These people are in limbo, as lost today as they were 200 years ago…
No monument to slavery… just the voices of lost souls.
A Nation That Forgets Its Past, Has No Future
Nelson had pride of place in Bridgetown. Not Mandela of course, but Horatio, the English admiral, hero of Empire and defender of slavery, until he was taken down at the end of 2020.
There’s also a statue or two of a politician and a cricketer. And at Rockley golf course, there’s a stone marking where the first aircraft landed on the island.
But I don’t see a monument to slavery in Barbados. There’s nowhere to remember the many hundreds of thousands, quite possibly millions, of Africans and their descendants who died enslaved.
Yes, there’s Bussa, the statue on the ABC Highway of the man who led the slave revolt of 1816. But that’s about freedom, not slavery. And a small plaque was unveiled in the busy centre of Bridgetown a few years ago. Next to a fast food restaurant.
Try asking for directions to the burial ground…
There’s nowhere you can reflect for a moment, lay a flower and remember those who died in such terrible circumstances.
At Newton slave burial ground, where up to 600 men, women and children are interred, there’s nothing. Just the wind whispering in the cane, like the voices of lost souls.
The tomb of slaver General William Williams.
Lord Nelson in Bridgetown. Defender of empire and slavery.
They lived and died enslaved, but are now silent and invisible… buried in unmarked graves. Forgotten, perhaps forever.
Around the island, you’ll find plenty of dead Europeans. Welshman General William Williams for example, (a slave owner, no doubt) who has a tomb at Welchman Hall, the village named after him. There are monuments to planter families in cane fields and no end of plaques and fancy tombstones in the churches.
But Newton slave burial ground? No monument – just a small tourist information sign.
Try asking for directions to this haunting, yet hugely historical place. Most Bajans don’t know it exists, let alone where it is. (You’re in luck – you can learn more about it and find directions here).
Barbados exports: sugar AND slavery
Barbados was crucial in the development of slavery across the Americas. Its geographical position made it the first Caribbean landfall for slave ships from Africa.
And the Barbaodos plantocracy developed a very successful model for the sugar industry, one which was based on slavery and subsequently exported elsewhere.
The Africans buried at Newton Plantation were a spiritual people. Alex Haley, in the novel and television series Roots, made the point. Kunta Kinte refuses to forget his African past. The mantra is repeated through the generations. You must always honour your ancestors.
The 600,000 Africans brought to Barbados in chains and their descendants who were born and died enslaved are now silent and invisible. Just like those who laboured at Newton Plantation. Buried in unmarked graves, forgotten, perhaps forever.
So, there’s no monument to slavery in Barbados. Yet Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, a man who defended slavery when others were calling for its abolition, had, until recently, pride of place in Bridgetown.
As far as I know, there is no monument to Winston Churchill, that other hero of the British Empire, and why would there be? After all Barbados is now an independent country with both eyes scanning the future.
But Barbados could do well to remember Churchill’s words. A nation that forgets its past, has no future.
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