Author: Mark Yokoyama

Free BirdSleuth Caribbean Training Offered to Teachers and Youth Group Leaders

BirdSleuth Caribbean is a bird-based education program made for the Caribbean.

Everyone loves birds. They are majestic and inspiring. They are dedicated parents. Their sweet songs fill the air with life. They’re also a great way to learn about nature and science.

“Imagine a school class having fun and learning about biology by playing a game of Bird Bingo or Habitat Scavenger Hunt,” said Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “We’re excited to make that possible by offering a free training program for teachers and educators. It can be used in the classroom and outdoors and it was made for the Caribbean.”

Binkie van Es leads a BirdSleuth activity at the Endemic Animal Festival. (Photo: Agnes Etchegoyen)

BirdSleuth Caribbean is a set of fun lessons and activities that uses birds to teach youth about nature and science. BirdSleuth Caribbean has been specially adapted for the region, so kids learn about the birds and habitats that they can see around them. It’s designed for students 9-13 years old. The program contains lessons, activities and learning games that can be done in the classroom and outdoors.

Les Fruits de Mer will be hosting free training in the BirdSleuth program with instructor Binkie van Es. Participants will enjoy hands-on training and receive materials to bring back to their class or youth group. On each training day, 4-5 different games and activities will be taught.

Amuseum Naturalis has indoor and outdoor space for BirdSleuth activities.

“It’s an amazing feeling to see kids fall in love with birds and science through the BirdSleuth program,” explained BirdSleuth instructor Binkie van Es. “Birds are the perfect gateway to a love of nature and a passion for learning. The activities are a lot of fun for teachers, too!”

The training will be at Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House on two Saturdays: September 22 and Sept 29, from 9am-1pm. It will be bilingual in English and French. It is free, and lunch will be served after each training session. If you are interested, please contact info@lesfruitsdemer.com to reserve your spot in the free training.

Ponds from Feast to Feast

St. Martin’s ponds are rich. They are alive. They are always changing. They are a cornerstone of both human and natural life on the island.

Ponds concentrate life. Rain falls in the hills, washes down the guts and flows into the ponds. Leaves and dirt come with it—nutrients, the stuff of life. In the pond, this matter settles down into a rich mud. It gets trapped in mangrove roots. It becomes a concentrated richness that feeds life on the pond.

This filtering also keeps the sea clean and clear. It gives coral reefs a chance to grow at their own measured pace. The sea is beautiful, vast and empty. The pond is small, messy and alive in every drop.

Blue crab in the pond.

Salt ponds were always important to the people of St. Martin. The ponds were used to concentrate sea water until it became salt to harvest and sell. This was done all across the island: the Great Salt Pond, Grand Case, Orient Bay and Chevrise.

But people can’t survive on salt alone. The ponds were also a valuable resource for food: fish, shrimp, crab and birds. Sometimes salt production and fishing went hand in hand.

In Orient Bay, the salt pond was managed at the point where the Salines d’Orient meets the Fish Pond. When it was opened to flood the salt pans, fish were caught as they rushed through the channel. In Simpson Bay, shrimp were caught at night when they passed beneath the bridge. In the Lowlands, fishing on the pond was crucial during high seas when fishermen couldn’t take their boats on the ocean.

Great egret with a fish.

In Grand Case, Roland Richardson remembers fishing in the salt pans as a boy. As the water level got lower, fish would be just below the surface. He could hit them with a stick and pick them up from the water. Though the fish were trapped, he never took more than he needed because there was no refrigeration.

The simplicity of those times is gone. In her poem, “Spirit of We Fish Pon”, Laurelle “Yaya” Richards laments the loss of local culture, and the many foods that were once harvested on the pond: shrimp, crab, mullet, bass, 10-pounder and cremole. The life of the pond was the culture of her people and the food in her bowl.

Today St. Martin’s ponds struggle, but survive. Many have been diminished by filling. Most are tainted with waste. But they still remain remarkably alive. Young fish and lobsters still hide around the roots of mangroves. Birds still come from thousands of miles away to pull crabs from the mud. We buy our food from the store now, but animals still feast on the pond.

What do St. Martin’s ponds mean to you? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or to info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Saving Stories

A young couple gets married. A man holds a fishing trophy. A crowd inspects a portion of bridge that collapsed. A young girl stands on the beach with a handbag. A pier full of people looking to see who wins the boat race. One man throws a net, another cleans a fish. A woman talks with a giant pestle in her hand. In the mortar is a baton of sugarcane.

A girl stands on the beach.

Is a picture really worth a thousands words? Maybe. But a box of old photos will always hold at least a few stories. Each frozen moment gives us clues. They tell us what life was like here. We might see what people wore and what they were eating. We can see what a day’s catch of fish looked like. In the distance, we can see whether the hills are covered in pasture or scrub.

A man throws a fishing net.

Letters and journals have much to tell us, too. Recipes for food and herbal medicine are recorded. We learn how people spent their time, what things they worried about and what they hoped for the future. Even more can be learned by listening to those who lived here as the island changed.

All of these resources have special value here on St. Martin. They aren’t just the history of a person or a family, but the history of an island. They’re the record of a culture unique to this place.

Neighborhood kids pose for a photo.

These things are special, rare and always in danger. It is impossible to know how many stories have been lost to storm, fire, mildew and death. Hurricane Irma damaged the institutions that store local heritage: libraries, museums, archaeological collections and records archives. It is impossible to know how many items were lost from homes that were destroyed or flooded.

