Monday, May 29, 2017

Of Diasporas Migrations Arrivals

Indian Arrival Day in Trinidad and Tobago: Having a sense of where we came from
Published on May 31, 2014

By Marcia Braveboy
Caribbean News Now Senior Correspondent
Twitter: @mbraveboy

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad -- Indian Arrival Day is being celebrated in Trinidad and Tobago on 30th May. On the eve of the occasion we are summoned once again by our foreparents to contemplate this burning sense of our past that engulfs our thinking with sparkles of thoughts about who we are and where we really came from.

This gentle meliorism by a conscious people whose gaze is set only on progress, must through active aspirations wonder into the deep and beyond the stars to find answers of a sometimes forgotten past, to reconnect the links for future generations.

The flames of 200 years ago by our ancestors and predecessors refuse to go out under a people it still challenges to define their purpose on this journey to a better Trinidad and Tobago.

Writer, author, journalist Kris Rampersad says that, more than a people defining themselves, there must be a better understanding of who we are and not allow political allegiances to mark out lines of segregation among our peoples and for the removal of denominational and ethnic inhibitors to national development and to see the dream of a people becoming one come true.

“We as a country and a region are losing so much of understanding ourselves when we define and confine ourselves through all kinds of narrow allegiances, and that is not to downplay the value of identity to all of us.”

Rampersad is a Caribbean woman. What that means is that she takes a keen interest not just in Trinidad and Tobago but also in our regional neighbours and the importance of that interconnection to each other as a Caribbean people. She sits on the UNESCO executive board in Paris representing Trinidad and Tobago and has been working across the Caribbean to build resilient communities through heritage and culture; developing policies, infrastructure and institutions while at the same time involved in journalism and new media as an independent media operator.

But first, she is a Trinidad and Tobagonian national, passionately wanting us to celebrate our people-hood. She has just issued a call for artistes to produce nonviolent content in their music and to work and she is working towards producing music and songs for the soundtrack to a biography film she is working on to highlight the life and times of assassinated Senior Counsel Dana Seetahal. Rampersad hopes to use this brand to help music producers define spaces for non-violence with their art.

“The dimensions of crime, for instance, in our societies cuts across ethic identities; to address those problems we have to be able to look beyond those lines.”

Many Trinidad and Tobago nationals have been pulling at the skirt tail of governments to abolish the various celebrations and establish just one national holiday and call it “Arrival Day”, the thinking is that we all came, and it will be a true representation of the rainbow country that is Trinidad and Tobago. Kris Rampersad has a different view:

“Do we need one arrival day? If an arrival day is important to people they should have their day - separately or together - I'm not sure I have an opinion on that. I celebrate all of them: how could we not?

“I like to think of migration – departures and arrivals – the process that brought us here as an evolutionary flow – as only one stopping point in a long history of such migratory movements into antiquity. In a long view of history beyond the recent colonial past, implies that we can look ahead too with a longer view - and there might come a time when we as a nation would agree that we do not need many arrival days but one, to mark our national presence. I am sure the people associated with the rare 7,000-year-old skeleton discovered on our soil – a people we seem to have no curiosity about – would have celebrated an arrival of sorts at some point in time. Our coming here was one frame of migrations and from my research, when the truth is known, the story of ‘Banwari’ is likely to upset and overturn a whole lot of long held theories of migration, etc. Societies evolve. People come into contact with each other and change the space they occupy. The ancient history is replete with recounts of those – the Shrutis, the Vedas, the oral stories of the African and Chinese folk tales.”

While Indian Arrival Day places the Indian community on the radar on such an occasion, the celebration of that day, like Emancipation Day, symbolizes the amalgam that is a ‘Trini’ (as they say in local parlance); a productive and talented people, as Rampersad describes the people of Trinidad and Tobago. It seems, however, that as citizens too much has been relinquished through old systems. While the British gave this twin island its independence, the people held on firmly to the institutions left behind by that British system, Rampersad declared.

“As a counter to the erosion of identity the colonial system imposed on us, self-governance following independence sought to repair the damage with such national days. But the challenge of governance is really minimising the sense of threat to identity that has been ingrained in so much of our operations and many of our governance institutions have been unable to meet that challenge.

“Because of our recent history and the striping of self esteem and identity of post slavery and indentureship part of the post independence process of regaining self was establishing these national days of recognising the presence of various groups, but as our society evolves; as we strengthen our national fabric and if our governance system can assure each group of its self identification – there is so much insecurity in our system you see – that would become less relevant….”

The author and journalist sees Trinidad and Tobago as a country that is full of talent and flowing over; a country that is replete with individuals who have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps – generations building on the struggles of the previous one – like the now assassinated senior counsel Dana Seetahal and others like her who fully occupied their own spaces, doing what they do best, when all the frames and structures and institutions mitigate against that -- that is what Carnival and Phagwa and Baptist Liberation Day represent, Rampersad believes.

In spite of its avalanche of talent and skills flowing in this twin island Republic, the islands remain underdeveloped. Kris does not like that.

“We may feel now that we need to celebrate days like those, but my concern is that we -- as a society – by trying to define ourselves by those parameters we are also narrowing our vision of ourselves in silos rather than the collective strengths that we are. The insecurity that makes celebrations necessary forces the kind of chest thumping in trumpeting such national days – to, beyond colonial pains and hurts to trumpet the glorious ancient civilisations that are behind us. But it is also a divisive championing, that delimits us celebrating all the mother cultures that contribute to our national being.”

What about those who define us by our ethnic and cultural antecedents?

“We are also that,” Rampersad agrees, citing that we all came from somewhere. “We also came from somewhere, from a mother, and from a motherland – India, Africa, China, Europe – they are all our cultures as Trinis; and then there is that other space you can lay claim to based on ethnic origins; in fact, I think that is the process of evolution I attempted to trace in my first book, and maybe too in much of my journalism – on the one hand it was about how fiction influenced journalism Finding a Place; on the other it was how we evolved from one culture into another, to make us the people that we are – Trinis....”

The multiethnic as well as multi religious society that Trinidad and Tobago is makes it equally a beautiful and complex society. The fight for space in every sphere, especially economic, political spheres creates antagonism primarily between the African and Indian groups.

“Our jostle for space here, represented in the so many different celebrations, is depriving us of the opportunity to fully explore and appreciate the larger sense of self. To do so, we need to level the playing field and create an environment that is more secure for people’s self-identification before we can start thinking of relinquishing those isolated symbols of identification,” Rampersad explains.

She thinks governments can turn the wheel of understanding in all the right directions once they exercise the will to do so.

“The governance processes through since Independence has been challenged to do so and hence so often seems to be going in the opposite direction to creating the kind of society we envision ourselves as – ‘rainbow country’, multicultural, diverse, ‘every creed and race finds an equal place’, et al.”

A scholar in her own right and of East Indian descent, Dr Kris Rampersad sees herself simply as a Trinidad and Tobago national and a reflection of all Trinidad and Tobago nationals of different creed and races.

“For example, I am the sum total of being born and nurtured in Trinidad and Tobago but also of all the people I have encountered, all the places I have visited and lived in and all the experiences I have. Every travel, every encounter, and every experience changes and alters us in some way. I feel blessed to have been given such opportunities to meet, work play and share ideas with so many different people. I feel somewhat that I never return to Trinidad the same person I was when I left on some meeting or the other having been enriched by those experience.

“It is an ancient wisdom, to embrace life as a journey, a series of journeys; a continuous process of departures and arrivals. The arrival of Indians and each other group, including the ‘Banwari’ people more than 7,000 years earlier, here ought to be seen in that context, as a universal experience and not as the be all and end all struggle it becomes in a political context; in a context of a society built on insecurities and pitching one group or ne ethnicity against the other, each vying for national space when equitable policies and approaches could address all that,” she said.

