Author: Mark Yokoyama

History and Voyage

Every early account of St. Martin reveals something unique. During the early history of the island there were few written records, so every stray detail is of interest. Often, St. Martin appears in only a few sentences in a book about wider travels in the Caribbean. The reality of the island at the time is a great sea of possibility, shaped only vaguely by a handful of written observations.

Of course, all the early writings about the island were by European men educated enough to write. Many of those people were priests. Guillaume Coppier was an exception in some ways. Although he could write, he was not wealthy. Although he was Christian, he wasn’t part of the church.

Guillaume Coppier’s History and Voyage to the West Indies.

He came to the Caribbean as an indentured servant in 1628. He lived and labored on St. Kitts, which was then shared by the English and the French. He had worked about a year and a half there before the Spanish attacked the island. While fleeing, he became stranded in St. Martin for two months. His account of this time on St. Martin was published fifteen years later, along with an account of his other travels.

His book, History and Voyage to the West Indies and to Several Other Maritime and Faraway Regions, is discussed in detail in the book Desperate in St. Martin: Notes on Guillaume Coppier by Gérard M. Hunt. Hunt describes the unique style of the text and provides and easy to read translation of most of the book.

As one might expect, Coppier did not enjoy being stranded on St. Martin, “dying of hunger and thirst; having no water but that which flowed through several minerals that made it distasteful.” For Coppier, the Caribbean was full of mosquitoes and biting flies and short on food and drinkable water.

But St. Martin was also lovely, especially “several beautiful salt marshes, located in the low land of the island.” He found St. Martin “full of tall trees different from ours” and “different sorts of birds and a good number of parakeets.” Sea turtles and their eggs were plentiful.

He also had praise for small lizards that he called anoles. He claimed that when men were sleeping on the ground, these lizards would pinch them on the ears to wake them up when snakes were nearby. He said they were “our guardians when we rested, and that we slept in peace among them.”

How much can we believe early accounts like Coppiers? We can be sure that lizards weren’t trying to protect him. We can also be sure that sea turtles were plentiful back then. We don’t have any parrot or parakeet specimens from St. Martin, but they do feature in other early writings. It may be hard to imagine a St. Martin covered in tall trees, but beautiful wetlands can still be found. His words reveal an island that is still recognizable to us today despite hundreds of years of change.

Has a lizard ever helped you? Tell us about it by writing in to The Daily Herald or info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

English translations of Coppier’s text in this article are taken from Desperate in St. Martin.

The Mare Mischief

“Mare Mischief took Alva on the 1st and 2nd of May, 1897”

Mischief’s love life.

Many decades had passed for the little brown notebook before the mare Mischief arrived in its pages. The early portion of the notebook was written in the early 1800s. The sexual exploits of this horse were recorded at the end of the century.

The love life of a horse may seem out of place in a book that was mostly used to record medical remedies. On the other hand, horses were valuable, and breeding them was important. Horses transported goods and people around the island. On the plantations, they pulled cane carts or loads of other crops like tobacco and cotton.

Horse records from the late 19th century.

At the Spring Plantation, where The Old House is today, records show there were 3-20 horses at a time between the late 1700s and early 1800s. There were more when the plantation was profitable and fewer during hard times.

By the late 1800s, long after the peak of sugar production, the number of horses may have been limited. They were valuable and surely it was expensive to import them. In the notebook, the purchase of Mischief was recorded: “Mare from Rose Duma called Mischief bought on the 5th April 1896 for 482 francs.” This price would be around a couple thousand dollars today.

Recording the lineage of horses may have been used to avoid interbreeding them. It could also help owners keep track of which pairs made the best offspring. Although the little brown book doesn’t record the family tree of the people writing it, it does record the family history of the horses: “Mischief colted on the 25th April 1897 — colt called Beauty”

Mischief must have been a good horse: “mare Fanny [was] bought from Hays Viotty on the 20th March for 320 francs.” Poor Fanny was only worth 2/3 the price of Mischief.

We can also see that Mischief was bred with Alva just a week after giving birth to Beauty. Mares usually go into heat about a week after giving birth. Breeding them during this “foal heat” gives the owner the chance to have a new foal each year. We don’t know the rest of Mischief’s story, but perhaps she still has family on St. Martin today.

Do you have any stories about horses on St. Martin? Share them by writing in to The Daily Herald or info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Rheumatism and Change

A 19th-century notebook full of handwritten medical recipes from St. Martin is consistent for the first 25 pages. There are remedies for ills and other useful things. Everything is noted in what seems to be the same steady handwriting. But on page 26, things change.

A jagged line across the page marks the starting point of a “cure for Rheumatism.” The letters are suddenly irregular as if written by a shaking hand. Dark spots litter the page where droplets of ink had accidentally fallen.

A cure for rheumatism.

The recipe itself is similar to many that came before. Raw turpentine, castile soap and sulfur are combined and applied to the bottom of the feet. This seems to be the last entry from this author. It is tempting to wonder if the author was aging, and perhaps suffering from rheumatism or other ailments.

On the very next page, the handwriting changes in style. Remedies for jaundice are described, made from cucumbers, carrots and yellow Doodle Doo. It is impossible to say how much time may have passed between one entry and the next.

The following page begins with the words Pour Mal de Gorge, and gives a remedy for sore throat in French. The handwriting has again changed completely. From this point on, the notebook is much less orderly. Pages are skipped and entries are crossed out. The language bounces back between English and French.

The purpose of the book remains the same. Most entries record medical recipes gathered from one doctor or another. The rest record things that were useful or important. Although the authors changed over time, the notebook served its function for decades.

The notebook passed from one person to the next. With it, knowledge passed from one generation to the next. On St. Martin, this often happened orally. Wisdom and stories were passed on with the spoken word. Over time, the culture of St. Martin grew from this process. In this small notebook, we can see it and hold it in our hand. It has passed all the way to us.

Do you have any stories or remedies passed down in your family? Share them by writing in to The Daily Herald or info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

For a Young Woman…

In a 19th-century notebook full of handwritten medical recipes from St. Martin, there is an interesting entry on the fifth page. It describes a medical preparation “For a young woman who has not menstruated.” The recipe is as follows:

“a large hand full of Doodledoo Roots, as much of Cankerberry roots, & the same quantity of Cashia roots, put with 6 pints of water, & boiled down to three, a tumbler taken three times a day, & plenty of exercise taken. a tablespoon full of Yucca in each tumbler of drink, & sweetened if necessary.”

This medicine is different from most in the notebook. It is one of the only recipes that is entirely made of local plants. Doodledoo is a name still used for the columnar or candlestick cactus growing on St. Martin. Cankerberry can refer to a couple different plants on St. Martin, the Bahamas nightshade and the rouge plant or jumbie basil. Cashia is another name for the acacia tree.

A medical recipe from the 1800s on St. Martin.

The exact purpose of this cure is unclear. Was it used when menstruation was delayed or irregular, which was seen by some doctors as a problem at the time? Was it for a young woman who had never menstruated? Or a young woman who had stopped menstruating because she was pregnant? It isn’t clear from the text.

Most of the cures in the book are actual remedies given to people on the island. In several cases, they were named in the description of the remedy. In this case, we don’t know who the young woman is. We also don’t know her age, her background or whether she was free or enslaved.

