Barbados Museum of Parliament and National Heroes’ GalleryShana Jones October 11, 2016
The wooden door closes quietly behind me to shroud me in a soft yellow light diffused gently on brown wooden floors and the various “browns” of panels, pin-ups, and “preserves” that will lead me through Barbados’ history for the next two hours. Welcome to the Museum of Parliament, an interactive showcase of Barbados’ political history from the time of Arawak inhabitancy to the island’s modern day Parliament system. Connected to the Museum by a muralled passageway is the National Heroes’ Gallery, a visually compelling presentation of the nation’s 10 heroes: ordinary individuals who, through their “…express[ion] [of] the finest elements in the national character…have demonstrated a commitment to democracy, faith and freedom, social justice, and excellence”.
My walk through history starts with a brief, televised introduction of the story that awaits me. The story: photograph-enhanced wall pin-ups offer timelines spanning peaceful Arawak presence to oppressive English occupation and slavery to the mid-century declaration of independence. Yellowed official documents and miniature doors that open to reveal explanations of interesting terms (like suffrage and vestry) place me at very special turning points in Barbados’ history. Treasured items on display include an old police belt buckle, medals worn by distinguished citizens, and the ceremonial mace used to open and close House of Assembly sessions. I can even cast my vote for my party of choice in a recreated voter’s booth!
My civic duty done, the transition from museum to gallery presents itself as a vibrant visual display of the gallantry of times afore: flanked by full-size murals on both sides, I stand shoulder to shoulder with naked, shackled slaves peering out determinedly, ponder this thing called “freedom” with a fellow fieldworker on a break, picket with labourers staunchly protesting for better pay, and duck a cricket ball batted by the world’s greatest cricketer, Sir Garfield Sobers! A few steps away, I’ll learn more about this amazing cricketer and his 9 fellow Barbadian heroes.
The National Heroes Gallery brings to life through sculpture, visual display, and video the achievements of Barbados’ 10 national heroes, so designated in 1988. It is arranged around the 4 areas in which the heroes have exemplified greatness: democracy, faith and freedom, social justice, and excellence. What strikes me first are the sculptors’ interpretations of their subjects’ character: they range from a large chunk of pearly-white coral bejewelled with clay and glass to a wooden door chiselled with the image of workers roused to “educate, agitate, but …not violate” to a monstrous alien-like creature of steel with arms outspread, simultaneously embracing and preparing to charge. Short (written and/or video) biographies accompanying each display outline the inspiration for courage and heroism while old-time personal effects such as hymnbooks, spectacles, and clothing items touch me with the sense of simple, humble humanity.
My journey through this epic time in Barbados’ history evokes in me a new-found appreciation of freedom and a profound pride in my adopted homeland. At every turn are reminders that this land has indeed been shaped by ordinary people who did extraordinary things. The walk through amazing stories of courage and dedication inside these walls has truly immortalized the incredible achievements of equally incredible people. What better way to energize future generations towards continued greatness?
The 10 National Heroes of Barbados, Interpreted by Various Barbadian Artisans and Sculptors