Stories Come Together

If you pull on the thread of almost any story, it will lead you into the next. On St. Martin, this is especially true. People know each other—cousins, aunts, friends and classmates. A conversation about salt turns into one about bush medicine or walking across the island to go to school. A handful of old photos can spark stories that connect French Quarter to Grand Case.

I recently spoke to Elise Hyman about her work in salt production in Orient Bay. She remembered all her co-workers from French Quarter, although only a few are still alive today. She remembered reaping salt from the pond and bagging salt from the great pile and bringing it out to ships that would arrive from Guadeloupe.

Elise Hyman talks about life on St. Martin from her porch in French Quarter.

She described how they would control the flow of water into Salines d’Orient at the little bridge where a channel connects it to the Fish Pond. This was necessary to produce salt, but also provided an opportunity to catch “a kind of fish you call cremole—oh, such a sweet fish.”

Cremole is featured in the poem “Spirit of We Fish Pon” by Laurelle “Yaya” Richards. The poem winds its way from tales of fish to cassava. Elise Hyman does as well in our conversation. She remembers going to Grand Case because they had “terrific ground” and grew sweet potatoes, pigeon peas, yams and more in abundance.

Elise still works in her own garden today, where she grows a variety of plants used for bush tea and bush medicine. It was once the only kind of medicine available, and the traditions are still alive.

A cough remedy “by Parson Hodge of Anguilla” that includes rhubarb.

As the Les Fruits de Mer association develops Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House, we are sharing the stories of St. Martin from the people of St. Martin. We are finding out how the stories of nature, history and culture connect together. Join us on Sunday, May 20th from 9am to noon for the Endemic Animal Festival. It is a free event that celebrates the animals that live only here. We will also be exploring other aspects of nature and heritage and how all these stories come together. For more info, visit lesfruitsdemer.com.

Free Festival on Sunday Celebrates Animals Made Here and More

The Endemic Animal Festival is a free public event for all ages that celebrates the unique wildlife and natural heritage of St. Martin.

The Endemic Animal Festival is a free event celebrating the animals found only on St. Martin and only in our region. It’s coming up this Sunday, May 20th from 9am to noon at Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House. Residents and visitors of all ages are encouraged to stop by and learn about these unique animals—and much more!

The Bearded Anole is one of several animals that lives only on St. Martin and nowhere else in the world.

Made Here is the theme of this year’s festival, and we are incredibly excited to have so many local experts at the festival to share their knowledge and passion with the public,” explained Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “Amuseum Naturalis will be a place where the people of the island can share their stories. We’re starting that now, by working with experts here to showcase what is unique about the island in many different areas.”

Author and publisher Lasana M. Sekou has contributed selections of poetry and prose related to local nature that will be on display. Tadzio Bervoets of St. Maarten Nature Foundation will highlight how sharks are important for the island. Christophe Henocq will present on how historic “slave walls” now create a special habitat for plants and animals.

The 2018 Endemic Animal Festival will be held at Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House in French Quarter.

Members of the Anguilla National Trust will be sharing their work in saving the rare iguanas that once lived on St. Martin. Members of EPIC will be explaining how native plants and trees make the island stronger. Bird guide Binkie van Es will be leading BirdSleuth Caribbean activities for kids and adults.

The festival will feature an Endemic Animal Discovery Station where guests can see some of the animals that live only here. Visitors can learn more about Amuseum Naturalis and other projects in progress on the grounds of the museum. These include the Plantilles community gardens and the Seegrape studio, where the group will record St. Martiners telling their stories in their own words. Fun art activities related to wildlife are planned for kids and adults to enjoy.

Volunteers have prepared Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House to host festival exhibits and activities.

Les Fruits de Mer’s annual Endemic Animal Festival is a free public event for all ages that celebrates the unique wildlife and natural heritage of St. Martin. The 2018 festival will be held Sunday, May 20th from 9am to noon at the new site of Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House in French Quarter. It’s located on the top of the hill just after the turnoff to Le Galion, when coming towards French Quarter from Grand Case. The festival is made possible by support from our sponsors: BirdsCaribbean, Delta Petroleum, Happy Wine, Location De Bennes Diligence Express, Lagoonies Bistro and Bar and Tri-Sport.



BirdsCaribbean: 2018 EAF Sponsor!

Thanks to BirdsCaribbean for continuing their support of the Endemic Animal Festival! Our sponsors are the ones who make it possible for us to put on great events and make them completely free.

BirdsCaribbean is a vibrant international network of members and partners committed to conserving Caribbean birds and their habitats. They raise awareness, promote sound science, and empower local partners to build a region where people appreciate, conserve and benefit from thriving bird populations and ecosystems. They are a non-profit (501 (c) 3) membership organization. More than 100,000 people participate in their programmes each year, making BirdsCaribbean the most broad-based conservation organization in the region.
http://www.birdscaribbean.org

Delta Petroleum: 2018 EAF Sponsor!

