Statues and the second Commandment

It seems that the Second of the Ten Commandments is very relevant today in the discourse on statutes and monuments.

Exodus 20:4 states: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.”

Commentators on that verse point to idolatry in explaining its meaning and purpose. Given to the Prophet Moses as part of Commandments to the Jewish people, it strictly forbids creating these carved images.

Fast track some 35 centuries and we are still robustly debating statues, monuments and carved images, no longer as worship objects but as relevance to our generation. It appears these ‘carved images’ continue to be a source of dispute and disagreement. Perhaps one intent of the Commandment was to safeguard humankind from falling into such traps.

Each generation will have its own heroes and heroines, and within those very generations will be those who don’t consider the other person’s hero as their hero. And so the debate will continue whenever one group seeks to elevate one person through statutes, monuments, renaming places, etc.

A hero in one generation may very well be a villain in another and vice versa. Was it mere coincidence or was it karma that on the eve of renaming a street in Bridgetown in honour of a world famous artiste whose roots are from that community that someone would paint a message on the statue of Nelson in Heroes Square calling for its removal?

The rationale for erecting a statue of Nelson in Bridgetown makes interesting reading. A post I came across on Facebook explains: “Less than a year after Nelson died at the Battle of Trafalgar in October 1805, the planters and merchants of Barbados subscribed funds to build a memorial to him. In March 1813, a bronze statue was unveiled in a space they called Trafalgar Square (both statue and square thus predate their London equivalents by 30 years). The statue was from its beginnings entangled with white planter politics. They sought to demonstrate their “patriotism”, and their membership in the political classes of the British nation by building this statue right in the centre of their capital outside their House of Assembly (the planter legislature which dated from 1637, where the enfranchised two per cent of the island’s population, all white propertied Anglican men, made its laws in the name of the King)…

“After slavery was abolished…the Nelson statue became a place in which Barbados’ connection to Britain was celebrated. The colonial mind world took pride that Barbados was “Little England”. Amazingly, through the 19th century until the first government of Errol Barrow stopped it in 1962, wreaths were laid in public ceremonies in honour of Nelson each October 21st.”

Compared to another write-up on Nelson Statue I found on the internet, it seems we can explain history through our own lens. The write up states: “His popularity came because Barbadians were very grateful and relieved not to become a French West Indian Colony…”

The latter writer claims “Barbadians” were very grateful while the former writer states that it was the planters and merchants of Barbados who were the ones eager to erect the statue.

Noteworthy also was the fact that wreaths were placed at the statue right up until the 1960’s. A practice still in place at the monument in Heroes Square commemorating the two World Wars.

The discussion on the relevance and the removal of Nelson Statue is an important one in our generation. Similar discussions are taking place in other parts of the world. From the Virginia riots earlier this year in the United States of America to the ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ protest movement some years ago in South Africa, the awareness is growing as to the relevance of such statues.  Following the removal of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, ‘liberated’ Iraqis found great joy in pulling down his statues that were found across Baghdad. And such is the case in many places were revolutions remove one leader in favour of another.

Purging the past is always a hard exercise. The Russians seemed to have mastered that art. Back in August at the height of the Charlottesville riots, James Glaser wrote in the Independent: “In Moscow, and in the former Soviet Union in general, there is Soviet detritus all over the place. Hammers and sickles are chiseled into buildings, bridges and other infrastructure. Sculptures of happy, heroic soldiers, workers and farmers sit on the platforms in the Moscow metro. Seven massive “Stalin buildings” dot the city.

…It would not be very practical to knock down the buildings Stalin helped to build or hammer out all those hammers and sickles.

Statues, however, have no practical purpose and can be taken care of rather easily. Moscow has removed many of them from public spaces. It was one of the first impulses the Russian people had after the fall of the Soviet Union.

What is instructive is what the Muscovites have done with their statues, collecting them in a sculpture garden and giving them historical context.

The statues and monuments now reside together in a section of Museon Arts Park, a lovely green space next to Gorky Park. Museon is also known as the “fallen monument park”, though “felled monuments” would be the more appropriate name.

Each statue or set of statues is accompanied by a panel that informs the viewer about the work, its composition and the history of its display. Notably, there is little about the leader being portrayed in the text. Each description ends with, “By the decree of the Moscow City Council of people representatives of Oct 24, 1991, the monument was dismantled and placed in the Museon arts park exposition. The work is historically and culturally significant, being the memorial construction of the soviet era, on the themes of politics and ideology.” The point, of course, is that the Moscow city council is careful to state that the display is not intended to glorify the past, but to document it.”