We should do what we can to save these stories. Through so much of history, only the stories of the wealthy and powerful were recorded. For the St. Martin of the last 100 years, we have the possibility of telling the story of everyday life. We can tell how people lived through great changes. We can learn what made the island what it is today.

A crowd watches a boat race finish line.

Do you have a story to tell about St. Martin? Do you have a photo or letter that shows us what life was like back in the day? Share it with The Daily Herald, or contact info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

A man cleans a fish.
A woman holds a pestle.

House of Ages

The Old House has been part of the St. Martin landscape for hundreds of years. The first known record of it is from 1766. The foundations of this house are from this era. In the census of 1772, it was the most valuable estate on the French side. Crops included 2,000 coffee plants, 1,000 banana trees and acres of cotton, potatoes and cassava.  The names of the 49 enslaved people who lived there at the time are unknown, but traces of their lives can still be detected on the site today. They cleared and farmed the land, tended the livestock, constructed stone walls, and built the foundations of this house. 

The Old House.

By 1793, much of the land was used to grow sugar cane. A mill had been built in the valley across the street. Facilities were made to refine sugar and produce vinegar and rum. At this time, the property was owned by members of the Hodge family, originally from Anguilla. By 1816, there were 77 enslaved people on this estate, producing sugar while also raising their own food. The original wooden home was destroyed in the hurricane of 1819 and then rebuilt on the same foundation.

By the late 1830s, the property was in decline and it was considered a “former sugar mill” by 1837. In 1843, the property was acquired by Daniel Beauperthuy, who had the rights to produce salt on the Orient Bay salt pond. In addition to salt production, this estate grew cotton and raised livestock: 70 cattle, 36 mules and 234 sheep. By 1931, the house was again in disrepair. Unable to tear down the strong posts, Louis Emile “Lil’ Dan” Beauperthuy set the remains of the house on fire. He said it burned for about two weeks.

The concrete house you see today was built in 1935 by Adolph Artsen. It remained the residence of the Beauperthuy family for many years, and they continued to manage salt production in Orient Bay until the late 1950s. Pierre Beauperthuy transformed the property into a museum of history and culture in the early 2000s. His charisma and gift for storytelling were key parts of the museum he created here. It was a monument to his love of his island and its history.

Pierre Beauperthuy builds his museum.

In 2018, the Les Fruits de Mer association began restoring this property as a museum of nature, history and culture on St. Martin. Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House is a free museum dedicated to sharing all the stories of St. Martin. It is also a center for community projects, including a native plants nursery, shared gardens and other collaborative projects. The museum is now open for its fall hours, Tuesday to Saturday, 9am to Noon.

Rediscover St. Martin at Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House

Students enjoy activities during their visit to Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House.

People of all ages are invited to enjoy and explore Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House this fall. Organizers have announced the fall hours–the Amuseum will be open from 9am to noon, Tuesday to Saturday, starting September 1st. Amuseum Naturalis is a free museum of local nature, history and culture, developed by the Les Fruits de Mer association with an all-volunteer team. It is located at the historic Old House on the hill above Le Galion in French Quarter.

“We had a fantastic summer preview, with over 1,000 visitors in just over a month,” said Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “We especially enjoyed the summer camps and school groups that visited during the preview. Now we’re inviting teachers and youth group leaders to schedule fall visits!”

While the process of restoring The Old House continues, the Amuseum has opened its gardens and an exhibit hall featuring eight exhibits. In the back yard, visitors can enjoy amazing views and learn about native trees and plants. A bush tea and bush medicine garden is growing, with many plants donated by St. Martiners who want to share this tradition.

Visitors learn about The Old House and its history dating back to the 1700s.

The Amuseum’s “micro-theater” shows a reel of over a dozen documentary shorts about nature, history and culture. Many of the films feature fascinating interviews with St. Martiners. Les Fruits de Mer members and volunteers have been interviewing St. Martin residents to share the stories of the island as told by its people. The association’s goal is to collaborate with the community so the Amuseum can be a true reflection of the island.

Families are encouraged to visit the Amuseum. Amuseum Hunt! and Amuseum Adventure! are two fun activities created by the association to help students and families interact with the exhibits.

The public is also invited to share their stories during their visits. The Amuseum is ready to film interviews, scan photos or documents and photograph historic items. Volunteers are also welcome. To get involved, just stop by the Amuseum when it is open or email the association at info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

For more information about Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House, visit http://amuseumnaturalis.com. Schools and youth groups can schedule group visits by contacting info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Flamingo Stories

When local birder Binkie van Es spotted a pair of flamingos hanging out on the pond behind Orient Beach, people got excited. You don’t have to be an avid birder to love the idea of flamingos on St. Martin. Many were also curious about where they came from and what they were doing here.

St. Martin’s salt ponds are a great habitat for flamingos. They are full of food for flamingos, like the shrimp that turn them pink. In the past, when St. Martin had more ponds and fewer people, there were definitely flamingos living here. At that time, they were also found in many nearby islands.

A flamingo at Salines d’Orient.

Flamingos on St. Martin were not part of the scientific record. Very few bird scientists visited St. Martin before 1955. But we do have some stories about flamingos living here.

