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It’s time to stop sanitising history

A detail from The History of Mary Prince, a landmark account that in 1831 hastened Britain's ban on slavery. Mary Prince’s narrative helps to show how brutal slavery was in Bermuda. (File photograph)

Bermuda, like many other colonies, has been fed a steady diet of sanitised history for centuries. You know, the historical inaccuracies that had us believing that Columbus actually discovered the “new world,” or that there were no Central American civilisations steeped in sciences, architecture, medicine or languages.

Truthfully, it is a challenge for people to accept that they were told untruths. So, it is understandable when people make remarks based on their own historical understandings.

A few weeks ago someone made a comment that colonialism in Bermuda cannot be compared to other places, as there were no indigenous persons in Bermuda. Meaning, unlike places such as North America or Asia, the British did not have to kill anyone in order to take this island.

“Bermuda was never colonised, there existed no indigenous peoples or cultures when the English claimed the island from the Spanish.” - Bermyman

In one regard they are completely correct. One cannot steal what does not belong to anyone else. It is simply there for the picking.

Bryant Trew had this observation: “We now live in an age where our “colonial relationship” gives Bermudians access to emergency medical assistance…” The reality is that most emergency medical services are provided in the United States, not the United Kingdom. Persons in other islands in the region have the same access to emergency services.

Another inaccurate statement read as follows:

“The reality is the first settlers of the island included the English, the Africans and the Native Americans…” - Khalid Wasi

The truth is the only persons who initially voluntarily got into ships in order to settle Bermuda prior to 1834, were those of English/European origin. Bermuda’s colonial history cannot be romanticised to the point that we have persons attempting to say that both Indigenous North Americans and Africans up and chose to leave their vast continental homelands in order to “settle” as enslaved persons on a small rock in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

No, various European colonial powers traded human cargo just as they traded salt and sugar. These humans were shipped to Bermuda from ports along the east coast of America, the West Coast of Africa and other Islands in the Caribbean. Their treatment was inhumane, as per the fact that they had to take the surname of their slave owners. Additionally they could not practise their own customs, religion or spirituality.

One need only read the journal of our National Heroine Mary Prince to know that slavery in Bermuda was not a multicultural utopia. So, while there were no indigenous persons killed in the “settling” of Bermuda, the fact still remains that the enslavement of Native Americans and Africans for over 200 years is a classic pillar of colonialism.

These are the historical truths that cannot be prettied up.

As recently as 2019, the House of Commons and House of Lords of the United Kingdom drafted an Order in Council that attempted to force the Overseas Territories (OTs) to provide Public Registers of Beneficial Owners. At the same time there was no such legislation put in place for the UK or the Crown Dependencies.

So, who really stood to benefit from this colonial overreach?

During this same time period in 2019, the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) of the UK House of Commons put forward recommendations to force the OTs to allow British Citizens residing in the OTs to run for office in our islands and vote in our elections. Essentially, the return of political gerrymandering. Lest we forget, these are still the aims of the present Conservative government.

Understandably there are many perspectives on these topics. Some steep in fact, some based on romantic fables. However, it is a sign of political and social immaturity on the part of those who attempt to deny both our historical and present day relationship with the UK. All in an effort to say that we should not be discussing constitutional advancements.

News flash folks, it is now 2023, not 1823.

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Published December 30, 2022 at 7:58 am (Updated December 30, 2022 at 7:58 am)

It’s time to stop sanitising history

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