Dr Kris Rampersad has authored three books: “Finding a Place”, which traces development of a literary sensibility among Indians who migrated with their own languages and cultures, through writings in newspapers, education and production of a Naipaul: acclaimed lord of the English Language.

Her second book: “Through the Political Glass Ceiling” looks at the race to prime ministership by Trinidad and Tobago's first female holder of that office – Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar -- and explores the sociocultural and political situation that gave rise to first woman prime minister in the context of the 2010 general elections.

In her third book: “LiTTscapes” (Landscapes of Fiction from Trinidad and Tobago) Rampersad features more than 100 works by more than 50 writers through visualising their fiction in landscapes, cultures photos and more. Look her up on Facebook to see the photos and to journey through her other works.

Across Global Diasporas: Key to Undertanding Diasporas UNESCO told

Reflections on Multiculturalism, Migrations Arrivals: Finding A Place Revisited Multimedia Edition Commemorating 15th Anniversary; 100 Years of End of Indentured Labour Trade; 172 Years since arrival of Indians in Trinidad, 79 Years arrival of Indians in Caribbean

Heritage Educator, Dr Kris Rampersad,
 address UNESCO Executive Board
PARIS, France -- Trinidad and Tobago’s geographical location makes it pivotal to deepening understanding pre- and post-colonial migration routes, Dr Kris Rampersad told the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organisation (UNESCO) Executive Board.

However, much of this is yet unassessed, understudied, undervalued, undocumented and unaccounted for in the contexts of global migration and cultural evolution. They are also under tremendous development pressures and face other challenges common to small island developing states, she said.
Trinidad and Tobago was among countries supporting the introduction of the new programme of the UNESCO at the 195th session of the board in Paris to recognise the international impact of migration of post emancipation indentured Indian immigrant labour.

In supporting the Mauritius initiative entitled The International Indentured Labour Route Project, geared to enhance knowledge around its landing point of Indian immigration, the Aapravasi Ghat, Rampersad, the Trinidad and Tobago Representative on the 58-member board, pointed out that the Caribbean was a critical dimension of labour migration to post slavery societies, noting that more than one million Indian and other Asians crossed the Atlantic to the Caribbean and the Americas in the immediate post-emancipation period.

She said her research shows the islands may hold the key to broadening and deepening understanding pre-Columbian migrations in the Americas as it has been in the colonial and post slavery migrations from Europe, Africa and Asian in its location off the tip of South America and as the most southerly of Caribbean islands.

Rampersad, a heritage educator, researcher and journalist, who has been researching and advocating for greater national and international efforts at safeguarding what she calls “the other Magnificent Seven of South Trinidad and the Global South,” said the heritage assets of small island states like Trinidad and Tobago, remain vulnerable to other pressing development agendas.

She has written in her blog to the Trinidad and Tobago President Anthony Carmona and Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar asking them to prioritise their safeguarding within the national development agenda and readers are circulating online petition in support.

Piloted by Mauritius, which also agreed to provide extra-budgetary funds to support its implementation, the decision to introduce The International Indentured Labour Route Project was universally supported and adopted by the UNESCO Board, along with other programmes to safeguard vulnerable heritage assets in other countries, following the negotiation of the text which came before the Programmes and External Affairs Commission. The Commission, one of two decision-making Commissions of the Board, was co-chaired by Rampersad.

Rampersad suggested to UNESCO that as the project unfolds, the Board also explore not only the synergies with the Slave Route project but also the potential of private-public sector and NGO partnerships within both and how they may broadening and deepening the proposed refocus on oceans and small island developing states so as “to accommodate equity and balance and the cultural diversity and heritage dimensions in the United Nations post-2015 sustainable development agenda.”

The Mauritius initiative drew from a decision of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee that considered “the importance of an International Indentured Labour Route Project to complement the Slave Route Project and the General History of Africa which will be implemented in the context of the International Decade of People of African descent.”

Rampersad is the UNESCO national focal point on World Heritage and its trained facilitator for the English-speaking Caribbean on the Convention for the Protection and Safeguarding the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (2003). She has also been part of Commonwealth and UNESCO initiatives to recognise culture-centred development through these and other conventions that drive the cultural and creative industries sectors as the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (2005).

Rampersad noted that the new programme, which has already been highly commended by Africa, Asia/Pacific, European and Latin American and Caribbean delegates also presents possibilities towards heightening the dimensions of international cooperation promoted in the UNESCO conventions against trafficking in cultural property (1970), World Heritage (1972), intangible cultural expressions (2003), diversity of cultural expressions (2005) and underwater cultural heritage (2006).

In an interview on the initiative, she said: “Ebola is today waving its passport of global citizenship and has more clearly brought home to us the realities of the borderless world in which we really exist. As children of both slave and silk routes, though far removed from some of our societies of origin – and I say this acknowledging the also marginalised indigenous communities of our region, we in the Caribbean have naturally existed in trans-boundary spaces with intertwined heritage that span all the continents of the world. While in some of our societies these remain vibrant and effervescent and spawning new cultures through fusions, in others they are significantly in danger of disappearing from various pressures, still unmapped, understudied, underassessed and undervalued in the contexts of our global village.

“In turn, we have also spawned other diasporas, offspring of our complex Caribbean societies, in other parts of the Americas, in Europe, in Africa and in Asia itself, that are not just parallel to but intimately intertwined with the storyline of our post slavery evolution.”

In acknowledging synergies between the Slave Route Project and the new project, the Board “recognised the need to develop professional capacity in fields as history, anthropology, archaeology and heritage towards creating an international database on indentured labour… about such a major historical event and build greater understanding and cooperation among peoples.”

The UNESCO Executive Board also lent support for a series of activities to celebrate UNESCO’s 70th anniversary; initiatives related to prioritising education and culture in the UN post 2015 development agenda, introduced new international prizes and revived some which were suspended owing to financial and other challenges.

The Board is chaired by Mohamed Sameh Amr of Egypt and the UNESCO secretariat is headed by Director General, Irina Bokova.
Trinidad and Tobago key to understanding migrations, UNESCO told | Caribbean News Now

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Yo Ho Ho on a dead man’s chest! Romancing Piracy in Caribbean Heritage. Alas poor York. I knew him! For Neville York. RIP mon amie, mijn vriend, mi amigo, my friend

