Letters

Spare the statue, but tear down the wall 

Dear Editor,

There is ample historical evidence that Christopher Columbus was no hero. As he observed the generous, friendly reaction of the Lucayans on San Salvador to the strange visitors from the sea, his mind turned (naturally) to what good slaves they would make, as he noted in his log.

As to his legacy, it foreshadowed a sustained period of genocide, initiated by the Spanish Empire in the 15th Century and completed by the government of the United States in the “Indian Wars” that ended only 97 years ago.

So impressed was a young Adolf Hitler by the US government’s “Indian policy” that he modeled his intended genocide against Russia on it.

Collectively, the European settlement project in the Americas resulted in the most complete annihilation of a continent’s population in human history.

But the statue at Mount Fitzwilliam was a gift to the Bahamian people from Sir James Carmichael Smyth, probably the best and most admirable governor we had during the colonial era.

Given this remarkable man’s enlightened attitude toward slavery and race relations back in the 1830s, there is no doubt that he meant no ill in giving it.

In fact, before being run out of town by the local kleptocratic elite, Sir James made clear his opposition to the nastier sides of settler colonialism – passing laws against corporal punishment of slaves and jailing wealthy planters who ignored them. He was a firm abolitionist who happily oversaw the end of slavery in The Bahamas.

The statue itself was designed by Washington Irving, the author of “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and one of the young United States’ first literary giants.

So if only out of respect both for history and for the memory of Sir James Carmichael Smyth, Bahamians of all backgrounds should deplore the desecration of this gift.

While I would personally suggest its removal to the grounds of the national museum, its destruction would serve no useful purpose and would rob us all of a piece of our history.

Besides, there is a far more glaring and insulting feature of Government House that can be addressed with far less anger and controversy, and that, unlike the Columbus statue, actually harms the city of Nassau in a way that goes beyond mere symbolism.

That feature is the visibility and accessibility of the building itself and its grounds, which offer a welcoming and highly visible stairway from Bay Street right into the grand fore rooms of the building but is closed off at the back like the living quarters of an occupying military force.

The resultant ugliness it gives to the whole area behind it is compounded by the obstruction that it creates to human and vehicular traffic between Blue Hill Road, Market Street and surrounding areas.

But the message is clear: Government House (like so many portals of access to the country’s resources, wealth and heritage) belongs to the privileged and even to foreign visitors, but literally turns its back on the population that immediately abuts it.

This is both disgraceful and an impediment to the redevelopment of the surrounding area.

Rather than being hidden from the surrounding Grant’s Town by an imposing wall, the gardens should be integrated into the area, with only a transparent gate for security, creating an impressive vista of the whole area.

Instead of amputating Columbus, we need to tear down that horrible wall.

Andrew Allen  

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