VANDALISED Centuries-old heritage tomb

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VANDALISED Centuries-old heritage tomb spanning Caribbean global diaspora in 5 continents vandalised.
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Defaced & Vandalised
Historic tomb of prominent T&T families in pieces
The marble tombstone of one of Trinidad and Tobago’s oldest, wealthiest and most influential lineages involving the genealogies of hundreds of prominent families with ancestral ties through European, North and South American, Africa, Asia and the Caribbean, has been vandalised and defaced.
We discovered this on the inaugural LiTTour – Journeys Through the Landscapes of Fiction from Trinidad and Tobago, on our way to ‘save’ another heritage building – the old Mayaro Post Office which is represented as a key literary house in my book LiTTscapes – Landscapes of Fiction from Trinidad and Tobago as the setting of several of the novels and short stories of Michael Anthony.
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, sportsmen
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in cricket and football, historians, bankers, insurers, educators, senior civil servants, national and international award winners among them with blood ties to our Spanish, French and British colonial history, their interaction with subsequent migrant streams from Africa and Asia, all with a significant number of still influential descendants to the present day.
One of the pieces left behind carried the cryptic graveyard abbreviation R.I.P.
These descendants include not just the Ganteaumes as business magnate Peter Ganteaume; clergyman Father Ganteaume and cricketeer 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), Rostants, Bessons, de Verteuil, de Silva, de la Bastide, Quesnel, and de Monteau among them. It also bears relations to Spanish/Venezuelan lineages of the Torres; of Portuguese origina as de Freitas and Carvalho and British heritage as the Hamel-Smiths as well as Agostinis, O’Connors, Guisseppis and Ciprianis and Scotts and those of Chinese lineage as the Chens among others.
The defaced Ganteaume tombstone marks the graves of Mayaro’s first administrator under the British, Francois Alphonse Ganteaume and his family. He was the grandson of the man credited as the European founding father of Mayaro which also had vibrant native peoples communities at the time of his entry as several native people’s middens in the district attest. He was a French planter who was shipwrecked on the coast enroute to Venezuela from Martinique in 1794 during Spanish colonial rule and was granted land under the 1783 arrangement between French and Spanish rulers to populate Trinidad called the cedula of population.
I believe the story of this early colonial period – of the neutralising of Spanish, French, Portuguese and British animosities towards each other in Trinidad is one of the defining moments in Trinidad and Tobago’s exemplary multicultural journey. It is succinctly captured by Sir Vidia Naipaul in The Loss of El Dorado. If only our literature is taught the way it should be to the young.
Such defacement is exactly the kind of actions that we, through our LiTTours, LiTTscapes and LiTTevents, are hoping to educate and sensitise our populations and the diaspora against; to appreciate and value their heritage and recognise and appreciate that from it we can have stronger, more vibrant and more connected communities. If people understood their literary heritage, their cultural heritage, the built heritage, the oral lore that resides in the memories of the elderly, how such heritage elements can also bring sustained economic value to themselves and their communities through heritage tourism beyond the petty sale of pieces of its marble, they will be less inclined to destroy them. They might even be less inclined to commit other kinds of crimes as well. That’s why we are talking of community ownership and acclamation of their heritage as the first stepping stone to building viable communities.
And by community we do not only mean villagers. It implies families as well, who really are the first line of interests when it comes to heritage and who may have the resources to secure the site in the first instance, but also to prepare it for appreciation of as part of the national and indeed international heritage asset that it is. No amount of legislation can correct that if we do not have that sense of ownership and responsibility. This incident is so similar to the recent insensitive demolition of the historic McLeod House in central Trinidad.
It is appalling that such a sense of neglect surrounds this site, that might be a family tomb, but is also a significant national landmark given that it speaks to early European settlement dating to the time of Spanish rule by people of French origin who have contributed to Trinidad’s multicultural milieu.
