In response to Spanish Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago Javier Carbajosa’s statement that ‘removing the statue of Christopher Columbus in downtown Port of Spain would not right the wrongs of the past’, I, as a descendant of the First Peoples of T&T, write to challenge his view.
To begin with, let’s talk about who the man Christopher Columbus was and what he did to the indigenous peoples. From his first voyage in 1492 to his last, Columbus brought exploitation and enslavement.
He came to the Americas on the hunt for gold, which he did not find. But he believed the indigenous people here were as good as gold and wrote: ‘they would make great slaves’.
It is pretty ridiculous in my opinion to be remembering a man who did not actually discover anything, but a man who kicked off a genocide to historic proportions. So Mr Ambassador, if Columbus was raping, pillaging our island nations today, wouldn’t we be bombing him from the air? So why in the world should we continue to celebrate the ‘heroism’ of this man?
Furthermore, Mr Ambassador, T&T does not need to preserve your historical relics of Columbus and pretend that it is okay to accept your country’s perspective of our history. We are done!
This statue and others like it honour the evil deeds of these men against the indigenous peoples and are monuments to violence and slavery, forced conversion of native peoples to Christianity and the introduction of a host of new diseases that would have dramatic long-term effects on native people.
As an indigenous descendant, keeping these statues is a great disrespect to what my ancestors went through—as they were stripped of most of their identity, cultures, languages and way of life.
While no one can turn back the hands of time, we can re-write our history in T&T by correcting the lies, the false stories and misinformation that were fed to us by history books written and published by our oppressors, such as Longman and Heinemann Publishers from the UK, which told us that Columbus ‘discovered’ the Americas.
For many years we went along with it, accepted what was told to us without questioning the validity of those stories. But we have the power today, like no other time perhaps, to demand that our authorities remove those monuments and tell the truth of who Columbus and the other plunderers were.
We are not stupid, Mr Ambassador, don’t speak to us as though we are! You think you understand our place-names? Give me a break!
Blanchisseuse and Champs Fleurs were not named after any oppressor. But we will address the likes of Frederick Street, Henry Street, Abercromby Street, the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway too.
It is time Trinidad and Tobago puts the shameful history of Columbus behind us and instead begin to celebrate the history of our indigenous peoples, who we should never forget were the first inhabitants of our great land and the first to be enslaved by Columbus—long before African slaves and indentured labourers were brought to the Americas.
Let us find a way to honour the people who left us such great heritage in so many ways and as a nation begin to heal the wounds of the past and chart a new destiny for ourselves and future generations.
It is time to teach the truth; and not the history our former colonial masters wanted us to know.