As certain quarters of the Labour party and the artistic scene in Malta call for statues of foreign colonisers to be removed from prominent places around the island, one Maltese youth has said we need to take a look at something else first: our education system.
There has been much debate about whether we should start removing colonial figures and symbols from the Maltese islands, but a lot of the arguments people are fighting for are misplaced.
What gets to me is the lack of perspective and blatant support of keeping certain colonial symbols, which is reflected in how we learned about ourselves growing up. Although this is my two cents on the issue, there have been good arguments from both sides as to why we should or shouldn’t dismantle colonial symbols.
The argument for their removal revolves around decoloniality. Statues of our late oppressors and colonisers are rampant in Malta; they symbolise a time when the islands and its people were subject to a higher form of power centered around hierarchy and subjugation of the people. It is about time we start addressing why we, as a country, are unbothered by colonial structures and symbols still in place and in effect.
We do not need statues, symbols, and monuments of our colonisers to remember our history and their impact on it.
Yes, these are a part of our history, which is why we have the ability – and the privilege – to get rid of them if we choose to. Using the example of the Queen Victoria statue, it was built by the English in order to showcase their ruling monarch who owned the islands. Thankfully, we achieved independence, which means we have the ability and the freedom to tear it down without having the trouble of getting jailed for doing so.
On the other hand, removing a statue of one coloniser will open up a Pandora’s box, specifically for a country like Malta. Everywhere you look, you have symbosl of our previous conquerors, rulers, and colonisers in place; English, French, Knights, European Oligarchs… the list goes on.
If we decide this is the action to take for the sake of decoloniality, then we would have to remove many statues, a lot of symbols and rename countless streets and cities.
Our capital city itself was named after a French Knight, and if this is a conversation about decolonising our islands, how come we don’t even mention our flag?
One of the only flags in the world which still carries a coloniser’s symbol – but that is another argument to be had. The premise of this reasoning is what we Maltese would say “wisq hassle” (it’s too much of a hassle).
So what’s my point? As I stated in the beginning, I feel that a lot of this energy is misplaced and misdirected. To put it plainly, before we can have a healthy conversation about the above, we have to educate ourselves effectively… that is, decolonise the syllabus.
I remember learning history in such a way where I wanted to grow up and become a knight – I even dressed the part come Carnival.
We were taught of all the good deeds the Knights did in Malta, how they saved us from a conflict they brought upon us. How they were a beacon of Christianity… which deemed it acceptable to rob us of our wealth to pimp their churches. We were always told of the great things they built on the islands, but never about how they mistreated and marginalised Maltese people every single day.
We were educated about their unbending and stiff religious vows, but not how they quickly broke those vows to bully peasantry and rape Maltese women. Or how they used religion as a tool of subjugation. How they treated us and our language as lower class. How they treated us as troglodytes.
The same can obviously be said for the French and all the same (and more) for the British.
I was never told or taught about any of this; the history of Malta was taught from a distorted narrative, a mere romanticised fantasy that continues to perpetuate the sickening Stockholm Syndrome we as a nation have.
One of my professors in college would always say how the history of the colonised always put them as the object of history instead of the subject of it. Before we even attempt to start discussing removing physical statues, let us instead aim and work on decolonising the systems and structures in place.
Let us work on promoting our language more and remove the hierarchy put between Maltese and English. Let us decolonise the syllabus which we learn for a good portion of our education, one which actually recounts the history of Maltese people under the colonisers.
One which focuses on the narratives of Maltese people, not of the colonisers’ history on the Maltese islands. The monuments, statues, and symbols were put in place in a time where we did not control our own narrative. But now we do.
Let us put ourselves in our histories as the subject of it, instead of the object. Decolonise the syllabus, decolonise the academia, decolonise your minds.
Daryl Mifsud is a Maltese student.
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