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History and heritage

Peter Simmons

History and heritage

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In recent times there has been an explosion of interest in aspects of Barbadian history and heritage enhancing our collective knowledge, redounding to the national good.
Early in my days at The Lodge School, my esteemed history teacher, Sir Alexander Hoyos, ignited my interest in the subject by bringing the attention of the class to the following quotation from Cicero: “History is the witness of the times, the torch of truth, the life of memory, the teacher of life, the messenger of antiquity.”
My early interest became an unalterable determination, under his guidance from junior school to sixth form, to learn as much as was then possible about the history of Barbados and the Caribbean. In those days, our written history was limited, much of it authored by my tireless and dedicated teacher himself.
One of his favourite mantras was “change is both a penalty and privilege”. It has been an enlightening and exciting privilege to be an eyewitness to the national changes in the footprint of Independence and the evolution of the University of the West Indies, and to have much of our indigenous history recorded, interpreted and taught by a cadre of homegrown historians.
Three of Barbados’ most eminent and productive “messengers of antiquity” – Sir Woodville Marshall, Ambassador Robert Morris and Dr Karl Watson – have been recognized and honoured at the national level. Two other distinguished historians who were knighted, Sir Keith Hunte and Sir Hilary Beckles, became principal of the Cave Hill Campus.   
Two Lodge School contemporaries, multitalented Professor Henry Fraser and the Barbados Community College’s History Department head Trevor Marshall, have also made significant contributions to historical research and our heritage. Surely national recognition will follow in time to come.  
The interest in Barbadian history and heritage found a new lease on life last year with the recognition of Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Let me congratulate Miss Alissandra Cummins, director of the Barbados Museum & Historical Society, on being appointed to chair UNESCO’s executive board. Once again, a Barbadian has gone abroad in a multinational organization, punched above her weight and covered herself and Barbados in glory.
A few weeks ago, we celebrated the 360th anniversary of the signing of the Charter Of Barbados at Oistins. A foundation stone in the long march of this country to its rendezvous with democracy and Independence, it is said to have influenced the seminal United States Declaration Of Independence.
This is a document of major historic international consequence and it is amazing that it has taken enlightened Barbadians 360 years to formally recognize it. I trust it will not take three and a half centuries to formally recognize and demarcate with an appropriate artifact the spot at the UNESCO-recognized Garrison where the Union Jack was lowered and the Broken Trident raised in 1966.
With the resurgent interest in our history and heritage, a Preservation of Antiquities and Relics Bill going back to Parliament shortly and elements among our volatile younger generation pregnant with Barbadian pride and nationalism, hopefully, the march of time will see this national disgrace corrected with greater haste.
I appeal to the Barbados World Heritage Committee to put it on its agenda.
I was pleasantly surprised to read of the tunnels recently discovered running under The Garrison, starting close to the extensively and expensively refurbished George Washington House. I look forward to this aspect of our history being researched and documented and appropriate steps put in place to make it possible for our population, particularly our school-aged children, to tour this historic landmark.
Last Sunday the new-found cornucopia of history and heritage saw a sizeable turnout for a tour of the Nidhe Israel Museum And Synagogue in Bridgetown led by the widely informed and energetic Dr Watson. One of the oldest Jewish places of worship in the world, it enriches the heritage of Bridgetown and attracts many visitors.
Just around the corner, a recent attempt to alter the façade of Bridgetown’s oldest structure, the Nicholls Building, one of the oldest examples of Dutch architecture in this part of the planet, was halted after a vociferous protest from Professor Fraser.
If Bridgetown is to maintain its UNESCO designation, the Town Planning Department must play its part.
One of the joys of growing up in Barbados of yesterday was being taken on Sunday afternoon drives across the country by our parents to visit places of interest. One visit took us to the slave huts just north of Speightstown and at Boscobel. They have all disappeared, sacrificed by the philistines on the cross of “progress”.     
Modernizing Barbados must be tempered by protecting the rich heritage of our treasured remaining artifacts, graphic witnesses to their times, resolute messengers of antiquity.
• Peter Simmons, a social scientist, is a former diplomat.