Maps may give a few clues. Part of the Simpson Bay Lagoon was called Flamingo Pond, although we don’t know how it got its name. Baie de l’Embouchure appears as Baie Flamande on some maps. That is French for Flemish Bay, but also only one letter away from Flamingo Bay.

Historian Steve Kruythoff mentions the flamingo in his book, The Netherlands Windward Islands. He noted that he last saw it in the Orient Bay salt pond in 1932. I have heard that a travelogue written by a French couple includes a tale of the last St. Martin flamingo being shot by a hunter.

Between 1955 and 1975, birders did study St. Martin. They surveyed the island extensively, and the list of birds they found grew steadily. But it did not include the flamingo. The flamingo is an easy bird to spot. If they didn’t see it, flamingos probably weren’t here then. At least not regularly.

When Binkie posted photos of the new flamingos on Facebook, some commenters shared memories of flamingos on St. Martin in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Around this time, flamingos on Anegada in the Virgin Islands were disappearing. Any flamingos on St. Martin at this time would have been among the last in the region. They may have been refugees from the dying flock in Anegada.

Starting in 1992, flamingos were reintroduced to Anegada and Guana Island in the Virgin Islands. Today there are hundreds in the Virgin Islands. A few years ago, a lone flamingo started visiting Anguilla. In 2015, a birder spotted a lone flamingo flying over Grand Case. Perhaps the arrival of flamingos in 2018 will mark the beginning of a new era for flamingos on St. Martin. It certainly would be wonderful.

Do you have stories or images of flamingos on St. Martin, or other interesting wildlife tales? Share them by writing to The Daily Herald or info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Ephemera

In the film Raiders of the Lost Ark, there is a key scene in a Cairo cafe. The evil archaeologist Belloq holds out a cheap watch and says that if he buries it for a thousand years it will become priceless. Although his character was on the wrong side of history, he had a point.

A hurricane tracking map from Esso.

Today’s newspaper is worth about 75 cents. Yesterday’s is basically worth nothing. A newspaper from 30 years ago? It may not have cash value, but it might be priceless in its own way.

Today I was reading through an issue of The Chronicle from February 3rd, 1989. There was an article about the groundbreaking of a new museum, which was why this particular copy was probably saved. The paper was thin and full of international news from the wire. But even one issue was full of insights into the island at the time.

“No Cause for Alarm Over Brown Water” read one headline. There was a lengthy exposé titled “Sewage: Where It Goes Nobody Knows” that spoke of trucks pumping waste water off the cliff in Point Blanche. A few pages later, an real estate ad proclaimed Point Blanche as “suddenly the place to be!”

Over time, even the most trivial items become interesting in their own way. The 1980 program for July 14th festivities on the French side is full of great sounding concerts: the Superfly Brothers, Genius and Three Kings. The schedule was done on a typewriter, and all the accents were added by hand.

Festival program for the 1980 July 14th celebrations.

A hurricane tracking map was distributed by Esso and was touted as “a sign of progress.” A letter from Romelia Dollison identified her as “the only woman candidate in this election.” The sleeve of the seven-inch record for “O Sweet St. Maarten’s Land” is notable for using the Dutch spelling of St. Martin.

The 7-inch record of “O Sweet St. Maarten’s Land”.

So many things pass through our hands each day, it would be impossible to save them all. But even the most ordinary things eventually become fascinating in time. We should be thankful for the savers, who left us with these glimpses into the past. We should also take seriously the task of preserving and documenting what we have so that it can survive in some form into the future.

Do you have ordinary items that have survived the years against all odds? Share them by writing to The Daily Herald or info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Invisible City

St. Martin is full of cities with stories. We know their past and their present day identity. For a small island, it has a surprising number of distinct cultural centers. That’s one of the things that makes it such a great place to live or visit.

Philipsburg was a center of salt production in the past, and today is one of the region’s busiest cruise ship ports. Grand Case was a sleepy fishing village turned into a gourmet paradise. Simpson Bay was also a sleepy fishing village that is now packed with restaurants and nightlife. Marigot was the peak of chic in the 1980s, and Colombier the breadbasket of the island where traditional life is still celebrated.

By comparison, French Quarter is a bit of an invisible city. It was the first place where the French settled in the 1600s and it is one of the bigger towns on the island, but it doesn’t get a lot of attention in history books or travel guides. A large part of the population worked in the salt industry at Salines d’Orient for over 100 years, but I’ve never seen a single picture of salt production there.

A view of French Quarter.

Why don’t we know more about French Quarter? Perhaps because it is such a border town. The town is technically French, but it has always had close ties to the Dutch Side. French Quarter children would walk to school in Philipsburg back in the day because Marigot was harder to reach. Orleans Hardware is still the place to go on the French side if you need 3/4 inch pipe instead of two centimeter. The town may have been too far from the center of power on the French side and more integrated into the side of the island that wasn’t responsible for recording its history.

Today, French Quarter is also largely removed from the main industry on the island, tourism. On TripAdvisor, it has listings for six restaurants and zero hotels. Grand Case, by comparison has 47 restaurants and 18 hotels. Not every town has to be a tourism mecca, but how can a town thrive when it isn’t part of the island’s main industry?

French Quarter is an important place with a rich history. It has homes and buildings that are beautiful examples of local architecture. It exemplifies St. Martin’s greatest strength, the connection of people in communities that transcend nationality and political boundaries. It is an invisible city that deserves a share of the spotlight.