Thanks to Delta Petroleum for continuing their support of the Endemic Animal Festival! Our sponsors are the ones who make it possible for us to put on great events and make them completely free.

Founded in 1985, Delta serves the Caribbean with superior performance diesel, gasoline and LPG meeting U.S. and European standards. Delta is a proud and growing member of the communities from the Virgin Islands to Martinique. Delta Petroleum has sponsored Les Fruits de Mer events since 2013.
http://deltapetroleum.com

Built Here

On St. Martin, Hurricane Irma tore off roofs and damaged many houses. But pretty soon, the air was filled with the sounds of hammers and saws as the rebuilding process began. Still, many homes remain damaged and open to the elements. Without repairs, the rain and tropical sun will bring them beyond the point of fixing.

Take a closer look at these St. Martin homes. Whether they were built 200 years ago, or only 50, they reflect unique Caribbean architecture, design and construction traditions. They’re the legacy of St. Martin designers and builders. They are also a big part of the special look of the island.

St. Martiners once used molds like this to make decorative blocks by hand.

Most houses on the island are one of a kind, from the overall design to details like railings and arches. A wide variety of materials were crafted right here by hand, including tiles, concrete and woodwork. Many homes on St. Martin feature cement tiles made in Suckergarden in the 1960s and 1970s by brothers Cameron, Louis and Stevanus Guy.

Decorative concrete blocks in countless designs can be seen on St. Martin. Built into a wall, they provide privacy and shade, while allowing air flow.

Their work remains for all to see, but the stories of the artists and craftsmen behind St. Martin’s style are largely untold. What inspired their designs? Where did they learn their techniques? The time to record and preserve the human stories behind local homes is now. Although some craftspeople are still working today, mass-produced materials have replaced much that was once handmade.

Intricate wooden gingerbreading is a beautiful detail on many local houses. For most of the island’s history, this was carved by hand.

Even the physical legacy of these builders is vulnerable. Concrete, stone, wood and metal are sturdy, but don’t last forever. Will Hurricane Irma’s destruction change the face of St. Martin? Will we lose many fine examples of local design? Will we design new homes differently? Only time will tell.

Carpenters, welders, masons, painters and other artisans of St. Martin—share the stories about your work and how this island was built. Write in to The Daily Herald or email info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Location de Bennes: EAF 2018 Sponsor!

Thanks to Location de Bennes for supporting the Endemic Animal Festival! Our sponsors are the ones who make it possible for us to put on great events and make them completely free.

Do you need reliable delivery and pickup of dumpsters? Call Eric at 0690-37-81-59! He will deliver to your location and pick up when you are done filling your container. Location de Bennes is friendly and dependable and their containers open for easy loading.

Happy Wine: 2018 EAF Sponsor!

Thanks to Happy Wine for supporting the Endemic Animal Festival! Our sponsors are the ones who make it possible for us to put on great events and make them completely free.

Enjoy great wines and great value with Happy Wine. Happy Wine distributes to both restaurants and individuals, so you can enjoy the expertise that top restaurants rely on when buying wine for your own home. All of the wines distributed by Happy Wine are certified organic!
Happy Wine

Lagoonies: EAF 2018 Sponsor!

Thanks to Lagoonies Bistro and Bar for continuing their support of the Endemic Animal Festival! Our sponsors are the ones who make it possible for us to put on great events and make them completely free.

Lagoonies Bistro and Bar serves food that is crazy good for breakfast, lunch and dinner and hosts some of the hottest live music on the island several nights a week. Located at Lagoon Marina in Cole Bay, they are easily accessible by land or sea.
Lagoonies Bistro and Bar

Tri-Sport: EAF 2018 Sponsor!

Thanks to Tri-Sport for continuing their support of the Endemic Animal Festival! Our sponsors are the ones who make it possible for us to put on great events and make them completely free.

Tri-Sport is the go-to shop for the active community of St. Maarten/St. Martin and the neighboring islands of Anguilla, Saba, Statia, and St. Barths. They run ecologically-friendly tours that get people out and moving – kayaking, bicycling, hiking, boogie boarding, and snorkeling. Tri-Sport’s retail shops carry all the necessities for triathlons with an emphasis on bicycles.

http://trisportsxm.com

BirdSleuth with Binkie!

Les Fruits de Mer is excited to have Binkie van Es on board for the 2018 Endemic Animal Festival. Binkie is a certified BirdSleuth trainer and he will be leading this fun program at the event. BirdSleuth Caribbean is a fun set of educational activities that use birds to teach science and other skills. It is the only program of its kind that was developed specifically for the Caribbean. Kids and adults are welcome to join in the activities, and teachers are invited to learn the program for use in their own classrooms.

Binkie is an expert birder and birding guide, with the highest level of certification with the Caribbean Birding Trail Guide program. He is a board member of the St. Maarten Nature Foundation and a committee member of the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance. He is also a BirdsCaribbean member and EPIC volunteer. He also does bird monitoring on for Vogelbescherming Nederland.

