MONDAY November 16, when Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson’s statue took its Last Ride with all attendant Last Rites and Last Posts, belonged to Barbadians first and foremost. But Prime Minister Mia Mottley got deserving support beyond Barbados for his final farewell.
Like she said, ‘If these streets could speak…’ they would have told tales stretching as far back as when Barbados had the first English parliament on earth – long before England.
The significance cannot be minimized – and there’s also significant precedence.
Just as Caribbean leaders adopted PM Ralph Gonsalves proposal for establishment of the CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC) in 2007 and he lived to put Reparations on the UN Security Council’s Agenda with CRC’s Chairman Sir Hilary Beckles doing the honours 13 years later — on the same day Americans kissed Donald Trump goodbye at the polls — Nelson’s Last Post also sounded loudly around the Caribbean.
Not a bugle was sounded when Saint Lucia’s Prime Minister Dr Kenny Anthony’s administration changed the names of Victoria Park to Mindoo Phillip Park and Columbus Square to Derek Walcott Square after taking office in 1997.
Saint Lucians hardly know when and how it was done, but none call The Park and The Square by their colonial names anymore.
PM Anthony, a constitutional lawyer, also ensured ownership of Pigeon Island (home of the world-famous Saint Lucia Jazz Festival) then still owned outright by an English family, was formally repatriated, with their approval and cooperation, to Saint Lucian ownership — and again, nobody remembers when because not one loud note was sounded.
The last Anthony administration in 2016 also paved the way to erect a long-sleeping statue of the island’s first Prime Minister Sir John Compton (whose politics he opposed all his life before taking office) in Constitution Park in Castries, to replace that of the French colonial ‘Duke of Castries’ (after whom the city is named).
Another precedent: The CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC) launched a Renaming Project in 2018 – long before George Floyd – encouraging renaming and replacement or relocation of symbols of racist colonial domination across the region.
The Barbados action opens the way for other CARICOM states to easier propose similar changes, with or without pomp and ceremony, to revisit names like Nelson’s Dockyard in Antigua, Trafalgar River in Dominica, Queen’s Park in Grenada, Victoria Park in St. Vincent and Rodney Bay in Saint Lucia.
Governments will choose how to do away with like symbols of the region’s past, but in all cases referred to here, history was irreversibly changed in the national interest, with or without church bells tolling.
Nelson’s Last Ride also reaffirms that just as change is the most constant of all, history is always about continuity.
Most will wish for more similar Last Rides and Last Posts.
However, the pace of such progress is never decided by wishes, but by conditions on the ground — most of all, having governments prepared to take very bold steps.
Now, let’s wax warm…
Nelson never landed in Barbados, but he stood firm in Bridgetown for 207 years — and even had a National Heroes Circle built around him.
But when the Bajans sun rose yesterday (Tuesday) morning, Nelson was gone — and not to a Trafalgar Museum in England, but reduced from a statue to an artifact, his Last Post repeatedly bugled while being crated away to a local museum.
Out of traditional Bajan ‘full respect’, even for his Last Ride Nelson was given a sponge pillow — and I did ‘Say It Loud!’ when PM Mottley, watching Nelson being crated, expressed her solemn ‘wish that our ancestors also had sponges and crates when they were being offloaded from the ships.
But I never thought I’d see Gabby attending Nelson’s funeral and singing his Last Post decked a suit, with Jack’s people watching from afar in rage on HD wide-screen TV and texting each other ‘SMH’ (and ‘SMFH’) by WhatsApp.
In the 1980s, Prime Minister JMG ‘ Tom’ Adams gave ‘Jack’ all of Barbados’ beaches, which the Mighty Gabby claimed back with a forever hit song that, two decades later, became the adopted and adapted protest theme song for Saint Lucians, dancing to its melodic message and rhythms, while protesting and claiming rights to their beaches – save for the indigenous linguistic adaptations that defy publishable translation.
Two decades later too, Tom Adams’ successor dethroned Jack’s primary ancestor from his trident pedestal in Bridgetown after Barbados had already got back its beaches – and Mama Mia gave Gabby his deserving national award jacket, which he accepted with deserving African wear, in Bajan regalia.
But that was not the jacket Gabby chose to wear to Monday’s happy long-awaited funeral.
The big question now seems to be: Whose statue will replace Nelson?
The emcee didn’t leave much to the imagination when she said ‘a little girl in the crowd’ said she wanted the replacement to be that of ‘a woman, looking like her…’
I immediately closed my eyes wide shut, to feed my already fertile imagination — and I saw a larger-than-life statue with Errol Barrow and Grantley Adams with Mia Mottley in the middle, sculpted by Saint Lucia’s Ricky George, who sculpted the Errol Barrow monument.
But I was rudely awoken by the provocateur in the back of my mind, who asked: ‘And what about Tom Adams?’
Barbadians will decide too, who Nelson’s successor will be, just as they too will choose who will be their first President of the Republic after they remove The Queen from their dollar bill.
At the end of the day, though, this is not about whether PM Amor Mottley has more love, or is more loved, or should be more loved than PMs Maurice Bishop, Ralph Gonsalves or Kenny Anthony.
Instead, it’s about her being her — and continuing to be her, in ways like we saw and heard on Monday that made Caribbean people proud at home and abroad, all over the whole wide world.