'White Marl historic, but not good for museum'

BY DONNA HUSSEY-WHYTE Sunday Observer staff reporter

Sunday, October 21, 2012    

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FIVE years after the historic Taino Museum in White Marl, St Catherine, closed its doors stakeholders are no closer to deciding whether to relocate it or refurbish the run-down facility.

Government announced last year that plans were in place to relocate the museum to the Two Sisters Cave in Hellshire, St Catherine, where a new facility would be built in collaboration with the Urban Development Corporation (UDC). But when contacted Friday, Dr Jonathan Greenland, director of the Museums of History and Ethnography, said he was not yet sure to what location the museum will be relocation, or if it will in fact be moved.

"Previous people have been talking with the UDC about creating a kind of museum and centre in Two Sisters Cave, but that has not been concluded and I haven't spoken to UDC yet about it, or even decided if that would be a good idea," Greenland, who recently took up the post as director at the Institute of Jamaica (IOJ), told the Sunday Observer.

The museum was a casualty of the gang violence and extortion which were rampant in the Central Village and Windsor Heights areas as ongoing feuds left a number of residents dead and kept away potential visitors. Busloads of schoolchildren, who once looked forward to annual trips to the facility to soak up the history of the Tainos, have long since ceased, putting the students at a disadvantage.

"I don't have first-hand experience of it, but what I do know is that the community (White Marl) situation was not good for a museum for lots of people to come and visit. Whenever we have a museum, whenever we invest money and energy and time into running a museum it has to be a workable place. You can't just create a museum where it doesn't work, and as far as I understand, it just wasn't working or functioning as a museum. There was a lot of community issues. I don't know if those community issues remain, but there were many community issues," Dr Greenland said.

He did say, however, that the caves would be suitable should relocation be considered, even while he admitted that moving it from White Marl would have a significant impact on the authenticity of the Taino Museum.

Once called the Arawak Museum, the facility is built in the shape of a hut and forms part of the Amerindian Research Centre and the Midden - a mound of animal bones and other waste that indicates the site of a human settlement. It is considered a most valuable Taino site in Jamaica and is one of the most important in the Caribbean.

Excavations of burial grounds on the hill in White Marl have returned remains of a number of adults and a child. They have since been preserved and are still in good condition for display. The burial sites are thought to range in age from 700 to 1,000 years and pre-dates the arrival of Columbus by several hundred years.

Other historic artefacts found in the area are pottery, wood carvings, jewellery, amulets, bones of animals on which the Taino fed, as well as eating and cooking utensils. Hunting and agricultural implements, jewelry and carvings were also featured and a reconstructed Arawak village was found up the hill behind the museum.

Greenland said a museum has to facilitate attracting large numbers of people, and that was not the case in White Marl.

"Our real agenda is attracting large numbers of people from different audiences. And we have to create a structure and a system to facilitate that. That is our number one priority. So, White Marl is a very historic location obviously, but it is not good for that, and so we need to kind of find a place and space where we can do that," he said.

The IOJ official said a lot of important decisions had to be made, but that the organisation was hobbled by a lack of funding.

"We don't have any funds and we are operating basically on salaries at the moment," he said. "So what we would have to do is locate sources of funding in order to create the structures at Hellshire — if we do in fact move there at all."

Recently, the IOJ launched the Friends of the Museums and Our Story Foundation — two initiatives aimed at raising funds for a national museum and improving the Institute's existing museums.

The artefacts from the Taino museum are presently being displayed at the IOJ on East Street in downtown, Kingston. Greenland said anyone can visit and tour the Taino exhibition, however, the space does not facilitate large groups.





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