Free Ebook Tells Stories of Animals After Irma

The Animals of Irma’s Island is a free ebook about St. Martin wildlife after Hurricane Irma.

With their fifth annual Endemic Animal Festival coming up on May 20th, the Les Fruits de Mer association released a new ebook. The Animals of Irma’s Island is full of stories about local wildlife after Hurricane Irma. You can download it for free at the group’s website.

“The aftermath of Hurricane Irma was a special time for both people and nature,” explained author Mark Yokoyama. “There were many hardships, but it was amazing to see nature in action. The chapters in this ebook were written between September and December 2017. They show nature bouncing back during that time.”

The ebook was made for this year’s Endemic Animal Festival. This event celebrates the animals that are found only on St. Martin or only in our region. The 2018 theme is Made Here.

“We’re excited to host this year’s festival at Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House,” said Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “We’re still working on the museum itself, but this beautiful space is the perfect place to learn about St. Martin’s unique wildlife. We’ll also use the theme Made Here to show how nature connects to other parts of local heritage.”

The Endemic Animal Festival is a free public event for all ages. Activities include an Endemic Animal Discovery Station, birdwatching, and wildlife-themed art activities. Guests will learn about Plantilles, a series of native plant and community garden projects at The Old House. Several local experts will explore the Made Here theme as it relates to local wildlife, heritage and culture.

The 2018 festival will be held Sunday, May 20th from 9am to noon, and is made possible by support from our sponsors: BirdsCaribbean, Delta Petroleum, Happy Wine, Location De Bennes Diligence Express, Lagoonies Bistro and Bar and Tri-Sport. Visit lesfruitsdemer.com for more information about the festival, and to download The Animals of Irma’s Island.

Life at the End of an Era

Many of us grew up thinking of history as the story of ancient times. We learned about the ancient Egyptians and the Roman Empire, the Renaissance and the American Civil War. They all seemed like very distant things, and they were.

On St. Martin, we don’t have to look so far back in time to see a totally different island. The tourism industry really began to transform St. Martin in the 1960s. The economy grew, the population grew and the island became more closely connected with the rest of the world. Today, we have access to global culture and commerce: Game of Thrones, the latest iPhone and fresh foods from around the world.

Thread, paint and pitch, some expenses of salt production.

Going back just a few years earlier—within the lifetime of St. Martiners still living here today—the island was a very different place. Fishing, farming and raising animals were key parts of the struggling local economy. Many had left the island to find jobs abroad. Salt was still being harvested and sold using age-old techniques. But that era was coming to an end.

A series of journals collected and saved by Pierre Beauperthuy gives us a unique window into this period. Spanning from 1935 to 1957, they mostly record financial transactions. But even the most mundane ledger becomes interesting over time. We can see which ships came and how much salt they purchased. We learn the cost of oars and paint for marking salt bags.

The entries that record the work and wages bring us closer to understanding life back then. Inese II stopped in Orient Bay and bought 318 barrels of salt in May of 1948. To bag the salt, there was a breaker, and there were shovelers, holders and helpers. There were many carriers to move it. There were boatmen, receivers and overlookers. There was a measurer. You don’t have to be a historian for this scene to come alive in your mind.

Records for the loading of Inese II in May 1948.

Even more importantly, we have names. Gaston Brooks, Mitilda Richardson, Charles Vanterpool, Marie Lake, Eduardo Fleming, Martha Brooks, Leonard Wescott and Roland Hodge are among the dozens who loaded the Inese II in 1948. Surely some passed on stories of their work to their children. Some of the people working in the later years may still be alive to tell their own story.

We can learn much from the journals themselves. We hope to learn more from the stories of the people who were there. If you have stories to share, write in to The Daily Herald or to info@lesfruitsdemer.com. To find your relatives in the full list of names from the ledgers, visit: http://www.lesfruitsdemer.com/salt-worker-names/.

