Countries dozing off on heritage education and bio-cultural sustainable development planning
With a population about the size of Tobago’s, Belize, a former British colony might be said to be perhaps one of the least pressured countries of the region in terms of the intensity of competition for land space for development. Tobago can itself fit into Belize about 75 times; Jamaica, the largest of the English-speaking Caribbean islands, can fit twice, and Trinidad four times.
Last week’s bulldozing by a construction company of what was visibly a temple and part of a complex to turn the rubble into – of all things – gravel for a road (from the comments on the internet I am not the only aghast at the sheer idiocy of this) is testimony to some of the challenges for heritage preservation facing the region.
Proper land use planning with concurrent resourcing, execution and implementation may be one element of a solution, but without a focussed awareness building and formal and informal education that inject heritage consciousness from the cradle through adulthood, it is a tragedy that is certain to be repeated.
For instance, the Mayas are still described and treated in the past tense in much of our history and standard educational material – part of historic misrepresentations of all the civilisations that comprise our region – although very vibrant Mayan communities live across South/Central America and not unlike with other regional ethnic groups, function in active regional diasporas across the globe.
They were also in significant numbers in our heritage training sessions in Belize last year, eating, breathing, talking, exchanging ideas, reciting, playing music, dancing, living, as indeed it was a astounding to discover the numbers of Mayan building complexes that existed in this small land space, most of them heavily silted over through the millennia, overgrown with full fledged trees and overrun with wildlife.
A significant element of the tragedy of the bulldozing at the Noh Mul complex is that it was visible and known to exist, not like Altun Ha where allegedly it wasn’t and it when the blasting revealed the complex it was stopped. This is part of one of the documented temple complex in the Orange Walk district where there is a significant population of Mayan descent. It is not one of the hundreds of other architectural complexes across Belize and South/Central America that have been overgrown, covered over by silt and which now support huge forest and other ecosystems and so indistinguishable from the natural landscape. That in itself might provide an excuse to a bulldozer purportedly innocently quarrying what is believed to be a hill, but only in the absence of proper environmental assessment, which is a mandatory requirement for any development project.
The site of the hundreds of temple complexes across Belize which nature has reclaimed and camouflaged over millennia is enough of an experience to make one want to kneel down and worship the inherent nobility of the people who in their times created this, as much as nature’s resilience and restorative capacity if undisturbed.
As I discovered on a visit last year, Belize is an awesome example of the sheer magnitude of the Mayan civilisation from the numbers of still standing temples, many indiscernible as with centuries of overgrowth they appear as innocent hillocks that support dense forest ecosystems. And while the ruins might point to the historical past tense, the vivacity of the people I met and the friends I made is testimony to a vibrant living heritage.
I could not have asked for a better induction than to have expert guides in Drs Nigel Encalada and Allan Moore of the Belize Institute of Technology, who are part of the National Institute of Culture and History of Belize, on a one day cross-country drive to the Mayan mountains.
It whet my appetite that before I left I made time to explore three more sites with local Mayan guides at Altun Ha, Lamanai and Xuantunich – who incidentally took pride and the time to put into context the deliberately distorted and misrepresented for hype the end of calendar/doomsday story. In fact, these sites have been only partly unearthed of the hundreds of other complexes.
To some degree, Belize has legal and institutional mechanisms: an Act, laws, oversight institutions which may be challenged by shortage of human resource and other capacity, but those are also largely reactive mechanisms, as important as they are, to net culprits after the fact of a bulldoze, for example, rather than sustainable pre-emptive mechanisms which are where the focus should be.What could have stopped the company from issuing the order or the guy himself driving the bulldozer to halt and think twice?
If we cannot build consciousness and recognise the value these elements of our heritage, hold to the sense of self and esteem that could prevent the next trigger happy youngster from bulldozing his own life – value beyond commercial value, beyond the next access road and the next high rise and the next exploration for an oil well – which incidentally is another impending threat to Belize where recent interests in exploitation for petroleum can become the next international heritage disaster story.