Before the restored Courthouse with Caribbean colleagues. Phillipsburg, St Maarten. KrisRampersadArchives2014
The ruins are all around us making it easy to imagine the moment when the earth convulses, shudders and shakes and it all comes crashing down. In less than four minutes, its gone. In less than four seconds, he is gone. A life, as a civilization. Those who are left say gone too soon.
Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him: a fellow 
of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy
The massive tsunami that follows takes down the remaining structures and floods the land with death and plague, Landmarks of a civilization, bars and brothels, and a church too, of this buccaneer’s haven, even the burial ground is buried. Gone too soon.
The floods over flow over the rum and wine flowing over a thirsty sailor’s tongue. Casks of it, placed on the streets, that everyone passing must drink heartily. Gone too soon.
And there they lay, and the soggy skies
Dripped down in up-staring eyes—
In murk sunset and foul sunrise—
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!
It shudders, shatters and silences the merriment and the bartering and bantering and pirates spiriting away just-gained loot at gambling tables. Gone too soon
It disrupts and displaces the trade in flesh in its many forms. Women, seized from conquered villages and ships and slaves destined for somewhere else, pirated like gold off galleons to be sold off for gold, destined for somewhere else. Gone too soon
With no hint of its earlier semblance of glory on this somewhat desolate landscape, structures jot out from the ground like extensions of nature. From the casual calmness, it takes a stretch of the imagination to recreate the pulsating life once deemed the richest and wickedest city on earth.
I am reviewing my video footage of Caribbean heritage, piecing together my Caribbean story - a journey that unfurls from the islands of the West Indian archipelago and ripples outward through the continent of the Americas: through the Orinoco to the hinterland past the Guianas and the Amazons, rippling across Brazil and Argentina to encompass the sweep of the Americas - South from Argentina through Central and the Northern extremities of the Bering Straits, and all in between, through to the raucous European interlude, and new waves of migrations since, recreated through multimedia: film, graphics, sounds, texts as the forgotten, ancient civilisations and the more recent ones that wants to be unremembered,  It’s a story bridge, across a region divided by water and language and history, and pirates, politicians, opportunists and urban planners.
Neville York sweeps into the frame’s panorama. He is standing on the roof of a building, buried more than six feet under by the massive earthquake, five years before he is felled by a massive heart attack. Writing this, I think, What sits on this dead man’s chest?
A wind whips up sounds of chaos his musician’s ear would tune to melody, as I hear Keats’ Ode in his melodies:
Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard 
       Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on; 
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd, 
       Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone…
At the same time, I am listening to music that will form the backdrop of my film. Neville has shared with me his music to use as background rhythms. Its Caribbean flavor is as seductive as what we had adjudged as the finest Caribbean rum. Sweet Salt, this album is called, a name that may also describe the shroud of romance that is settled on what is one of the darkest period of Caribbean history. This and the music of another of his album, Jazz Flambouyant, interspersed with others will layer the anticipated quintessence story of Caribbean heritage. His instrument is our native steelpan in extraordinarily sultry tones. It is ethereal jazz. It is flambouyant calypso. It is haunting soul. It blends the indefinable character of the region to my spun tale aspiring to be all encompassing of heritage and culture, of art, architecture, food, fashion, literature, dance, music... A celebration for reparation, reclamation, restoration. A redemption song for restitution of the Caribbean psyche, divided in vein, in the words of Derek Walcott.
I meet Neville York during a preparatory session with Caribbean countries on their World Heritage nominations in mid-2012 in Kingston. Jamaica’s focus of this meeting supported by UNESCO Japan-Funds-in-Trust is its Blue and John Crow Mountains nomination for World Heritage status, snagged by largely conservation management shortcomings that, we soon learn, are shrouded in ‘intangible’ factors, over contentions for respect, community engagement and inclusion.
From this meeting and others to follow, in Antigua, St Maarten and Cuba, along with my engagement on a series of capacity building initiatives on, in the language of the international discourse, the Diversity of Cultural Expressions and Intangible Cultural Heritage with experts from Jamaican and a range of local to international stakeholders - among them the local mountain Maroon communities who helped paved the way for emancipation of slaves in the Caribbean - we are able to secure Jamaica's entry to the World Heritage List in 2015. It complements ongoing outreach and policy development for the creative and heritage sectors for sustainable development of creative culture-based enterprises into which I had launched since 2005. 
The scenes before me, this, the once-richest and once-wickedest city on earth, Port Royal, in ruins of its former vivacity, is also on Jamaica’s World Heritage agenda, as is the New Seville National Park for World Heritage which are part of our field explorations to examine the challenges to conservation and restoration as means of stimulating its resource and income earning potential.
Neville and I are part of this team we have been building, of experts in the Caribbean who consolidated to actively enhance the Caribbean profile on the World Heritage List. A subsequent meeting in Antigua to similar purpose has since seen the listing of Antigua’s Dockyards and related sites, admitted in 2016, under the stewardship of our colleague, archeologist Reginald Murphy. The consistency of planning and actions strengthen and reinforce several of our efforts as in the successful lobby for admittance of the sole Caribbean country, the Bahamas, that had not yet ratified the Convention, but which did so in 2014.
They seem big steps, and we celebrate each with rounds of congratulations, yet in the scheme of things, they are but small gains, stepping stones to other goals – that is, fostering and building from the shared Caribbean experience, sustainable foundations and institutions that can serve the collective vision of the diverse range of Caribbean peoples.  
This would be the preoccupation of my late evening phone discussions with Neville York, and how such positioning as on the UNESCO lists that the Caribbean was so actively pursuing could now be used to address the deeper seething issues that are entangled with considerations of Caribbean culture and heritage.
To many it may not be, but to us it is obvious: that even as we celebrate successes, we were also running the danger of entrenching stereotypes and perceptions of and responses to the Caribbean that Caribbean people are longing to relinquish. Breaking through the insularity is not easy as the adulation of the pirate culture evolved from Columbus’ and subsequent conquests continue to plague and plunder the Caribbean psyche, subsuming the endemic and umbilical links between island and continent that pre- and post-dates him and the legacy of piracy that my story unfurls.
I am preoccupied with how the handling of the nominations processes could also entrench this which we are trying to escape - the romanticising of brutality and some of the most cruel deeds in our known history of humanity; the categorizing of the Caribbean according to its colonial ‘owners’ and their language– Dutch, French, Spanish, Portuguese, British; and labels as island, coastal, continental – subsuming and subverting significant elements of the story of Caribbean identities, as much as these are also subsets of such identities. I am searching for not just idiom but form to encompass and embrace the individual and collective identities of pre-Columbian and post-colonial development mapped with the island-cultures of the Caribbean, the continental coastlands and interiors of the Americas where are also hidden and forgotten treasure chests of our Caribbean story, along with the wider global grasp of migrant cultures that were transposed since the arrival of the Europeans and the subsequent movements of free and forced labour from Africa and Asia: India and China, far Eastern Japan and Indonesia, and later Middle Eastern Syria and Lebanon and augmented by more recent and more complex global movements. When I had sounded this as the nature our sense of place in an address to the UNESCO Executive Board some members of the international community marveled at the span of this diversity of our region – which is not the image generally conveyed, divided in vein, categorized according to narrow spatial descriptions or European ownership, language or ethnicity, and splintered by the inheritors.
My lenses encounter many obstacles and distractions that it must circumvent. Among these are such distinctions, supported by growing bureaucracies, that continue to entrench conceptualization and categorisations of heritage in silos: as intangible and tangible, expressed, lived, remembered and the like, and the persistence on this thread by some elements threaten to derail the small gains we are making. The lure of fools gold are among the distractions that feed those elements that are eruptive and disruptive.
For the Caribbean, heritage with its resonances of the past into present - whether viewed as a continuum or disjointed foundation for the future - in many ways is not celebratory, as when viewed through the superficial touristic lenses. Close examination unearth many painful, even distasteful, incidents of history that many believe are best left buried and forgotten.
Emotion is not something one associates with the cut and dry arena of policy making and institution-building, but for the Caribbean, where these have taken forms of alien, imported and imposed constructs, the processes of capacity building to these ends could evoke strong emotions.
I share with Neville the very raw pain that surfaces among Caribbean youths in Grenada while facilitating an orientation session under the banner of ‘intangible heritage’. Through some jostling over accustomed formulas of selection I am for this youth gathering able to convince the planners for diminished focus on the Eurocentric labelling of the Caribbean - French/English/Dutch/Spanish/Portuguese - to treat with the notion of the Caribbean itself. Another small battle won - what would have been a meeting of the 'English-speaking Caribbean' was transformed into a 'Caribbean Youth forum' including from the 'Dutch/French/English/Spanish speaking Caribbean. Hence even Dutch/French classified St Maarten with other permutations, were among the participants, for which Neville is grateful.
Youths who may be dismissed as unaware of their history or heritage, are carrying deeply entrenched hurts, that erupt in tears and rebellion during explorations of an element presented by the host country for consideration, pointing out this romanticizing of their painful legacy. The regional resonances therein signify a chorale of commonality in internalised and externalised Caribbean experiences, even within the diversity.   Such levels of emotionalism is absent in the facilitation for Caribbean policymakers I conducted, also in Grenada, but the uneasiness to treat with heritage was evident even at those levels shows the need for more intense education and engagement.  