Salt Worker Names

Below are names transcribed from a series of journals documenting salt production and trade in Orient Bay, St. Martin. Read about the journals here. It was challenging to transcribe many of the names due to the age of the documents and, at times, the handwriting. Please let us know if you know any of these people or if you have stories to share about the salt industry on St. Martin. You can email info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Anna Abram
Beulah Abram
Marie Abram
Morris Abram
Marie Alsam
John Babtist
Amelia Barry
Bobey Barry
Felicien Barry
Frederick Barry
Hyacinth Barry
Suzette Barry
Jean Bastman
C Beauperthuy
M Beauperthuy
Amelia Blake
John Boastman
Adolphe Boatholder
AB Brooks
Alderloria Brooks
Anathade Brooks
Beatrice Brooks
DB Brooks
Frederick Brooks
Gaston Brooks
Harlow Brooks
Martha Brooks
Rebecca Brooks
Ronald Brown
Caesar Bryan
Delphine Bryan
Emma Bryan
Ernest Bryan
Laurent Bryan
Alice Caine
Alice Canes
Faustin Carty
Harold Carty
Samuel Carty
Stanley Carty
Stanly Carty
Emile Case
Gertrude Case
James Case
Raymond Case
Rémont Case
Edith Chittick
Iris Chittick
Mary Chittick
Ann Cocks
Emile Cocks
Evencia Cocks
Evericia Cocks
Gertrude Cocks
Hyacinth Cocks
Janders Cocks
May Cocks
Orlescander Cocks
Zander Cocks
Roy Connor
Emile Contic
Emile Cox
Laureline Crawford
Theresa Douglas
Eduardo Fleming
Elada Fleming
Elsaldo Fleming
Joseph Fleming
Raphaël Fleming
Alice Garcia
Catherine Gibbs
Adelaïde Glasgow
Antoine Glasgow
Antoinette Glasgow
Charles Glasgow
Ebert Glasgow
Eglantine Glasgow
Hubert Glasgow
Leontine Glasgow
Oliver Glasgow
Philomena Glasgow
Robert Glasgow
Adolphe Gumbs
Alea Gumbs
Alese Gumbs
Alfred Gumbs
Calise Gumbs
Clément Gumbs
Elie Gumbs
Ida Gumbs
J Gumbs
Laurencio Gumbs
Lorraine Gumbs
Victor Gumbs
William Gumbs
Martha Heyliger
Mathilde Hodge
Porter Hodge
Roland Hodge
Rollon Hodge
Handita Hubert
Nestor Hubert
Pedro Hubert
Elise Hyman
Felise Hyman
Ferdinand Hyman
Isaac Hyman
Isaiah Hyman
Jane Hyman
Jerdinan Hyman
Lilian Hyman
Marcelin Hyman
Marian Hyman
Reneé Hyman
Susan Hyman
Francisco Ilidge
Roland Ilidge
Frank Illidge
Jean Illidge
Jean Illidge
Marcelle Illidge
Antoinette Jacobs
Alcide Jeffers
James Jeffers
Endine Jermin
Eveline Jermin
Lucia Kingsale
J—- Lake
Leonard Lake
Marie Lake
Veronica Lake
Veronica Lake
William Lake
Monheride Lambert
Madame Matheda
Henrietta Mento
Laurette Mento
Lorretta Mento
Hudon Ray
John Reed
Maybell Reed
Eglantine Richardson
Leapole Richardson
Alice Roberts
Rose Roberts
Clifford Rohan
Juliette Rohan
John Roy
Richard Smith
Elsie Stevens
Elise Sweeney
Tedric Sweeney
Gaston Trench
Charles Vanderpool
Dorothy Webster
Similienne Wescott

Pieces

Massive sugar cane rollers at The Old House.

At the former Old House museum and future site of Amuseum Naturalis, there is a collection of sugar cane processing equipment in the front yard. There are massive coppers for boiling down cane juice, and a number of enormous rollers for crushing cane. They are items of clear historic value, but I was unsure how they worked. 

An illustration in a 17th century book by Charles de Rochefort shows similar rollers in use. I thought they would have lain flat, using their tremendous weight to crush the cane stalks. To my surprise, in the illustration it shows them positioned vertically in the center of a cane mill. 

An illustration of a sugar mill from the 17th century.

Figuring out how these pieces fit into the machinery was the easy part. The much harder part is fitting them into the story of St. Martin. In the illustration, and in life, the machine was operated by enslaved people. Telling the full, real story of the rollers, the mill, the sugar industry or St. Martin means telling the story of slavery.

Slavery may be the most significant part of the island’s history, but it is easy to visit St. Martin without thinking of it. The enslavement of African people during the colonial era is one of the cruelest chapters in human history. It’s deeply shameful, and it is challenging to find the right way to discuss it.

It is even harder to tell the story of the lives of enslaved people. Often, the story of slavery is told like a story about commerce—the rise of the sugar industry, the number of slaves owned, the value for which these people were sold and the dates of emancipation. The human element is frequently missing.

We often learn about the lives of enslaved people from archaeological work on objects, rather than writings. But they did not live thousands of years ago in a culture with no written language like Amerindian people. They lived during a time when Europeans were writing about their own lives but ignored and suppressed the stories of enslaved people. It is one of the dehumanizing aspects of slavery that remains with us to this day.

To tell the story of the cane rollers, the Amuseum must also tell the story of enslaved people. It is a story that residents and visitors deserve to hear at a museum about St. Martin: an honest account of slavery, and an exploration of the lives and works of enslaved people. 

Some stories are already being told, like that of the Diamond Estate slave escape and the legend of One Tété Lohkay. Surely there are others that deserve more exposure. I am not a historian or an expert on this topic, and I believe telling this story properly is deeply important. It will take input from the entire community of St. Martin to know what stories to tell and how to tell them. Do you have a story about the lives of enslaved people on St. Martin or suggestions about how to tell their story? Write in to The Daily Herald or to info@lesfruitsdemer.com to share them.

Naked Boy

Last week’s article about street names prompted some comments from readers who shared some of their favorite place names on St. Martin. Naked Boy Hill was a favorite of Melinda Chiu, and a number of residents shared an interest in this name, as well as a few stories about how it came to be.

