Honouring a Legacy of Imperialism, Racism and Oppression
Date: Friday, April 24 @ 04:20:33 UTC
Topic: St. Lucia
By Nkrumah Lucien
April 24, 2009
The task of building a national consciousness out of two groups - on the one hand, descendants and beneficiaries of an exploitative class or group and on the other hand, the largely disenfranchised majority descending from the exploited group - is no easy task. This, perhaps, explains but does not excuse the failure since St. Lucia’s independence to seriously undertake this task. It may be that those who hold and juggle political power have neither the desire nor the required consciousness to embark upon such a project but there have been many occasions when the call for such to be done has been ignored. Instead, a superficial unity is established and called a national consciousness, to which all are expected to subscribe and to which only those who are ignorant of the continuation of many of colonialism's contradictions truly subscribe. The continued failure to do the necessary re-education, reparations and reconciliation to make this possible keeps us vulnerable to the agendas and indiscretions of those who still maintain a hold culturally and otherwise on our societies.
This reality is precisely what we face with the recent proposal by the Embassy of France to St. Lucia to make us a “gift” of the bust of one of the great soldiers of her exploitative imperialistic adventures; a man, who in the eyes of France, is honourable for helping to consolidate her empire but whose exploits were inconsequential to the majority in the island at the time as they remained under enslavement whether French or English ruled. The descendants of that enslaved majority still make up the majority of the St. Lucian population and yet France wants us to celebrate our enslavement through honouring a man who was totally unmoved by the dehumanization taking place in that colony and undoubtedly benefited from the slave trade whether directly or indirectly. A diplomat could do better than to offer us this insult and can find, if needs be, some alternative means of indulging France in the nostalgia of its days of inhumane Empire. While I advise the Ambassador to rethink this idea for a "gift", I would like to point out that our formal and informal education entrenches the very self-debasement which such a gift would encourage, for we so often celebrate the fact that we were juggled at least fourteen times between two colonial and enslaving powers over treaty tables after wars, many of which probably took place far from St. Lucia.
But who was this Charles Eugène Gabriel de La Croix, marquis de Castries whose bronze bust is to carve him into our national consciousness and into the list of so-called national icons which most St. Lucians have no regard for or interest in? He was part of efforts by France to consolidate or expand her empire in the Caribbean by attacking the British colony of St. Lucia and taking Carenage (later named Castries in his honour) for France. The Marquis, according my research, barely spent a year in St. Lucia and was back out fighting war in Saxony, Germany by the following year having come to St. Lucia for the specific task of waging war against England. So France has named the city after him and we have kept the name. Need we erect a bust in his honour as well? Is there not a square or other green space somewhere in France where this man can be honoured? Is he significant in France at all? After all, with such an extensive military pre-occupation there must be countless families who would want their kin honoured in France. Furthermore, we have many who we are yet to honour and as one can tell in this small island, space is so limited and increasingly so with the onslaught of foreign purchase of land of late. However, we are being insulted by the notion that we will have the “honour” of having a descendent of the Marquis come to hand over the gift. Foolishness! And I think our public officials who suggest it should be ashamed that they dishonoured and disrespected our people, our ancestors and themselves in this manner.
Which Europeans can we honour?
I am not opposed to the honouring of people of European descent. However, neither am I hasty to honour those heroes of Europe who were enemies and oppressors to our African ancestors merely to ease the conscience of Europeans or anyone else for that matter. There are few, if any, Europeans in St. Lucia during the 1700s who I can think would deserve having their bust erected in our capital or anywhere in our country. I say this because most of those figures that we are aware of were either complicit in or beneficiaries of the enslavement of Africans in St. Lucia and elsewhere. We have already honoured Admiral Rodney for preserving Britain’s Empire and General Abercrombie and his brigade (also of Britain) for taking St. Lucia over from our African ancestors who had controlled it for some time in the late 1700s as documented by Robert Devaux. I wonder whether France would place in their square the bust of anyone complicit in Hitler’s invasion of France or of Hitler himself.
There are a few French men who I have some regard for, but I still see no reason for their busts to sit anywhere on this island as they have no direct connection to us. Marcel Griaule who earned the trust and regard of our brothers the Dogons of Mali whose astronomical knowledge astounded the world is one of those. Recent history shows how much antagonism exists in France to notions of Africans’ equal humanity much less the notion for Africa being the root of Western Civilization and the three major Western Religions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. By way of example, renowned Senegalese scholar Cheikh Anta Diop whose doctoral thesis proved that the Egyptians were indeed Black Africans had that thesis rejected three times until it was next to impossible for those at the University of Paris to disallow it.
The Way forward for St. Lucia
Black St. Lucians continue to harbour a self-effacing attitude to their history and their physical features and can ill-afford being the stage of France’s romance with her imperialistic past. Our leaders have already squandered much time without beginning the task of helping our populations regain their full humanity and personhood and must attend to this as soon as possible with greater vigour or seek the guidance of those who have been engaged actively in this task. As a country, we are yet to sufficiently honour those African ancestors of ours who began the since discontinued task of restoring humanity of both oppressor and oppressed through acknowledging, condemning and overturning the European system of oppression on the island. There is perhaps no greater emblem for this struggle than Flor Bois Gaillard as she represents an entire departure from the white imperialist patriarchy that came with colonialism, being an African woman fighting for freedom. Although some question whether a person of that name actually existed, the preservation of this legend in our oral history is undoubtedly a testimony to the tireless spirits of various African women and men who fought imperialism.
If France is truly committed to a new and respectful relationship with those formerly exploited under its colonialism, we need to firmly reject this colonial legacy and this cannot be done with the symbol of an oppressor. Further, we would be pleased to see France as with other European nations seriously engaging the issue of reparations to Haiti and the African Diaspora and Continent for European exploitation and enslavement. This bust will only reinforce the notion of Europe’s penchant for having oppressed people’s celebrate their oppression in unison with the oppressor, something that neither France nor any other European country would do.
* St. Lucia is an island in the Eastern Caribbean.
* Flor Bois Gaillard is said to have been an African Woman in the island of St. Lucia who fought against the colonial powers. A peak in St. Lucia is called Piton Flor after her.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Eugène_Gabriel_de_La_Croix,_marquis_de_Castries - a link to some information on the Marquis de Castries