Barbados, a Caribbean island ravaged by slavery, will build a national museum

Looking for ways to creatively commemorate the two centuries since colonialists held sway over Barbados, the tiny Caribbean island plans to build a national museum to preserve the country’s difficult, bloody and tragic past.

Meeting last month, the 13 members of the Barbados Parliament agreed that the museum should be an ambitious and costly project. After a few years, it will be free to citizens.

“It will be our most formidable weapon in reducing crime and a catalyst for building a better Barbados,” the prime minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley, said during last month’s session, according to a transcript from Parliament.

Beginning in 1619, the English stole the country’s colony, ransacked the colony, murdered its people and enslaved the people in their villages. Using the Native Tortilla Pottery process, English colonists tried to build better European pyramids out of Barbados than the original. The colonists were also involved in violent slave raids on neighbouring French and Dutch colonies, but the nation kept the enslaved slaves under these European rulers.

In 1752, the Colony of Barbados — then known as a “yuca-setting island” and “west of the jungle” — joined Britain’s Commonwealth. The national museum project was a pilot project.

And Mottley plans to keep it that way. After five years of planning, the museum will feature artifacts that will chronicle the history of slavery on Barbados and the Caribbean.

The objects will include exotic Barbadian artifacts that date back to the 1500s, such as the first sculpture of Barbados’ flora and fauna and an early drawing of former Prime Minister Owen Arthur.

This is important, Mottley said, because the art and artifacts and the stories need to accompany all the story-telling.

According to the Barbados Tourist Board, the island’s last British crown has pulled out since 1948. The island’s lone resident, the Queen, is not allowed to visit on certain occasions.

Slavery is one of the issues that the museum is expected to tackle. During a historic parliamentary session last month, many lawmakers pointed to heavy foot traffic and rampant crime as potential motives for the museum.

Mottley stated that the museum will serve as “a moral and cultural, education and awareness-building resource and will be able to address and redress all cultural, religious and political dimensions” of the difficult part of Barbados’s past.

She also said the nation is investing more than $1 million in the museum, which will be accessible by free public tours. An ongoing tourist marketing campaign, Brighter Barbados, focuses on improving the island’s tourism industry and the country’s social climate.

The museum is part of a broader plan to revitalize the tourism and economy of Barbados, which is a continuation of changes that the country has made since Mottley was elected prime minister in 2015. That year, the island also passed the Barbados Equal Opportunity Amendment Act, which holds people responsible for the acts of their relatives and was designed to discourage criminals.

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