What is even more distressing is that this picture of neglect and indifference is smack in the heart of Trinidad’s most prolific oil-producing Mayaro-Guayaguayare district. I wouldn’t want to hazard a guess at what percentage of GDP the resources of the families linked to this site might represent.; nor what percentage the resources of this district contributes to the GDP. Why then was it in such a state? And think too of the Mayaro Post Office, a monument dear to villagers of Mayaro which  is in most parts without a floor and a condition of disrepair – almost ready to crumble in fact. That is the story of much of our heritage.
What was most touching was that the handful  of us standing sadly and distressed around the tomb, trying to put together the scattered fragments of the headstone, had no personal relations to those buried there; and can only lament the neglect of this significant aspect of the story of us as a people. We were people with a keen interest in heritage, history, research and conservation who had come together to share our appreciation for legacies like these. We are willing to work with anyone interested in and who shares this vision and interest.  
Why do we have to wait for a few enthusiasts to point out the value of our heritage? Why do we have to beg and plead for some attention to elements to which some of us have no real personal connection but based on small sentimental ties to Mayaro where we share fond memories of beach outings? Incidentally, Mayaro’s most popular beach is at Church Road, named for the Church which some of these early Ganteaumes also helped to build.
All in all, this example encapsules the sad state of heritage conservation in Trinidad and Tobago and the range of processes that needs to be addressed in reversing this, from local/community/family sensitisation, to involving local, national and international authorities. I have visited so many tombs and sites like these across the globe which function as vital elements of community integration, solidarity as well as visitor magnets and dream of similarly sharing our unique heritage with the world. It does make for deep retrospection when we celebrate Independence from colonial rule what such rule meant.
The LiTTour journey 
The inaugural LiTTour, pitched as The Reading Room Outside The Reading Room, marked initiation of a partnership with the Know Your Country tours of the Public Transport Service Corporation (PTSC). It included historian Michael Anthony, Rawle Mitchell who is a restoration architect and heads the Minister of Works’ Historial Restoration Unit, conservationist Heather Dawn Herrera, sketch artist Anthony Timothy; head of the Rural Women’s Network Gia Gaspard Taylor; UWI Librarian Tamara Brathwaite and a few other enthusiasts. We came upon the defacement quite unexpectedly. As were entering Mayaro, I began describing how the coconut industry appears under the IndusTTry section of the book LiTTscapes – Landscapes of Fiction from Trinidad and Tobago as it forms the backdrop of the action of several works of fiction, including providing the bat for cricket games described in stories as Anthony’s Cricket in the Road and as such must be regarded as part of the industrial literary heritage.
Michael Anthony joined in as we had been doing through the tour, explaining how the tombstone of the man Francois Alphonse Ganteaume and his family who introduced coconuts to Mayaro lay on a hill in St Joseph Village which we were approaching. Francois was the grandson of one of the original settlers of the district, a Frenchman who was shipwrecked off the Mayaro coast. He was also the first unofficial Mayor of Mayaro, Anthony said, and became the district’s first warden, responsible for its entire development – schools, health, roads and other systems under the British. As we neared the village, out of curiosity and a lifelong fascination with cemeteries as a repository of history, on impulse I asked the driver to make an impromptu stop as the easy format of our LiTTour’s open appreciation allows.
We climbed the few stairs up the hill to the tomb, which is itself at risk from a landslide. We looked to inspect the headstone which Anthony said would contain the names of the Ganteaume family members, and were horrified to see that it was missing. When we looked around, around our feet, we saw broken bits of the headstone that carried fragments of the inscriptions, but many parts were missing.
Rawle Mitchell, head of the Ministry of Works’ Historical Restoration Unit who was part of our LiTTour, speculated that the tombstone was vandalised for its marble and those bits with the engravings which perhaps could not be sold was left scattered around.
A visibly shaken and upset historian, Michael Anthony, while trying to piece together broken bits of the marble, explained how the tomb held the remains of one of Mayaro’s foundation members, Francois Alphonse Ganteaume and four other family members. Sketch artist Timothy Anthony set down his sketchpad and began to speechlessly gather the pieces, assisted by Tamara and others.
We sadly tried to piece the bits of the headstone together but could make no coherence from what was left of the headstone. Bits of letters here and there could have formed a jigsaw but many parts of the puzzle were already carted away by the culprit(s).”
