St Peter’s and the memories of those who came before us – 400 years ago
“It’s 400 years
(400 years, 400 years)
And it's the same old-time colonial, imperialistic philosophy
I said it’s 400 years
(400 years, 400 years)
And my people, they still don’t see”
— Peter Tosh
On November 6, the entire Government of Bermuda inclusive of the Governor, all elected Members of Parliament and all appointed senators found themselves in the Town of St George.
We were not there for the Annual Cup Match, nor were we there to go on the weekly walk with national security minister Renée Ming.
We were there to acknowledge the 400th anniversary of the House of Assembly. You see, the first House of Assembly in Bermuda met on August 1, 1620 in St Peter's Church.
A lot of work by dedicated persons went into marking this date in history with an extremely well laid-out event. They truly deserve a round of applause.
As we sat on seats that were built 400 years ago, we looked up at the intricate carpentry work crafted out of Bermuda cedar.
Whether it be the cedar beams, the rafters or the pews themselves, every piece of wood spoke of detailed craftsmanship and centuries of preservation of the work of those craftsmen and women.
At the same time there was something inside all of us that gave a stark reminder: much of that intricate work would have been done by some of our ancestors.
Those solid cedar beams would have had to have been carved from trees, then lifted manually by those who would have been brought here from the West Indies as enslaved Africans.
Those walls of solid Bermuda stone were crafted, in part, by both those who had willingly escaped from England to colonise other lands and those who were taken from their own land by colonisers.
Essentially, that beautiful church was built by us; however, it was not built for us.
Four hundred years ago, enslaved Africans were not to be found in the pews during Sunday services, nor would they be part of the gatherings of the House of Assembly.
Even in death, our ancestors were buried in a separate section altogether from those early colonials.
It would not be far-fetched to say this: never did the Members of the first House of Assembly in 1620 ever think that, 400 years later, the following persons would be walking up those brick steps and sitting in those well-crafted and well-preserved cedar pews:
• Black female MPs
• Black female ministers
• Black female senators
• Black female clerk
• Black Opposition leader
• Black sergeant-at-arms
• Black premier
So, yes, as children of those once-enslaved Africans, 400 years later, we have made some progress here in Bermuda. The optics of both the upper and lower houses of Parliament standing on the steps of St Peter’s Church, were powerful and can easily lead one to think that we have finally “arrived”.
However, the stark reality is that we still have a long way to go in efforts to address centuries-old issues such as economic inequality, racial division, gender equality and the continuation of our unequal relationship with Britain.
In closing, every elected Member of Parliament or appointed senator who sat in those pews on November 6 must never forget those who toiled without reward for centuries. We owe them a debt that can be repaid only with progress on all fronts for Bermudians of all pigmentation.
• Christopher Famous is the government MP for Devonshire East (Constituency 11). You can reach him on WhatsApp at 599-0901 or e-mail at email@example.com