Story by JACK WARNER
This sudden desire to tear down the statue of Christopher Columbus is nothing more than a knee jerk response to the current Black Lives Matter movement by people who want to feel a sense of importance in our country.
This bronze statue of Christopher Columbus was donated in 1881 by Hypolite Borde, a wealthy cocoa proprietor. His aim at the time was to enhance the appearance of this part of the town where the police band would perform short concerts once a month from 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm.
As such, behind the Catholic Cathedral at the bottom of Duncan Street in Port of Spain was no accident.
That Christopher Columbus was chosen for this distinction was predicated on colonial history which credits him with the founding of Trinidad. And even though postcolonial history has re-written this record to give cognizance to the indigenous people who were found here, one cannot deny that for the European people who never knew of its existence Trinidad was a discovery of Columbus.
I could appreciate the angst that has evolved over the years against Columbus because of the atrocities that have been perpetrated against the indigenous people that he found on the islands; the rape of our women, the subjugation of the people, the mass genocide of the indigenous folk, the theft of our wealth and the cruelty that was inflicted upon many.
And, to be honest, many would wish to have no remembrance of this sordid past. But defacing and seeking to tear down his statue cannot be the only solution of which we can think.
This approach assumes that the removal of artefacts which represent the horrors of the past will somehow lead to a pure, pristine and purged present. But history is replete with far too many instances that demonstrate that these actions lead to similar complexities which societies live to regret.
All that will occur is the rise of further antagonisms epitomised by examples where the Soviets erased the history of Czarist Russia and then turned on their ideologues and historians who they found were not Soviet enough and the witch hunt for more oppressors will continue until the exercise will convert us into the savages we all are seeking to destroy.
Pearl Eintou Springer has not thought this through because in her zest to destroy this colonial past, Springer must explain why her activism is not also directed to the Catholic Church which played a critical role in exploration to find a New World.
Springer must not stop until the name of the country is renamed since this also is the doing of Christopher Columbus and also, she must now proceed to destroy every memory that leads to the recall of this history an exercise which can only be described as purely asinine.
Springer is not a student of history because she would have been aware of the dangers of embarking upon the road she wishes to travel. Her actions are similar to the actions of her colonial masters from whom she has learned so well because just like the Spanish Conquistadors who eradicated the ancient culture of the Mayans and the Aztecs albeit to enrich the coffers of the Spanish Kingdom, so too she proposes to eradicate a part of our history with the removal of the statue of Columbus.
The proposal of Springer is the very said thought for which ISIS was condemned when they destroyed the ancient city of Nimrud and erased the legacy of the Assyrian Kingdom which their act pummeled into extinction.
Such acts remind us of the Khmer Rouge who systematically destroyed temples and decapitated statues all over Cambodia to erase its past. Is that the road that Pearl Eintou Springer and those who wish to extirpate Columbus from our collective memory wish to carry us?
There is a level of selfishness that is far too overwhelming and I have noted with a sense of pity how minority voices seek to impose its will among a majority that for far too long have remained silent to avoid confrontation.
However, to assume in a country with 1.3million people that 8,000 signatures are sufficient to have Columbus’ statue removed is ludicrous.
There are going to be many in the future who will frown upon this movement and will they be judged if, from the lessons they have learned from Springer et al, they seek to remove all memory of the existence of Springer, her group and their actions?
Before any consideration is given to the removal of Columbus, Springer must tell us where this will stop.
She must tell us whether part of her agenda is to have all the streets that are named after Spanish Governors or representative of the Spanish Kingdom under whose seal Columbus sailed now be renamed after local and regional icons based on their contribution to human development in Trinidad and Tobago.
Springer and her group must tell us whether her wish is to destroy everything colonial, including the memory of the French and the English because they too possess demons in their history. And if Springer et al are seeking to sanitise our past, we need to know whether all colonial powers are in her line of sight?
Are we going to take down the statue of Mahatmas Gandhi as well since his history is replete with narratives of racism and paedophilia among other wrongs? The question that must be answered is where is this group going to stop?
Because clearly, it is not in the best interest to act as one group or one man for wrongs he/she represents and yet leave symbols of narratives that inflict equal pain standing as memorials of a tainted past.
My personal view is that Chinatown represents a greater insult to the people of Trinidad than the statue of Columbus.
Stop it, Springer!
People pass by Columbus every day and did not even know that a Square was named after him and the way it is badly maintained few recognized that he is supposed to be somebody of significance in our history. But now he is going to receive prominence for the defacing of his statue instead of its removal by people who ought to know better.
Springer and her group should never attempt to influence how future generations interpret their history and if she feels this strongly about Columbus a more appropriate approach would be to chronicle a postcolonial narrative exposing his deviant past.
We have to learn to take
the good with the bad
I am a historian and there are many things I have never taught. I have never taught that Columbus believed that the world was flat because he had maps from Pablo Toscanelli and Italian cartographer who pre-dated him.
I never taught that he discovered the New World without contextualising the fact that such discovery included the presence of human life and civilisations on the islands where he landed.
I never taught that Columbus was religious; rather I taught that he came not to convert the people but to steal their wealth for the Spanish Kingdom. And if Springer wants to make sense then she has to produce a counter-narrative to the colonial discourse and allow future generations to critique Columbus based on her narrative and interpretation.
To call for the removal of the statue will not inspire generations to come. It might quicker agitate some to expunge from their library the writings of some of the people who are contributors now. Simply put, we are a nation of copycats!
We have to learn that even our recent history is plagued with memories that we wish never existed. We have to learn to take the good with the bad and understand that our history is not a perfect one.
So, leave Columbus’ statue alone.