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Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Let's hear it for heritage tourism

As Caribbean countries strive to find new products to market, other than sun, sea, sand, and romance, I hope that they will give serious thought and support to exploiting the rich history that exists in the region.

Professor Henry Fraser (Dean of the School of Clinical Medicine and Research, UWI, and former president of the Barbados National Trust) wrote in The Nation of June 17, 2007 about heritage tourism. His focus was on the "...wealth of fine buildings throughout the island exemplifying the highest order in architectural design and building craftsmanship" and making the clear argument that preservation of buildings could offer economic gains. He lists seven wonders of Barbados, which include St Nicholas Abbey, The Historic Garrison complex (including George Washington House), Sunbury Plantation House, The Jewish Synagogue, Tyrol Cot and its Heritage Village, The Morgan Lewis Mill (see picture), Gun Hill Signal Station. There are several others which Professor Fraser thinks worthy of mention and other Bajans would also have their choices for the seven and more, including the Parliament Buildings. Anyone who has seen these sights would agree that they are magnificent examples of well maintained architectural structures.

But my argument is not about the list. I think that Barbados has exceptional historical heritage that could be exploited as part of a structured set of sites for domestic and foreign visitors. It should include as many of the great houses as exist, the many disused windmills (whose restoration could also warrant a very worthwhile set of projects, that could use and develop construction skills), Codrington College, Sam Lord's Castle and more. Part of the challenge is to make these sites real and deal with what they represent in the birth and development of a nation and a region. It means going over and seeking to represent what was the slave economy origins of this country and region. It may be a painful project to construct, but it is one that is overdue. If the Holocaust can become a feature, then so too can slavery. Many of us are confused or ignorant about slavery and this would be an opportunity to help put some of the facts together in a way that would be tangible and interesting to old and young, resident and visitor.

In other Caribbean countries this is being undertaken, for instance in Dominica with the restoration of Fort Shirley by Dr. Lennox Honychurch (who ironically went to The Lodge School in Barbados). (See Dr. Honychurch's website).

PM Owen Arthur reportedly promised earlier this year that the houses of the country's leaders and those of slaves "can and will be restored" for future generations (see The Nation, January 14, 2007). This commitment came when he opened the George Washington house. He also reportedly "committed Government to reconstructing and establishing the entire Garrison area as a heritage site".

I read gladly at the weekend (see The Advocate, August 12), that the Director of the Barbados Museum Historical Society (Allisandra Cummins) has been discussing opening new museums, including a museum of parliament, a Living Sugar Museum, Marine Museum and more. Legislation to provide a basis for future preservation of heritage, which has been in development since the mid-1990s (why so long?), is nearly complete and just awaits passage by parliament.

I read with shock and despair that over this past weekend the 300 year old graveyard in an Historic Moravian Church had been destroyed by bulldozers (see Barbados Free Press story). The report highlights that "The Moravian Church Grand View cemetery has been the subject of an ongoing legal action in the Barbados courts since 1999". Presumably one party could not wait any longer for the slow legal process to work its course! Whoever one would wish to blame, I hope there is provision in the legislation mentioned above to compel developers to treat known and designated historical sites with due respect and care. But it's just a hope.

Across the region more needs to be done to preserve the historical realities of our past, even though we know they may evoke bitter memories. The Caribbean Tourism Organization has a consultant currently drafting a plan that would offer a model framework for developing heritage tourism. The report should be available before the end of 2007. No country will be obliged to follow this framework so we will have to see how this will sit with the various national strategies that are being developed.

1 comment:

Kim said...

I agree with this completely, thanks for the post.