Wall.
Kudos to the concept, creation research and effort that went into the wall! Still, every time I hear the names that are captured on the wall, I grieve. How are we acknowledging the original guardians of this land, its first peoples? How is their presence appropriately recognised? Evidence suggests that their presence in this region predates ours by 5,000 – 8,000 years. In fact, this story predates 1492, the date of “first contact” with the Europeans.
These peoples, their complex civilizations and systems of migration were violently interrupted. By the end of the 1500s, their presence was all but completely erased, by conquest, by disease. They were dehumanized to appease the greedy interests of the European colonizers. Even their names, “Ciboney”, “Kalinago”, “Tainos”, were terms foisted on them to “categorize, define and contain” in ways that separated them from their humanity, justifying the criminalizing atrocities that were targeted at them. (Gatzamide)
Indeed, many descendants assimilated, attributing their features to the European mixing as many were the offspring and descendants of rape. Other pockets of survivors are found on reservations in Dominica or as migrants of Garifuna from St. Vincent in Belize, transported at the behest of colonizing parties that sought to erase, silence and trivialize these narratives of belonging.
Most of the evidence of civilization was not entire lost on the Europeans who came. Instead they subsumed it. Bridgetown is reputed to be named after an Indian bridge found on the site where Chamberlain bridge now “swings” (or at least used to). Artefacts from bygone eras, if not scraped up by the heaps of gravel when developers prepare grounds for construction, often surface on beaches, in caves, gullies and mountains, reflecting the ceramic and pre-ceramic people of a rich heritage that existed in this region.
And then there are the given names that were immediately disregarded at the point of “contact”. Attempting to change “Ichirouganaim” to Barbados attempted to invoke a new set of atrocities on our island and what it meant to its first peoples. There was an overlay of a dominant, austere culture, one that King George III refers to as “our dark past” with “restrained grief” Sigh! Indeed, African enslaved became the new target of systemic oppression.
The Builders of the Wall does not redress this enough. Instead, it attempts to celebrate every single colonizer name that lived and visited here, while references to the forced migrants, the enslaved Africans, their regions, their points of origin, acknowledgement of the contribution that they made to the colonized world, pales with a slight acknowledgement. The wall seems replete with the words, written in colonizer language. My soul is burning!
Still, as I walk, I take comfort in the blue sky, the clear water, the trees, earth, the air, and the wind. I smile.
Culture Clinic is a weekly column crafted by Dr. John Hunte. It identifies the impact of Culture and Creativity in the Caribbean. Photography by Adrian Richards.