Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands

Coastal region and small island papers 16

3 Island heritage

Port Elizabeth, Bequia, St Vincent and the 
Grenadines, March 1999






Pollution is a problem many islands share, as 
seen here in the discarded oil bottles and other 
solid waste that has collected in a small inlet 
near the airport in Bequia, St Vincent and the 
Grenadines, March 1999

  


‘Bequia is one of the most exquisitely enchanted and the largest of the Grenadine Islands. Bequia is well known for its warm tropical climate, white and sometimes golden sandy beaches, accompanied by our ravishing sapphire seas, which surround our beautiful and peaceful island. Bequia is located in the Windward Islands at 13º North, 60º West and nine miles south of mainland St Vincent in the Caribbean Sea. Our island has a large percentage of lush vegetation mostly between the months of May and September, which are considered by our older folks as the rainy season. The people of Bequia, with our friendly, angelic and radiant smiles and behaviour can do a lot to encourage our tourists to relax and really enjoy their stay.

We are well known for our fishing boat races and whale catching which expresses our culture and it shows how the people of our island are innovative and very interested in their local festivals. One of the most participative festivals is the Easter Regatta. There are more advantages of living on Bequia. Some of which I will now list here. First of all with a very small population there is a lower percentage of violence. In Bequia the landscape is so small that it is almost impossible to get lost and everyone will be known to you. The fewer the people and houses being built, the more land there is to construct tourist attractions such as wildlife sanctuaries, tourist departments and local exhibitions, and also less deforestation taking place. People have turned away from the land and cultivation of peas, corn and cassava is not as popular with the younger generation as with their grand and great grand parents. Also with the coming of electricity, charcoal isn't burnt as often as it was in the past generations. In Bequia our small population means fewer mouths to feed, so that would increase the percentage of the marine life due to fewer fishermen. All these natural resources, kind hearted people and our cultural packages are what help to attract tourists to our beautiful island.

There are also some disadvantages of living on a small island, but the biggest and most important one of all I think is the lack of jobs. More hotels, restaurants, fisheries, boutiques and supermarkets need to be built to provide more jobs. With our small population we are at a very high risk of contracting diseases and there might be a lot of incestuous relationships taking place. There is another disadvantage that often has our island appear to be corrupt, it is the fact that there always seems to be gossip from one person to another about someone else which sometimes isn’t really true. Another disadvantage is that we are not as highly developed as our neighbouring countries.

Due to our small amount of local export goods and the high prices of imported products from foreign countries, our finances are declining. The last disadvantage, which is considered a worry to us, is the fact that there are not enough opportunities for young people to expand themselves. When students finish their college and secondary education they can only be involved in the hotel industry, fishing industry or some just end up being taxi or mini bus drivers. These disadvantages should be looked into carefully by our surrounding communities and the government.

There are three major things that should be changed in Bequia, such as the health facilities. They should be cleaned at all times, rebuilt and have qualified doctors who can use new medical devices. All tools should be new and sterilized. Another thing that should be enforced is the introduction of garbage disposal rules, a new process such as recycling should be looked into. As an example, using broken glass bottles, mixed with sand and cement to make benches for schools, is what our school is currently doing. The last thing to be changed is a better and more organized police force and coast guard. One of the most important factors is that right now the big coast guard boats are on dock for repairs and there is only a little dingy boat for use. There should also be a stronger means of communication to locate lost boats.

Bequia can be whatever we want it to be, all we have to do is make progress in developing our island.’

Tammy Williams, Trachia Simmmons, Ugo Davis, Bequia Community High School, Bequia, St Vincent and the Grenadines (Youth forum, September 2002)

This article by students from Bequia Community High School and entitled ‘Advantages and disadvantages of living in a small island’ launched the first phase of the Small Islands Voice internet-based youth forum on 16 September 2002 and provides a framework for the key issues discussed in this publication. The students are obviously proud of their island’s beauty and their traditions and they perceive their small size as an advantage; yet they recognize the disadvantages of island life such as few job opportunities and are willing to talk about subjects that are often kept hidden, such as incest and gossip. The enthusiasm to effect change for the better is clearly stated in the last two paragraphs ‘Bequia can be whatever we want it to be’.

Anse Georgette in Praslin is among Seychelles’ most beautiful beaches, 
March 2003

 

St Vincent’s mountainous
interior provides a scenic 
backdrop for the port of 
Kingstown, June 2002

Island heritage and culture are important in many ways, and especially because they provide people with a sense of continuity, giving them a sense of belonging to a particular place, and becoming a part of their identity. The youth taking part in the internet discussion forum show an immense pride in their respective islands, and want to display this aspect of island life to the rest of the world. They were happy to discuss this topic over and over again. Older island residents exhibit the same pride in their heritage, although perhaps in a more reserved manner. Thus this chapter focuses, for the most part, on youth’s perception of island heritage.

