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Let’s embrace our heritage

Ricky Jordan

Let’s embrace our heritage

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WHO ARE WE as a people? If we consider ourselves Barbadians, products of this land, birthed by this soil and therefore descendants of all who came here – Amerindian, African, European, Oriental or Asiatic people – then we would have truly arrived to the point of having a healthy mirror image.
The majority of us, mainly of African descent, often see it necessary to rejoice only in that aspect of our heritage, often because it is trendy and makes us appear very “conscious” and in touch with our roots, leaving the remainder of our heritage shrouded in a blanket of false shame and question marks.
But if we’re truly Barbadian and not just conscious of any one particular accidental ancestry, we would accept with genuine pride the recent designation of Barbados’ Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison as a World Heritage site.
And when we speak glowingly of the island’s scenic capital and its military base, then we must also accept all that comes with them, including the much loathed statue of Lord Nelson.
His name is pronounced in seething tones by many who have been led on a certain path in the last 30 to 40 years in this fair land, so much so that Barbadian history has in recent years been tied more to National Hero Bussa and other African-Barbadian patriarchs than anyone else.
But if one had to ask any person on the much heralded team which worked toward earning Bridgetown and its Garrison World Heritage status, I’m 95 per cent certain that they would admit that the historicity and world view of our capital had been enhanced in no small way by having Lord Nelson’s statue in its prominent position.
And he should be given his due. As a military man charged with protecting Britain and its colonies, including Barbados whose protective garrison and seaside fort were manned by British forces, Nelson would have been seen as a kind of saviour and hero.
Yet, throughout the 1970s right up to the early part of this century, we Barbadians were gradually carried along on a wave of howling protest against the controversial Nelson statue.
“Tek down Nelson,” we were ordered by a calypsonian, while one Prime Minister turned the statue 180 degrees, thereby causing Nelson to face away from our equally British 300-year-old Parliament – where the laws and statutes that affect every aspect of our lives are still being made – to face the street owned by merchants with slave-owning, colonial and post-colonial origins.
Almost amusing it would’ve been, if Barbados’ commercial success wasn’t built on the backs of my slave ancestors and their progeny.
The Nelson turnaround, in retrospect, was far more strategic than to “tek” him down and immediately seek to erase a moment in Barbados’ history that had happened, whether we like it or not.
Little did we know during the heated debates in recent decades that this country would be recognized by the world – not by a particular country or race – as having a heritage on par with those to which we African Barbadians have travelled to watch and marvel at.
With all this in mind, we should embrace whatever happened in Barbados, however shameful, as Barbadian history and therefore a part of our heritage.
“We should also consider that today’s Heroes may well be insignificant to Barbadians two or three centuries from now and some may neither know nor care who were Payne, Springer and Sobers.
In other words, since we do not know how posterity will view us, our Heroes or our venerated institutions, we should value the truth of our entire history and not only the aspects that some with selfish agendas deem glorious.
Congrats to Barbados on its world heritage designation, which has fortuitously coincided with our cultural icon, Crop Over, adding yet another exciting dimension to “we culture”.