Was this medicine used to end pregnancies? There is a long history of abortion as a form of resistance for enslaved people. By not having children, enslaved people were able to hurt slaveholders economically and keep a future generation from suffering under slavery. The enslaved women who were midwives and healers also had some of the best knowledge about plant medicine.

However, this book was not written by an enslaved person. For economic reasons, a slaveholder would not want to end the pregnancy of a person enslaved by them. Abortion was also illegal and against the rules of the church, so it wasn’t allowed for free people at the time, either.

The plants used don’t offer immediate clues, either. Cankerberry and Cashia both have plant medicine uses in the Caribbean and beyond. But there isn’t clear evidence that they were used for anything related to menstruation, particularly on or near St. Martin. Perhaps further research can reveal more about this recipe and its purpose.

Do you have any ideas about this recipe? Share it by writing in to The Daily Herald or info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

One Year of Awesome!

Summer camp visits the Amuseum.

In July, Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House celebrated one year of sharing the magic of St. Martin with visitors young and old. This is all thanks to our donors and our fantastic volunteers!

Since July of 2018, the Amuseum has had over 6,000 visitors. That includes about 2,000 kids visiting with school classes or youth groups. We hosted many events, including our Endemic Animal Festival, Migratory Bird Festival and Cultural Campfire evenings.

When we opened a year ago, we featured the exhibits from our pop-up museum in Grand Case. Since then, we’ve added over 60 exhibit panels about nature, history, culture, farming, bush medicine and many other topics. We are well on our way to being the best place in the world to learn about St. Martin!

We are closed for a summer break, but when we reopen this fall, we have big plans. We will continue to build our research library, Soualibra. We will also be adding many new exhibits and signs. These will include St. Martiners who made a difference on the island, the heritage of French Quarter (the town where we are located), and many other topics. We will also be hosting our 7th annual Migratory Bird Festival.

Thanks again for everyone’s support! We literally could not have done this without you. We look forward to a great fall and beyond!

(This summary was taken from a project report from our project on the web site Global Giving, where people from all over the world have contributed to the Amuseum.)

5,000 years of eco exhibit, showcasing a long local history of eco-friendly practices.
Reusable cotton bag craft.
School group from French Quarter.
Amazing volunteers!!!

Suddenly, From the Sea

In most ways, 2011 was not a remarkable year on St. Martin. There were no major hurricanes. The hills weren’t parched by drought. But one amazing thing did happen, and in some ways it began a new era.

Sargassum was on nobody’s mind in 2011. That is, until it began washing ashore by the ton. It sloshed in the shallows and piled up on beaches. A rusty rainbow—yellow to orange to red to brown—inserted itself on every eastern coastline. The rotten egg smell of rotting sargassum overwhelmed the beach.

Sargassum in Coconut Grove, 2011.

At the time, everyone was surprised. Old timers were asked, and the old timers told us they had never seen this before. People wondered where it was coming from and why. Seaside businesses struggled to remove it. Would it ever stop coming?

After a few months, it did stop. But as we know today, it was only a temporary break. In less than a decade, a huge change in nature has become normal. Unlike ground sea or Christmas winds, there’s no local name for the time when sargassum comes, but perhaps some day there will be.

In the years since sargassum first invaded, we’ve learned a bit about it. It doesn’t come from the Sargasso Sea in the North Atlantic. It seems to come from the tropical Atlantic, where in the past there was almost none. It seems likely that nutrients flowing into the ocean from South American rivers are fertilizing these new sargassum blooms.

If ending the sargassum blooms means ending farming and restoring rainforest in South America, then sargassum will be with us for a while. People will have to learn to deal with it: how to remove it, what to do with it. It is a huge hassle, but perhaps someday also a resource.

A wheelbarrow at Galion Beach.

We don’t fully understand the impact of sargassum on local nature, but it does not seem good. Rotting sargassum chokes near-shore waters. It uses all the oxygen that fish and other animals depend on. It can ensnare sea turtles and cover the beaches that they need to nest on. The nutrients from sargassum may also fertilize algae that can smother corals and destroy reefs.

In less than a decade, an immense environmental change has already become normal to us. We still aren’t sure what to do about it, but we are starting to work on it. But even if we learn to clean our beaches, there may be unseen harm to the ocean life around our island that we can’t stop.

What do you think about sargassum on St. Martin? Share it by writing in to The Daily Herald or info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

The Moho Stone

Where the last houses give way to the slope of the central hills in French Quarter, there is a stone with many faces. It is called the Moho stone, and it was named after a nearby well. It is the most elaborate prehistoric stone carving on the island.

Stone carvings, also called as petroglyphs, are found all over the Caribbean. In some ways, they are more mysterious than other archaeological remains. Some artifacts can be dated by radiometric analysis. Radiocarbon dating can be done on wood and bone, for example. The Moho stone, on the other hand, existed long before it was carved, so there’s no way to directly measure the age of the carvings.

The Moho stone in French Quarter.

The largest features of the Moho stone are three deep holes on the top of the stone. These features are sometimes called cupules. They were made for the polishing of stone tools. They could hold sand or other grit as an abrasive for polishing stone tools.

Cupules could also hold water, which would keep the tools from overheating when they were being polished. In most cases, stones like this are found near water. Perhaps at one time a stream ran beside the Moho stone regularly. These cupules may have served other purposes as well. They may have been used as mortars for pounding or grinding roots or seeds.

Cupules made for and by polishing stone tools.

The Moho stone clearly had practical uses, but was it art? Did it have cultural or spiritual meaning to the people who carved it? The answer is almost surely yes. The three large cupules are arranged in a pattern common to many stone carvings that represents the eyes and mouth of a human face. The stone also features many additional faces and designs.

For us, the Moho stone will always be incomplete. We can understand some of its purpose, but we will probably never know the inspiration behind the carvings and what it meant to the people who made it. To us, it will always be a mystery.

Still, in the middle of the most densely populated island in the Caribbean, it is a reminder that all the roads and buildings are a very recent development. All of St. Martin history is just a short time, and people were here for long ages before that. The Moho stone is a rock of ages, and you can still stand beside it and consider its epic past.

Do you know anything about the Moho stone or the well it was named after? Share it by writing in to The Daily Herald or info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Bird Stories

St. Martin wouldn’t be what it is today without birds. It emerged from the sea as a barren rock millions of years ago. Seabirds were probably the first animals to live here, raising their chicks and depositing a layer of poop that would provide nutrients for the first plants. The seeds of sea grape trees and countless other plants were brought here by birds as well.

When humans arrived, birds and their eggs were a source of food. Fishermen used birds to locate fish at sea. The behavior of the frigate bird was an indicator of bad weather before satellite forecasts. Birds were also a part of culture. St. Martiners gave them names and told stories about them.

Today, birds face many challenges on St. Martin and in the Caribbean. The wild spaces that birds depend on are small and shrinking, as islands continue to develop and build. Non-native animals like rats and mongoose are deadly to bird chicks and eggs. The region is home to over 150 kinds of bird that are found nowhere else in the world, and many of these species are rare.

Bird scientists and educators in Guadeloupe.(Photo by Ancilleno Davis)

From July 25-29th, over 250 bird scientists, conservationists and educators gathered at the BirdsCaribbean International Conference in Guadeloupe. The mission of the organization is to protect birds and their habitats. There are many ways this is done.

