The statue of Lord Nelson is about to be removed from its prominent position in the centre of Bridgetown.
The debate which led to the removal has been fierce with the Nelsonexiters, those that wanted him gone for years, the Remainers, those that don’t want to see him budge and the Penny-savers, those who think that the money to remove him could be spent elsewhere, all arguing and venting on social and traditional media.
So before the bronze man disappears into the museum, I want to try to make sense of what has been going on in simple language to show that the Battle of Bronze Nelson can tell us a lot about meaning and how it works in modern Caribbean societies.
- Symbols do matter to people, just ask the Egyptians.
Despite what the Penny-Savers think, symbols matter to many Barbadians, because Bronze Nelson HAS mattered.
If we were to look at all human communities throughout history, we will see that symbols have always counted. Every community has objects that serve no functional purpose towards the survival of members of those communities. The Egyptians built pyramids when they could have used holes in the ground.
nations have flags when bar-codes would be cheaper; all modern states put up statues that they cannot eat and have to clean.
Ridiculous you say — then why?
The short answer is because we humans think in signs, and it is the MEANING we get from these symbols that makes us act together.
Every communist regime understands this just ask North Koreans how many statues of the Kims are erected or how their country does a military parade.
A government even makes sure its citizens use the same symbols, they are called letters. This is because letters, like statues, are symbols they STAND in for things and are essential for communication.
In short, whether it be a statue or an alphabet.
Symbols are not just important, they are ESSENTIAL to human life!
- What society thinks of a symbol CHANGES over time!
One argument the Remainers put forward in keeping the Bronze Nelson goes like this,
“You take down Nelson, what’s next? You remove Sir Gary from Kensington you stop teaching British history, where does it stop?”
The answer to that question is no one knows and frankly unless you plan to live to 1000 years old, you shouldn’t care.
For the Nelsonexiteers of 2020 Bronze Nelson was no longer ACCEPTABLE as a public symbol.
The same thing will happen to other symbols we now consider sacred.
For example, there is no white or brown in the broken trident.
However, as the Asian descended population continues to grow and inevitably become more publicly engaged, they might see this as an issue and demand removal of the BLACK broken trident from the national flag.
If something like this happens it will not be the first time.
One only need to look at post-war Germany to see the mass removal of symbols by the following generation as the symbols of the previous Nazi regime become unacceptable.
Nothing last forever, statues included.
The Battle of Bronze Nelson is ultimately a battle of meaning. And at this moment in Barbadian history, he represents an oppressive form of colonialisation which is not acceptable.
Who knows, he may return as racial politics changes and who controls those meanings changes.
But for now, he is on history’s page and in the Barbados Museum.