Preserving historical sites; not just the Government's job

Monday, July 30, 2012    

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They say a picture is worth a thousand words.


We need only look at the pictures of Sir Donald Sangster's birthplace in today's Observer Central to be absolutely appalled and ashamed, yet again, at how we treat historical sites and national monuments.

We see value in the comment by executive director of the National Heritage Trust Ms Laleta Davis-Mattis that discussions about Sir Donald's birthplace had been widened to include "birthplaces and homes of all Jamaican prime ministers and other significant spaces..."

And also for a "mechanism" to be developed which not only declares places of historical importance as National Heritage Sites, but which also provides for their "development and sustainable maintenance". All of that makes sense.

The trouble is that in the instant case of Sir Donald's birthplace there is no time. The place is falling apart while we fiddle.

Surely as a society and as a nation we shouldn't have to wait for a historical site to be 'declared' before we take protective and rehabilitative action. And it can't just be the Heritage Trust and the Government that should be held accountable. It seems to us that families and communities must also take responsibility, especially in the context of empty government coffers.

We speak from a distance but dare to suggest that in the case of Sir Donald's birthplace, the Sangster clan, the Mountainside and wider St Elizabeth community could have and should have done much more to protect a proud legacy.

Obviously it's not just about one former prime minister. Earlier this month there was similar soul searching regarding National Hero The Rt Excellent Norman Washington Manley's birthplace in Roxborough, Manchester.

Mr Olivier Stephenson in a recent column in this newspaper asked "Who knows where Don Drummond, Alton Ellis, Baba Brooks, Roland Alphonso, Albert Huie, Maillica 'Kapo' Reynolds, or Trevor Rhone lived, or for that matter, their actual birthplaces?"

And further, "Whether we are aware of it or not, Roger Mais was a national hero, albeit unofficial. Similarly, Claude McKay. Who knows where these gifted men were born?"

It's been hammered home repeatedly in this space and elsewhere that it's not just about honouring our heroes. There is much to be gained economically if our historical sites are properly preserved -- especially, as is inevitable, the Jamaican diaspora grows richer, more curious and more plentiful.

So what's to be done? It seems to this newspaper that the responsibility ultimately lies with all of us. We say again that it can't be good enough to expect a Government, struggling to make ends meet, to bridge the gap on its own. Though it must take prime responsibility.

Communities, families, business sector, civil society must also do all in their power to protect our history and culture.

The news media too, including this newspaper, has a tremendous role to play. By seeking, finding and revealing the stories relevant to our history and culture the media can sensitise and inspire the wider society to act.





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