Scientific research helps us understand the challenges birds face. This year, a lot of research about bird survival and recovery after hurricanes was presented. For example, Hannah Madden presented a study of the Bridled Quail-dove population on Statia. Sadly, about three-quarters of these doves died during and after the hurricanes of 2017. Future research will tell us how quickly they are able to recover.

Conservationists present their work preserving or restoring wild spaces. Like on St. Martin, these success stories seem rare on most islands. But they can be inspiring. Orisha Joseph presented on the restoration of Ashton Lagoon at Union Island in the Grenadines. The project took over a decade through many obstacles, but it transformed an abandoned marina project to a vibrant wild space that could be enjoyed by wildlife and people.

Educators around the Caribbean are helping kids and people of all ages discover and fall in love with birds and nature. The conference is a place to share ideas and educational tools. Jenn Yerkes from St. Martin presented on how to use local culture, like folklore, to generate interest in nature. She also shared how to bird education can be valuable after a natural disaster like Hurricane Irma.

Jenn Yerkes presents at the BirdsCaribbean conference.

On St. Martin, it is easy to be saddened by ecological problems, like the dump and pollution. While these issues are also facing other islands throughout the region, there are some solutions and successes. The BirdsCaribbean conference is a chance to share and learn. Hopefully the result will be a new generation of Caribbean people with a deep love for nature, scientific discoveries that help us understand what birds need, and a desire to work together to preserve natural heritage all over the Caribbean.

Important Information

In a little brown notebook from the early 19th century on St. Martin, someone was recording the most important information they knew. The book is full of cures, remedies and other medical preparations. Most of these are notes on what was prescribed by local doctors. It is easy to understand why medical knowledge would be considered very important. For other information, the value is less obvious.

A mathematical calculation is sandwiched between treatments for ulcers and a leg sore. It is for the “dimensions of the cistern at the Estate Golden Rock.” Measurements in feet for the length, width and depth “to the vent holes” are converted to inches. These measures are converted into cubic inches to give the volume of the cistern: 967,680 cubic inches. The volume in cubic inches is then divided by 231 to give the number of gallons: 4,189.

The volume of a cistern is calculated.

This calculation could have been done on another piece of paper. Knowing the capacity of this particular cistern is not valuable to most people. But by recording the process of calculating the size of the Golden Rock cistern, the notebook can help anyone measure the volume of any cistern. This information could also be used to plan the size of a cistern to hold a certain amount of water.

On the other hand, this calculation doesn’t record any wisdom about how big a cistern should be. Four thousand gallons is 22 gallons a day for a six month dry spell. How many people could that support at the time?

Later in the notebook we have a page labeled “Note from Mortimer’s Commercial Dictionary.” It contains instructions for planting, raising and harvesting tobacco. The book was A New and Complete Dictionary of Trade and Commerce by Thomas Mortimer. It was written in 1766 and revised and reprinted a number of times.

Why was this particular passage copied? Did the notebook author have a chance to copy it directly from someone else’s dictionary? Was it a passage passed on from person to person? Tobacco had already been grown successfully on St. Martin for 200 years by the time this passage was written in the notebook, so why choose this information to save? Why not record information about how to grow sugar cane, the most important crop at the time?

Notes on growing tobacco, copied from a commercial dictionary.

We will probably never know why some information made it into the notebook. Perhaps some things that seem useful to record were so widely-known at the time that it didn’t seem necessary. Perhaps it was just chance that the writer had access to one bit of knowledge and not another. Do you have a theory? Share it by writing in to The Daily Herald or info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Les Fruits de Mer to Present at International Bird Conference

Hundreds of bird specialists from the Caribbean and beyond attend the BirdsCaribbean International Conference.

Every two years, BirdsCaribbean holds its international conference on Caribbean birds and their habitats. The meeting is the largest of its kind, attracting hundreds of delegates from the region and beyond. This year, it will be held in Guadeloupe from July 25-29. St. Martin will be represented by Jenn Yerkes, Mark Yokoyama and William Allanic of the Les Fruits de Mer association.

Jenn Yerkes will be delivering two presentations: Jumbie Trees and Spirit Birds: Connecting Cultural and Natural Heritage to Engage the Public and Helping People Engage with Nature After a Natural Disaster. Both presentations will highlight work done on St. Martin in the last two years. Mark Yokoyama will be leading a workshop on working with local media. William Allanic will be attending as a youth delegate.

BirdsCaribbean is the largest conservation group in the region. Its members come from nonprofits, forestry departments and universities all over the region. They do research, save wild spaces and share the magic of birds and nature all over the Caribbean. At the conference, over 200 members will gather in one place to share the latest in research and more.

Les Fruits de Mer has been a partner of BirdsCaribbean since 2013. The association became the first institutional member of BirdsCaribbean in the entire French Caribbean in 2015. Les Fruits de Mer members have presented at international BirdsCaribbean conferences in 2013, 2015 and 2017.

Mark Yokoyama leads a writing workshop during the 2017 BirdsCaribbean conference in Cuba.

The conference is important because it is the one time when people working in bird science, conservation and education all over the Caribbean come together to learn and share. Training workshops teach skills like how to do a bird survey. New research and techniques for helping birds are shared. Les Fruits de Mer members will bring know-how back to St. Martin where it can be used to raise awareness, improve nature education and protect valuable habitats.

This year’s conference is “Keeping Caribbean Birds Aloft” (or “An nou poté mannèv pou zozio karayib volé” in Créole). In keeping with the theme, the conference will feature many ways to help birds in the Caribbean.

“Our birds face many challenges, and we want to address them,” noted Lisa Sorensen, the Executive Director of BirdsCaribbean. “We will work on how to protect birds from threats like plastic pollution or habitat destruction. We are also working to promote birds for their value as a tourism attraction and the benefits they provide to people.”

You can learn more about the conference at http://birdscaribbean.org/bc2019/, including keynote speakers, workshop themes and field trips. Registration is open now.

The Guadeloupe Conference Poster features five special birds—four that are resident in Guadeloupe and one that migrates to the island. (Artwork by Guillaume Zbinden)

Local Plant Cures

In a notebook of medical treatments used on St. Martin in the early 1800s, there are quite a few recipes made from ingredients purchased abroad. Many of those compounds are things we know are poisonous. Others were plant-based ingredients from around the world that were brought in to the western medicine of the time.

But the notebook also includes some remedies based on local plants. The source of these cures is not revealed, but plant medicine traditions in the Caribbean are rich. They come from African and Amerindian cultures, which have roots going back thousands of years.

“A cure for the most obstinate ulcer” is one of these plant cures: “Yellow prickle wood water must be used as a bath for the sore after which you take the bark of the yellow prickle wood pounded & sifted fine & the sore sprinkled with it then apply over it a poultice of bread.”

A cure for the most obstinate ulcer.

Cures made from locally-available ingredients would have big advantages over those that require imported chemicals. Imported goods were expensive and took a long time to arrive. It is not surprising to see local plants used in some cures.

Four o’clock blossoms and some young leaves are used in a poultice. For dropsy, a cure includes several plants: bitter root stinking weed, black dog root and white candle wood root. A tea to break a fever was made from stinging windroots and black dog root.

