For the past couple of weeks two questions have been running through my mind begging to be answered: How do we actively negotiate the past with the present? What place does the past have in the present? Today, being Jamaican Echoes’ first birthday, seems like the perfect day to reflect on this question.
How do we actively negotiate the past with the present?
One obvious answer to this question is via historical preservation. We preserve the past because of what it teaches us about our development as a country, a community and also as families and individuals.
On the national side of things Jamaica has long seen the value of historical preservation through national agencies such as the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT) whose mission is: “To inspire a sense of national pride through the promotion, preservation, and development of our material cultural heritage…” One of their primary functions is the preservation of Jamaica’s national monuments, defined under the Jamaica National Heritage Trust Act, 1985 as:
(a) any building, structure, object or, other “work of man or of nature or any part or remains thereof whether above or below the surface of the land or the floor of the sea within “the territorial waters of the Island or within an area declared in an order made, under subsection (2) to be within the maritime resource jurisdiction of the Island;
(b) any site, cave or excavation, or any part or remains thereof, declared by the Trust to be a national monument “occupier” includes any person engaged in any development or maintenance works in, or, over or under any national monument; “owner” means the person in whom is vested the freehold interest in the site of the protected national heritage;
Examples of such national monuments include the Papine-Mona Aqueduct, which once served the Mona, Hope, and Papine sugar estates with water from the Hope River. It was built by Thomas Hope Elleston in 1758. The remains of the aqueduct can be seen on the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) in St. Andrew. The following pictures show a section of the remains of the aqueduct.
In fact, UWI Mona offers heritage tours of the campus, which includes the ruins of the aqueduct. You can even take a virtual tour at the UWI Mona Campus Culture & Heritage Tour website.
Does history hold a place in the space of the present?
So we preserve these structures and such other national monuments as defined above but to what purpose? Why do these things? Because these objects of a time that once existed gives us a sense of place to which we attach certain meaning. For the majority of Jamaicans who are aware of the historical development of the country we instantly become aware of the symbolism of these old structures: the production of sugar using the forced labour of thousands of enslaved black people; the fight for freedom by such figures as Nanny of the Maroons and Sam Sharpe; the attainment of freedom, and the fight for our rights as a people and as a country that culminated in the removal of the colonial powers and the emergence of Jamaica as an independent and sovereign nation on August 6, 1962.
History, therefore, is an indirect experience of another time, mediated through such symbols as national monuments that defines our place in this world. How can we use this to our advantage? For instance, these structures remind us of where we are coming from and, by extension, begs us never to forget so that we can build on making our country and ourselves better. We must therefore use history as a launching pad for the future mediated by a lessons-learnt-approach and positive actions in the present.
Our history echoes all around us in a myriad of ways. It can only be to our benefit to acknowledge the past in the present for the future.
Until next time…
Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT), The Jamaica National Heritage Trust Act, http://www.jnht.com/act_1985.php
Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT), The Papine-Mona Aqueduct, http://www.jnht.com/heritage_site.php?id=267