Keenly interested in these insights, Neville encourages me to share my experiences of heritage education in various countries. In Guyana as elsewhere, it takes the skills of a diplomat to steer some innate machete-wielding hostilities against imposed, alien international systems to an understanding of how these can be made to work to meet aspirations and to engage the challenger so he eagerly returns day after day to become an active and empowered participant. For St Kitts and Nevis, just about 100 square kilometres, with a combined population of about 50,000, accommodating the desire of citizens of each of the two small islands that comprise the nation-state that their individualism be acknowledged and respected meant separate interfaces had to be crafted to each locale. In Jamaica, tuning in to the interplay of self-assertion and submissiveness as survival skills to access resources and negotiate political and other patronage, in a long tradition of rebellion and resistance to acquire the means of basic subsistence could loom up as imposing and impenetrable as the Blue and John Crow Mountains. In Belize, it is tapping into the milk of collective pride in group identities. In Brasilia it is restoration through re-visioning and reconstruction. The similarities and differences will unfurl – for Salvador, for San Andres, for Cuba, for Peru, for the Dominican Republic, for Barbados, for St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago across and beyond borders, boundaries, insularity and insecurities, less alluring but more weighty than the booty of sunken treasure ships that are said to litter our waters.
Heritage is not just about place, size, location, climate, topography and the structures that have cropped up among them. It is also about the living and remembered and fossilised experiences and markers of humanity. In many cases, for the Caribbean, resurrecting the past is not a whimsical and romantic engagement. Even with a profit motive as is contained in tourism thrusts - albeit, sustainable - or perhaps especially because of the profit motive, activating creative or cultural heritage industries from cultural heritage is not enticing shiny pirate’s gold.   
That is why intrinsic understanding of the local situations and knowledge of how to utilize the international mechanisms to confluence the layers of cultural experiences and impacts have been at the core of what have been touted as our successes, however small, to date, which a single inconsistent intervention can easily derail, as has also been occurring. 
Neville is a musician, wearing the hat, if not the air of a bureaucrat as the Head of the Department of Culture of St Maarten. Humble, unassuming and amiable, there is no air of the bureaucrat who fills his seat and office as itself an accomplishment, but a refreshing eagerness of moving to action what needs to be done.
I am surprised when, soon after our meeting in Jamaica, my telephone rings one night from a number I cannot recognize. It is the end of another long day, well clearly not yet the end of the day. Neville identifies himself. He is preoccupied with the processes of cultural transformation in his country. Before him is the task of establishing the St Maarten National Commission for UNESCO as a national level institution that could be strategic for engagement with the culture agenda of UNESCO. He has hit snag and wants to draw from my experiences with UNESCO’s international processes and regional and local experiences to help him shape this infrastructure. Should we go this route, or that, Kris? He asks for my advice and perspective on the operations and the legal framework in draft before him. Anticipating potential pitfalls, planning and shaping, we spend hours, analyzing the challenges of such operations, among which is sourcing management and staff in small islands of limited expertise like ours, but also the more persistent concerns of crafting from the frames of European-styled processes, forms that could accommodate the realities of the Caribbean we know. Within weeks, the St Maarten National Commission for UNESCO takes shape to be launched few months later.
The establishment of the St Maarten National Commission for UNESCO follows on the heels of the entry of St Maarten and Curacao as associate members of UNESCO, which I had witnessed and celebrated with Caribbean colleagues at the UNESCO General Conference in Paris of 2011.  Not present himself, I describe the euphoria we felt to welcome another of our small island Caribbean nations coming into its own into the fold of an international community.
He shares the euphoric build-up of St Maarten’s bid for Independence from its dependency off The Kingdom of the Netherlands. I had tasted a bit of that euphoria, the excitement of dawning, of newness, of the renewed sense of nationhood that had descended on Curacao with its new boost of statehood in 2011, attending a gathering of Caribbean scholars in Williamstad, already a UNESCO Heritage City (inscribed in 1997), to introduce Research Caribbean. I am coordinating for Research Research Incorporated the founding of Research Caribbean as an online news, funding and ideas exchange facility for Caribbean academia - that would go the route of most initiatives that require the region to invest in itself and its thought-production and distribution.
My connections to the ‘Dutch Caribbean’ strengthens. My second book Through the Political Glass Ceiling – Race to Prime Ministership by Trinidad and Tobago’s First Female Kamla Persad-Bissessar, is also being read and explored in an intellectual climate for the first time in Curacao. In its exploration of the region’s changing political landscape and empowerment of peripheral elements in diverse social mosaics, it captures the ascendency of the first woman to the office of Prime Minister in Trinidad and Tobago - the Caribbean’s fifth female head of government, influenced by changing patterns and perceptions of political leadership which I examine in its overview: Clash of Political Cultures: Cultural Diversity and Minority Politics in Trinidad and Tobago.  
Before the picture-perfect postcard vista of the Historic Area of Willemstad, Inner City and Harbour (the official Heritage city labelling), I am also putting the finishing touches of what would be my third published book, LiTTscapes – Landscapes of Fiction from Trinidad and Tobago that would be launched a year later as part of commemorations of Trinidad and Tobago’s jubilee celebrations of Independence.
LiTTscapes was yet unborn then, as I was when Trinidad and Tobago unfurled our national flag for the first time. I am able to conjure up the spirit of Independence from experiencing this new dawn that Curacao and St Maarten were celebrating as their embryonic statedom, with some hindsight, as Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago prepared for their 50th Jubilee of Independence. Being a witness to at least part of the Curacao-St Maarten independence journey not only expanded my Caribbean personhood, it helped inform my involvement as part of a national cultural team that include masman extraordinaire, Peter Minshall; the now deceased musical maestro Pat Bishop (who in fact died during one of these meetings) and other cultural icons – artist Jackie Hinkson and cultural activist Hans Hanoomansingh among them – to artistically revisit, re-vision and re-create the Independence experience.
As I basked in their sharing of the wonder of new birth, in the same – divided - vein, those of us from maturing post-Independent societies would have choice advice and reflections on the status of our ‘independence’ to share in Curacao in the rich explorations that ensued and emerged, led by the key note speaker, Silvio Torres-Saillant. Torres-Saillant is born in the Dominican Republic located in the demarcated island which also contains Haiti – the physical split of this island is more than metaphoric of the splintered Caribbean. It set the stage for scrutiny of the challenges of independent thought-production and culturally relevant actions in the Caribbean and utilizing the natural and human resources for the same, stymied by insularity, insecurities, and small mindedness. (See details below).