Although many cures in the notebook are attributed to Dr. Allaway, these plant cures were not. It seems Allaway preferred his mercury and lead concoctions. A cure for stoppage of urine from Dr. Griffin of St. Kitts was made from plants: chicken weed root and white nicker root. The transfer of knowledge from black Caribbean people to white doctors was surely different from island to island and doctor to doctor.

By the time this notebook was written, the population of St. Martin was mostly people of African descent, both free and enslaved. These people had brought a rich tradition of plant medicine, and even many of the plants themselves. The most skilled doctor on the island was probably one of these people, although we don’t know their name or have a record of their work. They may have used dozens or even hundreds of local plants. Although their cures are not recorded in their book, some of them survived to this day via oral traditions.

Were plant cures passed down in your family? Share them by writing in to The Daily Herald or info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Amuseum Naturalis Celebrates a Year at The Old House

Amuseum Naturalis is hosting a happy hour on Saturday to celebrate one year of operations at The Old House.

The public is invited to stop by Amuseum Naturalis for an end-of-season happy hour from 4-6pm this Saturday, July 20th. The Amuseum will be celebrating one year at The Old House in French Quarter and the end of the season. After Saturday, the Amuseum will be closed until October.

“It’s hard to believe we launched Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House just a year ago,” said Jenn Yerkes, President of Les Fruits de Mer, the association behind the Amuseum. “So many people helped transform the place into a museum, and we’ve had so many great experiences with visitors, school groups and summer camps. We look forward to finishing this fantastic year with a fun happy hour!”

Amuseum Naturalis opened at The Old House on July 22, 2018. Since then, the Amuseum has had over 6,000 visitors. Over 2,000 kids visited with schools, youth groups and summer camps. 

Amuseum Naturalis has welcomed over 6,000 visitors to The Old House over the last year.

Amuseum Naturalis is a free museum of the nature, history and culture of St. Martin and the Caribbean, created by the Les Fruits de Mer association. It is located at the historic Old House in French Quarter on the hill above Le Galion. It is an all-volunteer project, and over 300 people have spent over 5,000 hours to create and operate the Amuseum.

Over 300 people have volunteered to help build Amuseum Naturalis.

Amuseum Naturalis will be open from 9am to noon Tuesday to Saturday until July 20th, and admission is free. It is located at The Old House, on the hill above Galion Beach in French Quarter. It will re-open in October. More information is available at http://amuseumnaturalis.com. Join the happy hour on Facebook.

Bad Medicines

If you lived in St. Martin in the 1800s, hopefully you didn’t get sick very often. For that matter, if you lived in many places in the 1800s, the odds of getting good medical treatment were pretty slim. A visit to the doctor could easily leave you worse off than you were.

In a little brown notebook full of 19th century medical cures used on St. Martin, we encounter a number of medicinal substances used at the time. Many of them are recorded in a list of medicines ordered from New York by Lucas Percival.

One of the first medicines on the list is corrosive sublimate. If you think it sounds bad, you are right. It is a white, crystalline substance made of mercury and chlorine. Mercury itself is very toxic, but this particular preparation is also corrosive. It burned the mouth, throat, stomach and intestines. In large doses it caused kidney failure and death. It was such a dangerous poison it was used to murder people.

A deadly shopping list.

Also on the list was calomel. Calomel is also made of mercury and chloride. Thankfully, it wouldn’t burn you. But it would still give you mercury poisoning. It was used to make people vomit or evacuate their bowels, and it worked because it was poison.

Sugar of lead was on the shopping list, too. Lead acetate is sweet, and was used as a sweetener and a medicine. But we don’t use it today because lead is toxic. Also on the list was tartar emetic, which contains antimony. Its effects are similar to arsenic poisoning.

By comparison, other items on the list were not nearly so bad. Flowers of sulphur act as a fungicide and may have some uses. Opium can be abused, but we still use its active ingredient—morphine—as a pain reliever. Snake oil has become a term for fake medicine, but at least it didn’t do anything, which is better than can be said for corrosive sublimate.

Rounding out the shopping list were a variety of plants and plant preparations: rhubarb, chamomile, camphor, sassafras, sarsaparilla, jalap, lavender and more. It is hard to say if they were used effectively, but most of these plants have some medicinal properties. Better still, they aren’t deadly poisons.

Although medical science wasn’t much of a science back then, western doctors had adopted some plant cures. Most of these came from other parts of the world with more developed plant medicine traditions. Some of the medicinal recipes in this book also combine purchased medicines with local plants. Perhaps European doctors on St. Martin were learning plant medicine from St. Martiners of African descent. And hopefully using that knowledge to provide better care.

Do you know any local remedies? Share them by writing in to The Daily Herald or info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Cast of Characters

In a little brown notebook full of 18th century medical cures and other valuable information, many people are mentioned. Some are patients, some are doctors. Some are notable figures in St. Martin history, others we may never know.

Some remind us that there was a patient behind each treatment, like the woman Judy. She appears in the title of a remedy: “For the dry Belly ache such as the woman Judy had.” Others invoke family names still common on St. Martin, like the pills to J.B. Gumbs “to act on the liver.”

Some tell a story of inter-island connection. A number of cures are recorded from a Dr. Griffin from St. Kitts, and one from “the French Doctor Laguionie.” Others help us place the notebook in history. One medical recipe was “recommended for the man Will belonging to the Estate Mary’s Fancy.” This seems to show that this was written during the time of slavery.

Parson Hodge is better known for spreading Methodism than curing cough.

Early in the notebook is a list of medicines delivered from New York to Mr. Lucas Percival. He was born around 1809 and died in 1877. He is best known as the owner of the Diamond Estate in Cole Bay. Just after emancipation was announced by the French, 26 enslaved persons left the estate to gain their freedom across the border. This escape showed that slaveholders on the Dutch side could not sustain slavery as it was. They were forced to make changes long before it was finally abolished by the Dutch in 1863.

Most of the cures in the first part of the book come from Dr. Allaway. Peter Welles Allaway was a surgeon who bought the Union plantation in Colombier in 1832. After French emancipation in 1848, Dr. Allaway was the first planter to sign a contract with free workers. Despite being a doctor, Allaway’s contract has a clause noting that he makes no commitment to providing medical care to the workers.

The “Remedy by Parson Hodge of Anguilla for cough and digestion” is noted as “good.” He is the Reverend John Hodge, who introduced Methodism to Anguilla and St. Martin. He was a free man of mixed race — a black mother and white father. He was also the first Caribbean person ordained by the Methodist Church. At the time, there was no doctor on Anguilla, so medicines were provided by the Methodist Missionary Society and care was given by missionaries.

The author of the book is revealed by their daughter’s name.

One more name found in the book is not tied to the major historical changes in 19th century St. Martin, but is still important. Tucked at the bottom of the page is a short recipe: “Pills (by Doctor Allaway) prescribed by him for my daughter Anna Gumbes who had a catarrh, bilious fever and obstinate.”

Do you have an idea who the parents of Anna Gumbes are? Share it by writing in to The Daily Herald or info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Get Your Photo Published in Statia Wildlife Book

The Red-billed Tropicbird is one of Statia’s most beautiful animals.

The upcoming book The Incomplete Guide to the Wildlife of Statia is being finalized this summer. The book will be the first wildlife guide for the island. The authors, Hannah Madden and Mark Yokoyama invite Statians to submit photos of wildlife for inclusion in the book.

