BRIDGETOWN, Barbados – Cheers and applause erupted from the crowd, conch shells were blown and the sound of drums reverberated across the city on Monday as the 207-year old statue of British Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson was finally hoisted for its departure from Bridgetown.
Scores of Barbadians were in National Heroes Square to witness the historic event that saw one of Barbados’ most abhorred symbols of British colonialism removed from the imposing position it occupied in the area once known as Trafalgar Square, opposite the Parliament buildings where Prime Minister Mia Mottley said the early legislators were able to pass legislation that ensured a slavery mentality in the country
Underscoring the importance of emancipation, Mottley said: Thank God those of us who constituted the majority of this nation started to stand tall and you ask yourself how does a statue of Nelson get there in the same era of a Busa, who fought against chattel slavery so that none of us could be used as somebody else’s property and pelt from here to there and separated from families and ship to overseas and all…without any consideration taken from us.
“You ask yourself how Sarah Ann Giles, another national hero could exist at the time and in the shadow of Nelson’s statue being put there, but she knew that she could not allow Black people and coloured people to worship the God that they wanted to and I don’t only mean the Christian God even though that is the thing for which she is recognised.
“I mean any god that we want to worship and if you look throughout the Caribbean you see the extent to which persons had to hide in order to praise their Gods. It is about time we allow the public of Barbados to know that the right to worship your God is inalienable as your right to be able to breathe”.
Mottley told the audience that the screen saver on her cell phone is that of the late Jamaican reggae superstar, Bob Marley, who had urged Black people to emancipate themselves from mental slavery.
“It is important that we understand that those who went before us ran their leg of the relay race to allow you to walk these streets free, but are you really free and are you really free until your mind is liberated,”: she said, adding that Marley’s photo “is to remind me always that the mission of our generation is the mental emancipation of our people.
“And while Bob popularised it, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, who had acolytes in this country as well, before the riots would have told us that this was part and parcel of our obligation and yet almost 100 years after Marcus Mosiah Garvey declared those words we continue to fight for mental emancipation.”
In July, the government said it would remove the statue of Vice Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson from the National Heroes Square in the heart of the capital, with the Minister with responsibility for culture, John King, saying the Cabinet had agreed to its relocation.
Nelson visited Barbados in 1805 and was considered a hero by locals of the day for his battles against the French who controlled some of the other islands in the Caribbean.
King said the decision to remove the statue was made based on substantial consultations carried out about two decades ago by the National Heroes Square and Development Committee as well as the Committee of National Reconciliation.
The call for the removal was also galvanised by the global movement to remove statues of persons many people had considered to be slave owners, human rights violators and symbols of colonialism.
Mottley told the ceremony that her administration would not sit idly by and allow various aspects of the country’s nationalism and identity, including Hero’s Day, the establishment of Emancipation Day “as a solemn holiday” to be wasted.
She said “these things could not just happen and then we press pause for two decades and forget about them. I ask us today to recognise that this government has been very clear that national consciousness and identity come at the core of the nation-state.
” And if we do not know who we are, if we are not clear what we will fight for then we are doomed to be exploited and to be colonised again, not necessarily in the same way that led the ships coming in, but in the way that will allow the mental space to be dominated by stories and songs and messages that are not our own and are not intended to be able to lift up our people to where we need to go in this world today.”