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THE PEP COLUMN: Let history educate and instruct us

marciadottin, [email protected]

THE PEP COLUMN: Let history  educate and instruct us

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The People’s Empowerment Party (PEP) welcomes the fact that UNESCO has decided to include Historic Bridgetown And Its Garrison on the World Heritage Site list. However, we wish to caution Barbadians that if this development is not handled properly, it can have severely negative consequences for our young developing nation.
Already, we have seen evidence of certain colonialist-minded elements in our society seeking to exploit UNESCO’s recognition of Bridgetown’s collection of colonial-era buildings by using it as an opportunity to resurrect the old racist and colonialist concept of Barbadian history in which the British and local white elites were placed at the centre of the historical narrative, and the masses of black Barbadians were treated as subsidiary objects of that history.
That racist, colonialist concept of our history was discredited and debunked as a result of the scholarly work of historians such as Woodville Marshall, Sir Hilary Beckles, Kamau Brathwaite, Trevor Marshall, David Browne, Henderson Carter and Rodney Worrell.
However, the forces of backwardness and reaction are never completely defeated and what we are now witnessing is a determined effort on their part to wage a counter-revolution, and take us back to the bad old days of Barbados being perceived as “Little England”.
The PEP would like to urge all Barbadians to get intimately acquainted with the history of their country, and to allow that history to educate and instruct them.
Any proper understanding of the history of Barbados must begin with an acknowledgement that Barbados was, pre-eminently, the location of the first major industrial organization of the Industrial Revolution – the integrated sugar plantation and factory of the 17th and 18th centuries. This organization produced the tremendous wealth on which both modern Britain and historic Bridgetown were developed.
But the full significance of this fact only sinks in when we recognize that the people whose physical labour, intellectual ability and technical capacities ran this complex and sophisticated precedent-setting industrial enterprise were our very own enslaved black Barbadian ancestors.
We tend to think of our enslaved forebears as mere manual labourers or perhaps even “beasts of burden”. But nothing could be further from the truth. As the distinguished historian Richard Pares recorded in his book Merchants And Planters: “With the mill, the boiling house and the still went an army of specialists – almost all of them slaves, but nonetheless specialists for that . . . and when we examine specifications of the Negroes we find so many boilers, masons, carters, boatswains of the mill . . . .”
A correct knowledge of our history will also suggest to us that it is inappropriate to “celebrate” the Historic Garrison area!
The Barbados Garrison was constructed by the British between 1705 and 1814 in order that it might be used as a military base for the British army. And the thousands of British soldiers stationed in Barbados were to be used for three specific missions – to maintain Britain’s imperial rule of the West Indian territories; to put down rebellions by the enslaved Blacks of Barbados and other British colonies; and to assist in attacking and destroying the independent nations and societies of West Africa and imposing British colonial rule on Africa.
• The PEP column represents the views of the People’s Empowerment Party.
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