Batts Rock and Recolonization
Submitted by Dr. E. Anthony Hurley
Batts Rock has been, for more than half a century, one of my favorite spaces in Barbados, that means on earth. It was there I had one of my most treasured experiences of childhood terror, when my schoolmates (we were all less than nine years old) suggested I climb up on one of the large boulders in front of the caves that were a feature of the beach in those days. They roared with laughter at my shocked surprise when a wave entered the cave, apparently underground, and washed me off my rocky perch, tearing my swim trunks and bruising my legs as I was knocked into the surf. It was there as a teenager we hung out in the bar built under and around the bearded fig tree that used to dominate the beach.
Over the years, as I lived abroad, I made it a feature of my frequent trips back to the motherland to visit this spot which held so many pleasant memories. On my visits for the last twenty years or so (I usually come at least two to four times a year), my practice has been to walk from Batts Rock to the old Paradise, my favorite (please excuse any American English spellings which my computer insists on using) swimming location.
In the last few months, therefore, I witnessed with increasing shock the renovation (and racialization) of the bar facilities (in front of the lifeguard station) which had been non-operational for many years. I grew concerned when I saw the installation on the beach front under the trees of concrete stands for umbrellas, the laying down of a straw carpet along the path where I previously walked, the setting up of standing light fixtures, and the positioning of tables and chairs.
The way in which the remodeling of this new bar has treated the beach space has conjured in my mind notions of recolonization. This renovation process has provoked in me the question: What’s going on at Batt’s Rock? Beach space that I thought was public has clearly been appropriated by the owners of this new operation. Even the public bathroom facilities, where for decades I’ve left my car keys in the care of the attendants, have been appropriated and colonized, bore a sign for a short while saying “La Cabane,” thereby signaling the ownership of the formerly public (Barbadian) rest rooms.
Colonization, I have been taught, in most cases involves the appropriation of space, of land. Barbados is in this respect a signal example of successful British colonization. The Barbadian land space was forcibly occupied, appropriated, by the British in the 17th century. The British, like other European colonizers of that era, made what was to prove an historical misjudgment by importing masses of Africans as chattel to further the economic objectives of their colonial enterprise. The lack of foresight of these colonizers and their inability to exercise permanent control of the majority populations they enslaved and colonized led to the reduction and destruction of the British and European empires internationally and eventually even to the relative independence of “Little England.”
Octave Mannoni (1899-1989), the French ethnologist, philosopher, and psychiatrist/psychoanalyst, taught in Martinique in the 1920s and in Madagascar in the 1930s. This experience gave him insights into relationships of dependency between colonizers and colonized people, and formed the basis of his 1950 text, Psychology of Colonization. In this text, as part of the understandable necessity to justify France’s brutal colonial practices and the responses of the colonized populations which he had witnessed in Martinique and Madagascar, Mannoni claimed that colonized people suffered from a dependency complex and in fact were unconsciously waiting and wanted and needed to be colonized. According to Mannoni, colonized people suffered from an inferiority complex that existed before they were actually colonized, that colonial racism was different from other kinds of racism, and that France was the least racist country in the world.
Mannoni’s theories of the dependency complex of colonized people were effectively challenged and refuted by two the Caribbean’s intellectuals, Aimé Césaire and Frantz Fanon, both Martinique-born. Cesaire’s Discourse on Colonialism exposed the limitations and fundamental hypocrisy of Mannoni’s assertions, in trying to excuse and justify the violent actions of colonizers, and emphasized that colonial racism was no different from any other kind of racism, while Fanon, himself a distinguished psychiatrist, more respectfully alluded to socioeconomic factors that inevitably contribute to psychological reactions and psychoses. My own explorations of colonial history and psychology also led me to the firm conclusion that Mannoni’s pronouncements were typical of the European need to justify colonial practices that were clearly crimes against humanity.
How therefore do I explain what is happening at Batts Rock? The owners of La Cabane, while clearly appropriating public space, cannot do so without the knowledge, acceptance, approval, or complicity of our national leaders or those in charge of protecting our national cultural heritage. Barbados is, after all, an independent nation. As the politically-conscious and socially-engaged musician, singer, and cultural ambassador Gabby (Dr. Anthony Carter) has had to remind us, our beaches belong to us. They are public. Barbados is a small country, with limited land space. Who gives permission for this tenuous land space to be occupied, to be appropriated, to be recolonized? Were we subconsciously wanting this? Are we suffering from Mannoni’s