The bulldozer mentality will stay with us unless mechanisms are built into our budgeting and physical and mental spatial development planning, as in all other development plans so we present and project that physical, social and educational planning not separate silos and never the twain shall meet, but as a seamless and essentially integrated system that depend on and support each other.
Is that being taken into account in the current land use planning for sustainable development currently being undertaken in Trinidad and Tobago and other parts of the region? Where are the efforts to factor and integrate sustainable heritage consciousness into all of this, other than the flag waving mentality? Where are the plans to factor in heritage in the planning for sustainable development and the strategic educational interventions into that process that move beyond a few Kodak advertising moments?
Lost, surely in the cliched excuse about the jostle for space for industry and agriculture and shelter in the name of development.
Development does not have to be at the expense of heritage or vice versa. There are enough successful models of this that can make us confident that we can find the right balance between feeding ourselves, living with all the modern comforts that one may desire and at the same time showing respect and pride in the legacy and inheritances that are ours.
The alternative is the next regional bulldozer story – while Belize becomes a footnote, as McLoed house in South Trinidad already has – this is the potential fate of other sites in the region; like the Banwari and other related sites in Trinidad; or the Pitons in St Lucia or the maroon and other distinctive heritage of Jamaica’s majestic Blue Mountains and others across the region can soon become. Sustainable development requires sustainable planning and sustainable education and awareness activities.
Archeological survey of T&T
Bones beneath Red House, heritage consultant calls for…
The recent finds of skeletal remains and artefacts believed to be early century AD under the Red House Parliament Building in Port of Spain, Trinidad point to the need for a comprehensive archeological survey of Trinidad and Tobago. Trinidad and Tobago’s prehistoric connections with the American mainland holds enormous potential for opening up a vast field on new research activity. The new university campus in South Trinidad ought to look at establishing an all-encompassing programme in heritage studies that incorporate research, scientific, conservation, restoration and curatorial study among other fields that would advance the knowledge and understanding of Trinidad and Tobago’s prehistory and multicultural heritage.
|Nicole Drayton Photo from Guardian Report.I have no copyright claims on this
This also has value to the region and the world. We have for too long paid only lip service to our multiculturalism. The find under the Red House of bones potentially dating to the beginning of this epoch points to the significant need for a proper survey and actions to secure and protect zones that are of significant historical and prehistoric importance.
Why, forty years later, as one of the richest countries in the region, must we be looking to other universities from which to draw expertise when by now we should have full-fledged – not only archeological, but also conservation, restoration and other related programmes that explore the significance of our heritage beyond the current focus on song and dance mode? While scholarly collaborations are important, certainly we could be more advanced, and a leader rather than a follower in these fields in which several other less-resourced Caribbean countries are significantly more advanced.
Archaeologist on Red House find: Amerindian artefacts date back to AD 0-350
Amerindian artefacts found at Red House
CCBP: Caribbean Capacity Building Workshop in preparation for the sites nomination dossiers to the World Heritage List. Kingston, Jamaica, 5-15 June, 2012 Within the framework of the celebrations for the 40th Anniversary of the 1972 UNESCO Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage , took place from 5 to 15 June 2012 in Kingston, Jamaica, the Caribbean Capacity Building Workshop to prepare the nomination dossiers for the INESCO World Heritage List. The workshop was organized by the UNESCO Kingston Office with funding from the government of Japan and the cooperation of the UNESCO Regional Office for Culture in Latin America and the Caribbean in Havana and the National Jamaican Commission for UNESCO. The course was addressed to professionals working in the field of cultural and natural heritage, staff in national institutions and specialists sent by National Commissions for UNESCO in each country and was focused in the development of capacities for the nomination of sites to the tentative lists of World Heritage on the Eastern Caribbean countries as a way to expand the number of sites representing Caribbean heritage in the world list and to balance its geographical location. The workshop aimed at providing support to the conservation of world heritage and to expand the knowledge about places of memory in the Caribbean taking into account their own specific characteristics and their high potential to promote social