French Quarter isn’t invisible to the people who live there or have roots there. Perhaps we can work together to shine a light on this invisible city. Do you have stories or images of French Quarter? Share them by writing to The Daily Herald or info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Mystery Machines

The backyard of The Old House in French Quarter was overgrown with trees and bushes that had been growing wild for years. On top of that, Hurricane Irma had downed branches and tossed debris everywhere. Volunteers had spent weeks clearing the yard before they finally reached the mystery machine.

The trapped flywheel.

You could almost walk by and miss it. A flywheel sticks out at ground level beside a newly cleared path. A patina of rust covers the iron, and it is similar in color to the dirt and tree bark around it. Further in, another part looks like the bell of a saxophone.

The mouth of the machine.

How long has it been there? Based on the tree trunks that are growing through the machine, it has been there for decades at least. At least some of it is now underground, but we aren’t sure how much.

This mystery machine is a symbol of so much. It tells us of old times and old ways now forgotten. Especially as a group of volunteers gathers around it to make wild guesses about what it was once used for. It tells us of a St. Martin that was the same island, but also a very different one.

It reminds us of the constant struggle to maintain our homes and possessions against the ravages of nature and time. Concrete crumbles, metal rusts and wood is eaten by termites. Nature reclaims her land, inch by inch. The process is constant and effortless.

Surely this machine didn’t come cheap when it was bought. It was forged far away and brought here on a long ocean journey. At a time when there were no cars, refrigerators or big screen televisions, this was surely a major purchase. Yet there it is, grown into the landscape. Once valuable and useful, the world around it changed.

The mystery machine.

We look forward to researching this and other mystery machines from St. Martin’s past. They are not just relics. They were once used by people here. Understanding the purpose of these machines and tools can tell us what people were doing here as they went about their daily lives.

Do you have stories of tools and machines that were used once upon a time on St. Martin? Share them by writing to The Daily Herald or info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

History Exposed


The cycles of change between wet and dry on St. Martin have shaped the island’s wild spaces. Plants and animals that can’t survive the dry times don’t live here. Those that can have adaptations. Trees shed their leaves in dry times to conserve their moisture. Animals breed in the wet period when there is more food for their young.

Human life is also influenced by the changing seasons. To make salt, St. Martiners needed the dry months when water could evaporate, leaving the salt behind. The choice of crops and the timing of planting and harvest also depended on the rain.

The yearly cycle is somewhat predictable. There is a dry period from winter into spring and a wet period from summer into fall. Of course, in the Caribbean one is wise to expect the unexpected. A big storm could bring a huge rainfall during the driest months. This could be a disaster for birds nesting beside a pond that suddenly swells and swallows their nests.

The remains from salt production in Grand Case.

There are also droughts. It is said that people here had to face the prospect of losing their harvest every few years due to lack of rain. This would have been a huge challenge in centuries past. Perhaps it is good that we don’t depend on rain for our food today. The island has been relatively dry for a number of years, including a severe drought in 2015 and 2016. Climate change may bring more dry years to our region in the future.

Very dry weather does give us one unique opportunity. We can often see historical remains much more clearly. In ponds not connected to the sea, receding water reveals the levees and structures created for salt production. Barriers of stone and dirt divided the pond into smaller areas for salt production. In some cases, they also protected salt pans from incoming rainwater.

The dry hills also reveal structures from the past. As plants drop their leaves or shrivel and dry, we can often get a better view of old buildings and walls that have been abandoned to nature. Combined with the destruction of Hurricane Irma, this is a good time to see things that would otherwise be hidden by the vibrant growth of Caribbean plants.

Rains should be on their way. For thirsty plants and animals, it will be a chance to thrive again. For those of us still living beneath tarps, it will be a challenge. Before they come, take a moment to look up into the hills and down into our ponds to catch a glimpse of the past while it is still exposed.

Have you seen parts of St. Martin’s past exposed by the hurricane or the try weather? Share them by writing to The Daily Herald or info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Amuseum Naturalis Open House

We had a fantastic time at today’s open house at Amuseum Naturalis. Over 100 people came by to enjoy our summer preview. Guests also brought plants for the bush tea garden. For July and August we will be open from 9am to noon, so please come by to see us! We have 8 fascinating exhibits right now. You can also watch our films in our micro-theater and enjoy seeing the historic house and grounds. As always, admission to the Amuseum is free!

Setting Sail

What could be more Caribbean than traditional boat building and sailing? Island life has always been tied to the sea. The Caribbean is also a place that has a long tradition of self-reliance. Traditional boats are a symbol of these two characteristics.

On St. Martin today we mostly get our food from the supermarket. It is shipped in from far away on big cargo ships. This is a necessary part of life on what is now the Caribbean’s most densely populated island. But it wasn’t always the case.

Throughout most of history, much of the food eaten here was grown here. People grew vegetables, raised livestock and fished the sea. A few foods were imported, like flour and canned goods, but survival often depended what the island could provide. 

Although shrimp and fish were harvested from St. Martin’s many ponds, fishermen needed boats to fish the local seas. Building boats was an important skill throughout the region. Being able to build boats and sail them was an absolute necessity.

These boats also helped link the islands of the Caribbean together. In the Lesser Antilles this was especially important. Throughout most of history, these small islands had small populations. People would travel between them to trade, to find work and to marry. 

