Source: Trinidad Express
By: Leah Sorias
The government’s appointment of a five-member committee to review the placement of statues, monuments and other historical signage in Trinidad and Tobago is long overdue.
So says the former head of the Emancipation Support Committee of Trinidad and Tobago (ESCTT) Khafra Kambon.
However, the composition of the committee is not sitting well with the director of the Caribbean Freedom Project Shabaka Kambon and the Warao community’s Shaman (spiritual leader) Raould Simon.
In a media release yesterday, the Office of the Prime Minister announced the establishment of the committee, headed by historian Bridget Brereton, emerita professor of history at The University of the West Indies (The UWI), St Augustine.
The release said that on July 21, 2022, Cabinet agreed to the appointment of a committee to review and report on the placement of statues, monuments and other historical signage and recognition in Trinidad and Tobago by December 31, 2022.
Other committee members are former Independent senator Dr. Eastlyn Kate McKenzie; former permanent secretary Zaida Rajnauth; Chief of the Santa Rosa First People’s Community Ricardo Bharath-Hernandez and president of The UWI St Augustine Guild of Students Kobe Sandy.
“The Cabinet recognises the need for issues associated with the historical placement of statues, monuments and signage to be studied and for consideration to be given to determining what steps and decisions should be taken for Trinidad and Tobago. Accordingly, it has requested that this Committee review same and report back to Cabinet within the stated time frame,” the release said.
Symbols of disgrace
Responding to the news, Khafra Kambon said he hoped the statues, names of colonial “monsters” and “symbols of disgrace” would be removed.
“It (committee) is long overdue and I am very happy that the Government has come around to the decision on reviewing that whole issue of the monuments that are really a stain on our landscape, and the way in which they reinforced colonial ideas and values,” he said during a telephone interview with the Express.
“We read the history books and we hear about all the explorers and these great governors, and our education system really disguises the evil of those persons who we have now in our public landscape. The fact that they have been there for so long tells you something about the effectiveness of colonial miseducation and the way it has distorted our minds,” he said.
“If we had not been so brainwashed, we would have long ago removed them from our landscape. The next step is how we deal with them in our education system. Assuming that the committee would go in the direction of removal, it is a great chance to overturn some of the miseducation of our children. That would be good for the future,” he added.
Kambon said Brereton was an “appropriate” person to head the committee, given she has the knowledge and background as a historian.
“That gives me some confidence in what the committee will achieve. Of course, it is up to the public, not just the committee, to express very, very strong views on how they feel about us having those monsters there,” he said.
Lack of representation
Shabaka Kambon also gave Brereton his stamp of approval.
“I’m a big fan of her work and I’m happy to see that she is chair of the committee. There is a positive light in there at the end of the tunnel. I think there are a number of academics who should be on that committee, namely Prof Brinsley Samaroo and Dr Claudius Fergus, who was one of the major figures discussing this issue,” he said.
He however raised the issue of the lack of representation of “overtly African civil society groups and Indian civil society groups” on the committee.
“Perhaps the question of diversity on the committee is critical. Perhaps there could be representatives of other communities in the country,” he told the Express via telephone.
During Emancipation Day celebrations on Monday, Shabaka Kambon called on the Government to replace streets, monuments and signs named after people like Sir Thomas Picton, T&T’s first British governor, who was known to have tortured and killed African slaves.
National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds revealed at celebrations that day that an interministerial team had been set up to look at national spaces and roads, with a view of transforming the names to ones that we would better appreciate and recognise.
“When we heard the news in the Caribbean Freedom Project and the Emancipation Support Committee that day, there was a deep concern with the fact that something was happening of this nature and we weren’t included, particularly my group, which has pioneered this work for such a long time,” Shabaka Kambon said.
Warao community upset
Meanwhile, Warao Nation’s Simon was displeased that Chief Bharath-Hernandez was included on the committee.
The Warao were one of Venezuela’s largest indigenous groups.
In the past, the community has criticised Bharath-Hernandez for rejecting moves to remove monuments of Christopher Columbus.
“You cannot have people on this committee who don’t know our full history. They are following the history from the settlers, and that is not acceptable at all,” Simon said yesterday.
“There is Roger Belix, who is head of Partners for First Peoples Development, you have us in San Fernando and other groups. We started this fight a long time ago. They left out Shabaka, which is not right at all, so I can’t understand where this thing is going. I’m letting you know that we are not accepting that,” he said.
“Sorry to say, but I can’t hold back anymore. I have to come out and speak on it. You can’t make a committee without consulting with the rest of the groups,” Simon said, adding that he felt the committee was hastily established.