The United Nations has decided to erect a sculpture, to be placed at its headquarters, to honour the victims of the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade. This Slavery Memorial will be officially called "The Permanent Memorial at the United Nations in Honor of the Victims of Slavery and the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade.
Memorials serve as a reminder. It is meant to keep the particular person(s) or incident(s) active in the minds of people. Do we really need a constant reminder of such a horrible past in our history? Aren't we already constantly reminded that our ancestors were slaves, the commodity of the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade?
The Caribbean Examination Council (CXC), established in 1972 as the main provider of examination solutions for the Caribbean, comprises 16 participating territories. This body prepares syllabuses and examination papers for students at the secondary educational level.
The CXC History syllabus for secondary level students predominantly covers the following areas:
The modern child can hardly make a connection with the descriptions of the indigenous peoples prior to the slave trade, such as the Tainos in Jamaica. No image or writings are readily available in the modern day experience in Jamaica that is easily or commonly relatable to these indigenous persons. Even the physical description of the Tainos as long straight-haired brown skinned people, hardly fit the appearance of the majority of Jamaicans.
There are far more easily relatable traits to the black people, reportedly carried from Africa during the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade. From the pictures in history texts as well as other resources, a secondary level student can relate to the idea that he or she has an ancestor who was an African slave. Since the majority of Caribbean people have very dark complexion, the majority will be inclined to more so identify with the African slaves as opposed to the indigenous peoples and others who came to the region.
It is therefore being inadvertently reinforced in the minds of secondary level students that their ancestry began during the slave trade. There is nothing in the CXC syllabus that describes the history of the African Slaves prior to them being brought to the Americas. Even at the University of the West Indies, one of the largest in the region, the compulsory core courses for History Majors (BA in History) do not include modules relating to African History.
There have been many debates in the societies affected by the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade of its lasting effects. The attitudes to work, especially areas of service, the marginalization of men and the poor structure of the family unit have all been attributed to the effects of slavery. Many books have been written to illustrate the far reaching impact of slavery in the modern world. One such book, The Atlantic Slave Trade: effects on economies, societies, and peoples in Africa, the Americas, and Europe (J. E. Inikori, Stanley L. Engerman), consists of essays raising questions on the far-reaching effects of the slave trade.
Who are the victims of the slave trade?
The United Nations, seeking to honour victims of the slave trade, formed a committee to deal with the design and erecting of the monument. Ambassador Raymond Wolfe of Jamaica, chair of the memorial committee, launched an international competition to design the monument, on Friday, September 30, 2011. Said Ambassador Wolfe:
The issue of slavery and the trans-Atlantic slave trade stands out still today as a crime against humanity - one of the first manifestations of man's inhumanity to man.
No one will disagree with the statement that the Trans Atlantic Slave trade represents one of the greatest atrocities of humanity, but who are the real victims of the slave trade? Are they the persons who died up to the time that it was officially abolished or are the victims still present today, living lives closely resembling that of the captured ancestors. Are the secondary level students, under-exposed to pre-slavery ancestry, victims? Many will not openly admit that they are ashamed of being black but the idea is manifested in actions, words and decisions. The use of chemicals to appear less black is an apparent manifestation. Are these persons also victims?
The goals of the UN Slavery Memorial committee seem honourable: it is left to be seen if the intended impact of the monument will be as anticipated.
..And the seasons they go 'round and 'round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We're captive on the carousel of time
We can't return we can only look behind
From where we came,
and go round and round and round
In the circle game..
Soul Captive Bob Marley
Photo Credit To This is London
Tina Simone Mowatt is a freelance contributor to MNI Alive