Although many are quick to refer to islands as English, French or Dutch, the Caribbean identity and shared culture has always defined the region. Boats gave strength to the region by allowing its people to communicate, share and collaborate. The design and construction of the boats themselves shows shared elements from Anguilla to St. Martin to Saba to Carriacou.

People will gather in Grand Case today to enjoy the traditional boat races at the Schoelcher Day celebrations. They will celebrate seafaring and boatbuilding traditions. They will also celebrate Caribbean technology—boats designed and built here. Life today is easier in so many ways, but it does become harder to identify local invention in a globalized world.

Do you have stories of sailing and traditional shipbuilding? Share them by writing to The Daily Herald or info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Amuseum Naturalis Open House

People of all ages are invited to visit Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House this Sunday from 9am to noon. St. Martin’s free museum of nature, history and culture is celebrating the launch of its summer preview with an open house event.

Amuseum Naturalis is a museum dedicated to sharing all that is unique about St. Martin. It was developed by the non-profit association Les Fruits de Mer. During 2016 and 2017, it was located in Grand Case. The association is relaunching and expanding the Amuseum at the historic Old House in French Quarter.

“Right now, everyone is looking for fun stuff to do—especially parents and kids,” explained Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “We decided to do a summer preview so people can start enjoying the Amuseum, even while we continue to develop it.”

The summer preview includes an exhibit hall with eight exhibits. Visitors will discover fascinating displays on topics like animals found only on St. Martin, traditional building techniques and the tree with the hardest wood in the world. They can also see projects in progress, like the Amuseum’s bush tea garden.

The open house is Sunday, July 22nd from 9am to noon. Following the open house, the Amuseum will be open Monday to Friday from 9am to noon during July and August. Admission to the Amuseum is free. Schools and youth groups are invited to contact Les Fruits de Mer to arrange a group visit.

Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House is located in French Quarter at the top of the hill above Le Galion. For a map and more information, visit http://amuseumnaturalis.com.

A Christmas Story

Christmas House is one of St. Martin’s most popular and unique attractions. It is a tradition that goes back over 30 years and has touched many thousands of lives. It can bring a smile to anyone in the world, and it is also a deep expression of St. Martin culture.

It all started as something simple. Bernadine Arnell Joe decorated her own home, and it became a place for family and friends to enjoy the holiday spirit. In her words, “We started from scratch. We made a little tree and the neighbors would come and the children would come and then it start growing. Then you start putting it outside and then people start coming and now it’s very popular.”

Christmas House aglow with lights.

Today, Christmas House is still at the home of Bernadine and her daughter Monique Joe. Monique is the President of the Good Friends Association, which was created in 1987 to manage Christmas House as it grew.

Monique remembers family working together to create something for the neighborhood children: “My mother used to do a little Christmas deco in the yard and the neighbor children used to come around. I also had an uncle in The States who used to send little decorations. When I finished my studies, I also wanted give the children a little party in the yard and from there it grew to the Christmas house.”

The Christmas House has always been free. Visitors can make a donation, but there has never been a fee to enter. In the 1980s “the island was bloomin’.” Local merchants would provide candy and toys for the kids. Today, grants and supporters like Super U help make Christmas House possible.

It was designed for kids, but as Monique says, “and of course we have the goodies for the parents. Mom always used to make the cake and the puddin’ and the punch, so we are famous for that.” Celebrating the local heritage of the island is a big part of the experience: guavaberry punch, coconut tarts and other local Christmas traditions are always shared.

After Hurricane Irma, many assumed that Christmas House would not be open in 2017. The house was damaged and many of the decorations were lost. As Bernadine recalls, “when I looked out the morning after, I thought this is it. All the stuff was put aside outside there, messed up.”

But Santa himself seemed to send a message. “There was a Santa standing up on the roof there, looking out at the street. And I said, but this is a sign. And then we had some flowers from garlands that stayed up from last year and they were still there. I said, with all this destruction and these things stay there, we have to do something. And with that spirit, we did something.”

Share your story about Christmas House with us! Write to The Daily Herald or email info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

A Beautiful Sight to See

Like many people living in French Quarter at the time, Elise Hyman worked in salt production in Orient Bay in the middle of the last century. She shared some memories of those days and how salt was produced at Salines d’Orient.

Les Fruits de Mer has been recording stories on St. Martin to preserve and share. If you want to share a story, please get in touch: info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

The Stories of Stuff

The written record of the past is full of holes. In fact, it is mostly holes. So many things were unwritten: everything before writing and the experience of those that couldn’t write. Land deeds, legal contracts and census records have often survived, but surely even more was lost through time. Countless letters and diaries have been lost and destroyed. 

A hand-crank coffee grinder. (Photo by Robert Mandl)

When it comes to learning about everyday life in the past, we can fill in some of the holes with the objects that were left behind. In many cases, objects reveal what people did and how they did it. A hand-crank coffee grinder tells us that at least some people were drinking coffee. A kitchen’s worth of antiques can help us imagine the morning routine of someone living on St. Martin long ago.

Objects can also tell us about the relationship between St. Martin and the wider world. Which items were imported and which were handmade here? Where were imported items made? The path that objects traveled can reveal connections between cultures.

Of course, objects can only tell us so much. Was a homemade roaster designed to roast coffee beans? Or was it for roasting cashew nuts? Both were grown here. Maybe it was used for more than one thing. What was ground in a mill? What was weighed on a hanging balance?

At Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House, we are photographing and cataloging a collection of many old things saved by Pierre Beauperthuy. It is a wide-ranging collection of objects. Within them are so many stories, but what are the stories? How should they be told? What do they tell us about St. Martin specifically?

A hanging balance by itself is simply a way to measure weight. When we see one, we understand it is a tool that was used in the past. But, by itself it does not exactly tell us a story about St. Martin, since they were used all around the world. 

The story of the hanging balance comes alive when we know it was used to measure salt that was produced on the Orient Bay salt pond, or to weigh fish sold in Marigot by Simpson Bay fishermen. It becomes part of a very real and specific St. Martin experience. Often, the missing link between stuff and its story is found in memories. Especially the memories of elders and those who spent time listening to their grandparents.

Do you have an object that tells us something about St. Martin’s past? Share a photo and story with us! Write to The Daily Herald or email info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

From the Records

History is the study of the past. Often it is defined as the study of the past as recorded in writing. This is a reasonable definition, but it also limits the the scope of what we can learn from history.

The Old House in French Quarter has a history. A version of it was compiled by Henri and Denise Parisis in 1989. In their research they drew from a variety of archives such as census records and legal documents. These are the things that were written back then, and these are the things that survive.

As one can imagine, some of the history is quite dry. We learn the size of a plot of land each time it was sold. We have some family histories that are a series of distant dates and faceless names. We can see the price of a plantation.

Does the data of commerce and bureaucracy tell us anything about what life was really like back then? In fact, it does. There are quite a few details that can help us imagine the scene at the time of the 1772 census. We know the crops that were grown, and they were varied. There were fields of cotton, potatoes, cassava and even grain. There were 1,000 banana trees and 2,000 coffee plants. There were 25 cattle, three horses, 100 sheep and 50 goats.

History records the coming and going of cotton.

We can also trace changes over time. By 1793, the property had a working sugar mill. In 1816 85% of the cropland was growing sugar cane. By the 1840s, sugar production had declined and cotton was being grown again. With this data, you could sit on the porch and imagine the changes sweeping through the land. Combine it with data from dozens of other plantations and it tells us how the whole island shifted in the service of the global economy.

These records also tell us some human stories that tell us about connections within the Caribbean during the colonial era. Alexis Bernié was from St Barths. Brothers Arthur, John, Benjamin and Thomas Hodge were from Anguilla. Pierre-Daniel Beauperthuy was from Guadeloupe. All came from other islands, and all were owners of this property. They remind us that St. Martin has always been a land of immigrants and a Caribbean melting pot.

What is sadly missing is information about the vast majority of people who lived on the plantation during these years. The number of enslaved people was recorded alongside property and livestock: 49 in 1772, 47 in 1793, 77 in 1816, 44 in 1843. Their houses and gardens are mentioned, but we don’t know their names or their stories.

On St. Martin, much of history is a hollow shell. Beyond the owners and rulers is a great emptiness. The people who built the island are largely unnamed and unknown. What do you wish we could know about them? Write to The Daily Herald or email info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Changing Tastes

You are what you eat. At least, that’s how the old saying goes. If it’s true, then the people of St. Martin have changed a bit over time. Some food traditions have been passed down from generation to generation, while others have fallen by the wayside in a changing world.

Fresh chicken on the go.

Many St. Martiners can tell you that people ate more fish and less chicken back in the day. There was a time when “fresh chicken” was chicken that you caught, killed and cleaned yourself. And this was the only kind of chicken you were likely to eat.

Fish and other seafood have always been an important part of the local diet on St. Martin. But even local fish preferences have changed. Mahi-mahi, wahoo and red snapper are some of the most commonly eaten fish today, but doctorfish was the real favorite for many back in the day.

Fish in the pot.

In the past, many fish and shrimp were caught in St. Martin’s ponds, something that doesn’t happen much today. Many ponds are now polluted. Some have been filled in to make way for buildings and roads. In French St. Martin, fishing in protected ponds is not allowed. All these changes have ended most pond fishing, and many people miss the taste of fish and shrimp once caught there.

A fish known as the cremole is particularly missed. Cremole is the French name for a fish that is also called the striped mullet, but also has countless other names. On St. Martin, the name cremole is widely used by English speakers. It is a fine example of a word moving freely from one language to another in the melting pot of the Caribbean.

The cremole likes to live in ponds and that’s where it was usually caught. They could grow as long as your arm—or even longer depending on who is telling the story. By all accounts, they were a delicious fish. The roe of the cremole was also fried and eaten and considered a real treat.

On St. Martin, it’s no surprise that changes have made their way down to the dinner plate. Shifting tastes tell us about the many changes to the island itself, like the ponds that are gone and ones that can never be used the way they once were. They tell us about the connection between the island and the rest of the world, and the daily container barges and jets bringing all kinds of products here. The foods that have stayed the same tell us something about the culture of St. Martin and how strong it is.

Share some of your favorite food stories by writing to The Daily Herald or emailing info@lesfruitsdemer.com. Let us know your favorite childhood dish, something you miss from days gone by or a family favorite that you are still cooking today.

Stories for Today

Lately, it feels like the world of storytelling has opened up. It is a moment we have waited on for far too long, and we still have a long way to go. But it seems to be happening. Could a black director get a huge budget to film an afrofuturist blockbuster? Yes, and Black Panther became an instant classic and one of the top-grossing movies of all time. 

