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LETTER OF THE DAY - Misconceptions about tourist interests

Published:Friday | January 22, 2010 | 12:00 AM

The Editor, Sir:

"The Jewish Diaspora of the Caribbean: An International Conference" was held at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel from January 12 - 14. Participants included the local and international Jewish community as well as representatives from academic institutions. The Jamaican Jewish Heritage Tour: Sha'are Shalom Synagogue downtown, Kingston, was an 'eye-opener'. At first sight, the sand strewn on the floor of the synagogue seemed like construction was taking place, until it was revealed that the placement of the sand on the floor depicted a survival strategy dating back to the time of the Spanish Inquisition. The sand would prevent footsteps being detected and enable the Jews to worship in secret. Although not universally observed, it is interesting to note that Jamaican Jews have continued to use the sand as a symbolic gesture.

As the tourists (mainly white people) disembarked the luxury buses from Knutsford Boulevard and made their way along Spanish Town Road in the vicinity of Three Miles, it was observed that they were unperturbed by the contrasting landscape of Jamaica's inner city. The shacks and imageries of neglect and squalor did not detract from their goal of being reunited with their ancestors. An analysis of the tombstones revealed that The Jewish Cemetery dated back some 200 years. Residents had bushed the area which was being renovated by the Jewish community.

These tourists were not out of place amid the dust and sights and sounds of the inner city. They were, after all, Jews and would be quite familiar with the term 'ghetto'. At the end of the tour, the Heritage Centre director Ainsley Henriques requested that a special prayer be offered in honour of the memory of the dead.

Powerful communication tool

In the US, an interesting concept has emerged - Gangland Tours. Tourists are given bus tours of communities where gang-related activities occur. Heritage is a powerful communication tool for attracting tourists. This is an opportune time for the University of the West Indies' Department of History and Archaeology, the Jamaica Historical Society, the Archaeology Society of Jamaica and the Jamaica National Heritage Trust, and others, to pool their resources and convert communities with untapped heritage potential into heritage centres of excellence.

To quote from the words of a popular song 'wake up everybody no more sleeping in bed, no more backward thinking - time to think ahead ... we got to change it, you and me'.

I am, etc.,


Graduate Student

Heritage Studies

University of the West Indies, Mona