“Right now, the book has about 500 photos,” explained co-author Mark Yokoyama. “It will be a beautiful way to learn about Statia’s unique wildlife. But we still have a little time to make it even better. If anyone has some great wildlife pictures from Statia, we’d love to see them.”

The Panther Anole is also known as the Green Tree Lizard and the St. Eustatius Anole.

The wildlife book will feature all kinds of animals from Statia, from bats and birds to bugs and snails. The co-authors have been researching and writing the book for the last several years and planning to go to print this summer for a release this winter. The book project has been financed by the generous support of Nustar and is being published by the St. Martin-based nonprofit Les Fruits de Mer.

Co-author Hannah Madden looks out over Statia.

“We are very excited to publish this book,” said co-author Hannah Madden. “Statia’s wildlife is rich and unique. It deserves to be showcased beautifully. We especially hope the book helps youth learn about and love their natural heritage.”

Photo submissions can be made to info@lesfruitsdemer.com. Photographers who have a photo selected for inclusion will receive a copy of the book. More information about the project, including a free ebook, can be found at http://statiawildlife.com.

Salt Blowing

You don’t need a lot to make salt. It takes seawater, a shallow pond and sunlight to evaporate the water. It takes a few months that are dry enough for evaporation to outpace whatever rain is falling.

When salt was an industry on St. Martin, other things were added to basics of salt making. People controlled the timing and amount of seawater flowing into ponds. Canals were built to keep rainwater out of drying salt pans. Levees were built to section salt ponds.

A dusting of white salt surrounds the last water of Chevrise pond.

The management of salt ponds increased yields. It also kept unseasonal rains from ruining a harvest. Levees in salt ponds allowed easier access to the salt pans. All of these things were critical to the industry of salt production, but the basic conditions that produce salt were here naturally.

The Amerindians who lived on St. Martin named it Soualiga, or “land of salt” in the Arawak language. They were harvesting salt on the island long before the first Europeans arrived. But as far as we know, they were simply taking advantage of the salt production happening naturally.

Although much has changed on St. Martin, some ponds still produce salt under the right conditions. This dry year has been perfect. While ponds connected to the sea have remained full, several are dry or nearly so. Chevrise and the airport pond of Grand Case are two of them.

Salt crystals in Grand Case.

On Chevrise, there is just a tiny bit of water left. The pond bed around it is dusted in a white coating of salt. Beyond that white area is cracked brown dirt. This mud dried before the salt was concentrated enough to crystalize.

In Grand Case, the area of the pond near the airport road has quite a bit of salt. Some areas are pretty dry, with large crystals in a crust on damp mud. In other parts, salt crystals and the last of the pond’s water make a salty slush. The crystals glint in the late afternoon sunlight.

Salt slush in the airport pond at Grand Case.

Less than 100 years ago, thousands of tons of salt were being produced in Grand Case each year. It is within the living memory of some on the island, but it feels like another world to most. St. Martin has been made and remade since then.

Somehow, amidst a million modern crises and concerns, the salt itself has returned. It has returned of its own accord. It sparkles in the sun as if to remind us that no matter what we do, no matter what we change or destroy, St. Martin is still a land of salt.

Do you have memories or pictures of salt on St. Martin? Share them by writing in to The Daily Herald or info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Salt forms around a stone in Grand Case.

Cure for the Locked Jaw

Lockjaw is a terrifying disease with a terrifying name. Also known as tetanus, it is caused by a toxin that is made by a bacteria. It causes a variety of symptoms, including muscle spasms that can be strong enough to break bones. It can kill, and in the past it killed a lot.

Tetanus was common in tropical areas like the Caribbean. Perhaps the warmth helped tetanus bacteria stay viable when lying dormant in tropical soils. Or maybe people just had more contact with the dirt, working barefoot. Review of historical records from Brazil found that tetanus rates were higher for enslaved persons. This was likely to be true on St. Martin as well. Enslaved persons were doing dangerous jobs and in constant contact with soil.

In a little brown notebook Pierre Beauperthuy’s collection at The Old House, a cure for tetanus is described: “Make the wild tobacco in a strong bath, take out a little of it to make injections, which must be given frequently.” This herbal treatment was combined with some of the popular medicines of the day: “Give the child two grains of calomel immediately, with a grain of antimonial powder.”

A 19th century cure for tetanus.

This cure reflects another terror of tetanus: it was often a killer of infants. In the 19th century, when this cure was likely written, we did not yet understand germs. There was no vaccine for tetanus, and the umbilical cord was often a site of infection. Today, tetanus in infants is much less common. Most mothers are vaccinated, which gives immunity to newborns.

The handwritten cure for tetanus continues with a variety of other measures. Oil is taken to evacuate the bowels. Camphor, opium and candle grease are mixed together and spread along the spine, from the throat to the temples, and around the wrists. The bath and injections are repeated five or six times a day. “Remember to keep the child sitting in the bath until it appears sick at its stomach, but great care taken that it does not take cold.”

Would any of this have worked? Probably not. Even today there is no cure for tetanus. The toxin created by the tetanus bacteria is one of the deadliest and most powerful toxins in the world. Both then and now, working to ease the symptoms during months of recovery is a big part of treatment. Luckily, today we are much less likely to get tetanus in the first place, as long as we are up to date with our vaccinations.

Have you heard stories of diseases or conditions that were once more common on St. Martin? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Festival Celebrates Unique Birds in Unique Ways All Over the Caribbean

Students learn while playing a game from the BirdSleuth Caribbean program. (Photo by Otto Williamson)

At dozens of events on more than 20 islands, people of all ages came together to celebrate and protect their birds. The events were part of the Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival, organized by BirdsCaribbean. The festival highlights endemic birds—the ones found only in the region—and how to protect them.

There are over 170 kinds of bird that live only in the Caribbean. Many of these live only on a single island, and many are rare. The events celebrating these unique birds are also unique. Groups all over the region find different ways to celebrate and learn about these birds.

In Puerto Rico, the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources took part in several events, including walks, talks and crafts. At the Ponce Museum of Art, a special guided tour shared birds and nature in the museum’s artwork. This was the first tour of its kind in the 60 years since the museum was founded.

Visitors learn about nature in art during a guided tour of Ponce Museum of Art in Puerto Rico. (Photo: Adrianne G. Tossas)

This year’s festival theme was Protect Birds: Be the Solution to Plastic Pollution, and many activities featured cleanups and learning about plastic waste. In Jamaica, the National Environment and Planning Agency led activities and games from the BirdSleuth Caribbean program. These activities help kids learn about the problems that birds face, like plastic debris. In Venezuela, the group Ave Zona held a beach cleanup on Isla de Coche. On the island of St. Martin, kids decorated bird feeders made from reused plastic bottles.

Youth decorate bird feeders made from plastic bottles at the Endemic Animal Festival on St. Martin. (Photo by Mark Yokoyama)

“We are so happy that our 18th Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival reached so many people,” said festival coordinator Eduardo Llegus. “We are especially happy to see the many creative ways people have found to share, honor and help our birds. Our birds are unique symbols of our region. To protect them is to protect our heritage, our nature and our communities.”

The Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival is organized by BirdsCaribbean. Thousands of youth and adults participate each year in activities hosted by dozens of local groups on over 20 islands. For more information, visit http://birdscaribbean.org.

