PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Oct 23, CMC – – Consultant on culture conventions for safeguarding Caribbean culture and heritage, Dr. Kris Rampersad laments the fact that these islands have little or no mechanism in place to safeguard their heritage.
“That’s the danger we face without adequate laws, with deficient infrastructure, without bilateral agreements and protections, without connected institutions, without proper monitoring, regulations and punishments, without informed co-ordination and without empowered communities,” she wrote in her blog “Demokrissy”, after encountering what she described as “heritage piracy” in Trinidad and Tobago.
The author and educator, who has recently launched her latest book, “LiTTscapes- Landscapes of Fiction from Trinidad and Tobago”, said that it has become fashionable for hunters and hoarders of the island’s heritage to gather and dispose of as they wish.
She is peeved at how several tombstones including the historic Ganteaume Tombs in Mayaro, south of here that belong to one of Trinidad and Tobago’s oldest, wealthiest and most influential lineages, have been vandalised. The police have made no arrests.
Rampersad, who delivers training, facilitation and advice to Caribbean countries interested in safeguarding their heritage, the Ganteaume Tombs have links with more than 20 prominent families with ancestries through European, North and South American, Asia and the Caribbean.
She said “the lineage represented by the tombstone of the first family of Ganteaumes in Mayaro includes admirals and captains, planters and slaves, legislators, ministers of government and the church, clergymen, businessmen, judges, media moguls, derby winners (and) sportsmen.
“These descendants include not just the Ganteaumes as business magnate Peter Ganteaume; clergyman Father Ganteaume and West Indies cricketer Andy Ganteaume; but also the Seigerts, the founding family of the world-famous Angostura Bitters, the Pantins, including deceased Archbishop Anthony Pantin, Father Gerard Pantin and Minister of Education Clive Pantin.
“It also bears relations to Spanish/Venezuelan lineages of the Torres, de Freitas and Carvallo and British heritage as the Hamel-Smiths as well as Agostinis, O’Connors, Guisseppis/Giuseppis and Ciprianis and Scotts and those of Chinese lineage as the Chens among others.”
Rampersad said that tomb raiding ranges from the activities of hobbyists “seemingly innocently eager to hoard bits of history so they comb graveyards and other sites to gather bits and pieces from or off tombs, to petty thieves looking to earn a quick shilling (as well as), to highly organised crime networks trading in black market heritage goods with complicity by individual collectors or even museum dealers participating in a very lucrative heritage trade market.
“Illicit siphoning out of such assets and heritage deprive local communities and populations of enjoyment and appreciation of their heritage, as well as creating and generating incomes from legitimate heritage-based industries and activities, Rampersad added.
“If people understood their heritage and how such heritage elements can also bring sustained economic value to themselves and their communities they may be less inclined to destroy them. They might even be less inclined to commit other kinds of crimes as well.”
In her blog posting entitled “The Tomb Raiders–Return to the Quest for El Dorado”, Rampersad argues that not unlike when Europe first entered the Caribbean in its quest for El Dorado, “the region is again attractive to culture and heritage pirates eager to capitalise on our unique cultural assets built from our experience as migrant peoples from five continents connected to local indigenous populations found here”.
She said with the world re-awakening to the value of culture and heritage and the Caribbean being a repository of histories and heritage of migrant streams from all the continents of the world, “the new El Dorado is not just the bullion or traditional objects of value as gold and jewelry, but artefacts that may be believed to fetch high prices in the world market, or become part of heritage collections that may one day be sold on the black market to museums and archives”.
The Trinidad and Tobago government is moving towards collecting data on historical sites across the oil-rich twin island republic.
Diversity and Social Integration Minister Clifton de Coteau said so far the National Trust has identified 302 sites, but he believes “there are more”.
He said when the list is finalised it would be sent to Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, recalling that the Spanish ambassador here, Fernando de la Serna, had recently identified a fort in the hills of Laventille, on the east-west corridor of the country.
In 2010, the Roman Catholic Church here launched a multi-million dollar project to renovate the Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception built in 1781.
“The National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago has declared the Cathedral to be an historical site. Therefore, supporting the restoration of the Cathedral not only is contributing to the restoration of the Mother Church of the Archdiocese, it is also supporting the restoration of an historical site for the nation,” said the former Archbishop Edward Gilbert in a column written in the Catholic News.
“Without a doubt, restoring and modernising the Cathedral has become the most significant project ever attempted by the Archdiocese,” he added.
Last week, an angry Mayor of Port of Spain, Louis Lee Singh, armed with chisel hammered away the mortar on the wall of the Lapeyrouse Cemetery in the capital after the near 200 wall had been plastered with cement.
Lee Sing said he did not know who had decided to plaster the wall of the historic cemetery, where the oldest grave is dated 1813 and where famous Trinidadian painter Michel Jean Cazabon who died in 1888, is buried.
The tomb of Lady Harris, wife of the third Lord Harris, an 1840s governor, is also in the cemetery, as well as a Jewish burial area.
“I was in China. When I came back and saw it I went crazy,” he told reporters.
Rampersad said national actions for heritage have in the large been “short-sighted, piecemeal, often reactive, crisis-oriented, stop-gap responses to immediate situations to avoid embarrassment or deflect from public rage until such rage can be redirected elsewhere.”
She laments the “ glaring” deficiencies in the functions of various state agencies noting “they support systems of patronage that keep culture and heritage in a dependency stranglehold so they are unable to find their footing as viable and lucrative, self sustaining economic activity”.
Rampersad, who owns Caribbean Literary Salon, an online meeting place for literary enthusiasts, has identified a number of stumbling blocks to heritage preservation here.
These include inadequate local legislation, deficient local structures and institutions, incompetent monitoring as well as “historic animosities fostered and entrenched between and among our populations and institutions (and) an archaic museum model, run on a massa-type structure, borrowed from colonial rule”.
Rampersad said there is also a lack of coordination between systems and a lack of committed financing and resourcing programmes and mechanisms for conservation activities