Devon Dick | Removing Columbus statue: dilemma for church
Toppling the statue of Christopher Columbus was cogently agitated for by historian, Dr Ahmed Reid. He is going against the sentiment which credits Columbus with discovering Jamaica and her inhabitants. Columbus is also credited with bringing our forebears into contact with civilised colonial Europe, and many believe Jamaica would be worse off but for contact with Europe.
Reid wants to remove the statue of Columbus that is located in St Ann's Bay to a museum, and he also wants October 12 to be celebrated as Indigenous People's Day instead of Columbus Day, based on the 'unimaginable cruelty' on the indigenous people; 'Europe's onslaught and exploitation of the region'; and the 'genocidal impact on the indigenous people'. For Columbus and his crew, killing the indigenous people was a sport, and enslavement was done in the name of Christianity, 'in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold'.
These acts were committed in the name of Christianity and on behalf of Christianity. The apparent fear of Christians is that in toppling Columbus' statue, one might topple the Christian faith. It could lead to throwing the baby out with the dirty bath water. Herein lies the dilemma of the church.
The church cannot escape blame for the actions of Columbus. It started with the presumptuous pope dividing the world in the 15th century for the colonial European countries. Then bringing Christianity and civilisation to heathens who were considered barbaric. Christians in Jamaica will have to admit that the indigenous people had a belief system in God that was superior to the actions of those who believed in a Christian god. Furthermore, the Europeans were the barbaric ones who massacred people for fun and then codified these acts gleefully. This barbarous behaviour continued after emancipation of 1838. 'Two thousand Negroes killed eight miles of dead bodies' was the account in The New York Times concerning the actions of the British colonial establishment in the 1865 Jamaican insurrection. There are writings by British officers boasting about the abuses and killings. This brutality was evidenced in all the massacres of Ireland, Scotland and India conducted by Britons. And in recent times US and British soldiers took pictures of their brutality of citizens in Iraq.
And even when Las Casas, a Roman Catholic bishop, recognised the brutality of the treatment of the Indigenous people in the Caribbean his suggestion to import Africans led to worse atrocities. Instead of confronting the evil and exploitation of colonialism, the problem was transferred to black people. It is like a priest molested boys multiple times and instead of a punishment the problem is transferred to another pastorate. The church needs to unequivocally condemn the awful actions of Columbus and colonialism. In Barcelona, there are monuments which celebrate colonialism and in the British Commons, there is a statue that celebrates colonialism but the Christians there are numb about the atrocities.
Statues are important monuments that speak about significant persons and events. They represent the values of a people, strength of character, sacrifice and passion, what is good and right, courage in the light of great danger and struggle against great odds. Statues ought to inspire us to greatness. It is a shame that we do not have a statue of National Heroine Nanny but we have one for Columbus.
In this Advent season when we remember the arrival of Jesus the Christ in our history, we need to examine how we are cooperating wittingly or unwittingly with evil systems and evildoers and take corrective actions.
- Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of 'The Cross and the Machete', and 'Rebellion to Riot'. Send feedback to columns@ gleanerjm.com.