A postcard for The Old House museum.

More than ever, women and minorities are getting the chance to tell their stories to a wide audience in movies and television. We’re also listening to victims as they tell their stories about wealthy and powerful abusers. The world is changing and the universe of stories is expanding.

On St. Martin, storytelling has long been dominated by a minority of people and a handful of stories. We hear about a Dutchman and a Frenchman who walked around the island to divide it. It is a made-up tale, but still focuses on European men, like most of the written history of the island.

We learn about Christopher Columbus “discovering” the island. We learn of battles between European armies and the Treaty of Concordia between the French and Dutch. We may become familiar with names of a few white governors and a handful of wealthy families. We learn about a small number of crops that were exported to Europe. 

Now is the perfect time to reconsider the stories we tell about St. Martin. The impact of colonialism and the exports that drove the local economy will always be part of the story. But there are many other stories to share, and many other perspectives that haven’t received attention. The people of St. Martin deserve to hear these stories. Sharing these stories with visitors will help them develop a deeper bond with the island. 

The story of bush medicine deserves a place alongside the story of sugarcane. The story of the Diamond Estate 26 is at least as important as any battle between European countries. Slave walls are as important as any fort. 

Luckily, we have many of the resources we need to find and tell these stories. Pierre Beauperthuy preserved many historic things in The Old House museum. Every day, Facebook is filled with photos, videos and memories about St. Martin. Thanks to the people who have held on to this history, today we have the chance to tell new stories about St. Martin.  Now we can tell a deeper and fuller story about the island and its people.

What untold stories deserve a wider audience? What new perspectives do we need to share to have a deeper understanding of St. Martin? Send your stories and ideas to The Daily Herald or info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Changing Stories

The fisherman with his catch. It is a classic photo, taken countless millions of times from the days of black and white film to the smartphone selfie era. We have scanned dozens of photos of fishers and fish on St. Martin from days gone by. Aside from the grain of the film and the faded colors, many could be taken yesterday. But a few stand out. A photo of a dead hammerhead shark is one of them.

A shark out of water.

The St. Maarten Nature Foundation is leading Shark Week activities right now, celebrating the importance of sharks. Sharks were long feared and despised, but now we have learned that they keep our oceans healthy and preserve a balance of marine life. They help us have fish to eat and vibrant reefs for scuba diving and snorkeling. 

But Shark Week isn’t just a chance to celebrate these majestic animals. It’s also a reminder that they are threatened by overfishing. The fate of sharks, and ocean life in general, depends on actions to protect them. Dutch St. Maarten has done that, protecting all sharks in their waters. Hopefully more of the Caribbean will follow.

It is amazing how much our attitude towards sharks has changed, and how quickly. Diving pioneer Jacques Cousteau and his team once killed sharks and viewed them as an enemy. The movie Jaws made people terrified of sharks. But today, if you shouted “Shark!” on a scuba boat, the divers would jump into the water to see it.

When our knowledge and values change, how does that change the way we tell stories about the past? We need to consider what it meant to catch a shark back then, and also what it means today. Fishing to feed a family is certainly different than trawling the ocean with miles of net. The seas themselves were different before commercial fishing depleted them.

The fishing that sustained villages like Simpson Bay and Grand Case is an important part of the history and culture of the island. For thousands of years before that, the Arawaks harvested conch, whelk and other foods from the sea. As far as we know, this was done sustainably. Many generations ate fish and shrimp from St. Martin ponds. Dying reefs, overfishing, pollution and invasive species like the lionfish are all relatively modern threats. 

Can we honor the past while also promoting current values? In many cases, we find ourselves looking to the past for the solutions to the problems of today. How do we farm without hurting the land? How do we live without generating tons of plastic waste? In other cases, we may simply acknowledge that the circumstances of the past were not the same as today. 

What parts of St. Martin’s past seem different to you today? Share your thoughts by writing in to The Daily Herald or info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Mystery Spring

The Old House in French Quarter was formerly known as the Spring Plantation. Perched on a dry hilltop it looks out to the Atlantic Ocean. One thing that is not there is a spring.

A house on the hill, but where’s the spring?

The source of the name Spring is a bit of a mystery. Researching in the 1980s, Henri and Denise Parisis didn’t find a spring at the house, but they did come up with a theory. Heading towards French Quarter, there is a dry ravine coming down from the mountains just beside the hill. They thought a stone well was built there at some time and then destroyed by flooding in the ravine.

It seems as good a theory as any. A location in the ravine where a well could reach groundwater would also be vulnerable to flooding. St. Martin has many ravines, also know as guts, that are usually dry. But they do transform into raging streams when heavy rain falls.

The Parisises also noted that this stone well probably had a trough for animals. This would be useful because the well would have been near the sugar mill, which was powered by cattle. They found the remains of the sugar mill and documented it in 1989.

The site of the mill was a raised earth platform about four feet high in a circle about 65 feet in diameter. Cattle circled on this platform, powering the mill in the center. Other features that remained in 1989 included a ramp to access the mill, a short bit of wall and some masoned stones that may have been part of a building.

The black and white photos in the report by the Parisises don’t look like much. It is hard to make out the remains of the mill platform and the other features, especially parts that are overgrown. It would take lots of work—and lots of imagination—to showcase them as something that resembles a mill in any way.

