Culture minister pushes for heritage tourism
Paul H Williams, Hospitality Jamaica Writer
The Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia 'Babsy' Grange is to work closely with the various communities and organisations to promote more adept marketing and public relations, as well as greater inter-agency collaboration, such as with tourism.
Grange made the announcemen, during her keynote address on Quao Day, Friday, June 23, the second day of the ninth Charles Town International Maroon Conference in Portland.
She spoke to an audience that included scholars and visitors from abroad, who had descended upon the windward Maroon village to discuss Maroon-related topics and to immerse themselves into the culture.
Charles Town is one of the communities within the Blue and John Crow Mountains UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Grange said her ministry is working closely with those communities to ensure that they "benefit economically from their heritage.
"In the case of Charles Town and Quao Day, there is need to engage culture and heritage tourism through the empowering of the communities to create relevant and meaningful products for merchandising, while ensuring that the integrity of the culture is sustained. This relates to the creation of heritage trails, re-enactments, drum and dance festivals and spaces for educational engagements," Minister Grange said.
Another space that the minister said her ministry is working to preserve, because of its significant heritage value, is the Taino site at White Marl in St Catherine. With work going on in earnest on the expansion of the Mandela Highway from Six Miles in St Andrew to the Old Harbour Road roundabout in St Catherine, there are concerns in many quarters over the threat that expansion might pose to the preservation of the White Marl Taino site.
It is one of the most significant Taino sites in the Western Hemisphere, where there is a rich trove of Taino artefacts embedded within the land. But fears that the integrity of the site might be compromised for the sake of development were allayed, perhaps, when Minister Grange said the developers will have to build the road around the site and not through it.
"As minister, I ensured that the Jamaica National Heritage Trust was involved ... And so we decided that at White Marl ... where they are going to cut the road through ... we are going to see what is there before they can touch it," she revealed.
The site is widely regarded as sacred Taino territory, and Grange recounted how rain came just when a zemi with a tear etched on its face was unearthed during an excavation process.
Zemis are miniature sculptures said to be possessed by deities or ancestral spirits. They were an integral part of the social and religious lifestyles of the Tainos whose lives, in Jamaica, were literally turned upside down after the Spaniards, led by Christopher Columbus, arrived on the island in 1494.
To escape onslaught and enslavement, many Tainos fled to the inlands and the mountains where they continued to carry out their pre-Columbus lifestyles. They were later joined by runaway Africans. Together they lived and interbred, but it is the resilience of the African Maroons that seems to have withstood the test of time.