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Thursday 17 January 2019
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Discovering Columbus

Shabaka Kambon's spirited and unrelenting campaign to remove landmarks venerating colonisation are a welcome contribution to the discourse on what it means to be citizens of the Caribbean. The Cross-Rhodes Freedom Project, of which Kambon is the president, has raised awareness of these issues and his civil, clearly articulated position against these mementoes are engaging interventions with our history.

Standing on the base of the Columbus statue in east Port of Spain last week, Kambon colourfully described it as "venerating genocide, slavery and rape."

It isn't the first time that a legacy of the region's colonial past has come up for reconsideration. In October 2017, Kambon lauded the call by UWI Vice Chancellor Professor Hilary Beckles for the removal of the name of Alfred Milner from the oldest Hall of Residence on the St Augustine campus. Beckles admitted that it wasn't until two years earlier that he discovered that Lord Viscount Alfred Milner was a close collaborator of Cecil John Rhodes and an architect of the brutal system of apartheid in South Africa. The change to Freedom Hall came just weeks later.

The simple truth is that the history of the Caribbean experience was written and successfully propagated by the conquerors of these islands and generations of intelligent, otherwise aware people in these islands grew to maturity with an understanding of our shared history that is, at best, skewed in favour of colonisation.

Christopher Columbus brought diseases on his ships that the native people of these islands had no immunity to, almost annihilating the Amerindian people who survived the forceful attempts to subjugate them. With only a few indigenous people left, the successful exploitation of the Caribbean demanded forced labour from Africa, which was served by the terrible economics that fuelled centuries of the slave trade. Slavery was formally abolished in 1834 and TT was the first country in the world to declare a national holiday to commemorate that fundamental social revolution, Emancipation Day, on August 1, 1985.

It's clearer than ever now that there are many aspects of colonisation beyond the brutality of slavery that continue to guide not only our systems of self-governance; they are embedded in our very value systems.

It's taken more than 170 years for the evaluation of the effects of colonisation to move from pure academia to popular and widespread consideration. Our understanding of the forces and systems put in place to fragment and control the colonised in this region, in this country, is still to be fully understood.

Angry young men demanding the removal of statues, recent challenges to absurd legacy laws and the renaming of buildings are just the first peelings of whitewash off a structure that demands deeper, more considered renovation down to its foundations.

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