Sat | May 27, 2017

Protected national heritage site declaration for Woodside

Published:Saturday | January 17, 2015 | 1:00 AM

Paul H. Williams, Gleaner Writer

WOODSIDE, St Mary:

THE VILLAGE called Woodside in St Mary used to be a major Taino (Arawak) settlement, research has shown. The Tainos were eventually displaced when Europeans occupied the island and set up huge sugar cane plantations. But, at Woodside and neighbouring villages, it was coffee that was king. Enslaved Africans were the main source of labour on the coffee plantations.

According to Dr Erna Brodber, in her book, The People of My Jamaican Village 1817-1848, Woodside "first appeared in the government records in 1811". At that time, the plantation at Woodside, spanning more than 1,000 acres, was the biggest of all. It was also the residence of Dr William John Neilson, who had inherited the property from his father, John Neilson who died in 1800 at 61.

Because it is a former Taino settlement and a coffee plantation on which many Africans toiled and died, Erna Brodber, born and bred in Woodside, social historian, educator, sociologist, anthropologist, author, has been campaigning for national heritage status for Woodside, starting in the mid-1980s when she returned to live permanently at Woodside. She revived the Woodside Community Development Action Group, and, over the years, she has worked assiduously in developing community tourism in the area.

On Saturday August 23, 2013, Rural Xpress published a story titled 'Woodside wants official heritage designation', in which the residents had expressed a desire for all of Woodside to be designated a national heritage site. Now, it turns out that all of Woodside will not get such a designation, but four sites will, in fact, be declared protected national heritage. The process has already started, but the official announcement of intent was made on Tuesday at a meeting inside the Woodside Community Centre.

STRONG TRADITIONAL HISTORY

In attendance were some stakeholders including the Resort Advisory Board, Social Development Commission, Tourism Product Development Company, Jamaica Cultural Development Commission, and Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT), whose legal officer, Kadene Campbell, explained the declaration process. She said for a site to be declared a protected one, it must have historical, architectural, artistic, archeological and traditional values. "And you would agree with me that the Woodside community has a strong traditional historical value," Campbell told the gathering.

The designation process, Campbell said, is two-fold. First, there is the research process to find information that supports the historical and traditional value of the site under consideration. Then there are site visits to assess the heritage value of the site. When that is a done, a report is made, and presented to the designation committee at the JNHT.

If the recommendation is approved, it is taken before the board of trustees for final approval. After that approval, documents are prepared. These documents are the notice of intention and a draft of the designation declaration. The notice must be published in a newspaper and is served on interested parties and the community for possible objections. There are 28 days in which to raise an objection. If there is one, it will be assessed by the JNHT, but if there is none, the final declaration document is prepared and then published in the Gazette.

LEGAL REPERCUSSIONS

When a site is declared, any decision to add to or alter that site must be approved, in writing, by the JNHT. Failure to get approval before adjustments are made can result in criminal sanctions. Destroying or defacing such a site may also attract legal repercussions. However, the community where the sites are located must ensure that their integrity and upkeep are not compromised.

"I want to underscore the fact that when the sites are declared, it is not to be left to the JNHT. It is not our jurisdiction ... . It is your story and the preservation of it is largely dependent on you. It will become whatever it is that you make it," Campbell said.

The four sites to get protected status are: One Bubby Susan (Atabey), a rock sculpture of woman, said to be the earth mother of the chief God, Yocahu; St Gabriel Anglican Church, which was once the plantation great house of Dr William John Neilson; rock steps said to be made by the Tainos; and Daddy Rock, a social space where enslaved Africans used to meet and talk about themselves.

In speaking with Rural Xpress about the intention to declare the sites after all the lobbying, Dr Brodber said, "It is the validation of what the people know, this is the people's history. That is the thing that they have been carrying, and it's their heritage ... . I hope they recognise that."

rural@gleanerjm.com