The development of a plantation economy and African slavery in Carolina began before English colonists even settled Charles Town in 1670. In 1663, eight Lords Proprietors in England received land grants in North America from King Charles II for their loyalty to the monarchy during the English Civil War. The Lords decided to combine their shares to establish a profit-seeking proprietary settlement, Carolina, between the English colony of Virginia and Spanish Florida. To ensure financial success, they sent representatives to study the lucrative sugar plantation system on the Caribbean island of Barbados. They also recruited white settlers from this English West Indian colony to help launch their new North American settlement. These white Barbadians often brought enslaved Africans and African Barbadians with them.
As a graduate student in anthropology, my area of study was slavery in the U.S. and the Caribbean, so hearing about the new museum and archive in Barbados immediately grabbed my attention. The announcement has excited many scholars, among them Howard University professor Ana Lucia Araujo, who tweeted out the news.
Mottley announced that world-renowned British-Ghanaian architect Sir David Adjaye, lead designer of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAC), and his firm will design the project.
Adjaye spoke at a press conference on Dec. 3.
Adjaye explained the significance of the project’s unique structures.
He noted that 570 ancestors were buried at the Newton site and said this was the starting point of the project, which visualises these ancestors as totems.
“Totems that are no longer invisible but totems that will become visible. Totems that are connected to the cosmos because they come/we all come from this soup of a universe that we live in and there are discs of light. If you look at our histories, our ancestors always understood that we connect to the cosmos, and we belong to the land. And this monument is about honouring that.
“The totems connect us to the cosmos and connect us to our desires and futures. And the circle is made from the land. And we searched for the land that connects to the motherland, and Barbados has it in a place that you call Scotland [District]. It’s a beautiful place; this extraordinary laterite red iron oxide earth, which is all over; the sort of beginnings, the cradle of where you know humankind has created civilisations and came from,” Sir David explained.
Alluding to the memorial, he expressed the belief that it would be a ‘circle of commemoration” and “a place of ritual” to honour our ancestors.
The powerful video below illustrates the plans for the project and is accompanied by the haunting sound of one of the earliest known slave songs, “Massa Buy Me,” performed by Barbadian musician Roger Gibbs.
“Massa Buy Me” an African work song that was chanted in the sugar fields of Barbados that was written down by Dr. William Dickson who served as Secretary to Governor Edward Hay from 1772-1779. Dr. Dickson lived in Barbados for about 13 years from 1772 and was well acquainted with slavery and slave life in Barbados. He later joined the British abolitionist movement and became a leading member of that movement in Scotland. The song was transcribed by Granville Sharp, a founder of the British abolitionist movement.
Adjaye notes that “Drawing upon the technique and philosophy of traditional African tombs, prayer sites and pyramids, the memorial is conceived as a space that contemporaneously honors the dead, edifies the living, and manifests a new diasporic future for Black civilization that is both of the African continent and distinct from it.”
You can view the full press conference here:
In other Mottley news: On Tuesday, the prime minister was named a 2021 Champion of the Earth for Policy Leadership by the United Nations.
May we all continue to learn from her strong and vocal leadership!
Please join me in the comments section below for more on Barbados’ Heritage Site, and for the weekly Caribbean news roundup.
You can read the first installment of Caribbean Matters here.