Natural beauty of islands

Young people and adults alike recognize the beauty of their islands and often heated debates break out as to which island has the best beaches or the most exciting carnival.

‘In Seychelles we have over 500 beautiful beaches. We are lucky in the sense that if one is restricted there is always another one to go to ... Seychellois love to picnic, it is a great Sunday pastime. We do not have huge movie halls or shopping complexes to keep us busy on the weekends. We have our Nature, our beaches, the sea and our mountains.’
Nathalie Savy, Seychelles (Global forum, February 2003)

‘Mangaia is a beautiful island and it has friendly and beautiful people. The best thing about our island is freedom. It is a safe secure place. You can go anywhere you want, anytime you want. Our paradise is a wonderful and peaceful island. This is especially important to us at this time because the world is not at peace; there are wars and conflicts in big countries and small islands.’
Students from Mangaia School Senior Class, Cook Islands (Youth forum, April 2003)

Presentations of dance, music and
national costumes are much
appreciated at important events, as
seen here at the Sandwatch
workshop, Dominica, July 2003

  


Explaining the symbolism of each
island’s flag was an important part of
the Sandwatch workshop, Dominica,
July 2003. Here Ms Jeanette Larue
describes the Seychelles’ flag

Traditions, culture and language

Traditions and culture are also an important part of island life, and range from cooking methods to music, and from dance to language.These aspects of daily life are cherished by young and old alike as seen in the following extracts from the Small Islands Voice internet-based youth forum.


During a Caribbean regional civil society consultation in Trinidad and Tobago, Mr Shango Abayomi puts some of the discussions to music, October 2003
   

‘Of all the positive aspects of living in St Kitts, the one that we found most significant to us is our culture. Just like Bequians, Kittitians love to express themselves and display their culture through dance, drama and music. Many people have formed dance, drama and musical groups which perform traditional African dances like those done by the masquerades, clown, bull and the mock jumbies; latin dances; contemporary American; rap style dancing and singing; and Jamaican reggae dancehall style dancing and singing. However, the dance style that young Kittitians (and some old ones too) are best known for is what we call "wuk-up". "Wuk-up" is a circular whining and gyrating movement of the hips and buttocks to a blend of soca and fast rhythm or what we call "wilders/wilers" because of the frenzy it puts listeners into.’
Students from Verchilds High School, St Kitts (Youth forum, September 2002)

‘Our festivals celebrate our culture. We are just over two hundred years old. Our ancestors came from Europe, Africa and Asia. This makes us a real multi-cultural society and perhaps another advantage of being a Seychellois. We have three national languages and we only hear about the issue of race on television. So, we have what we call a "Creole Week". During this festive week, we celebrate our traditions, which originate from the three continents, plus those that we have gathered in the most recent decades.’
Tyra Faure and Juliette Elizabeth, Anse Royale Secondary School, Seychelles (Youth forum, September 2002)


Punanga Nui Cultural Market, Rarotonga, Cook Islands, November 2003

Visitors are treated to a traditional feast
served in palm leaves at Sataoa village, 
Samoa, December 2000

  

Taro patch, Rarotonga, Cook Islands,
June 2002

‘We too keep our tradition in agriculture. We use a calendar called "Ara Po". It's what our ancestors used and it's very useful. It tells us when and what to plant and what will happen. We also have a traditional way of cooking that we still use. This is called an "Umu" which is an underground oven and we put in many different types of food. When we have an "umu kai" we also use traditional plates made out of "kikau" palm leaves. In the Cook Islands we too keep our traditions and are very proud of them.’
Students from Nukutere College, Rarotonga, Cook Islands (Youth forum, April 2003)

  


Ms Maarametua Murare (right), youth
representative from Cook Islands,
presents a black pearl, one of her
country’s products, to Hon. Sandra
Pierantozzi, Vice-President of Palau,
during the Small Islands Voice First
Interregional workshop, Koror, Palau,
November 2002

Language is another important part of island life. Students from St Lucia in the Caribbean and from Seychelles in the Indian Ocean were excited to learn that they both spoke Creole (spelt Kweyol in Seychelles).The importance of language as part of island identity cannot be overstressed:

‘As for language it's very important. In Palau we speak Palauan and English. Most of the old women know some Japanese because of the war and all that. Without language, then who are you? I think that it's very unique. Never lose your language.’
Student from Mindzenty High School, Palau (Youth forum, April 2003)

Loss of cultural heritage

Young people expressed concern that their traditions are disappearing and their culture is being lost.This can be seen clearly in the following two descriptions of Nine Mornings, a tradition in Bequia in St Vincent and the Grenadines. 