“The peoples of the Caribbean need to know one another or at least to acknowledge their ignorance of one another before we can begin to consider articulating common projects for the decades ahead,” Torres-Saillant had admonished the academic community at the Caribbean Studies Association gathering in Curacao. We were not the first. This sense of not knowing ourselves and each other has been an ongoing lament of Caribbean thought-leaders from the very many dimensions and perspectives and approaches on which I could write volumes. And I might, yet, if not felled by earthquake or cardiac arrest or some other like mishap.
Taking the time and making the effort to know remains a social deficit.
To address the divisions - what Torres-Saillant identified as the synecdotal approach – using a part to describe or represent a whole as is often done in culture - Neville and I are now joining heads to try and turn the wheels and reverse the process – to not adopt, but to see how we may utilize the mechanisms before us at national levels, with the UNESCO instruments to effect that change in bridging thought and action to meet local level challenges confronting the region.
The after-work night time phone calls become more regular. There are never enough hours in the day, it seems, discussions and engagement and lobbying encroach into long after-work hours as well. It is difficult to hang up a conversation which is, in the broad scheme of things, only just beginning, and the kind of meaningful engagement towards implementation for which I have been yearning. Sleep will have to wait. It is refreshing to share in the optimism and enthusiasm of someone who feels empowered in helping to shape the destiny of his country, and the region. He is not jaded and cynical and wary and wearied as many of our bureaucrats wearing similar office, about what can or cannot be accomplished, who pilot the philosophy that in the face of enormity of the challenge, ‘the best thing to do, is to do nothing.’ It’s the advice that have often been hurled at me by elders whether in quiet discussion or when frustration mounts from hammering on too many impenetrable structures or screaming into too many impermeable ears.
He is piloting a sector in a newly ‘independent’ country. He is eager to learn, from whatever source knowledge may come. He wants to use his office to achieve for his country and the Caribbean, what his music is already doing: smoothing the jagged edges, unifying the tones and rhythms of disparate Caribbean sounds into a harmonious melody of expressions and experiences and representations of who and what we are, as Caribbean. So the phone calls are often.
The formal meetings feed informal networking and discussions and troubleshooting and support.
Neville and I share concerns about the distinction that is becoming entrenched as seemingly massive bureaucracies, between tangible and intangible cultural heritage. I am serving as an expert Independent member of the UNESCO InterGovernmental Committee on Intangible Cultural Heritage and am preparing to facilitate the first in a series of meetings on Intangible Cultural Heritage – the first would be also in Jamaica. From our work and experiences, that distinction in categorization of culture seems contrived, yet an entire global system of exchange and interchange is being built around it, as are distinctions between and among ‘forms’ of cultural expressions, absorbing resources that could be used to more directly benefit and affect meaningful change for our cultural communities.
How can the divide be bridged within he contexts of national and international agendas? It is a concern that other cultural communities across the region would echo in various temperaments and tones. It had surfaced among the glitches in the preparation of the Jamaica nomination for World Heritage status, the perceived sense of marginalisation by local cultural groups who fear subversion of hard won elements of their living cultural heritage to the fossilized cultures in ruins, sites of memory, cruel and painful memories, that seem to be receiving undue attention.
The Secretary General of the Jamaica National Commission often reminds and commends me that it was this ability to bridge those gaps from an understanding of the local situations and the adaptation of international forms to suit local needs that we were able to break ground with the communities at these close-up sessions labelled intangible heritage which helped paved the way and remove the roadblocks for Jamaica’s successful nomination bid for the Blue and John Crow Mountain as a World Heritage site. This was aided by complementary supportive actions at the UNESCO Executive Board, the World Heritage Committee and the UNESCO system of field offices, especially with the push from the Kingston office and the support of colleagues.
Neville would draw, too, on our work at the UNESCO Executive Board. Following the elections of the new Executive Board in 2013, for the first time the Caribbean had a substantial and visible presence and the Caribbean with unerring support from Caribbean co-members of St Kitts and Nevis, Belize, Dominican Republic and others from the wider global community, the agenda for culture could get the sounding for redirecting policy and agenda setting actions at international level that complemented the work of the regional offices and at local levels from an insider.
There is more to address than just the absence of Caribbean heritage sites on the list. We all felt the lack of and deficiencies in not just human capacity to drive change but also inadequate policy and institutional frames within the region to support our work for Caribbean heritage as in other areas. There are endemic hindrances that are conceptual and perceptual fed by limitations in expertise and support systems. These might be easier to fix than the ingrained habits and systems of practice that often sees Caribbean decision-makers and implementation technicians working against themselves, selecting, splintering and dividing, which continue to plague and gnaw at advances being made.
Neville is an artist whose bureaucrat’s cape is invisible. He is keen on shaping the bureaucracy into forms that would engage people into reshaping the system. 
He quizzes me on my constant hammering at, and inclusion in our action plan, the need for active networking, that would allow for collaborations and support, between meetings, and on times like those described above, when the days are long and tedious when efforts seem unproductive in the numerous obstacles that can surface. We explore ways of strengthening this. He discusses establishment of a foundation.
These explorations feed those areas that are within his spheres of control, in his development of cultural policy frame for St Marten’s cultural heritage revitalization. They also nourish the form and features of the meeting of Caribbean experts for Small Island Developing States on World Heritage nominations, subsequent meetings on intangible heritage and drive his own nomination dossier with colleagues’ of the Eastern Caribbean that facilitated the process of preparation of Eastern Caribbean Coastal Fortifications for the World Heritage list - as follow-ups to the encounters of 2012 in Jamaica and the 2013 in Antigua.
The night-time phone calls were now more regular. I am not the consultant or facilitator in his initiatives but a friendly ear, and informally sharing thoughts on the shape of meetings he is planning for his national community and the region on World Heritage and Intangible Cultural Heritage as he was also working on the process to ratify other UNESCO Conventions – Intangible Cultural Heritage and the Diversity of Cultural Expressions Convention. St Maarten is facing, too, considerable challenges with regards to its underwater heritage and trade in cultural property and he is eager for guidance on fashioning directions. It is our opportunity to help shape the agenda according to Caribbean needs as we envision them and craft directions and pitch for the engagements of key officials, the media and other key targets, and even the use of the informal time for unobtrusive networking.
We discuss the opening ceremony in St Maarten, the programme and agenda; the who, the how and the why so the opening ceremony, the workshop and related media outreach sound the right pitched to the island’s leaders from its President, line Ministers and other offices and office holders, with knowledgeable briefs on the purpose, intent and purport of the meeting. He feeds these into his local planning discussions and with the regional and international UNESCO offices.  
The proud flag ceremony with the flags of all participants at the opening of the St Maarten meeting on World Heritage becomes a proclamation of that self-determination and embrace of the subtle elements we were trying to craft as Caribbean cultural action made in the Caribbean image. Most significantly, a small island Caribbean government investing its own funds in cultural heritage development and drawing on regional expertise is indeed something worthy or flag waving and drum thumping where the norm is cap-in-hand, external fund-grabbing approach. We are enacting our own reparations. We define the notes and Neville strum them together into the melody that emerges. Neville is music. 
Despite warnings that it will be frowned on by the competing bureaucracies of UNESCO each jealously guarding funding streams on each Convention, we begin to unify the explorations on the Conventions on Intangible, World Heritage, Underwater, Trade in Cultural Property and Diversity of Cultural Expressions to feed into the programme agenda for the St Maarten encounter.
This is also part of efforts of myself and colleagues to drive the UNESCO Executive Board towards synergies that are now occurring that are to help meet UNESCO’s challenges of diminishing funding, achieve greater efficiency in its use of resources, by chipping at the walls and demarcations established in its bureaucratic structures and carefully and jealously and competitively guarded territories of notions of tangible and intangible and underwater, and other designations that we knew only as cultural heritage. These are attempt to bring the heritage policy agenda closer to the understanding, appreciation and practice of culture at our local levels.
This is strengthened with the support from the UNESCO Caribbean office in maintaining consistency and continuity in the expert participants to build on previous actions and successes – an element that is often missing in the shifty and slippery sands of Caribbean action machinery, when invitations to such meeting are regarded and treated as reward for political or other patronage that begin and end with the flight to and from the meeting. Here is a bridge, a conduit, a bond to the characteristic splintering, and there were many efforts to challenge and pull this apart as well.
The consistency and continuity strengthens our network of colleagues whose complementary range of skills and experiences in the field were already becoming foundational core cadre of Caribbean expertise, yet under-utilised for reasons that I will explore subsequently.
From our discussions, engagement and support from the cultural officer at the UNESCO sub-regional office, Neville directs the St Maarten experience to draw from learnings of the previous work, yet to resonate with many cadences all its own, that buoy the shared spirits of the Caribbean participants – in more ways than one! Because of the consistent cadre, at each meeting we assess, re-assess and redefine the Action Plan formulated in Jamaica, as the Kingston Action Plan for World Heritage. We generate the Pillipsburg Action Plan, along with the Declaration on coastal Fortifications which drew from participation in the preparation of the ten year Action Plan for World Heritage in Latin America and the Caribbean Region 2014 to 2024 in Brasilia the month previously and which will inform the subsequent preparation in Cuba of the five year Caribbean Action Plan for World Heritage 2014-2019. I will examine later in greater detail the plans, processes and machinery in the contexts of relevance and in relation to the global agenda setting and ways in which they can be beneficial to various user communities from practitioners to institutions.
Even with these minor triumphs, we recognize that more tectonic-type phenomena may be required to effect some of the transformations necessary as stirring our ships of state away from the mentality of piracy to investing of themselves – not only financial investment - but drawing on our own resources to shape our own development paths. This too could work towards self-generated reparation that is so desperately being sought for the damages wrought and still evident in the entrenched descriptive and conceptual divisions, categorisations, labelling and institutionalization of European territorialism and appropriation of the Caribbean identity, language, and resources.
Divided in vein, the Caribbean Derek Walcott calls it, these divisions are evident all around us. In the French and Dutch ‘sections’ of St Maarten which nevertheless also boasts of some 45-plus ethnic categorization; no different from the French-British St Lucia, the physical demarcation between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. But it is also within.
Within the face of frames that seem to negate and advance many of the proposed nominations, these are the jarring edges out of which our work aim to hammer a melody that will linger in strains of memory long after we have gone. Neville is Jazz.
… happy melodist, unwearied,
For ever piping songs for ever new.
The forces that can disrupt the gains made need less effort and can happen in an instant. Like an earthquake. Or a heart attack. Forces of nature do not discriminate. They sweep in their wake the church and the brothel, the doers and the   Gone to soon.
 The establishment of resilient foundations and institutions that can withstand the simple petty wranglings, as with the tectonic upheavals and losses from the natural course of climate, weather, earth movements or indeed life, remain our challenge. With limited resources, and human capital, marginalising of limited capacity, or loss of the same, creates more than a void, it can result in reversal of advancements made unless we can find ways of building on the legacies left and harnessing the experiences and knowledge held.
Yet, we, working in the heritage sphere, already know sudden, and gone too soon.
When we stand on the now seemingly stable soil among the half-buried ruins of the once raucous city of Port Royal that with a shake of the earth was swallowed up on June 7, 1692. Thousands of lives and a city, gone to soon.
We know hope – that some future heritage preservers - as we – will one day rubble through - interpreting the shards and broken bones, the stains on tea cups, the patterns on worn clothing as a syllabi of forgotten vocabulary, or a musical strain expressive of the imagination and hopes and dreams and aspirations of the civilization of us.
We know the shaman’s power to heal and soothe and bridge the fractures and the rifts and place in remembrance that time, a time, a tick in the tock of time, when some of us are gone, as sudden as the rumble of a cone, a quake of an earth, a roar of a wave, or a spasm of the heart.
Harmonising the skills of the archeologist to shovel and sift and sort; of the artists to paint and dream and create, we strum our souls for a song, sweet or salt, or sweet salt, that could blend our divided yet collective histories. And so, too, we know glory, in the frame in a segment of film, of a musician, harvesting the wind before it sweeps past him to whisper to a buried civilization.
Gone. Suddenly, they say. And too soon, they say too. But sudden or soon are but ticks in the tock of time. 
Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him: a fellow 
of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy...

