Culture ministry holds workshop on the importance of Blue and John Crow Mountains
This is the first of a two-part article on the importance of the Blue and John Crow Mountains to the world’s cultural heritage.
THE NATURAL environment and intangible culture of the Blue and John Crow Mountains (BJCM) was the subject of a two-day workshop organised by the Ministry of Youth and Culture (MOYC) at the Courtleigh Hotel, New Kingston, this week.
It was triggered by UNESCO’s inscription of the area as a World Heritage Site (WHS) in July. Participants of the workshop heard that the inscription was earned because of the unique physical characteristics and important, fundamentally Maroon, history of the 26,000-hectare area.
It is located in the 48,000-hectare BJCM National Park, which spans the parishes of St Thomas, St Andrew and Portland.
“In the next few years, we’ll apply for more sites (to get on World Heritage List),” Everton Hannam, secretary general, Jamaica National Commission for UNESCO, told the gathering in his opening remarks on Monday.
Predicting that Hope Gardens, Seville and Port Royal would be among areas to be applied for, Hannaam, the first of many speakers, added confidently, “We’ll get Port Royal.”
Later though, Debra Kay Palmer, MOYC’s project coordinator (World Heritage), revealed that Emancipation Square in Spanish Town would be the next area submitted for consideration as a WHS.
To take advantage of the fact that Jamaica has membership on the World Heritage Committee until 2017, she said, the submission should be made by then.
Palmer, one of the chief organisers of the workshop, said its main objective was to develop a communication strategy. Three questions to be answered by participants, she said, were: What are the key messages to be communicated? What are the main target audiences? and What communication strategies should be used?
One key message identified by a number of the workshop’s presenters was the importance of Maroon culture to the BCJM. From Dr Janice Lindsay, principal director of culture in the ministry, who spearheaded the event, it was learnt that there are 16 Maroon sites in the area. They include Comfort Castle, Pumpkin Hill, Three Finger Springs, Nanny Town and the three major surviving Maroon towns – Moore Town, Charles Town and Scots Hall – which are all led by colonels and Maroon councils.
Interestingly, Nanny Town – an area in the middle of the BJCM, named after National Heroine Nanny, which once supported a community of Tainos, Jamaica’s indigenous people and, in the 18th century, the Maroons – is no longer a town. It was sacred to the Tainos and remains a sacred Maroon site, too.
“We have been keeping the communities central to the discussions about the importance of the area,” Dr Lindsay said.
“The Jamaica Conservation and Development Trust (JCDT) and the African-Caribbean Institute of Jamaica (ACIJ) have been engaging the communities. It has been part of the JCDT’s programme, but we (the MOYC) have been able to bolster it a bit so they are able to widen the reach of the communities.
“We need to help them understand what the World Heritage inscription means and the importance of keeping the integrity of the culture and heritage, and also think about the economic benefits."
To that end, she said, regular community meetings facilitated by the JCDT are held and culture agencies, like ACIJ and Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT), maintain a presence in the area.
Types of sites
With a definite note of pride in her voice, Lindsay pointed out that BJCM is the only mixed site - combining natural and intangible features - in the Caribbean. In fact, it is one of the only two World Heritage Mixed Sites among the 34 small island and developing states.
Andrea Richards, project coordinator in the UNESCO Kingston Cluster Office for the Caribbean, explained later that there are three types of sites - natural, cultural and mixed. The Latin America and the Caribbean region has 93 sites.
In the Caribbean region, there are sites in Cuba (which has the most - nine), the Dominican Republic, St Kitts, Barbados, Dominica, St Lucia, and CuraÁao, as well as Jamaica.
Further afield, the Great Wall of China and the Pyramids of Egypt are on the list of the 1,031 properties (up to July 2015) recognised as World Heritage Sites.
According to Dr Susan Otuokon, executive director, JCDT, which manages the BJCM National Park, the area contains thousands of flowering plants, ferns and mosses, and globally significant populations of bird species, including all 29 extant Jamaican endemic birds, and many other migratory birds. It is also home to the endemic Jamaican boa, the Jamaican Hutia (coney) and the giant swallowtail butterfly.
Ironically, while the once endangered coney population is increasing, Dr Otuokon told me, the human population in the area is decreasing - and ageing. Young people who leave the area to get further education tend not to return, she said.
"The Coromantee language some Maroons [can] speak is part of the intangible heritage," she said, though the Maroon version is the sort spoken in the Ghana of long ago. The same is true of the drums they make.
In his presentation, Bernard Jankee, director, African-Caribbean Institute of Jamaica, said it was vital to "expand and broaden the involvement of stakeholders beyond those agencies that have direct responsibilities for the BJCM".
The message to be transmitted in any public-education effort, he said, should contain these four important elements - the facts about the BJCM, the significance of the site, the benefits to both the communities surrounding the sites and more far-flung communities, and the responsibilities of citizens, again those who live around the sites and beyond.
"This is a national inscription, after all," he said.
Speaking to the 2005 UNESCO declaration that the music of the Moore Town Maroons was part of the world's intangible cultural heritage, Jankee said, "Next year, my organisation has the responsibility of reporting on the state of the musical heritage of the Moore Town Maroons, so that we can be in a position to say the integrity of that inscription is intact."
Similarly, he pointed out, reports will have to be made on the integrity of the BJCM inscription. If that integrity is not maintained, the area will be delisted as a WHS.
Next week: The hazards of a successful communication strategy.