Analysis of Soils

The method for analyzing soil.

During St. Martin’s agricultural past, people had to understand the land. Much farming knowledge in the Caribbean was passed down from African and Amerindian traditions. These two cultures had experience with tropical crops, and their methods are still used today.

In a little brown notebook Pierre Beauperthuy’s collection at The Old House we find another approach to understanding the land. It is a description of a process of analyzing soil. The method is simple, and could be performed by anyone with just a few items on hand:

The following is a method of analysing soils for ordinary agricultural purposes: Weigh a convenient quantity of earth to be analysed say one thousand grains dried in the open air; dry the same before a fire on paper, so as not to scorch the paper; re-weigh and the difference will be the moisture. Roast the residue, re-weigh, and the difference will be the organic matter. Pour a convenient quantity of muriatic acid on the remainder; when stirred and settled pour it off, and add oxalate of ammonia, the precipitate will be the lime. Mix the remainder with water and stir it well, when a little settled, pour off the turbid mixture and the suspended contents are argillaceous and the deposit siliceous.

By this process, the user can find out the relative amounts of moisture, organic matter, lime, clay and silica in the in a soil sample. These traits can help understand the richness, acidity and drainage of soils. In turn, these factors can help determine which crops may grow best, or how valuable the land is for farming.

While the process for analyzing soil is given in detail, there are no notes about what the results mean. Were St. Martiners making farming decisions based on soil analysis in the 19th century? At the very least, we know they had at least some of the skills to do so.

In the early 1950s, soil analysis was done here using more modern methods. As one could have done with the method in the notebook, organic matter and calcium carbonate were measured. Many other attributes were measured as well, like pH and the levels of nitrogen and phosphate. A report was published in 1955 about soils of St. Martin and the geology beneath them.

A field in the Lowlands prepared for planting in the mid-20th century.

Soil studies in the 1800s may have decided which crop enslaved people were forced to cultivate: cotton, sugarcane or tobacco. The 1955 report told how well crops for the dinner plate and grass for livestock were growing in local soils. We could do better soil analysis today, but the need seems less urgent. Frequent droughts and crop-eating invasive animals like monkeys and iguanas are bigger farming challenges than soil quality. Sadly, our most dire need may be to find out how much we have poisoned and polluted St. Martin’s soils.

What is the soil like in your area? What grows best there? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

For Improving Rum

Instructions for improving rum.

The little brown book from Pierre Beauperthuy’s collection at The Old House is full of old knowledge. It contains recipes for medicines and techniques for making glue. It was carefully written. The pages were numbered. It contained very important things that had to be remembered. Like how to make rum better.

There are some clues to suggest that this book dates from the early 1800s. This is a time when sugarcane was grown on St. Martin and rum was made from it. The sugarcane industry was not very successful here and it didn’t last very long. But during this brief window, knowing how to improve rum was surely useful.

The little brown book.

The first method starts with Balsam of Peru. The instructions call for adding 35 grains—about a third of a teaspoon—for every five gallons of rum. Balsam of Peru is a resin made from the sap of a tree that grows in Central and South America. It was used as a flavoring, a fragrance and a medicine. Many people have an allergic reaction to it, so it is not widely used today.

The Balsam of Peru was added after being dissolved or pulverized, and left in the rum for eight days. The next step was to construct a filter with a hoop, a flannel bag and charcoal. Impurities are removed by passing the rum through the charcoal. This is a process that is still done today to many spirits. The instructions specify that the charcoal should be made from White Oak.

Directly below these instructions, a second process is recorded under the simple heading “Another.” This method starts with 30 Tonka Beans, well-pulverized. Tonka Beans com from another South American tree, and they were also used as both a flavoring and a fragrance. The bean powder is to be added to a demijohn of rum taken from a puncheon cask and left in the sun for a day before being shaken and dumped back in the cask. A puncheon is a size of cask, about 85 gallons.

The next step is to take some gunpowder tea and a half stick of finely chipped licorice and steep them in boiling water, closed for “24 hours or even a day.” This is then strained into the cask as well. The final touch is some burnt sugar to add color to the rum. Although the burnt sugar—or caramel— tastes bitter, only a tiny bit is used to color rum and it is still used today.

An old rum bottle.

Could we try using these instructions to re-create the flavor of rum that was made in St. Martin 200 years ago? Perhaps, but maybe we don’t need to. Many of these steps are still used in rum making today. Do you have a secret for improving rum? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

For Mending Coppers

A recipe for curd cement.

A little brown book from Pierre Beauperthuy’s collection at The Old House is full of handwritten recipes for cures. Various entries indicate it is from St. Martin in the 1800s, although we don’t yet know exactly when it is from, or who wrote it. Entries in different handwritings, using both English and French, show that it may have been used for quite a while.

Many of the pages contain recipes for medicines. Between those, the book also has other useful information. There are instructions about how to make essential oil from flowers, and how to test soil. Each page is a reminder of a time when this knowledge was precious. It was a time when people needed a huge variety of skills were needed to survive.

Boiling coppers from sugarcane days are still seen on St. Martin.

One recipe is titled: “For mending coppers or any other broken vessel.” In the Caribbean, a copper or boiling copper is the giant round vat where sugarcane juice is boiled down. They were also heavy and surely very expensive. They were a key part of sugar processing. After the decline of sugarcane, they were often still used to hold water. On Tintamarre they were placed around a well as troughs for livestock to drink from.

Boiling coppers around a well on Tintamarre, reused as animal troughs.

The recipe for mending giant metal cauldrons seems a bit odd at first. It requires boiling half a pint of milk, adding a bit of vinegar to make the milk curdle and then adding a well beaten egg-white. Next, one must sprinkle in a little “very fine boiling lime” and “take care not to let it be too dry when employed to mend anything and it will last very long.”

Though it may seem strange, this basic recipe appears in books as curd cement. It is claimed to be waterproof and long-lasting, but does not seem to be something that would stand up to high heat. Perhaps by the time this recipe was recorded, the coppers were already being reused for things other than boiling cane juice.

It’s hard to say what seems more strange today: a recipe for superglue made mostly from food items, or the idea of mending a vessel at all. But back when this was written, the recipe for a glue was as valuable as the recipe for a medicine. In fact, the very next item in the book is a recipe for “another cement” based on isinglass, a kind of gelatin made from fish swim bladders!

Can you remember a bit of local wisdom passed down from elder generations? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Be the Change Foundation Funds Citizens of Change Project

Melanie Choisy (center) of Be the Change Foundation presents a check to Les Fruits de Mer to fund the Citizens of Change project.

The Be the Change Foundation has provided $800 in funding for Les Fruits de Mer’s Citizens of Change project. The project will highlight St. Martiners who have made a difference on the island. The stories of their work will be featured in an exhibit at Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House, and also online.

“We are thrilled that Be the Change and their local donors have supported this project,” said Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “Local kids need a place where they can see the faces and read the stories of the people that made St. Martin what it is. It is one of our goals for Amuseum Naturalis and something this project will do.”

The first installment of the project will feature about a dozen people. The project aims to spotlight a variety of people, including teachers, writers, artists, builders, farmers, craftsmen, cooks, parents and storytellers. During March, Les Fruits de Mer requested nominations from the public. Based on those nominations, the association decided to focus first on St. Martiners who have passed.