Preserving architectural heritage is an
important concern in Charlestown, 
Nevis, February 2002

  

Religion is an important part of life for 
many islanders; the place of worship 
may vary from a church (Rarotonga, 
Cook Islands) to a mosque (Male, 
Maldives)
  

‘We are the only nation in the world that keeps the tradition of Nine Mornings – it is unique to us. Nine Mornings was first celebrated in the days of slavery when the slave masters carried the slaves to church with them in the early hours of the mornings leading up to Christmas. After church, the planters socialized with a breakfast feast while the slaves had their own form of merriment – drumming and dancing before the day’s work began. Our Nine Mornings takes place from 15–24 December every year. Festivities last from midnight to 6:00 am. Our festivities include: cultural packages, village light-up, fetes, ethnic fashion shows, food displays and indoor games such as cards and dominoes.’
Student from Bequia Community High School (Youth forum, March 2003)

‘In Bequia there are a lot of international traditions that are taking off in our small society and changing the traditions of our local people and our ancestors. It shows in our Nine Mornings, which long ago was a period of time when people went house to house singing and serenading, but over the past years the young generations have turned it into a party, where people jump and wine until morning, forgetting all about the essence of Christmas.’
Student from Bequia Community High School (Youth forum, May 2003)

This concern that traditions are disappearing is also borne out by young people in the San Andres Archipelago. This is a group of islands in the Caribbean belonging to Colombia. The islanders are descendants of African slaves and English settlers, and thus have strong cultural links with many other Caribbean islands. However, during the 20th century there were attempts by the Colombian government to replace their native language and religion with those of the Colombian mainland. Combined with the establishment of a free port in the 1950s, the development of tourism, and extensive migration from mainland Colombia to the archipelago, much of the islanders’ cultural identity has been lost.

‘In our Archipelago, traditions are falling every day deeper and deeper into a hole. Since the immigration to our archipelago during the 1960s, our native culture has begun to lose importance to our native people. The main topic was commerce and all other themes were less important. Unfortunately, we forgot about preserving our traditions and now, when we realize what we have done, it is too late: our native language is not our main language anymore, our native music is not preferred by our people and all traditions have been pushed down from the first place and replaced by the culture that the immigrants brought with them. Today, there are many people who do not even know about what we were before and what we used to do, there are natives who do not even speak our traditional language... It is getting worse every day and if we do not stand up and recover our traditions the time will come when all hope will be gone and our traditions will be lost forever in history.

As an alternative to recover and preserve our traditions we have to start educating our future generations; today’s generation is too old and the only way you can make sure people will learn something for life is at school, that is why I think all problems can be solved by giving a good education to the children and young people who in the future will have this archipelago in their hands. If you do not learn when you are young, you will never learn. If this works out well, the second step will be to practice the things we have learned and allow our culture to stay alive; passing on from one generation to the other. If one says, we cannot preserve our culture because of globalization... then I say, if we establish a purpose and commit ourselves to do it, if we work hard for it to come true, then it is possible.’
Hauke Peters, Luis Amigó School, San Andres (Youth forum, July 2003)


Poor quality ‘shanty towns’ with few facilities have spread in San Andres, 
right, as a result of the large influx of people from mainland Colombia, 
April 1999.
  
The main urban area of San Andres is 
by contrast well organized, April 1999

San Andres is not alone in seeing changes creep into island lifestyles, although it is perhaps a very extreme example of an island losing its cultural heritage. Similar changes are taking place in other islands.

‘Since years have passed, Palau is slowly changing into a new life style. New languages have been born and English is starting to have a strong effect on the Palauan language. Also, new technologies have been introduced and Palauans are slowly forgetting their own culture. Palauans are starting to dance with new kinds of music instead of their own style of singing and dancing. There are few Palauans at this time who harvest and hunt their own food. Instead, they buy food and drinks from grocery stores. Americans have introduced new things that have a strong effect in our island. Americans have brought new laws that did not concern us in the past. And since new technologies and American life styles have already been introduced, we are struggling hard to keep our Palauan tradition alive.’
Gavin Sugiyama, Mindzenty High School, Palau (Youth forum, May 2003)

Concluding comments

This desire among young people to keep their island traditions alive is one of the most significant issues emerging from Small Islands Voice and could well become a major direction for the initiative in the future.

 

 

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