Recently, attention has been focused on the impact of colonialism in the Caribbean and the need for resolution and restructuring in our relationship with our former colonial masters, who we have retained in a ceremonial subservient role. Interestingly, Barbados was the first to pull the plug and declare themselves a republic. Other countries, most notably Jamaica, has indicated that they will follow suit. The Bahamas has been debating this issue for years but we have found various reasons why we could not sever the umbilical cord. Has the time come to do what we have known would one day be inevitable? I say, we should and must, but only after careful and strategic consideration.
Before we address the current situation, it is important to view it in historical context. If we go back a few centuries, there was something called colonialism and imperialism that drove world governments. Nations competed to take over others’ territory or capture lands that were not a part of the known, “civilized” world. This practice was not unique to any single group but was a global practice across most powerful nations.
This was not a new concept because we saw colonial and imperial powers take over other countries and set up colonies since time began. Some historical examples include: Persian/Babylonian Empire (from Iran into Central Asia and Egypt); Han dynasty (China into Vietnam and Korea 400 years); Umayyad Caliphate (established following the death of Muhammad in 632 CE the vast Umayyad dynasty over four million square miles, making its empire one of the largest in history); Mongol Empire (the empire’s best-known leader was Genghis Khan who founded the empire in 1206 CE); Ottoman Empire (between the 16th and 17th centuries CE, the Islamic empire of Süleyman the Magnificent covered portions of three continents: Southeastern Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa); Spanish Empire (In the late 1700s, the Spanish Empire comprised 5.3 million square miles and wielded tremendous economic and military power.); Russian Empire (At its greatest extent, in 1895, the Russian Empire reached 8.9 million square miles. Because of its size and influence, the empire had played an integral role in halting Napoleon’s conquest of Europe.); the Japanese Empire; the British Empire (At its greatest extent, early in the 20th century, the British Empire comprised nearly a quarter of the planet and an equal percentage of its population. Many of the territories it colonized have since gained independence, though several remain part of what is known today as the Commonwealth of Nations.).
The British Empire was not unique. This period in human history was brutal, countries would conquer other countries. Imperialism and colonialism have marked human existence, globally. Arabs once colonized both Africa and Europe enslaving white Europeans and Black Africans. The spread of Islam was a brutal colonial expansionist exploit. The Bahamas and most other Caribbean countries became victims of European colonialism. Imperialism and colonialism have happened to many groups, but in the Western world, we are most aware of the recent colonialists who sought out distant lands to add to their empire. European countries competed. The French, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and British among others were involved in this competition for expansion. Human history is complex and we cannot demonize one group without demonizing the entire world and all the people in it because empires and colonialism are a part of human history. Neither can we erase history – what happened … happened.
The Spanish, at one time, owned The Bahamas. Then, through war, the British gained ownership. Columbus was a part of this process. What Columbus did seemed to be great for the conquerors, but history has revealed the atrocities on his account. And this figure, who was initially revered as a discoverer, has been revealed as a nefarious figure because of what he did to the natives he met here and the slaves who were transported here.
Our history has taught us that we were brought here; we are not the natives of The Bahamas. Our colonial owners brought us here to work and, in turn, they reaped the benefits of our labor and repatriated the proceeds to the United Kingdom.
I love the United Kingdom. London is one of my favorite cities. I love the British people that I know, but how is it that a people who were conquered and enslaved, deprived and pillaged, remain subservient to the conquerors? In many ways, this subservience is ceremonial but it does exist. I am not saying to hate the United Kingdom. What I am saying is that it’s time to look at a relationship reset.
Should we still recognize our prior oppressor as head of state? If we are a part of a Commonwealth, are we in it on the right terms?
We are an independent sovereign nation and as such we should interact with other nations as equals. We should have good relations with the United Kingdom but the terms need to be renegotiated.
Why should we continue to pay our money from our national budget to subsidize the previous oppressor’s governing representative (aka governor general and Government House)?
Why should we pay for a royal visit when they are not contributing anything of significance to us and have never paid reparations except to previous slave owners?
If we negotiated for them to have a presence in The Bahamas, should it not be at their expense and not ours?
The prime minister has no official residence, yet we are paying for the residence of the governor general who is a representative of the queen. We have a Royal Bahamas Defense Force and police force but we are an independent sovereign nation.
Should we be swearing allegiance to the queen and her heirs?
We should not hate or disparage the British or United Kingdom; we should renegotiate our relationship as a sovereign equal. This means changing the current system that was handed to us and adjusting it or creating our own system that is favorable to our situation.
We were colonized by the United Kingdom and our postcolonial relationship is with them. We need to therefore sit at the table with the British government and fix our relationship. The historical injustices must be recognized and appropriately addressed. There should be consideration for some form of reparations to right the historical wrongs. We should then propose a new relationship with the United Kingdom where we set out our terms as a sovereign and therefore equal nation. The current terms were essentially handed to us or negotiated improperly. It is time for a relationship reset.
Barbados has already done what we have debated for years and the need for such a restructuring of our relationship is now more evident than ever. I believe the question is no longer if we proceed – but when.
• Pastor Dave Burrows is senior pastor at Bahamas Faith Ministries International. Feel free to email comments, whether you agree or disagree, to firstname.lastname@example.org. I appreciate your input and dialogue. We become better when we discuss, examine and exchange.