Google can help us find the answers to many questions, but when it comes to the hills of St. Martin, the results are often lacking. A search for Pigeon Pea Hill, brings up relevant results, but those results don’t tell you much. A search for First Stick Hill is mostly results about how to start a stick-shift vehicle when parked on a hill. Naked Boy? You can probably imagine. Don’t do an image search expecting photos of landscapes.

Fully-clothed hikers climb Naked Boy Hill.

Although it can be amusing to see the mighty Google fail, it underscores a more serious point. Lots of information still isn’t on the web. You can’t find it in Google and it doesn’t have a Wikipedia page. Perhaps some of this missing information is in an obscure or out of print book. In many cases, it probably hasn’t been recorded at all. Over time, the facts and stories handed down in oral traditions are at risk of disappearing.

And our Naked Boy? There are a few different stories floating around. Ilja Botha heard that the name comes from being a small hill set apart from the central hills. In this case, our hill would be a geological and geographical naked boy, naked in its aloneness.

A few sources claim the hill is named after the trees found there. Naked Boy is a local name for a few different trees in different parts of the Caribbean. Sometimes the name is used for the Gumbo-Limbo, which is also called the Tourist Tree because it has peeling red bark like a sunburn. One website mentions a guava-like tree with peeling bark as the Naked Boy. The Blue Ocean Villas website believes the Naked Boy tree is the same species known as Bois Bande. The bark of this tree is used to infuse a rum with alleged aphrodisiac qualities.

In yet another story, the “naked boy” is a man who lived on the hill. When walking home, he would take off his clothes so they wouldn’t get sweaty during the climb. In a variant recounted by Ilja Botha, the man did this specifically during his walk home from church on Sundays, perhaps so he could keep his very best clothing clean.

Whether true or not, each story tells us something. The last one in particular brings us back to a St. Martin far more isolated from the world. One where goods were scarce and people took great care for what they owned. Even if that meant walking home naked.

Do you know a story about Naked Boy Hill? Share it by writing in to The Daily Herald, or to info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

A Nice Surprise

Pont de Durat is an 18th century bridge in Marigot. It is a historical landmark that is not particularly famous, but you’ve surely crossed it. It is the bridge between Super U and the roundabout in Agrément.

Beneath the bridge, a concrete drainage channel running down from Concordia turns into a broader channel of water with some mangroves along the bank. At some point it was a pond, filled in bit by bit from every side. Now it runs in a lazy curve down to Galisbay.

One of St. Martin’s least scenic wetlands in November.

Before Irma, it was one of the island’s least scenic wetlands. Shopping carts and mattresses decayed down to the metal springs stuck up out of the shallow water. After Irma, it was much worse, littered with twisted sheets of zinc.

Given the ongoing neglect of this area, it was a surprise to notice earlier this year that it had been cleaned up. The mangroves are recovering. The surface of the water is broken only by a couple dead branches, instead of countless pieces of manmade debris.

The same channel today.

It is a joyful transformation and an entirely positive development. But it also brings to mind questions about how clean-up and recovery efforts are prioritized. Many other ponds are still sprinkled with debris. On the other side of this very bridge, garbage traveling down the drainage ditch is collecting.

On social media, around dinner tables and over happy hour drinks St. Martin residents discuss the relative merits of different relief efforts. It is not simply a question of which natural spaces to clean and restore first. There are countless tasks remaining.

There are also countless questions: Should money be spent on Carnival when many are still roofless? What critical work on utilities needs to be done before the coming hurricane season? Why does progress at the airport seem so slow? When will schools be restored? Should tourism infrastructure be prioritized to generate economic activity or should we focus on the needs of residents?

I don’t envy the politicians and public servants trying to make these decisions. So many things are left to do, and even successes can be criticized as misplaced priorities. Are projects inefficient? Do they rely to much on foreign companies? I certainly don’t have the answers. Clearly we should do as much as possible as soon as possible while providing as much local employment as possible. Figuring out exactly how to do that is a big challenge. In the meantime, we can celebrate successes wherever they happen.

Where the Streets Have Names

For several years I’ve had a dream that St. Martin was covered in signs explaining everything that makes the island unique and special. The island does have a few, but they’re mostly found at particularly old ruins and they mostly explain political and economic history from the colonial era. The actions of European-appointed leaders or the rise and fall of the sugar and salt industries are part of history, but so many other things are left unexplored.

Imagine 1,000 signs on the island, revealing 1,000 stories. I would love to read about Simpson Bay during the hundred years when the sea cut it off from the rest of the Dutch side of the island. I would love to learn about the artists and craftsmen who carved the delicate gingerbreading that can still be seen local houses, or produced the decorative cinderblocks that frame so many porches.

French and English meet on a street sign.

As it turns out, there are hundreds of signs on St. Martin. They don’t actually explain all these things, but they offer plenty of clues. Street signs, where they still exist after Irma, may tell a broader story than the signs designed to educate.