Is the spring still in the valley, waiting to be discovered? What else on St. Martin remains hidden—covered by grass, vines and acacia trees? What should become of these sites? How should they be preserved? How should they be presented? They are the heritage of the island, but they are also a legacy of slavery. Tell us about sites that should be saved, and your ideas about how to present them in a way that honors and respects the people that built them. Write to The Daily Herald or email info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

A Salt Story

It is an incredible privilege to learn local history from someone who lived it. In a recent interview, Elise Hyman from French Quarter described the salt work done on Salines d’Orient in the middle of the 20th century, a time when the industry was coming to an end on St. Martin.

Elise Hyman can still remember the beauty of the salt.

She set the scene of St. Martin during that time: “In that time—in the salt pond times—they were good times. People were very industrious and they didn’t have no other alternative but the salt pond. Everybody used to work their own garden, and when the time come for the salt…that was all the industry they had here.”

She spoke about picking the salt in the morning: “They go in the pond in the morning early. Early morning, everybody’s in the pond picking salt. Picking, throwing in a basket. Then they have a big thing, what they call a flat. So they pick it out the pond, put it in a basket—bum!—you throw it in a flat. So you do that all day, when you get this flat full they row it in to the shore. And so somebody there in the flat is shoveling it out and the younger people come and they transport it on the shore. On the dry shore. So you take it now from the spot where you take it from the flat and you throw it on the groun’ so all the water run out so it’s dry.”

In the afternoon the salt was measured and recorded into a book we were looking at: “Afternoon, three o’clock, Mr. John Gumbs come. Everybody get up and going back and forth taking it up the big pile as tall as this house. So he’s going to come to measure it. And he’s the one putting down all those marks [in the ledger].”

Later, boats would come to collect the salt: “They had a big, big pile. The boats used to be coming there every month. Two and three boats comin’ in to Orient Bay. The people go and they bag it. By the big pile, you have people to shovel, to fill up the bags. They had a little small bag. I don’t know how big it used to be, but it was big enough for the children because mostly children was going to do that. They put it on they head and they go and they had men by the sea water that take it from them and carry it to the boat.”

Terns roost on the stones of a salt pan in Salines d’Orient.

Today, only the slightest remnants of the salt production days remain. Stone levees marking salt pans are roosting spots for birds. But Elise Hyman still remembers how it was: “As long as rain fallin’, no salt don’t grow. But when it come on the dry weather, up comes the salt. Beautiful. It used to be a beautiful sight to see.”

Hundreds Discover St. Martin Wildlife at Endemic Animal Festival

Lizards and local plants were both celebrated at the Endemic Animal Festival. (Photo by Jenn Yerkes)

Nearly 300 people learned about the animals that live only on St. Martin at the fifth annual Endemic Animal Festival on Sunday. They were welcomed by over 30 volunteers and experts sharing diverse topics like nature in St. Martin literature, sharks, iguanas, native plants and animals, stone walls and local building traditions. The event was hosted by the Les Fruits de Mer association at Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House in French Quarter.

“We were thrilled to see so many people having fun and discovering this island’s unique animals!” said Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “This was our first public event at Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House. We’re working with the community to make this a place where many voices share what is special about St. Martin. So we were also really excited to invite local experts to present. They used this year’s theme—Made Here—to connect local wildlife to many other parts of local heritage.”

Experts from St. Martin and Anguilla shared their work on nature and heritage. (Photo by Jenn Yerkes)

Local experts shared on seven fascinating topics at this year’s festival. Tadzio Bervoets and the St. Maarten Nature Foundation presented about the island’s sharks. Author and publisher Lasana M. Sekou prepared selections of local poetry and writing about nature for display. Christophe Henocq highlighted historic stone walls as a unique habitat for plants and animals. Laura Bijnsdorp and EPIC presented on how local plants help protect the island. Bird specialist Binkie van Es led fun activities from the BirdSleuth Caribbean program. The Anguilla National Trust shared their work to save rare iguanas on Anguilla, which used to live on St. Martin. Mark Yokoyama showcased St. Martin’s endemic animals. 

The Festival’s wildlife art station was busy with young artists throughout the event.

Kids and adults enjoyed several animal-themed arts and crafts, including making iguana masks and hand-painting wildlife bags. Guests also learned about Plantilles, the heritage plant program getting started on the grounds of Amuseum Naturalis. The project includes community gardens, a native plants nursery and a bush tea garden.

This year’s festival was the first chance in several years for the public to see the historic Old House in French Quarter. It will be the new home of free nature museum Amuseum Naturalis, which is moving there after two years in Grand Case. Over 100 volunteers have helped prepare the property since the beginning of the year. Les Fruits de Mer hosts regular volunteer events on weekends, and welcomes everyone to get involved. The association is hoping to relaunch the museum itself later this year.

Les Fruits de Mer is developing the historic Old House as a museum and community center. (Photo by Agnes Etchegoyen)

The Endemic Animal Festival was free to the public. This was made possible by the festival sponsors: BirdsCaribbean, Delta Petroleum, Happy Wine, Location De Bennes Diligence Express, Lagoonies Bistro and Bar and Tri-Sport. Visit lesfruitsdemer.com to learn more about Les Fruits de Mer, the festival, volunteering and future activities. The public is invited to join the association and take part in creating Amuseum Naturalis and Plantilles for the island.

Over 30 volunteers and experts made the Endemic Animal Festival possible. (Photo by Agnes Etchegoyen)