...There was chest on chest of Spanish gold
With a ton of plate in the middle hold
And the cabins riot with stuff un told
As they lay there that had took the plum
With a sightless glare and their lips struck dumb
… And we heaved em over and out of sight
With a yo heave ho and fare you well

Rest In Peace, Neville York.

Neville Yorke died from cardiac arrest on May 9, 2017.

Intellectuals warned against insularity at Curaçao conference

By Kris Rampersad
Publication date: 14 Jun 2011, Research Caribbean 

The keynote speaker at the just-concluded Caribbean Studies Association conference in Curaçao chided academics and cultural producers for insularity in outlook, definitions and representations of the Caribbean.
Silvio Torres-Saillant, a professor of English at Syracuse University in the USA, urged participants to move be
yond a tradition of what he called “intellectual self-condemnation”.
Santo Domingo-born Torres-Saillant appealed to his audience of some 500 scholars to value one another “not only in terms of natural resources and labor power to enrich Western Europe and the United States but also in the realm of thought production.”
In his address, entitled, “Knowledge, Legitimacy, and the Dream of Caribbean Unity,” Torres-Saillant said this would reduce the need to import knowledge, ideas or conceptual paradigms.
At the same time, Torres-Saillant, the founding director of the Dominican Studies Institute at the City University of New York, reprimanded those who sought to update and in so doing, diminish nationalist assertions for more neutral post-modernist postures.
He recognised that many champions of Caribbean independence “combined nationalism, regionalism, internationalism, and post-nationalism simultaneously and without contradiction.”
Torres-Saillant, who appeared last month on the PBS television series “Black in Latin America,” also reproached those he called Caribbeanists for a tendency to refer to the whole by naming only the part.
He expressed fear that the insular representations of the region could narrow “the lens via which we look at the region.”
“(It) prevents Caribbeanists from doing right by the region they study,’’ said Torres-Saillant, the former director of the Syracuse Latino-Latin American Studies Program.
‘‘You can imagine the severe implications of the narrowing for us specialists, who in a way are entrusted with organising the knowledge of the Caribbean world,” he said.
“The peoples of the Caribbean need to know one another or at least to acknowledge their ignorance of one another before we can begin to consider articulating common projects for the decades ahead.”
His provocative speech stated charged that scholars of the Spanish-speaking, Francophone, and Anglophone zones of the region had, apart from ignoring each other, ignored the Dutch Antilles.
Caribbean researchers were “scandalously quiet about the history of thought production and artistic creation taking place for several centuries in Surinam, Saba, Saint Eustatius, Sint Maarten, Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao,” Torres-Saillant said.
An editor and reviewer for many journals on Latin American and Caribbean studies, Torres-Saillant said academic submissions for publication were equally narrow in outlook.
He said during his time as editor of the interdisciplinary New World Studies journal published by the University of Virginia, ‘‘we received many remarkable book projects that dealt with Caribbean subjects, and in the overwhelming majority of the cases the insular metaphor dominated their language.’’
‘‘I do not exaggerate when I say that I do not recall one single proposed manuscript that explicitly spoke of the region as one that included both insular and continental sites,’’ said Torres-Saillant, who holds both a PhD and a master’s degree in comparative literature from New York University.
“I find too many instances in the Caribbean bibliography that give me reason to fear that authors using the term islands employ it in a way that strikes me as insufficiently figurative.”
This, he lamented, was at the expense of the part of the region spanned by the Atlantic coast of South and Central America, including Mexico, Nicaragua, Honduras, Panama and Costa Rica and the towns of Santa Marta, Barranquilla, and Santa Catalina along the Colombian coastline.
Torres-Saillant expressed fears that if this metaphoric outlook is not regulated, it will continue to influence a limited physical/geographic conception of the region, an approach he described as the synecdochical approach drawn from the literary technique called synecdoche of referring to the whole by naming only a part.
He confessed that he initially held this insular outlook and that it restricted his own “awareness of the human experience of the Hispanic Caribbean to the words and deeds of the inhabitants of the islands of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic.”
Linguistics were less of a divide for Torres-Saillant, who is proficient in Spanish, Portuguese, French, Latin, Ancient Greek and English.
Describing his own initial inquiry into the landscape and the civilisation of the Antilles with simplistic description of it as “the islands”, despite its references to “non-insular places as Guyana and French Guiana” that sit on the continental landmass of South America, Torres-Saillant said he stopped using archipelago as a term for the region in a recently revised edition of his 1997 Cambridge University Press publication, Caribbean Poetics.
“I wanted to correct a language whereby I had reduced the Caribbean physical dimension, topography, demography, and, consequently, its overall complexity,” he confessed.
He argued that academics could enhance the meaning of their studies if they included the continental Caribbean as part of their considerations.
He said, for example, that a singular focus on the islands reduces the place and importance of the native populations in the region as whole and presents them in the context of genocide and non-existence.
He further argued that considerations of the islands’ discourse on race, identity, intellectual production, and political empowerment are often laments of past hurts rather than celebration of achievements.
Such discourse shows “a stable ethnography that features blacks, mulattos, and whites, with a smattering of coolies, interacting amongst themselves with varying degrees of conflict, collaboration, intermingling, tension, and coexistence,” Torres-Saillant said.
In this view, Amerindian (pre-Colombian) populations with their languages, belief systems, traditions, ancient histories and chronicles of resistance throughout more than five centuries of colonial aggression seldom enter the conversation.
However, he said, “we find that the Indian has not vanished, when one acknowledges the Amerindian communities on the Caribbean (Atlantic coast) portions of South and Central American countries— Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Costa Rica and Panama, or the Amerindian strongholds in Suriname, Guyana and (French) Guiana.
“As we ascertain that the Indian has not vanished and that she inhabits the territories of our concern as Caribbeanists, we see our field becoming more difficult to study than we had at first envisioned,’’ he explained.
‘‘We now have more languages, more religions, more cultural histories, more memories of resistance, more stories of survival, in short, a whole lot more human experience to account for as we undertake to examine, learn, teach, and defend the Caribbean world,” he stated.
Torres-Saillant described the conference’s host country, Curaçao, which became a self-governing country after the Netherlands Antilles were dissolved in 2010, “as a crossroads of languages, cultures, and ethnicities.”