On social media in Barbados, the discussion has taken several twists and turns and has included a very heated exchange on race and race relations on this island. Calls have ranged from dumping Nelson statue in the sea to placing it in the museum to leaving it where it is. I suspect the discussion will go on for a while and perhaps will wane as some other issue takes the front burner.

Statues, monuments and renaming will always have those who agree and those who disagree and each generation will determine what they will accept or what they will not. Even our more recent monuments are not without critique. As one Barbadian writer noted, the Emancipation Statue, known also as the Bussa Statue , carries an inscription the ‘Ode to Jin Jin’.

He points out: “It has been said that this short refrain was sung by the enslaved when they heard news of Emancipation. It salutes Queen Victoria (Jin Jin) for setting the slaves free. The irony of this inscription on a statue commemorating Emancipation is that it takes all agency away from the enslaved whose revolts against the institution of slavery were a major cause in its termination and places it solely in the hands of the white saviour, the benevolent Queen Victoria.”

For my part, I will stick with the 2nd Commandment and instead of having ‘carved images’, plant trees so at least the environment will be helped.

Source: (Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace,Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association and Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI. Email: suleimanbulbulia@hotmail.com)

14 Responses to Statues and the second Commandment

  1. Wayne Spooner
    Wayne Spooner December 6, 2017 at 12:14 pm

    Not the same thing, not even close this refers to religious idols/statues being praised instead of christ. These statues are not religious they are historical. All these people are doing is following america like sheep…and we all know what this has done to a once peaceful island…but hey what do i know?

    Reply
  2. Paul Gill
    Paul Gill December 6, 2017 at 12:31 pm

    Following America at everything. Might find Trump’s name on the ballots next year.

    Reply
    • Patrick Welch
      Patrick Welch December 6, 2017 at 2:09 pm

      To Paul gill this isn’t following the USA p

      Reply
    • Gail Agard Wallace
      Gail Agard Wallace December 6, 2017 at 2:18 pm

      Patrick Welch I’m so sick of that same comment. Unbelievable. As if there is no one responsible for their own actions. If everyone hates the U .S. So much, why follow their lead???????

      Reply
    • Olutoye Walrond
      Olutoye Walrond December 6, 2017 at 6:07 pm

      And is the United States the only country with statues?

      Reply
  3. Adrian Allison
    Adrian Allison December 6, 2017 at 12:31 pm

    Mr Suleman Bulbulia is speaking from a religious perspective, Islam to be specific and there are those within the Christian community that would agree with him as well but he’s missing one important fact and that is that Barbados is neither an Islamic state or is it a Christian society exclusively but is multi-religious and in some cases atheist.
    What this country is is a democratic society where anyone can practice any religion or none at all and the State has no jurisdiction over that choice.
    Mr Bulbulia should embrace the fact that he has the right to practice his religion without interference and remember that others have that choice as well and if having statues doesn’t interfere with how their religion is practise then he nor I nor anyone nor any government should be dictating to us if statues or monuments should be erected, that’s the people’s perogative in any democratic society not any cleric.

    Reply
  4. Patrick Welch
    Patrick Welch December 6, 2017 at 2:11 pm

    This was a topic before it became one in the USA

    Reply
    • Gail Agard Wallace
      Gail Agard Wallace December 6, 2017 at 2:19 pm

      Yes , but they don’t have a mind of their own. When things are going badly , we must find someone to blame.

      Reply
  5. Suleiman Bulbulia
    Suleiman Bulbulia December 6, 2017 at 3:49 pm

    Ammār Aziz A. NanaHafiz Haneef Daya

    Reply
  6. Eddy Murray
    Eddy Murray December 6, 2017 at 5:02 pm

    My views on this, if you all take down Nelson because he was slave owner. Then we all have to get a name change as well. We all carried the slave master name.

    Reply
  7. Peter Lowe
    Peter Lowe December 6, 2017 at 5:19 pm

    That crap should be taken down and put some where that the average Bajan can’t see it so easily . If the tourist want to see it, they can go there and see it. I’m tired seeing it..it serves no purpose there

    Reply
  8. Ras Small
    Ras Small December 6, 2017 at 6:11 pm

    Historical statues vs religious statues!
    Da last time ah saw de 2nd “commandment” ah thought um say NOT to mek images of nuttin above nor below?!
    Asé

    Reply
  9. Antheia Springer-Williams
    Antheia Springer-Williams December 6, 2017 at 6:13 pm

    Wunna only religious when it suit wunna! Tired of people talking and not walking “the path of the righteous!” Live and let live!

    Reply
  10. Patricia Toppin
    Patricia Toppin December 6, 2017 at 6:50 pm

    I go into Bridgetown about twice a week and I don’t see Nelson. I don’t remember him and I don’t look for him. Don’t have to ask him for a pass. Stop and enjoy the holiday season.

    Reply

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