Claudius Fergus

Claudius Fergus

Contrary to Chief Bharath’s attempt to distance Christopher Columbus from the genocide of indigenous peoples of Kairi (Trinidad) (Express, June 15), there is clear evidence that depopulation began during Columbus’ lifetime. Raiders from Santo Domingo began swooping down on Trinidad as early as 1500 for slave labour. Fierce resistance earned these natives the political label, “cannibals”. In 1503 Queen Isabella decreed that cannibals “may be captured” and “sold” as slaves. In 1516 Juan de Quejo, a pilot on Columbus’ final voyage, raided Trinidad, captured and burnt many natives alive in a house where they had hidden.

Professor Emerita Bridget Brereton’s support for removal of the Columbus statue from its “prominent public space in the capital city” is significant for two reasons: she is a preeminent historian of the island, highly respected around the world; she was also the Chair of the National Committee to replace the contentious Trinity Cross, which delivered a new medal that received unanimous approbation by citizens and political parties. Nevertheless, I do not agree with her assertion that “it would be impossible to find a figure who would command universal respect from the citizens” (Guardian, June 12).

Should the statue be transferred to the Moruga Museum, as Dr Kirk Meighoo suggests (Express, June 15), it would be a scandalous mockery of the current anti-supremacism revolt.

The curator of the Moruga Museum has put Columbus on a pedestal in more ways than one. He erected his own Columbus monument in 2010 and made T&T a laughing stock in the Eastern Caribbean, being the only country still commemorating “Discovery Day”.

To give him this monument would be to make the Moruga Museum into a shrine for devotees of Columbus. This must never be allowed to happen. The statue must be removed to the National Museum or the National Archives.

Director of the Cross Rhodes Freedom Project, Shabaka Kambon and I jointly proposed three optional figures to replace Columbus, long before the current wave of protests. These recommendations are known to Chief Bharath and the Port of Spain City Corporation, and have been accepted and endorsed by the Emancipation Support Committee and the National Reparations Committee.

The first figure is Taino Cacique (Queen) Anacaona, the first known heroine of the age of colonisation. Anacaona met Columbus on his second voyage, but had to wage war against the tyranny he and his men had unleashed. In 1502 she fell into a trap laid by Governor Ovando, was captured and burnt to death together with scores of her officials.

We also recommended that Columbus Square be renamed Anacaona Square. Recognition of a Caribbean heroine of such historic significance to the struggle against colonial oppression and violence would help to erode the historic insularity that plagues Caribbean peoples.

The second figure is local Cacique (Chief) Baucunar of the Carinepagoto tribe in Cumucurapo. Baucunar preserved the sovereignty of Trinidad against attempts by Antonio Cedeño to build a colony in Mucurapo in the 1530s. This colony would have served as a post to deliver natives into slavery in Hispaniola and Margarita. Before withdrawing, Cedeño committed a grave crime against humanity by slaughtering a whole village as the people slept at night. It is believed that the site of the massacre included the location of the Red House.

The third option is Cacique Goanagoanare, also of the Carinepagoto, who joined with Walter Raleigh to drive the Spaniards out of St Joseph. After the failed attempt, Goanagoanare was captured and tortured by Governor de Berrio.

The territory of these two rulers included or bordered the space now desecrated by the Columbus monument.

The logic of our proposal is the same as that of colonising forces across the early Spanish American Empire. Colonisers understood that any consecrated ground would remain sacred to the natives even if their temple or shrine were obliterated. In order to prevent continued veneration of a native deity, Spanish priests colonised these sites by erecting the first Christian churches on them.

If the plinth supporting Columbus’s statue is left vacant, it remains a sacred space to devotees of Columbus.

It is therefore imperative that the plinth supports a monument celebrating the first resistance to Spanish invasion and colonisation. Such a monument will exorcise the ground violated by the Columbus statue.

I cannot perceive any right-minded citizen as being conflicted by any one of these options.

—Dr Claudius Fergus is former senior lecturer in History,

The UWI, St Augustine

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