One that caught my eye many years ago was Rue des Gun Dove in French Quarter. I didn’t know of any bird known as the Gun Dove. It seemed possible that it referred to a dove that people hunted, but to my knowledge local hunters preferred hunting the larger pigeons. I looked it up on Google Maps today and it was shown as Rue des Ground Dove. The Ground Dove is a bird found here. Is “Gun Dove” a local name for it, or possibly a miscommunication when printing the sign?

Nearby, a sign marked Rue Rond the Pond. This mix of French and English is a reflection of St. Martin. The road itself runs around part of a pond, or ‘round the pond. The French rond, translates more directly as round, as in circular. A more direct translation of around would be autour, but that is certainly not as lyrical as Rond the Pond. Google shows it as Rue de Round de Pond, which is even less poetic.

From Rue Lady Fish in Sandy Ground to Manjack Drive in Cole Bay, street names give countless clues to the history and culture of the island. There are streets named after people, plants, animals and features of the landscape. What are your favorite street names, and do you know the story behind them? Write in to The Daily Herald, or to info@lesfruitsdemer.com and tell us about them!

The King of Tintamarre

The “King of Tintamarre” wasn’t a king, but his story remains one of St. Martin’s most popular tales. What is his story, and how has it remained so intriguing?

Diederick Crestiaan van Romondt was known as D.C., and his family was considered the wealthiest and most powerful family on St. Martin at the time. He owned the Mary’s Fancy estate, but left it in 1902, moving to Tintamarre reportedly to avoid paying local taxes.

A house still stands on Tintamarre.

On Tintamarre, he built a home and ran several businesses. He hired workers from St. Martin and Anguilla to grow sea island cotton and to raise cattle and sheep. They also produced butter and cheese on the island. He imported 30,000 old Dutch coins to pay his workers, who spent them at the store he built.

D.C. became “king” in 1913 when a French reporter wrote an article about him titled “Le Roi de Tintamarre” in a Paris newspaper. According to legend, this publicity attracted the attention of would-be queens in Europe who sent letters to him. He didn’t take a bride, and he moved back to Mary’s Fancy in 1932. In 1948, the van Romondt family name died along with D.C.

These ruins on Tintamarre still carry the king’s initials.

There are plenty of reasons why this story endures. The Caribbean is a wild and mysterious place, and Tintamarre is the wildest and most mysterious part of St. Martin. The idea of a rebellious individual creating their own kingdom in the wilderness is inspiring. The idea of independence is powerful on an island that has never been independent. He wasn’t a king, but in our imagination perhaps he is.

Like any story, there are a few questions lurking behind the fairytale. Is a wealthy person fleeing to avoid taxes an inspiring story to those of us who have never been rich? What was his relationship with the people who worked for him? Having control of the island, the currency and the only store is a perfect setup to take advantage of workers. Is this a story of a man striking out against the system, or powerful person using the system to his full advantage?

Do you find inspiration in the King of Tintamarre? What does this story mean to you? Write in to The Daily Herald, or to info@lesfruitsdemer.com and share your thoughts!

Volunteers and Donors Support Amuseum Naturalis Relaunch

Over 80 volunteers have helped out at the Amuseum this year.

This year, non-profit association Les Fruits de Mer is working on an ambitious project to relaunch their free museum, Amuseum Naturalis. The Amuseum’s new home is the site of the former Old House museum between French Quarter and Orient Bay. In addition to exhibits about nature, the new museum will feature local heritage and culture.

“This is a huge project for us, but we have had an amazing amount of support,” explained Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “Over 100 donors contributed to our fundraiser last month, raising over $11,000 for the project. And over 80 people have already come out to volunteer at the site. This support makes the project possible, and also shows that people want a museum for the community and want to be part of making it happen.”

For Les Fruits de Mer, the current volunteer work is just the beginning of an ongoing collaboration with the community to make the museum an active space. The association is developing community projects—like gardens and a free nursery for native trees. They also want to create exhibits with community members who have stories to share.

“Our goal is to create a space where people can share the stories of St. Martin in many ways—exhibits, videos and live events,” explained Les Fruits de Mer co-founder Mark Yokoyama. “We can record the stories and develop exhibits, but the stories have to come from the people of St. Martin. Everyone has a story.”

Volunteers are invited to help work on the museum from 8am to 11am on Sunday, April 8th. There will be an idea box for volunteers to submit ideas about what they’d like to see featured in the Amuseum. Volunteers can also suggest plants that should be grown in the museum’s bush tea garden. For more information visit http://www.lesfruitsdemer.com or find Les Fruits de Mer on Facebook

Les Fruits de Mer Launch St. Martin’s First Yoda Museum

Adventure! Excitement! Les Fruits de Mer look away to the future.

Non-profit association Les Fruits de Mer is getting ready to launch their biggest project ever, a brand new museum for St. Martin. The group, which has previously focused on wildlife education, is taking their latest project in a surprising new direction.