While Anthony notes that the tomb contains the remains of five Ganteaume descendants whose presence in Trinidad dates into the eighteenth century, my research found the Ganteaumes’ have sired more than 20 of the island’s most prominent families with ties to European, South and North American and Caribbean diasporas. Ganteaume family records date back to pre 17th century Marseille in France through the French Court of Louis XV. The lineage includes admirals and captains, planters and slaves, legislators, clergymen, businessmen, judges, derby winners, sportsmen in cricket and football, historians, bankers, insurers, educators, civil servants, national and international award winners among them through Trinidad and Tobago’s Spanish, French, Portuguese and British colonial history to the present day.
Anthony explained that the first Mayaro Ganteaumes were buried on the hill in St Joseph Village where they had established their estate, and the coconut industry in Trinidad. Other members of the lineage are buried at Lapeyrouse Cemetery in Port of Spain.
The tomb in Mayaro contains the remains of the first Ganteaumes (Nicolas Edouard and his brother Pierre Nicolas) who were shipwrecked in South East Trinidad enroute to Venezuela from Martinique in 1794 and settled in Mayaro. They applied to the then (last) Spanish Governor Don Jose Maria de Chacon for land through the Cedula arrangement of 1783 between the French and the Spanish to populate the island and founded a cotton then sugar cane then coconut estate originally Beausejour Estate, later renamed St Joseph’s Estate as it is still known. They founded a dynasty in Mayaro, and had so established himself that by the time the British took over the island they became true British subjects (read V.S Naipaul’s The Loss of El Dorado). Under Lord Harris’ Governorship, the grandson was made the first warden of North Naparima and became the chief administrator and responsible for this district’s total development – health, education, roads, and all other systems and services.
 While Anthony recalls the family’s significance to Mayaro as one of its ‘most powerful’ families – with some descendants still resident there, my concern is about what these tomb and the tombstones mean to the globalised Caribbean diaspora as the genealogy of the family reads like the virtual Who’s Who of descendants of the French Creole families of Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela as well as its value to completing the world story of migrations and migrants from East to West. The French, including Ganteaume’s descendants, fled the repercussions of the French Revolution from MArseille to settle in Martinique and fled poor crop yields to land in Trinidad. Today, such migrant flights find impetus in fear of crime and social and economic hardships.
If revolutions are the impulse of change, then it could only take a revolution to heal the hurts and rifts and divides that still haunts – a revolution through reading.
More of these historical cycles in my upcoming discourse with Queen Elizabeth II Letters To Lizzie. Visit www.kris-rampersad.blogspotfor more.
Dr Kris Rampersad is a researcher, educator and heritage facilitator/consultant, and author of the book, LiTTscapes – Landscapes of Fiction from Trinidad and Tobago on which LiTTours – Journeys though the Landscapes of Fiction from Trinidad and Tobago are based.
CAPTION Above: In Pieces: The vandalised marble tombstone of the Ganteaumes in Mayaro, encountered by (from left) LiTTscapes author and heritage specialist, Dr Kris Rampersad; head of the Historical Restoration Unit Rawle Mitchell; historian/author Michael Anthony, sketch artist Anthony Timothy and Gia Gaspard Taylor of the Rural Women’s Network during the Inaugural LiTTour from Port of Spain through Sangre Gande to Mayaro. Photos by Kriston Chen, Courtesy LiTTours (c) Kris Rampersad 2012.


Please respect our copyrights
You can support our efforts by purchasing copies of LiTTscapes, commissioning LiTTours & LiTTevents; or ask about collaborating on our upcoming publications on Caribbean heritage for ages 3-103. That way we all win through sharing knowledge and information. For specific collaboration details email or call 1-868-377-0326


5 thoughts on “VANDALISED Centuries-old heritage tomb

  1. The argument that people cannot be expected to investin in monuments when there are other basic needs for food, shelter and clothing to be met aveh of course has since been debunked by the tremendous amount of data and evidence that exist to show heritage industries as viable, sustainable and lucrative economic drivers that provide local level jobs and hence meet needs for food, clothing, shelter and other basic needs that are not otherwise being met by so called mainstream economic activities .. so yes, people ARE expected to invest in these areas if the traditional economic activities that ought to provide for basic social needs have not done so …..

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