“As we started researching, we realized it’s already difficult to find information and images of St. Martiners from the past,” explained project leader Mark Yokoyama. “In many cases, we feel like we’re racing against the clock to find and document these exceptional lives.”

The first installment of exhibits from Citizens of Change project will debut later this year at Amuseum Naturalis. The museum welcomes further submissions of people to feature, and information and photos that can help tell their stories.

Amuseum Naturalis is open from 9am to Noon Tuesday to Saturday and admission is free. It is located at The Old House, on the hill above Galion Beach in French Quarter. More information is available at http://amuseumnaturalis.com.

A Book of Cures

The little brown notebook is warped with water damage. It’s small enough to fit into a coat pocket and about 100 pages thick. Inside is local medical knowledge from a long time ago. It is all carefully written in script that is mostly still legible today.

A few 19th century cures and a list of medical ingredients ordered from New York.

On the inside front cover is a quick primer on the apothecaries’ system of measurement: 20 grains in a scruple, three scruples in a dram, eight drams in an ounce. This is handy because most of the recipes for cures are given in grains.

The one of the first medicines in the book is “for a swelling from cold.” It contains 30 grains of calomel, a chemical containing mercury, and 40 grains of jalap, a medicine made from the powdered root of a type of morning glory vine. Both were fairly popular drugs in the 19th century, and neither are in common use today. These drugs were to be “made in 24 pills for a person 14 to 16 years, three pills given every morning.”

Many of the medicines noted in the book are oddly specific, like a dosage specifically for people 14-16 years old. In fact, the very next cure is for “the dry belly ache such as the woman Judy had.” Many of the early cures are attributed to a Dr. Allaway. Many combine chemicals with plant remedies.

What is this odd book? Who wrote it? When is it from? The book contains a list of medicines sent to Mr. Lucas Percival, who lived on St. Martin from 1809 to 1877. This would date it to perhaps the mid-1800s on St. Martin. Later in the book, though, the handwriting changes and the language switches from English to French. Perhaps it is the work of multiple people recording cures over a longer period of time.

The cures themselves are mostly not things one would recommend today. Many include things we now known are poisons, like mercury and lead. But it is a unique window into life on the island in the past. This little book tells us what ills bedeviled residents at that time. And it tells us that doctors had little to offer that would help. Back then medicines were mixed at home from ingredients ordered from New York, and it was wise to write down medical recipes in case a doctor wasn’t around for the next obstinate fever or case of jaundice.

Every single page of this book may have something unique to tell us about the history of St. Martin and how life was lived here. We will continue to explore its pages. Have you ever seen a book like this? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Fruits of the Land

Sea grapes have been a tasty treat for generations of St. Martiners.

The first foods on St. Martin were here long before the first people. Many different native fruits were already part of the landscape when the first people came. Before the first people, these fruits were food for native birds and other animals. We can thank the birds for eating these fruits and then spreading the seeds from island to island.

Sea grape and coco plum are often found near the sea, and still grow wild near many of our beaches. Guava and guavaberry do well in valleys with rich soil and plenty of water. Soursop and sugar apple were once found in almost every yard.

Today, some native fruits, like the water lemon, are rarely seen. The water lemon is a close relative of the passion fruit. Both plants are vines with beautiful flowers. The fruit of the water lemon is oval-shaped, and soft and fuzzy on the outside. Inside, the fruit looks like a passion fruit, with edible seeds in sweet, juicy pulp. Though delicious, they are not widely grown.

The water lemon is delicious, but not widely known.

Sea Grapes are still loved for their shade and beauty, but now much of their fruit goes uneaten. Over the years, many new, non-native fruits like mango, banana and kinnip became local favorites after they were brought to St. Martin from other parts of the world.

Other native fruits still have a strong place in local diet and culture. Guavaberry is a favorite flavor for rum, jam and tarts eaten at Christmas time. Soursop trees are still found beside many houses. Their fruit are enjoyed as juice, smoothies or sorbet and their leaves are used as a bush tea.

When we enjoy native fruits — especially from trees growing in the wild — we can imagine what it was like for the first people who arrived here. They’re a true taste of paradise and a rich part of our natural heritage.

What are your favorite local fruits? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Learn, Help and Share at Amuseum Naturalis on International Museum Day

Amuseum Naturalis is an all-volunteer museum, and you can join in on Saturday from 3-5pm.

International Museum Day is Saturday, May 18th, and all are invited to participate at Amuseum Naturalis. Visit the Amuseum 9am to noon for free to celebrate and learn about the island’s nature and heritage. Join in as a volunteer from 3-5pm to help make the Amuseum better. Come share your knowledge and talent, or just enjoy, at the free Cultural Happy Hour from 5-8pm.

“Have you been to a museum lately?” asks Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. She can think of two good reasons why you should go: “I think everyone can learn something new at Amuseum Naturalis, even people who know the island very well. We’re also a community museum. We record and share information from the community so this culture and heritage isn’t lost.”

Amuseum Naturalis is a free museum of nature and heritage located at The Old House in French Quarter. It features over two dozen exhibits covering many local topics, from animals to architecture and poetry to bush tea. The Amuseum has attracted over 5,000 guests since it opened at its current location in July 2018.

The Amuseum is created entirely by volunteers, and monthly volunteer days typically attract 25-50 people. Many of the volunteers enjoy the chance to make new friends while gardening, building or cleaning. The Amuseum has hosted several Cultural Happy Hours, featuring acoustic music, poetry readings and other performances. These events are a great chance to enjoy the grounds and gardens of The Old House, a place that feels very remote for busy St. Martin, especially on a full moon night.

Guests share songs around a campfire at one of the Amuseum’s previous Cultural Happy Hours. (Photo by Marc Petrelluzzi)

International Museum Day is celebrated by museums all over the world, on or around May 18th. The annual event’s goal is to raise awareness that “Museums are an important means of cultural exchange, enrichment of cultures and development of mutual understanding, cooperation and peace among peoples.” In 2018, more than 40,000 museums participated in the event, in some 158 countries.

“It’s really exciting to be part of International Museum Day,” said Amuseum co-founder Mark Yokoyama. “St. Martin has its own wildlife, culture, history and language. There is no big national museum here, but St. Martin needs and deserves museums as much as anywhere else in the world. On the plus side, anyone can help the museums we do have. Anyone can have a voice in how the story of St. Martin is being told.”

People can also take part in Museum Day activities at the St. Maarten Museum on Front Street in Philipsburg. It will be open from 9am to noon, and they will celebrate with the 2019 International Museum Day theme: Museums as Cultural Hubs: The Future of Tradition. There will be games for the children and informative presentations.

Amuseum Naturalis is open from 9am to noon Tuesday to Saturday and admission is free. The Museum Day volunteering will be from 3-5pm on Saturday, May 18th and the free Cultural Happy Hour will follow from 5-8pm. The Amuseum is located at The Old House, on the hill above Galion Beach in French Quarter. More information and a map is available at http://amuseumnaturalis.com.

Beyond a Drought

It’s not your imagination, St. Martin is very dry right now.

Why is it so dry right now on St. Martin? The answer is pretty pretty complex, and a bit scary, too.

