Preserving Jamaica's rich heritage
The calm and pleasant atmosphere in the garden of the Emrie James Museum at the St Andrew High School for Girls, on Cecelia Avenue in St Andrew, served as the perfect backdrop for the launch of Island Reliquaries: Voices from a Jamaican Past on Tuesday, December 4.
This marked the local launch of the book, which was previously launched on June 20, 2013 during Caribbean Heritage Month, at the OAS Hall of the Americas, Washington, DC, in the United States.
Authored by Margaret Reckord Bernal, Island Reliquaries, sponsored by Jamaica National Building Society (JNBS), features a collection of well-crafted poems and photographs collated during a 30-year span, conducted throughout Bernal's work experiences across the island.
Dedicating the book to those who she coins as 'ordinary extraordinary' people, who contributed to the building and development of the Jamaican landscape, Bernal regards her work as a compilation of pure legacies, which are staples in Jamaican heritage.
"When folks come into the Emrie James Museum and they say, 'but, I never knew that,' when they see a picture or some fact … what I hear is why this book has been a labour of love and passion for me. It is something I had to do because those are the legacies that have taken so many of us on our travels," Bernal mused.
Crediting her experience while studying abroad as the defining moment for her decision to embark on this journey, she said her work in Island Reliquaries was inspired by many migrants she encountered and the fond memories they shared about Jamaica.
"When I came back from Nottingham University, I returned to the country travelling for many reasons. One was because when I was at Nottingham, I had the privilege of working with my English tutor who told me stories of migrants, many coming from the Caribbean. He was telling the story of working people who were different from the people in England, people who had no history behind them, just known as workers," she related.
She also had the privilege of interviewing some 350 persons in the Jamaican diaspora, over a three-year period, so that she could write a book about their history and travels.
"And I learned from those dreaming Jamaicans, who perhaps would never go home because their jobs in exile in England meant that they would never make enough money to return."
The curator of the Emrie James Museum, Bernal said the name 'Island Reliquaries' was deliberately chosen because of its strong meaning and connection with the purpose of the book.
"We have many stars in the sky and in our landscape, and Island Reliquaries reconnects us with an object or person that has a significant meaning from the past," she affirmed.
Speaking at the recent launch, JN Foundation's General Manager Saffrey Brown spoke about the building society's strong interest in the preservation of local culture. She also made reference to the often underestimated connection that young people still maintain with their heritage as part of their identity.
This she noted as being apparent through the participation of students in the JN Foundation's Resolution Project. A programme which allows rural high school students to commend or advocate for change in issues affecting them through the medium of photography.
"When I read Island Reliquaries, one of the first things that came to light was the Home Sweet Home kerosene lamp, and one of the winners of the Resolution Project last year entered a submission, called 'Tools of Yesteryear', where she did a collection of what she felt were tributes to how we used to live back in the day," Brown stated.