A BIGGER CONVERSATION: Historian suggests damage to Columbus statute could result in ‘awakening’

A BIGGER CONVERSATION: Historian suggests damage to Columbus statute could result in ‘awakening’
The Queen Victoria statue on Bay Street.

“We don’t have a national heroes park and we’re almost 50 years in independence”

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — University of The Bahamas (UB) history professor Dr Christopher Curry said yesterday that the man who took a sledgehammer to the statue of Christopher Columbus at Government House on Saturday was engaging in an apparent act of anti-colonialism.

The act came two days before National Heroes Day, a public holiday on the second Monday in October dedicated to honoring Bahamian national heroes since 2013.

A man is arrested on Saturday after allegedly taking a sledgehammer to the Christopher Columbus statue at Government House.

The day was formerly known as Discovery Day or Columbus Day.

Curry said while the damage of government property cannot be condoned, the act represented what “a lot of people couldn’t voice or express”.

But the associate professor said it is a catalyst for a much wider conversation about complacency to enact legislation that would allow for monuments and reminders of The Bahamas’ colonial past to be transferred to a dedicated location such as a museum; the lack of Bahamian figures in strategic locations; and the absence of a national heroes park.

“In a way, it’s an awakening because for too long we’ve been complacent and we’ve allowed politicians to sort of dictate what we’re going to do, but this man courageously took it upon himself to make a statement and of course he’s arrested because, again, we’re talking about the destruction or defacing of government property,” said Curry when contacted.

“We have to [be] careful because we are so quick to stigmatize and criminalize people for what we consider to be radical action, but in many ways, he was doing something that a lot of people couldn’t voice or express.”

The man, who referred to himself as “Michael the Archangel”, was arrested after he allegedly used a sledgehammer to damage the right leg of the Columbus statue while shouting at the figure: “You destroyed this land; I’ve come to take this [expletive] back.”

A GoFundMe account titled “Help me bail my cousin out” and established by John Cartwright, who claimed to be the man’s cousin, is seeking to raise $4,000.

Dr Christopher Curry.

Curry said: “There is certainly reason to consider the placement of the statues that we have; even Queen Victoria right now in Parliament Square — a monument that reminds us of our colonial past and a mammoth figure juxtaposed [with] a small, diminutive bust of Sir Milo [Butler], who represents far more to the Bahamian people and was much larger in life that Queen Victoria ever was.

“So, you know, we have to look at Woodes Rogers in front of the Hilton as well.

“Why is it that we have these figures that are placed in such strategic locations that send a mnemonic reminder of our colonial past?

“Why is it that we don’t have a national heroes park yet?

“We’re coming up to our 50th anniversary of independence.

“We have neighbors to our north and south that have all kinds of monuments… We don’t have one to speak of, so the bigger story to me isn’t just about what he did [Saturday] and Columbus.

The Columbus statue is covered up following the incident on Saturday.

“That’s an important conversation in and of itself and the lament that we didn’t have the legislative machinery to move the statue properly.

“But the bigger story is we don’t have a national heroes park and we’re almost 50 years in independence.”

There have been increasing calls for an anti-colonial movement aimed at the liberation of cultural identity and Bahamian icons, and the removal of colonial representations in Bahamian society, including on the nation’s currency and statues in historically significant locations.

Last July, a petition to remove the Columbus statue garnered more than 3,500 signatories.

Police Commissioner Paul Rolle issued a warning at the time about an unapproved demonstration in front of Government House, where a group called for the removal of the Columbus statue and the Queen Victoria statue on Bay Street.