Exposing Jamaica's world renowned intangible cultural brands

BY Edward Seaga

Sunday, February 04, 2018

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In my last article I focused on super-brands that have substantial local and international significance which fixed Jamaica, small as it is, on the map of the world. That article signified the amazingly powerful Jamaican brands which the world recognises, respects and enjoys, and from which Jamaica derives much benefit.

I have labelled these super-brands immortals: Usain Bolt, Bob Marley and Marcus Garvey. These paramount brands are dominant figures not just in Jamaica, but across the globe, especially Marley and Bolt as contemporaries, but also Garvey, who is recognised for the longevity of his predominant image by condemning racism, which is still a dynamic force after nearly a century.

The richness of Jamaica's branding, however, is not limited to the world renowned Jamaicans identified above. There are other treasures of the country in the same cultural vein as extolled above, but with the significant difference of exposing the intangible culture of Jamaica. These are:

• The marine archaeological site of Port Royal, acknowledged as the finest in the Western Hemisphere;

• The singular historical monumental creation of the Spanish Town Square, which is considered a unique example of Georgian architecture in this region of the Western world;

• The Seville property in St Ann's Bay where the two ships of Christopher Columbus were breached and abandoned after taking on water that could have caused the vessels to sink. Seville was the first capital of Jamaica after it became the location of the first European settlers. It was also unique in being the site of three historical cultures — thgat of the indigenous Tainos, Spanish and early English settlers.

While not at the same level of popular international recognition and fame as Garvey, Marley and Bolt, each of these archaeological sites have immense stature in their own milieu of academic discipline, which are sources of delight to those who seek out the mystery of their origins and the awe of their historical secrets.

A limitation for their effectiveness is that none of these three have been fully developed and exposed for public knowledge and gratification. As in the case of other countries in the developing world, funding for such cultural and scientific revelations are not prioritised because of the more pressing problems of government, such as the eradication of poverty. It is against this measure of needs that financial interest is determined. But if any form of development is to occur, it must begin at the beginning.

I have been fascinated by Port Royal, the Spanish Town Square and the Seville site for decades, and have been pursuing with a passion the possibility of their development. It is this intense interest that led me to request from UNESCO in the early 1980s a team to explore and prepare a master plan for the development of these sites. UNESCO agreed and a package of 28 interested agencies, comprised of UN bodies, multinational banks and Jamaican interests, undertook this huge project.

As would be expected, the project produced a voluminous amount of work designed to create a collective development of Port Royal, Spanish Town and Seville. This project was completed in the late 1980s and attracted a prompt response by the Caribbean Development Bank, a $10-million grant worth $250 million in today's value. Sadly, this was among financial pledges to Jamaica by international agencies which had to be diverted to meet the cost of recovery from the vast damage to the country caused by Hurricane Gilbert in 1988.

The Government changed in 1989 and no further governmental attempt was made to finance this project thereafter. It is left now to revive this project as the most dynamic cultural enhancement by which Jamaica can lift itself to another paramount position culturally, for the benefit of world recognition and the support of Jamaica.

These three projects are well endowed with outstanding attractions for visitors and even Jamaicans:

Port Royal: Lime Street should be rebuilt in the classical architectural style of the period. These units would be used as restaurants, bars, craft shops, and so on. The Giddy House is a natural attraction. The old Naval Hospital could be a museum for Port Royal artefacts. But the greatest attraction would be a reality view of the buried 11 acres of the town caused by the massive 1692 earthquake, showing houses and streets all intact as before the earthquake by using new computer software.

Spanish Town: This should be a show place with a beautiful garden in the centre of the square. The units could be used to depict the original lifestyle and usage, with appropriate antique furnishing. The centrepiece would be the rebuilding of the King's House, again appropriately furnished. This project would be another Devon House.

Seville: This site should undergo a professional excavation of areas suspected of being the location for valuable artefacts for removal, and for the abandoned Columbus vessels. Other locations without such value could be used to locate a medium-sized Spanish hotel, with classical Spanish architectural design incorporating early historic Spanish features. The large area of land which would have little archaeological value could become a perfect golf course to serve the many hotels of the north coast of Jamaica, enhancing the value of the area.

These are only some of the valuable uses of the sites when fully developed, not only for sightseeing but for earnings to cover at least some of the cost.

The ultimate objective of all the rich, cultural treasures of Jamaica would keep the country in the limelight of world recognition for the treasures it holds for posterity.

— Edward Seaga is a former prime minister of Jamaica, the chancellor of The University of Technology, Jamaica and is a distinguished fellow at the University of the West Indies.

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