Curaçao, as part of the Dutch Antilles, was an ideal place to broaden perspectives on the Caribbean and “meditate on and accept the difficulty of our studies as Caribbeanists,” he said.
The Leeward Island fits the concept of a “four-storeyed country,” described by Dominican Republic-born Puerto Rican writer José Luis González.
In González’s view the first floor comprises the native pre-Colombian population, the second floor arises from Spanish colonisation, a third from Dutch domination, and a fourth stems from enslaved Africans.
“To study it well, one needs to master several languages, colonial histories, and cultural traditions,” Torres-Saillant proclaimed.
He noted that Curaçan communities span a large number of ethno-racial identities: blacks, mulattoes, whites, Arabs, Middle Easterners, Asians ancestrally linked to the South and the East, indigenous groups of various ancestries, and hybrids of various strands.
“I insist on the difficulty of knowing Curaçao as a way of proclaiming the difficulty of knowing the Caribbean.”
Torres-Saillant also paid tribute to historian Alfonso Múnera Cavadía who was originally scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the Caribbean Studies Association.
Cavadia is a former dean of humanities and associate provost for research at the University of Cartagena in Colombia, who recognised the connection of the peoples on the Atlantic coast of Colombia with the rest of the Caribbean, a connection distinct from Colombians on the Pacific rim and the Andean regions.
Cavadia served as the Colombian ambassador to Jamaica between 1998 and 2002, which Torres-Saillant speculated gave Cavadia “privileged access to the texture of Caribbean life as it is lived in the insular Anglophone Caribbean nation of Jamaica.”
Host of the conference, the Caribbean Studies Association, defines itself as a non-profit independent professional body devoted to the promotion of studies from a multidisciplinary, multicultural perspective by scholars “working on the Caribbean region (including Central America and the Caribbean Coast of South America).”
The conference took place at the World Trade Centre in Curaçao from 30 May to 3 June 2011.

Article information

By Kris Rampersad

Publication: --- Research Caribbean

The late Neville York recognized as the Cultural Ambassador for the Region as tribute poured in for his home going ceremony on Tuesday.

PHILIPSBURG:--- The community of St. Maarten including representatives from the French side and neighboring Anguilla along with elected officials from Dutch St. Maarten paid their last respects to St. Maarten Cultural Icon Neville Chester York (50) who passed away suddenly a week ago and was laid to rest on Tuesday. At the viewing and funeral services, Deputy Prime Minister Rafael Boasman sat beside his colleague Minister Silveria Jacobs, while Minister’s Gibson, Emmanuel, and Lee all paid their respects shortly after the body arrived at the Methodist Church. Among them were some Members of Parliament.
Several Caribbean nations hailing as far as Guyana and Suriname sent their tributes to the family of the late Neville York, all of which was read out at the Philipsburg Methodist Church while the viewing took place. All of the representatives from the region described the late Neville York as being someone that was always ready to assist them, offered advice and did everything humanly possible to highlight the Caribbean Culture. They said the late Neville York was full of patience and had a huge passion for culture that he would go out of his way to assist and give advice to anyone who needed it and while St. Maarten has lost a man that had wealth of knowledge on the country’s history and culture, the region would also miss him dearly.
The late Neville York who headed the Culture Department also taught music and wrote several songs and poems. At the home going ceremony, several of his students paid tribute in song.
The home going ceremony started Monday night at the Emerald Funeral Home where family and friends gathered for the last wake and they got the unexpected when the undertakers at Emerald prepared the body of the late Neville York and had him on display playing his favorite steelpan.
The staff of the department of Education, Youth and Culture dressed in their Cultural wear to honor York while the large York family who loses three family members within a week wore blue sweaters to identify themselves as members of the family. Among them is the Minister of Plenipotentiary Henrietta Doran York.
  Minister Jacobs' Tribute to Cultural Icon Neville York
Tribute To Neville York – Cultural Icon, Accomplished Musician, Scholar, Policy developer, Heritage Specialist, Businessman, Teacher, St. Maarten Legend
“Sweet Salt is about Neville York sharing the creative memory of the pan basin with us, thereby uniting us through the pan with the musical experiences surfacing from the depths of the Caribbean Pan Basin” Camille Baly - Local Historian and former head of the Dept of Culture and Youth.
Neville started in 1995 as a Cultural worker in the Dept of Culture and Youth under the leadership of Mr. Camille Baly, who served as his mentor for many years; sharing his humility, grace and soft-spoken authority with Neville.
An avid student and a great example of a life-long learner, his enthusiasm for learning and sharing his knowledge and expertise were renowned within the ministry, government, the many local and international organizations he contributed to.
Having grown up in a musical family, known for its pioneer role in the introduction of pan to St. Maarten, Neville was destined to be an accomplished musician. He followed his dream after high school, where he’d already received regional recognition with diplomas earned in Guadeloupe, to pursue his music degrees among others. Last I checked he held Bachelors and Masters in Music, Bachelor in Spanish and Business Administration, and was working on a second Masters in Business; he never stopped learning.
Much can be learned from his voracious appetite to know more and continue to grow personally as well as influence the growth and development of culture here at home, in the Caribbean, and around the world.
In 1999 after the reorganization of the department, Neville became the head of the Social and Cultural Development Department and from 2010 – present due to Constitutional change, he became the head of the Culture Department under the MinECYS.
His research into areas pertaining to heritage preservation knew no bounds. His heritage family around the world highlighted a few areas in which Neville excelled: in character, personality and passion for Culture, Heritage preservation locally and regionally and the promotion of the Arts.
“A true visionary of the Caribbean who sought to build capacity by bringing the region together through tangible and intangible heritage, Neville became the unifying force around the proposed serial nomination for Eastern Caribbean fortifications. He was a member of the International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) International Scientific Committee on Fortifications and Military Heritage (ICOFORT). Neville was a champion who brought awareness to Caribbean heritage internationally and in the context of Small Island Developing States (SIDS). An acclaimed musician locally and globally, Mr. York was the St Maarten Head of the Department of Culture in the St. Maarten Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports and Youth Affairs.
We give God thanks for his life and legacy and wish his wife, family, loved ones, and co-workers much comfort and our condolences.”
Patricia Green -head of CARIBBEAN SCHOOL OF ARCHITECTURE - University of Technology, Jamaica

