So. Last winter I went to Barbados, thereby being in the sun and sand December and January rather than New England. How do I spend my time? Exploring the legacy of enslavement and the dehumanization of an entire race! Woo-hoo!
Right along the water in the center of downtown Bridgetown, in the shadow of the House of Parliament and a stones-throw from dockside bars, sits Heroes Square. At virtually any hour of the day or night a line of overpriced cabs snake along the perimeter, their drivers doing everything short of dragging the unsuspecting tourist into the taxis. I envied the bar-goers their rum and cokes — it was a gloriously hot day — but I was here for the monuments.
Heroes Square contains several memorials to Barbados and its luminaries. One of them, the arch, commemorates Bajan independence (NB: Barbados is still part of the Commonwealth, although they have their own prime ministers). On the far side from me on the other side of the water stands Errol Barrow, the first Prime Minister of Barbados. He is striking and resplendent in a buttoned-up suit. Before me stood, incongruously enough, Admiral Horatio Nelson.
I say incongruously because Nelson has absolutely no connection to Barbados. He spent all of perhaps fifteen minutes in the then-British colony, and most of that time was occupied with writing to his then-fiancee about how much he hated it there. The statue itself was erected by 18th century Britons living in Barbados to celebrate his naval victory, and Barbados’ Nelson actually predates the one in the UK’s Trafalgar Square.
Despite his utter lack of connection with the island Nelson dominates Heroes Square and, by extension, much of downtown. He clearly owns the space; Heroes Square was actually formerly called Trafalgar Square. People interact with the statue: they can easily walk up to it, sit on its pedestal, read the inscriptions, and reconnoitre with friends and family. One of my informants, by way of excusing himself from speaking with me, mentioned he was meeting his wife by the statue.
There has been some talk of moving the statue, perhaps to the Naval Museum. Many are adamantly opposed, accusing proponents of relocation of having an “agenda.” “The statue must have been placed there for a reason,” another of my informants asserted. “It’s part of our history.” A fear of promoting “instability” also was expressed. Many British tourists come to Barbados, and there’s worry of not making them feel welcomed. In fact, many “Little England” (Barbados’ nickname, tellingly enough) tours featured photo ops in then-named Trafalgar Square.
I noted that the phrase “it must have been placed there for a reason” came up again and again. A professor at the University of the West Indies smiled and laughed when I told him of that fact. “It’s such a Bajan thing to say,” he informed me. In fact, even informants who advocated moving the statue claimed it was there for a “reason.” Nevertheless, one of them continued, perhaps it should be replaced with someone more “modern” (the informant’s phrase, not mine).
For now there it stands, dominating the space and inviting people to come up to it. It is both very visible, and very accessible. This is in stark contrast to other monuments in Barbados, all of which are — in my opinion — up for discussion.