participation and improve sustainable development of the communities in small island states. Another objective was to strengthen the participants capacities for the effective implementation of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention and increase the participation of Caribbean countries in the preparation and submission of the nomination dossiers to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre , thus increasing in number and quality the nominations to world cultural and natural heritage and highlighting the perspective of the Places of Memory existing in the Caribbean. The workshop used the modules of the Caribbean Capacity Building Programme for the World Cultural and Natural Heritage in the Caribbean 2004-2014 (CCBP), to facilitate the participants’ work in the nomination of the sites in their respective countries. The CCBP consists of six training modules that deal with the application of the 1972 Convention, the management of tourism, risk prevention, management of cultural landscapes, management of historic centres and management of natural heritage. Outstanding international experts, specialists from the UNESCO World Heritage Centre and from the UNESCO Offices in Havana and Kingston taught the workshop, which was facilitated by consultants Arch. Patricia Green of Jamaica and Dr. Arch. Isabel Rigol of Cuba. Several other highly prestigious professors were invited to lecture, outstanding among them for their contribution and the special relationship established with participants, Dr. Alissandra Cummins, President of the UNESCO Executive Council and one of the most active promoters of the inscription in 2011 of y Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison, in Barbados, in the World Heritage List. Dr Cummins, who is also head of the National Commission for UNESCO in Barbados, exchanged experiences and shared important details with regards to the nomination process. After a brief stay in the country, Mrs. Cummins returned to her country to welcome UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, in her official visit to Barbados, where she visited the site most recently inscribed in the World heritage List, the twenty-first in the Caribbean. Sixteen places of memory were studied in the workshop, new proposals were considered to be included in the national tentative lists for their submission by the countries to their inscription in the World Heritage List. https://sites.google.com/site/krisrampersadglobal http://www.unesco.lacult.org/proyectos/showitem.php?lg=2&id=137&paginasweb=29&idtitulo=1589
World Heritage in the Caribbean: updating the Action Plan 2012-2013 Kingston © UNESCO Kingston / Official opening of the course in St. Mary’s, Antigua and Barbuda, March 24, 2013 April 8, 2013 / Kingston UNESCO World Heritage Center of UNESCO, in Paris, the UNESCO Offices in Kingston and Havana, in collaboration with the National Commission for UNESCO in Antigua and Barbuda, organized the training course for the Caribbean in the preparation of nomination dossiers for World Heritage , developed in St. Mary’s, Antigua and Barbuda, from 24 to 28 March 2013. This training exercise was designed within the framework of cooperation of Japan’s trust funds for the project “Capacity building to support World Heritage conservation and enhancement of the sustainable development of local communities in small island states (SIDS ) “. The official opening took place on March 24, 2013 at the Jolly Beach Hotel in Antigua, in the presence of Dr. Hon Winston Baldwin Spencer, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Hon Winston Williams, Acting Minister for Education Sports, Youth and Gender Affairs of Antigua and Barbuda; Yoshimasa Tezuka His Excellency, Ambassador of Japan in Trinidad and Tobago, Dr. Alissandra Cummins, President of the Executive Board of UNESCO and the UNESCO National Commission in Barbados, so as representatives of the World Heritage Centre of UNESCO and the Organization offices in Kingston and Havana. Course, trace output to developed in June 2012 in Kingston, Jamaica, brought together about 20 participants from Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Granada, Guyana, British Virgin Islands, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Martin, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago and Bahamas. During the training the participants exchanged their candidature files and information, while receiving advice and guidance of facilitators and Caribbean experts as well as representatives of ICOMOS, IUCN and the World Heritage Centre of UNESCO. ‘s Workshop 5 days concluded with an action plan aimed at strengthening the professional capacities in Small Island Developing States (SIDS) for preparing dossiers to increase the number and quality of nominations of cultural heritage sites and natural, focusing on the Sites of Memory in the Caribbean. Participants also committed to continue its efforts to implement the World Heritage Convention, including through the completion of the application pack and awareness and public education on World Heritage issues and UNESCO Conventions in the field of Culture. Kingston Action Plan (updated) (available only in English) More information Note: Spanish translation provided by UNESCO Havana