For starters, spring is the dry season. This time of year, the island is usually as dry as it gets. That’s why people go camping on Easter and why you should never schedule an outdoor event in November. Usually, November is the wettest month and things get drier until April. Starting in May, rain gradually increases through the fall.

But it also seems drier than usual, and it is. St. Martin was rated “severely dry” for the first part of 2019 and the forecast for the coming months is drier than usual. It isn’t necessarily unusual to have a dry year, this often comes in phases with bigger weather cycles like El Niño and La Niña.

Today’s dry weather isn’t just about rainfall. Higher temperatures are also making a difference. Higher temperatures increase evaporation, from the ground and from plants. Many plants adapted to the local climate lose their leaves to conserve water in dry times. Plants less suited to the climate may just die. Either way, St. Martin looks quite brown and barren.

Dry pond bed exposed at Chevrise Pond.

There are reasons to believe that things are getting drier around here. New studies found that the Caribbean drought of 2013-2016 was the worst on record. Climate models also predict less rainfall in the northeast Caribbean in the future.

Things could be worse. Although they are still used, the island no longer depends on cisterns and wells for water. Agriculture is also a tiny part of the economy now. This is in part because so many livestock died in the droughts of 1974-77 and 1986-87. With a tourism economy and a desalination plant, drought may be an eyesore and a fire risk, but it isn’t a threat to survival.

At least, not completely. For wildlife and native vegetation, a shift to a drier climate may become deadly. Especially when wild spaces are already pushed to the limit. A dry future may also spell doom for cultural traditions connected to plants and livestock.

Do you remember a drought from back in the day and how St. Martiners dealt with it? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or to info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

New Signs and New Stories at Amuseum Naturalis

Signs that highlight farming history are mounted on planters.

In the last few months, Amuseum Naturalis has added over 60 educational signs and panels. The new signs tell a wide variety of stories about the island’s nature and heritage. The bilingual signage was created and installed by the Les Fruits de Mer association, with funding from France’s Fonds pour le Développement de la Vie Associative.

“Amuseum Naturalis has been telling St. Martin’s most fascinating nature stories since we started,” explained co-founder Mark Yokoyama. “By tripling the number of displays, we’re able to dig deeper into nature and explore many other areas. You can learn about the animals that live only on St. Martin, but also about the roots of traditional agriculture and how St. Martiners designed their buildings to beat the tropical heat.”

The signage includes panels for an exhibit featuring the poetry of acclaimed St. Martin author Lasana M. Sekou.

Amuseum Naturalis is a free museum located at The Old House in French Quarter. It has been open less than a year, but has already attracted over 5,000 visitors. Over 2,000 students have visited the Amuseum with school classes or youth groups. The Amuseum is created and operated entirely by volunteers.

“We’re thrilled to showcase more facets of local heritage,” said Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “Many kids who come to the Amuseum don’t know about the African roots of Caribbean bush medicine, the history behind St. Martin’s stone walls or why the flamboyant tree is so important on the island. The additional exhibits and our great volunteers help local youth connect with their heritage.”

The new displays are located all around the Amuseum grounds.

With the latest signage in place, the Amuseum is already looking towards the future. The association is currently developing signage to highlight the lives and works of St. Martiners with their Citizens of Change project, funded by the Be the Change Foundation. They also welcome topic suggestions from the community and are eager to work with local experts to develop displays on new topics.

Smaller signs tell the stories of individual plant species.

People interested in volunteering opportunities at the Amuseum can contact info@lesfruitsdemer.com. Amuseum Naturalis is open from 9am to noon Tuesday to Saturday, and admission is free. It is located at The Old House, on the hill above Galion Beach in French Quarter. More information is available at http://amuseumnaturalis.com.

Rice and Peas

The combination of rice and peas or beans is loved all over the Caribbean and has many variations. What are the roots of rice and peas on St. Martin, and why is this dish so popular?

In St. Martin and the rest of the Eastern Caribbean, the Pigeon Pea (Cajanus cajan) is typically used in this dish. It was brought to the Caribbean from Africa, and grows well in our climate. It can survive the dry season and produces lots of food with little care. They are still grown in backyards all over the island.

Rice also has a long history in the Caribbean. African Rice (Oryza glaberrima) was domesticated in Africa and was brought to the Caribbean by enslaved Africans. But it was not widely grown on St. Martin or nearby small islands. Here, available land and labor were focused on sugarcane, and rice was imported from Africa. Rice was one of few dry provisions able to survive the trip across the Atlantic.

Rice and peas from Yvette’s Restaurant in French Quarter.

During the 20th century, rice consumption in the region tripled. Perhaps this is because fewer people grew traditional ground provisions like cassava and sweet potatoes. Immigration to St. Martin brought new recipes featuring red beans, black beans and black eyed peas. Yet on this multicultural island, rice and peas is a traditional recipe that still satisfies.

What’s your recipe for rice and peas? What other dishes are most important to the culinary cultural heritage of St. Martin? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or to info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Dream Team of Volunteers Shares Local Heritage at Endemic Animal Festival

A fantastic team of 45 volunteers hosted the festival.

A great team of 45 volunteers came together on Sunday to host the Endemic Animal Festival. The event is a showcase for the animals that live only on St. Martin. This year, the festival used the theme Survivors to celebrate many different aspects of local heritage and culture.

“In six years of hosting this event, this was our most amazing team of volunteers yet,” said Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “People of all ages and backgrounds worked together to share the things that make this island so special. Thanks to this team, we were able to offer more fun activities and interact more with the kids and families that came out to the festival.”

Guests get up close with animals that live only on St. Martin.

The Endemic Animal Discovery Station has been a feature of the event since the beginning. Guests learn about the critters that live here and nowhere else, and why St. Martin’s nature is so special and unique. Art and craft activities are also a mainstay of the event. This year, guests enjoyed painting bird feeders made from upcycled plastic bottles.

Plastic water bottles were transformed into colorful bird feeders.
BirdSleuth Caribbean activities combined fun and learning.

Many exhibits and activities used the Suvivors theme to share other parts of local heritage. At the Story Survival station, guests recorded oral histories about life on St. Martin. A special exhibit of poems, from the recent Lasana M. Sekou book Hurricane Protocol, explored trauma, loss and survival. At the Plantilles Station, guests received seedlings of native trees that can boost survival of native animals. They also took home plants used in bush medicine, which is the island’s oldest healing tradition.

Guests took home native trees and other plants.

“The festival weaves local nature and culture together in new ways each year,” explained Les Fruits de Mer co-founder Mark Yokoyama. “This island is beautiful and fascinating. It is a joy to share that wonder with young St. Martiners. It’s also a chance for us to learn new things from the guests who come. Listening, recording and sharing are all part of the magic.”

The Hurricane Protocol exhibit gave guests a new way to read and hear the poems of Lasana M. Sekou.

The Endemic Animal Festival was created by the Les Fruits de Mer association. This year’s event was held at Amuseum Naturalis in French Quarter. The Hurricane Protocol and 5,000 Years of Eco exhibits are still on display during museum hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 9am to noon. The 2019 festival was made possible by the support of Gold Sponsor Delta Petroleum and sponsors 97150, BirdsCaribbean, Buzz, IZI Light, L’Auberge Gourmande, Lagoonies Bistro and Bar, L’Esperance Hotel, St. Martin’s Sweetness and Tri-Sport.