In search of Bahamian identity

Monuments and statues are raised to honor national figures and to preserve the memory of important national events.

Over time, and as society changes, the importance and even relevance of some monuments and statues come into question. This has especially been the case in former colonies when new independence governments have sought to differentiate between themselves and the former colonial power.

In a country like The Bahamas, where independence from the former colonial power was amicable, there was no rush to change the landscape of our monuments and statues following independence.

The opening of a museum offering literary and pictorial accounts and displaying historic remnants of slavery in The Bahamas was not opened in Nassau until 1992. Pompey Square, the site of many authentically Bahamian festivals today, was only commissioned after 2007.

It took 13 years post-independence before a bust of the first Bahamian independence governor general, Sir Milo Butler, was installed in Rawson Square in 1986, and 20 years more before the international airport on our capital island was named to honor our first independence prime minister, Sir Lynden Pindling, in 2006.

Pictures of Bahamian leaders did not appear on our monetary notes until 1994, and it was not until 2012, that a bridge was named in honor of a nonpolitical citizen, Sidney Poitier, who had won fame and fortune in Hollywood.

A government ministry early, and later, the National Art Gallery, were located in former colonial mansions, Collins House and Villa Doyle.

Government-operated educational institutions are increasingly named to honor notable Bahamian educators and government administrative complexes named to honor those credited with building the modern Bahamas. But these have not included the commissioning of statues.

Forty-eight years after achieving political independence, many in The Bahamas are still hard-pressed to define Bahamian identity.

Increasingly, in our post-independence world, we have sought to distinguish between “true-true” Bahamians and “paper” ones, notwithstanding that the latter have been created by successive Bahamian governments each elected by “true-true” Bahamians and in accordance with our independence constitution.

Indeed, for many, Bahamian identity is most easily expressed in terms of what we are not.

We are not Caribbean. We are not British. We are not African. We are not American.

Yet so much of what we identify as “we tings” have roots in the culture and traditions of all those regions, countries, and continents.

Junkanoo is clearly African in origin, but the Bahamian Quadrille, Heel and Toe, Polka and Maypole are clearly the products of Europe.

Few untrained ears will differentiate between rake n’ scrape, calypso, merengue, reggae, soca, and salsa. The same may be said of differences in our cuisines.

Some, with long memories, will recall that “Bahamian dialect” was once banned from the government-controlled radio station ZNS and its use strongly discouraged in government-operated schools; and this, during the administration of the Father of the Nation, Sir Lynden Pindling.

Statues of Columbus and Queen Victoria have become problematic for some, but not so much with other legacies of our colonial past, whether in the trappings around our government, legal system, or dress, in which great pride continues to be taken.

We cannot deny that Columbus gave us our name, Bahamas, derived from the Spanish for “shallow sea”, and that his arrival at our shores in 1942 put our islands in the history text of billions of school children around the world.

Whatever the grave and unforgivable sins of Columbus and the colonists that followed him, we, the descendants of European loyalists and African slaves, have inherited this place.

We must hold up for emulation all the good that comes from among us. And we should busy ourselves building new monuments and raising new statues to honor those whose names now grace some of our buildings, and not become distracted by destroying images of those who played a critical part in our existence and development.

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