This is not a commentary about the European genocide of indigenous people and the horrific legacy of slavery spawned and perpetuated by the greed of European expansionists. That is the role of our historians.
The Columbus statue prominently displayed on the steps of Government House is a tourist attraction. It will remain that, and should not be restored to its original glory.
Instead, it should be made safe, and an appropriate display explaining both the legacy of Columbus and last week’s defacement should accompany it as part of a historic exhibit. Also, it should be moved to the grounds of the National Art Gallery or the Pompey Museum and, at Government House, replaced by an “abstract” creation representing genuine Bahamian national heroes.
The Bahamas did not figure prominently in Columbus’ experience. In a more than 3,000 word letter to Ferdinand and Isabella’s treasurer, Lord Gabriel Sanchis, there are 109 words devoted to his time in what is now The Bahamas.
Further, Columbus never returned to the islands during his other three voyages. That’s how important our islands were to him.
The country must move beyond elevating inappropriate people, especially those from our past – or in Columbus’ case, not really our past – to positions of honour, even if they are time-tested tourist curiosities.
Let’s face it, that’s the main function of the statue: a place for tourists to take quick pictures before moving on to some other hopefully more meaningful “attraction”. (Some, I’m sure, wonder why Columbus is on prominent display, particularly in the 21st Century.)
Columbus has been on an elevated pedestal for too long.
While we must acknowledge that he passed through our islands, our focus should be on the legacy of European expansion and rule in this region. Perhaps most important, we should examine our colonial legacy’s impact on who we are as a people today and, especially, on the institutional structures and traditions we continue to perpetuate – both the good and the bad.
Our energy must not be consumed by Columbus and the past but on the present and the future.
There is too much work to be done if we hope to thrive as a people, from the dismantling of obsolete, even toxic, colonial legacies to meaningfully addressing challenges such as a dysfunctional system of government, a struggling system of public education, crime, poverty, the over-reliance on tourism, the continued selling off our land to foreigners, the effects of climate change, etc.
We should neither relegate Columbus to the dust bin nor leave him where he’s stood for almost two centuries. It’s an appropriate moment to figure out how and where to best display him and to explain why such an edifice exists.
For tourists, yes, but infinitely more importantly, for ourselves.
— Chris Minns
George Town, Exuma