The following is the full text of a GIS Interview with tWRF for Heritage Month April 2017.
In the introduction to their book entitled Caribbean Style, 2 famous French-Antillean architects, Jack Berthelot and Martine Gaumé made the following observation. Quote: “the origin of the Caribbean that we know today began not on the arrival of Pilgrim Fathers, or refugees from political or religious persecution but on the arrival of Slaves – Slave Masters, Money makers and hedoniSt” End of quote.
Our history is one of subjugation, genocide and the dehumanising of black people from Africa by Europeans from the 15th to the 19th centuries and continued in the late 19th and 20th centuries by the Americans. But as history would show, our indomitable will to survive, despite the unspeakable brutality and sub-human living conditions, has evolved over the past 500 years from a potpourri of nationalities including Africans, British, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Scandinavians and Americans, into a unique and evolving creolisation and a one-of-a-kind Caribbean civilisation.
This evolving civilisation is seen in the manner in which we laugh and dance and sing. The way we dress and greet each other, our literature, dialect and folklore, our art, our theatre and performing art, our spicy food, our carnival and street spectacle, and the exuberance in our political and religious expressions. Not to mention the evolution of our dwelling spaces in which we live and have been, in the form of mansions, great houses, bungalows, townhouses, village houses, Caribbean vernacular buildings, and the lowly shack, the labourer’s hut and the Kalinago ajoupa. Together with our parks and open green spaces, they are all expressions of our society in its various strata of socialisation, with climate as the common building design denominator.
In our Grenadian and Caribbean context, the scenario just mentioned can be described as the “Natural Order Of Occurrence.” It is the way fate and circumstance have prescribed our existence, but in the 21st century, as self-conscious and enlightened human beings, we should be able, as politically independent nations to “mould our destiny” in a preferred self-sustaining direction.
What part our Built Heritage, therefore, can play in our upward mobility, was described many years ago by Britain’s celebrated World War II Prime Minister Winston Churchill, when he opined; “we shape our buildings and they, in turn, re-shape us.” In other words, what we build creates an environment and an ambience which eventually influences our behaviour and our way of living.
The Built Heritage is the most consummate of our man-made physical environment; it provides shelter, protection from the elements and a conducive living environment from the cradle to the grave. A house or rather a home; is the most treasured single possession of one’s earthly existence; it provides comfort, peace of mind, security to individuals and family alike, and to the social well-being of the nation.
In the wider community, we have churches, temples, mosques and other religious symbols. We have schools, colleges and universities, factories, commercial houses, libraries, museums, cinemas, theatres, entertainment houses and myriads of other building types forming villages, towns and cities. While we witness St George’s – our capital city, once the envy of the Caribbean, is now in a parlous state of benign neglect.
When our visitors come to Grenada their first impression, which invariably is the most lasting – is the state and quality of our buildings, which subconsciously register on their minds. Buildings have a language of their own, which speaks of an aesthetics of cleanliness or lack thereof, neglect and dereliction, or of beauty and self-consciousness. It reflects the people who live in them and makes a profound statement of our national or regional identity.
The Built Heritage is, therefore, a reflection and concretisation of our Cultural Heritage. As St George’s has the highest concentration of heritage buildings in Grenada – mostly in the Georgian style of architecture and has been recognised by regional organisations as a unique Caribbean Townsite, it is incumbent upon the powers that be that a Cultural Heritage policy with supporting legislation be enacted at the earliest possible opportunity. It is somewhat ironic that visitors to our shores can readily appreciate what we have, but our cultural and economic mentors cannot, or are not persuaded to take appropriate action, in the interest of national development.
In the introduction to the book “Dynamics of Urban St George,” by Norris Mitchell, Historian Dr Beverley Steele CBE had this to say:
“It is one of life’s unexplained mysteries why a city so beautiful,
so historic and so richly endowed with so many pleasing buildings
of architectural merit has not been preserved lovingly and meticulously,
and recognised for the treasure that it is.”
Time is not on our side. Without adequate legislation and a Physical Planning Unit that shows little sensitivity to the destruction of our existing heritage buildings and the approval of inappropriately designed new buildings in historic locations, the future of the built heritage in Grenada is not encouraging. And as such the major tourism attractions of Pure Grenada would become a thing of the past.
Heritage Month 2017 was a call to our decision-makers that the Built Heritage — especially in our Capital City, besides its intrinsic valve as a Cultural Gem of the Caribbean — has major developmental and economic possibilities and potential as a unique and diversified tourism destination. Where specialised activities in niche areas of construction in the built heritage could be developed, such as repairs and restoration of heritage buildings and sites like the warehouses on the Carenage; Fort George, York House, Kirani James Boulevard as a mini park; the buildings in what is described as the “Historic Village”, namely the Western end of the Carenage, the Financial Complex, the Library, Monckton Street, the Tri-centennial Park, Fort George, the Tunnel, the Museum including the Drill Yard complex and the lower part of Young Street.
Heritage Month April 2018 must not see us in the same position as 2017. The time is long overdue for the built heritage of urban St George and elsewhere, to take its rightful place in the company of World Heritage sites. This can only be achieved by a dedicated Ministry of Culture with a determination to draft and rigorously implement a holistic cultural and heritage policy with supporting legislation. Collectively we can do something about it, and the Willie Redhead Foundation is more than willing to assist in this regard.
“We believe that the time is ripe for us to move from diagnosis to prescription and from criticism to action.” God bless.
Willie Redhead Foundation