“After two successful years of our nature museum, Amuseum Naturalis, the obvious next step would be to expand to include local heritage and culture as well,” explained co-founder Mark Yokoyama. “But we decided to consider all the possibilities, no matter how crazy or unexpected. What has never been done on St. Martin? What would no one ever think of doing a museum about? Then it hit us: Yoda!”

Yoda is a character from the Star Wars movies, a “Jedi” master, strong with “The Force” who lives on the fictional planet “Dagobah”. Although loved by millions, the character has no particular connection to St. Martin. For an organization focused on local topics like wildlife and folklore, the idea of creating a Yoda museum was intimidating.

“When the idea first came up, I said, ‘You want the impossible!’ ” remembers Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “Mark said ‘Let’s try!’ and I thought, ‘There is no try—let’s do this.’ ”

The Yoda museum will be located in the historic building that formerly housed The Old House museum. After Hurricane Irma, the site was in need of extensive clean-up. The association has used all its powers to lift this project off the ground. Still, the building is remarkably beautiful. As Jenn Yerkes asserts, “When 200 years old you reach, look as good you will not.”

Always in motion is the future, but you can follow the progress of the museum at http://www.lesfruitsdemer.com or search your feelings for Les Fruits de Mer on Facebook.

UPDATE: It has come to our attention that the new museum will not be the island’s first Yoda museum. It seems there has been a Yoda museum in Philipsburg for over 10 years. We sincerely regret the error. To our knowledge, the new museum will be the first Yoda museum on the French side of the island.

Myth or Monster?

A photo that’s claimed to be a boa constrictor in Grand Case is causing quite a commotion on Facebook this week. The person who posted it said that a man claimed to have released four of them after Hurricane Irma. If true, this could be the start of a serious problem for the island.

Of course, you can’t believe everything you hear. Every hurricane comes with its own stories. After Luis, we heard that monkeys escaped from the zoo and the Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth escaped from the butterfly farm. Neither thing was true as far as we know. Giant African Land Snails allegedly came with electrical cable from Guadeloupe or Africa. Green Iguanas were released at the Juliana Airport after Luis or at some other time within a few years. Some of the stories may be at least partially true, but they can never be verified.

This photo is causing a stir on Facebook.

Introduction of boas on to St. Martin would be a bad thing. Not because snakes are bad, but because introducing anything non-native usually has bad consequences.

On the plus side, many of the things that boas would eat here are not native. Rats, mice, mongoose, raccoons, monkeys and green iguanas were all introduced to this island by people, and all of them could be boa food. The same could be said for cats and dogs, although most people would not want to see them get eaten.

Native birds would also be prey for boas. This would be bad. They are an important and beautiful part of our local nature. At the same time, we don’t have any birds that are only found here, so boas on St. Martin would not put anything at risk of extinction. The animals that are found here and nowhere else are small lizards and insects that are probably not at risk from boas.

What will happen next? We can try to verify that the release actually happened, and we can try to find and capture the snakes in the wild. Unfortunately, it can be very hard, if not impossible, to find them. Perhaps years will pass before we know if they are breeding in the wild or not. These snakes could become a minor myth in the story of Hurricane Irma, or real-life monsters that disrupt our local ecosystem.

No matter what, we need to teach the public why introducing foreign plants and animals is bad. We need to help people see the beauty and value of our native plants and wildlife, and we need to explain how introduced species can hurt them. It is often too late to take action once animals have been released, but it is never to early to prevent a future incident.

The Stories Behind the Names

Does every name have a story behind it? If not every name, surely most do. Some are beautiful, some are terrible. But one thing that many have in common is that we become so used to the names, we forget the stories.

Consider Philipsburg—it’s named after John Philips, but what do we really know about him? He is not particularly well known—he doesn’t even have a page on Wikipedia. How many countries have a capital named after someone so obscure?

A town named after John Philips.

What we do know is that he was born in Scotland and made Commander of St. Maarten by the Dutch West India Company. The West India Company was a slave trading enterprise, and every part of the Philips story involved enslaved people. He convinced planters to come to the island with their slaves by offering them land, and was a plantation owner and slaveowner himself. He gets the credit for having Fort Amsterdam rebuilt, but surely enslaved people did the actual rebuilding.

Of course, many historical figures took an active part in enslaving and dehumanizing others. Thomas Jefferson is a commonly cited example. His ownership of slaves was accepted at the time, then largely erased from history. Thankfully, today we are more open about the brutality and horror of colonization and slavery, and the role of those involved. We can recognize Jefferson as a political thinker, while also seeing how terribly incomplete his vision of democracy was.

On St. Martin, many names we use today are linked to slavery. Consider all the towns and neighborhoods named after plantations where people were enslaved: Hope Estate, Belvedere, Mary’s Fancy and Madame Estate. There are neighborhoods, real estate developments and businesses named after plantations.

St. Martin is full of names that are both part of local heritage and linked to terrible suffering. How can the island reconcile these two things? Are we telling an honest version of the story behind the name Philipsburg? Is it reasonable to expect that every time we name something after a plantation, we recognize the enslaved people that built that plantation? What is the role of government, business owners using these names, and the people of the island? Write in to The Daily Herald, or to info@lesfruitsdemer.com and share your thoughts!

