Patricia Green | Columbus resonates in ‘Black Lives Matter’
This year began with COVID-19 pandemic thrusting a ‘new normal’; the focus also has moved to Black Lives Matter (BLM) following the sad death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, USA. The latest action is persons of all colours and creed overthrowing globally public monuments venerating persons who oppressed Blacks.
Authorities removed from West India Quay in London, UK, The Robert Milligan statue on June 9. Of Scottish parentage, Milligan grew up in Jamaica and owned Kelletts and Mammee Gully plantations in Clarendon up to 1811 with over 500 enslaved persons and wealth from slave trading.
New Zealanders removed the statue of British Naval Captain John Fane Charles Hamilton, who killed indigenous Maori people in the 1860s; and citizens are pushing to rename the town and a street revering military commander Thomas Picton, former 18th-century governor of Trinidad nicknamed ‘Tryant of Trinidad’. New Zealand is also clamouring to rename ‘Eyreton’ (originally Eyretown) and ‘West Eyreton’, named after Edward John Eyre, citing his 1865 brutalities as former governor of Jamaica, massacring many, including Jamaica National Heroes Paul Bogle and George William Gordon.
Euro-centric history books, academic journal articles, university professors, artistic works across the centuries, and Hollywood films must come under the scrutiny of BLM. Depictions and representation continuously whitewash the achievements of Black people, relegating them primarily in historic enslavement and poverty. Architecture is called ‘Georgian’ and ‘Victorian’, instead of acknowledging Black identities of Creole or vernacular. Historian the late Prof Kamau Braithwaite developed a definition incorporating this in Creole for Jamaica.
Indigenous people of all nations are often represented as vicious and man-eating. Basil A. Reid, in his Myths and Realities of Caribbean History, dispels notions of cannibalism by Caribs and other Caribbean people groups. Yet today, social media still call the indigenous ‘cannibals’. Note that indigenous people of the Caribbean and the Americas are not White, therefore fall under BLM!
Go ahead and remove the Columbus statutes across the USA with their ambiguous meanings, because Columbus never ‘discovered’ or landed on the USA. They represent ignorance perpetuated to undermine the significance of the Caribbean region. Columbus’ four voyages landed him on the islands in the Caribbean Sea and during the fourth, he disembarked on four Caribbean coasts in Central America.
HONOUR THE MEMORY
Jamaica should honour the memory of Columbus and his voyages of 1492, 1493, 1498, and 1502 as BLM with a crew and passengers bearing plants and animals on a mission to settle Blacks and Jews fleeing persecution in Europe. Esteemed scholar Prof Sylvia Wynter-Carew, sister of the late Hector Wynter, former Editor of The Gleaner, outlines Black and Tainos bearing Spanish names in these early Jamaica encounters.
The most celebrated lunar eclipse in the world took place in Jamaica on February 29, 1504, where Columbus used it to gain favour with the Tainos; and I argue that this was also facilitated because of his Black crew. He was ship wrecked on Jamaica for one year, where the first mutiny in the New World occurred against him. Yet Columbus had such a good relationship and love for Jamaica and the indigenous people that he was safe throughout the period, and he petitioned the King and received Jamaica as his dukedom. He died in 1506, and the Jamaica dukedom remains in the Columbus family to this day.
The Columbus family fought and argued, along with Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, for the safety of indigenous people; however, by 1524 the King of Spain permitted Jamaican colonists to import Blacks from Africa – this time for enslavement, a first in the New World.
It is now time to make corrections and reparations. It is an offence to both that museums are telling Jamaican children that Spanish artisans made carvings and built the circa 1525 Church at Seville in Jamaica when Wynter-Carew and Spanish scholars record that Taino Cacique Juan de Medina and his Taino crew did that work.
Columbus and Jamaica heralded what Wynter-Carew expounds of Jamaica as a “third culture sphere” – neither be Latin nor Anglo-Saxon but, syncretically, a Euro-African/Afro-European continuum – and, I argue, ‘Jamaican’. BLM, so let us tear down whitewashing history.
Patricia Green of the Caribbean School of Architecture, is director of the University of Technology, Jamaica Downtown Cities Lab @KRC, and programme manager of the FOBE MPhil /PhD in the Built Environment. Send feedback to email@example.com