Remove the statue of Christopher Columbus, says activist Pearl Eintou Springer.
Don’t touch it, says Spanish Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago, Javier Carbajosa.
And so the passionate debate on whether to remove monuments to Trinidad and Tobago’s colonial past continued yesterday.
Springer said Trinidad and Tobago should be aware that 1881 was a critical year in its history—the Canboulay Riots—which meant the enslaved Africans had defeated the colonial powers.
She also acknowledged that 1881 coincided with the construction of the statue of Italian explorer Christopher Columbus at Independence Square, Port of Spain.
Springer lent her voice to a slew of calls to remove Columbus from his pedestal, and replace him with local Pan Africanists and freedom fighters including Kwame Ture, Henry Sylvestre Williams, George Padmore, author CLR James, who wrote Black Jacobins, and social activist Mzumbo Lazare.
Shabaka Kambon, leader of the The Cross Rhodes Freedom Project, has been calling on the State to remove it as well as other colonial monuments.
in T&T history’
Kambon is expected to deliver a petition with 8,000-plus signatures to Port of Spain Mayor Joel Martinez at City Hall, Port of Spain, today calling for the removal of the Columbus monument.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Springer, who has also written the play Freedom Morning, expounded upon 1881’s significance in the historical narrative.
She said: “I think it should be removed. We need to be aware of 1881 is a critical year in which the enslaved Africans defeated the enslaved colonial powers.
“After, a series of measures were put in place to literally remind African people of their place in the society. We need to look at the erection of Columbus in its historical context.
“It was the year when African people defeated Captain Baker in their efforts to squash the celebration. It was one of the measures put in place to entrench the notion of European superiority in the community.
“After the victory of bois men and women in the Canboulay riots, a lot of measures were put in place to reinforce in the minds of the African population of the supremacy of European culture and civilisation. They were all meant to keep our recently emancipated people mentally enslaved.”
Springer added: “If you notice, it was placed in the East Dry River area. Its placement is important in that it is where the strength of African culture exists.
“There is a Yoruba village there. It is famous for its drum festival. It is a mecca for the cultural art form and the birth of the steelpan emanated from that area. The statue was deliberately placed there.”
Asked what should be done with the statue, Springer said: “I don’t care what they do with it. As long as it’s not there to burn my eye.
“We need a Kwame Ture street. We need a proper monument in front of the Treasury Building. We have nothing to commemorate Kwame Ture. He was a prominent Trinidadian organiser in the civil rights movement in the United States.”
Sharlan Bailey: He
can be torn down
Sharlan Bailey, son the late calypso icon Shadow (Winston Bailey), said yesterday he agrees with his patriarch’s sentiments in the classic “Columbus Lie”. Bailey reminds people that the First Peoples (indigenous) had inhabited the Caribbean.
Bailey said: “I share my father’s sentiments. It took a long time before we noticed the statue.
“I wish it was under better conditions; especially with Covid-19 and the protests over Black Lives Matter. It’s now or never. We need to fix some mistakes that we made in history. We should remove it.
“I think the First Peoples should advise on what should be done with it. They were the first ones to feel the hurt. Their opinion should be more valid in this situation. This was their land. They were subjected to genocide (destruction of an entire people). History taught us he rediscovered Trinidad.”
Bailey paid kudos to his father for having the foresight to sing about the issue.
“Shadow became a voice for a lot of us. We have such a rich history in Trinidad and Tobago. Where is the Kwame Ture monument? Columbus is not important. He can be torn down,” he said.
‘We should still
Port of Spain businessman Stokely Phillip, whose bakery is located obliquely opposite Columbus Square, said yesterday: “Columbus seemed to be a genuine seafarer. He was a scientist. We should still thank him for his contribution in discovering us.
“I don’t have a personal grouse. Yes we had the First Peoples. Having a statue in somebody’s name should not be reminder of oppression and evil. A statue should glorify something that is positive. What is Columbus statue showing us?
“Maybe it’s time for a change. We had Independence Square, and now it’s Brian Lara Promenade. People will remember we had a great cricketer. Independence Square was known as King Street. If you go by FCB on Chacon Street, there is still a small King Street. We thank him for discovering us. We need our own symbols and statues.”
Reflecting on his late father, Phillips said: “He pitched marbles in that square. It would be strange for him to see it removed but I would like it to be removed in my time.”
Meanwhile, former prime minister Basdeo Panday has lamented “chauvinism was taking hold”.
“It is a dangerous trend in the society. People should not forget the lessons of the past and try to wipe it out. They should try to understand it, and use the mistakes of the past to build a better society.
Why would people want to wipe out their history? If you forget your history, you lose your whole identity? I think that is stupidity. Statues have their own aesthetic appeal. They draw tourists,” he said.