A Tale of Two Countries

St. Martin’s status as a two-nation island is often recited as a piece of trivia. It is called the smallest island split by two countries, though strictly speaking that’s not true. Although we know that the split is something that makes the island unique, we don’t always give context to this fact. What is the story behind the trivia? What does it tell us about what St. Martin was, and what it is today?

This is a story that can be taken in many directions, but let’s try out this one: St. Martin was split out of necessity—out of practicality. Neither the Dutch nor the French had the resources to claim, colonize and defend the whole island. The Treaty of Concordia that divided St. Martin explicitly calls for the joint defense of the island against attackers threatening either side. St. Martin was at the edge of European influence. It was on the frontier, so a frontier runs through it.

Frontier fables are part of the St. Martin story.

This perspective on the splitting of St. Martin leads us to a variety of related thoughts. St. Martin has a culture all its own that is clearly neither French nor Dutch. These colonial powers controlled laws and land ownership, and brought slavery to the island, but they didn’t really define its culture.

In fact, one could argue that connections with other Caribbean islands were, in many ways, closer and more important than connections with Europe. English has always been spoken here, and St. Martin families have connections throughout the region.

Connections across the two sides of the island are even stronger. For over 100 years, Simpson Bay was separated from Philipsburg by water, but was tightly connected to Marigot. Estates spanned the two sides of the island. Today, many prefer the terms North and South over French Side and Dutch Side. 

Today, St. Martin is a melting pot of people and cultures. But that truly goes back all the way to the beginning of its history. It was a frontier land where planters from other nations were encouraged to farm. It is a place where African traditions persisted and evolved, despite the horrors of slavery. It was closely connected to the islands around it, a crossroads in the Caribbean. This perspective tells us much about what St. Martin is today, what makes it unique and what makes it strong.

There is, of course, another story that is told about the splitting of the island: a Frenchman and a Dutchman—each drinking a different alcohol—head off in opposite directions around the coast. They divide the island at the spot where they meet up again. It’s not literally true, but perhaps there is some meaning to the story and the fact that we still tell it.

What is your tale of two countries? What does the border mean to you? Write in to The Daily Herald, or to info@lesfruitsdemer.com and share your thoughts!

Need for Seed

On the frozen Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault stores the seeds of almost half a million plants, including about 90,000 food crops. Deliberately remote and frozen, it exists to safeguard the genetic heritage of the world’s plants, particularly those we depend on.

We only eat a few varieties of potato, corn or wheat, but hundreds more exist. Though we might not need them now, we may in the future. If a new disease or fungus destroys a popular crop, we may need to search these other varieties for one that is resistant. This resistance could then be bred or engineered into a popular variety.

The need for seed is not theoretical. There have been devastating events around the world, from the potato blight in Ireland to the loss of wine grape vines in France and the demise of the Gros Michel variety of banana.

On St. Martin, a seed bank could be very valuable for a totally different reason. Hurricane Irma caused widespread habitat destruction. In the aftermath, the island is in need of serious habitat restoration. Native tree replanting is one of the most important parts of that.

Gaïac seeds from calmer times.

Normally, it would be easy to grow native trees. Many species produce great numbers of seeds. A single mature Gaïac tree can produce tens of thousands of seeds each year. It is usually possible to harvest plenty of seeds from key native species. Unfortunately, Irma swept all those seeds away. The devastation also interrupted normal flowering and fruiting cycles. At a time when native trees are most needed, seeds are very hard to find.

Trees can be brought in, but many foreign imports are slightly different than our native varieties. When we import plants, we also risk bringing in unwanted hitchhikers, like non-native lizards, snails and insects.

Ideally, St. Martin should have a seed bank stocked with seeds from local trees. This seed bank could focus on species that are most valuable for habitat restoration. Coastal trees and plants can be raised and planted quickly to keep beaches from disappearing, mangroves can be planted in wetlands, and other species can be planted to prevent hillside erosion.

A seed bank could speed up our restoration activity after a major storm. It could also reduce the cost of purchasing and shipping seedlings. Seeds could be harvested during good years from many different trees to help ensure healthy and diverse plant populations. Is it a good idea? You can bank on it.

Amuseum Updates!

The relaunch of Amuseum Naturalis has been progressing in many ways. Our volunteer days have been getting more and more busy with loads of people coming out to help. Luckily, we have plenty of work to do! Here’s a short video from Saturday:

Our next clean-up is Saturday, March 24th from 9am to noon with a BBQ after. Please come by! You can also invite friends via Facebook.

We’ve also been going gangbusters on our March fundraising campaign. In the first week, we raised over $8,000 from 69 generous donors. This campaign continues through March 30th, so please join us! Or send an email to someone who might want to help—it works! 91% of the people that donated recevied an email from someone about the project. Click here to see the project page, learn more and donate!