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Campaign to remove Lopinot sign

Published: 
Sunday, September 24, 2017
In photo from left: Cleo Alberta Lake from Countering Colston (Bristol, UK) the prof’s secretary, Shabaka Kambon—Director CRFP, Shabakie Fernandes African Cultural Development Association (George Town, Guyana), and Michael Quess Moore from Take Em Down Nola (New Orleans, USA).

The Lopinot Community Council has decided to support the change of a sign at the historical site, a former slave plantation, that refers to hundreds of enslaved Africans brought to this country in the 1700s as “loyal slaves.” The decision comes months after the launch of the Cross Rhodes Freedom project by founder and executive director Shabaka Kambon.

The Lopinot sign is one of three campaigns currently being promoted by the activist group to construct a “more genuinely emancipated society.”

Last month, president of the Lopinot Community Council, Donna Mora, said the group approached them about having the sign changed because it was offensive and an inaccurate portrayal of this island’s history. Mora said it had never occurred to the community that the words “loyal slaves” could be offensive as they had spent decades telling stories of the loyalty of the slaves who accompanied Comte Charles de Lopinot to Trinidad, not truly recognising that the word “loyal” was inappropriate since it implied the slaves had a choice.

“We really hadn’t thought much about it but after Mr Kambon came and spoke to us we realised it was really offensive so we voted as a council and decided we wanted to support the change,” Mora said.

The change still requires approval from local government and the Ministry of Tourism.

Kambon said his group will be initiating conversations with both entities next week and will deliver a letter to Mayor of Port-of-Spain Joel Martinez about monuments in the capital city.

“The most obscene thing in Trinidad and Tobago is probably the sign in Lopinot. In that scenario you have a sign on a former plantation that asks you to honour the slave master and his wife and described our ancestors as loyal slaves.

“Just last year you had tourists who went to the holocaust memorial and took selfies doing funny things while touring former concentration camp run by the Nazis and that was considered to be sacrilege. This is what Lopinot is. It is the last space organised at a point of memory in Trinidad of that period of enslavement.

Kambon said when he started the project, the group thought it would be difficult to capture the public’s imagination where monuments are concerned.

“As we went on things started happening internationally. In New Orleans some of the confederate monuments were moved. In Venezuela, they replaced a statue of Columbus with one celebrating its indigenous people,” he said.

While the three local campaigns currently run by the project focus on the sign in Lopinot, the Columbus statue in Moruga and the renaming of Milner Hall at the University of West Indies, St Augustine, there is also a wider regional reach and a theme, Columbus must fall.

The move to rename Milner Hall recently got support from Pro Vice Chancellor at the university Sir Hilary Beckles. Milner is quoted in history as proudly describing himself as a racist.

“Columbus is the primary lie of the Caribbean. The historical myth that we teach children up to today must go. It is a lie upon which the hierarchy of the society is constructed. It is the foundation upon which all the racism and everything is constructed,” Kambon said.

“Every island in the Caribbean has some monument to Columbus.”

He said it was not just about changing the name but about changing the mindset of the people.