In whose name and indeed for which causes should we remember or honour our ancestors and our histories? And how?
By what writings or monuments should we seek to eternalise their legacies? These questions are likely to remain unanswered and indeed disputed as long as mankind exists and wages wars and commits atrocities against mankind.
But the questions need discussion, and in the United States the discussion is becoming heated. And there is nothing wrong with this, indeed, for one man’s heroism, one tribe’s legacy, one nation’s glory, is often gained at the expense of another man, a different tribe or a conquered nation and its peoples.
History is and has always been written by the victors, the conquerors, with the atrocities inflicted upon the conquered being described in epic poems and legends. We in the English-speaking Caribbean and indeed across the Americas were raised and educated–indoctrinated actually–to sing praises to the explorers, admirals and conquerors of our islands.
Even the children of slavery were taught to accept without question the atrocities committed in the name of Glorious Empire. Worse yet, the children of slavery, as teachers in our schools, taught us how noble and even just was the Empire of “Great Britain.”
And we all accepted this and recited the poems of conquests. And we still maintain the sites and icons of those days when the native Caribbean Peoples were slaughtered by Europe’s navies and soldiers, mostly in God’s name. Indeed, Europe sent their young men out here to make war and slaughter each other for the riches they were discovering here.
But not content with killing off native peoples and each other on these sandy shores, Europe also conquered Africa, and enslaved millions of Africans whom they sent to these idyllic islands to work and die in total anonymity for Europe’s wealth.
But then mankind, supposedly the most advanced species on Earth, is almost the only specie which slaughters and destroys its own for no valid reason other than the glory of conquest and the spreading of the conquerors’ genes and gods. Significantly, the lion, the “king of beasts,” so “emblemic” in many cultures, also does this.
So much of history is set and recorded in monuments everywhere, with monuments preceding the European conquests and the American statues now under review. The surviving ruins of ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, all revered for their historic significance, would have been built by the enslaved of those times, as were probably, the ruins of Aztec, Inca and other civilizations.
And more built realms of ancient times are being unearthed as man has learned to probe beneath the jungles and the very earth. Most, if not all, of these ancient civilizations would likely have had their cities built and their deities carved in stone by slaves. Might not slaves have built the early Roman Catholic and Anglican cathedrals here in the Caribbean?
So what do we destroy because of the evils surrounding the edifices and statues, and what do we retain in the name of art and history? And who decides?
I am writing this from St Kitts & Nevis, where I have visited the old British Fort at Brimstone Hill. It is, like so many of these places, a World Heritage Site, although its construction and history is cruel and bloody.
It is well maintained, beautiful, and an income earner for St Kitts, as hundreds of tourists visit it daily. But essentially, it commemorates the atrocities of European wars, fought on these tiny islands, and most of the labour, hauling huge stones and cannons up that hill, would have be done by slaves.
Most of America’s early heritage buildings, including their White House, would have been built by slave labour. Should Barrack Obama and his family have refused to live there?
Concentration death camps like Belsen and Buchenwald have been preserved in Germany, for people to visit and see plaques stating “Here lie buried 10,000 Souls.” These are not memorials to gallantry but rather to the dread of man’s inhumanity. Should these too be destroyed? If they were preserved to glorify Hitler’s madness, then we might say they should be bulldozed. But seen as a reminder and condemnation of that madness in time, we leave them there.
Would America build an oil pipeline through Arlington National Cemetery? Americans would never allow it. But Americans by “arrival” will build a pipeline through the burial grounds of the only peoples there who have a valid claim to the land. How just is this?
I would not want my children to attend a school named after a tyrant or oppressor but I think I could accept a statue of one in my town, provided the tyrant’s history was correctly stated on a plaque.
And where do we go from there....?