“Calm demeanor and gentle smile, always willing to assist professionally and personally....” 
- Ian Constantine - Engineering & Architectural Preservation, Saint Lucia
“We met only once in 2013 in Antigua and Barbuda for the World Heritage workshop. Since then, we have communicated over e-mails, and spoken on the phone so many times. The last call from him was 2 months ago, informing me about the latest news on the proposed serial nomination for the Eastern Caribbean fortifications and his intention to re-activate the network. It was always a pleasure to speak with him, he was dedicated, energetic and passionate with full of ideas. My deepest condolences to his family and friends. May his soul rest in peace” 
- Sachiko Haraguchi (Ms)Coordinator, World Heritage Programme for SIDS, UNESCO World Heritage Centre, Paris (France)
“I met him twice and besides his professional skills and knowledge of the region, I remember his enthusiasm and everlasting smile...” – Alessandro Balsamo - Nominations and Tentative Lists Manager, World Heritage Centre, UNESCO, Paris, France
The accolades about this legend from around the world continue with words such as:
“Easygoing, Talented, humble, gentle spirited, passionate about heritage, his music and the development of the region, kind, generous, direct, driven, fired up, concerned, knowledgeable, tireless and humble, absolutely focused on improving cultural recognition and heritage conservation in his island and dreaming on how to expand that spirit all over the Caribbean – a splendid human being!!!”
All these international voices echo the sentiments of his small staff, colleagues in management, the entire Ministry of ECYS and by now the general population of Sweet S’maartin.
From our initial meeting in 2012 when I first held this post, I sat in awe at the extent of knowledge, research, passion and dedication Neville displayed for Cultural Heritage and the arts, including his vision for its future development. Neville would become as excited as a kid in a candy store if he found someone who shared his vision and passion and was quick to pull out a document related to whichever goal I mentioned as wanting to move culture forward. It was as if he had a treasure trove of research just waiting for the support and funds to push it to the forefront.
Patient, kind and strategic are also words I use to describe this incredible man, whose reach it appears has been boundless.
Neville always sought to give credit to all who supported him and his ideas, and worked hard to bring them to fruition by all means possible, whether with local funding or international funding via his affiliates in the UNESCO Heritage sphere.
Some of his achievements within the Ministry over the past few years:
Neville’s legacy will live on through his attitude, his research, his writings, his music, his teaching of children and adults, the lives he's touched.
His spirit will live on with every ping of the pan, every monument restored, labeled and recorded, every spoken and written word archived, every documentary filmed, every song composed, written, recorded and performed, every dance choreographed danced and videographed, every piece of art conceived, created, displayed and sold, every art facility restored, expanded and built.
The sweet salt we reaped, burned our fingers and blinded our eyes, but the yield produced survival!! As we reminisce on the sweet memories and 'suck salt' at your early demise, we pray your spirit guides us to realize your goals and dreams for S’Maatin and the Caribbean. Together we can!
Our prayers for strength and endurance of the Neville spirit in his family, friends near and abroad and to Sxm and her neighbors as we allow him to move on. We pray he knows how dearly we hold him, how high he is esteemed, and how long his name will ring on this earth!!!
Sometimes I wonder, did we stifle the artist by forcing him to write policy, make a dollar out of fifty cents, or was he just that complete; able to bounce between the art world and work of cultural and heritage preservation? Or did his musical forays with his students and in his performances keep him charged up to be able to make the global difference in his day job?
We will never be certain, but what we do know is there was a man, a great man, who lived with a passion for music, culture, heritage and the arts in general who has made a great impact on our lives. Let’s take the lesson of his life along with us on a daily basis, and smile, work hard, play hard, encourage others along the way and make a difference!!! He had passed the baton, may we all have the courage to take it and Run!
Silveria Jacobs, Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport 2017

The late Neville York and Our Cultural Awakening.

Published: 15 May 2017
PHILIPSBURG:---Most of us knew Neville York as a native son, educated abroad, awesome pan musician, and head of the St. Maarten Cultural Department for 22 years. Some teachers and students knew him as the steel drum music instructor at e.g. Learning Unlimited. Musicians and jazz lovers like himself knew him to be a longtime advocate and promoter of jazz on St. Maarten, bringing world-class performers like Arturo Sandoval to the French side’s Le Flamboyant Hotel.
But how many of us knew Neville York as one of the top 10 steel drum players in the world, performing with symphony orchestras in Holland, Europe, and the United States, or touring with Marshall Vente’s ‘Tropicale’ as his band? In Vente’s tribute on May 9th entitled “Neville York’s Passing: A Sad day in Chicago” he says, “Neville’s sudden passing has shocked us here in Chicago, friends, and musicians. A very sad day. I had lunch with Neville in St. Maarten on March 10th; we talked about recording again sometime and his new school of music.....” “And our concerts in Chicago, plus 5 years of concerts with my band in St. Maarten and Anguilla – these will never be forgotten. Neville taught us so much about Caribbean life and culture......”
Does the 237 square-mile capitol city of Chicago, with 200 art galleries, dozens of cultural institutions, historical sites, and 2.5 million people -- know more about Neville York’s persona, range of accomplishments and pursuits than we do here? Do they have a more enhanced perception or esteem for his gifts, and perhaps for the man himself, than we have here at home?
With this unexpected loss, we are starkly reminded of how familiarity can make us strangers, how easily we assimilate and embrace the cultural icons and expressions of others, and how seldom we give our own their just due; that is, until our smiles, appreciation, pride and applause, can no longer be seen, heard, or felt.
Neville York taught Chicago ‘so much of Caribbean life and culture’. Can we ask them now for his voicings of us, for his intoning of our sensibilities, to assert for us that which was uniquely expressed thru his gifts of us? No. In the tapestry of our own cultural heritage and history, WE must -- with love for our individual and collective ‘selves’ -- do the gathering and the weaving. Our artists and their art are the vibrant color, the purifying wounds, the chords of many strings and strains that tell our stories -- symbolically and concretely -- binding our chapters together.
In his conclusion to St. Maarten’s cultural policy Neville says this:
“St. Maarten has developed over the years into a mini-metropolis and as such, it is imperative that we try to maintain a form of equilibrium between progress and our core cultural values; however, it must be clearly understood that “No culture can live, if it attempts to be exclusive”. (Mohandas ‘Mahatma’ Gandhi 1869–1948). The accelerated march towards a new constitutional status provides a window of opportunity for the host society to embrace its diversity of cultures and find unity within them. But also realizing that this can only happen if -- and only if –self-preservation is our first priority. To this end, I leave you with this final quote from Gandhi: “.... I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible, but I refuse to be blown off my feet by any”. Neville C. York
Condolences to Neville York’s wife, Veronica York George, his father Chester York, his siblings and all his family, colleagues and friends.
 Democratic Party St. Maarten

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