Amuseum@Home: Day 8

Discover amazing things about St. Martin from home! Have fun and learn about the island, while you’re protecting your community and yourself by staying home. Get fascinating and free stuff from Les Fruits de Mer–every day!

Today we learn about birds, and especially how they survive hurricanes. Birds and other animals are amazing survivors!


The Animals of Irma’s Island
After a major hurricane, it can take years for nature to recover. On the island of St. Martin, we had a chance to watch that recovery in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. In the weeks and months following the hurricane, St. Martin truly was Irma’s Island. In this book, we take a closer look at the lives, struggles and recovery of the animals living here during this special time.

Free download:


Bird Mask
Fun and fanciful bird masks in different designs. Download, print, color and cut!

Free download:


Birds After Irma
What’s happened to St. Martin’s birds after Hurricane Irma? Watch:

#AmuseumAtHome #museumsathome #museumfromhome #onlinemuseums #learninplace #stayhomeandlearn #learnathome #learnonline #socialdistance

Amuseum@Home: Day 7

Discover amazing things about St. Martin from home! Have fun and learn about the island, while you’re protecting your community and yourself by staying home. Get fascinating and free stuff from Les Fruits de Mer–every day!

Today we are focusing on local culture and what we can do to preserve and share it. We are also starting our Heritage Backup program so we can use the time we have to make sure St. Martin’s history includes stories about everyone.


Heritage Backup, Part One
This booklet is the first installment of our Heritage Backup program. We cover two topics. The first is how to create an inventory of your own personal heritage. In the second part, we look at the amazing amount of information that you can find in family photos.

Free download:


Heritage Vertical Poem
Learn how to write a vertical poem and write your own using the word HERITAGE, or a word that you choose.

Free download:

Personal Heritage Inventory

Make an inventory of the heritage items in your house, just like you would if you worked at a museum!

Free download:


We Used to Eat Fresh Things
Delphine David remembers growing up on St. Martin and helping raise her younger brothers and sisters. Her history is an important part of the history of St. Martin. By listening to her, we can learn about the island and life in the past. Watch:

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Heritage Backup

On St. Martin, history and heritage have been lost over and over during disasters. Fires, floods and hurricanes have destroyed public archives, private collections and personal photo albums. It is normal for a crisis to happen quickly and perhaps to separate people from their homes. In the aftermath of a hurricane, preserving heritage is well down the list of urgent needs.

The current global coronavirus pandemic is a bit different. Most of us are at home. We may suddenly have more time than usual. Perhaps it is the perfect time to conduct an island-wide heritage backup.

The past is the past, and we can’t change it. But we can change history. History is a record of past events, and it is never complete. Every home on St. Martin holds a bit of the island’s history. That bit can either be saved and shared, or lost forever. The history of the island and its people will be determined by each person’s decision.

In your home, there may be a photo album. It may hold the best or only existing photo of a relative. It may hold photos of homes and or businesses that don’t exist anymore. It may hold images of landscapes that have been changed forever. It may hold moments in time like the finish of a race or a wedding.

Part of St. Martin’s history is sitting in your closet.

You may have journals or letters. You may have documents that trace your family tree. You may have film, video or tape recordings. All of these items should be treated as if they were unique and irreplaceable historical artifacts. Because they are.

Your history, and the history of your family and friends is important. It is valuable and it is something that should be passed on to future generations. Why not take the time we have now to start the process of recording, preserving and cataloging your part of the island’s history.

The first step is to see what you have. You may be at home with other members of your family who can help you identify these treasures. This can be a chance to discover your shared history together.

Items you have saved may be links to shared memories.

Make a list of your personal historical collection: photos, videos, letters, journals, newspaper clippings, event programs and documents. Find all these materials and make sure they are in a safe place. Write a description of each item. What is it? A photo album, or box of letters. Who did it come from? What years does it cover?

This inventory of your collection will help you in the coming weeks as you work to explore and preserve your history. You can do this project at home with whatever tools you have available: your phone, your computer, or just a pencil and a piece of paper.

Are you ready to change history? Do you have questions about how to get started? Get in touch by writing in to

Amuseum@Home: Day 6

Discover amazing things about St. Martin from home! Have fun and learn about the island, while you’re protecting your community and yourself by staying home. Get fascinating and free stuff from Les Fruits de Mer–every day!

Learn about St. Martin traditions of making things and building homes! For all of prehistory and most of history people on this island had to make most of what they needed.


Making and Building on St. Martin
This book is an Amuseum Companion. It features St. Martin building techniques and traditional methods of making things. It features a few things going all the way back to prehistory, like Amerindian tools. It also shows how reusing and recycling are long time St. Martin traditions.

Free download:


Making and Building on St. Martin Word Search
Develop your word skills by finding words about making and building in the word search. If you don’t know what some of them mean, check out the book Making and Building on St. Martin that is the book of the day.

Free download:


Homes After Irma
St. Martin has many amazing and unique homes. Most of them were designed and built by local people. Learn more about them and why it is important to restore and protect them after they were damaged by Hurricane Irma. Watch:

#AmuseumAtHome #museumsathome #museumfromhome #onlinemuseums #learninplace #stayhomeandlearn #learnathome #learnonline #socialdistance

Amuseum@Home: Day 5

Discover amazing things about St. Martin from home! Have fun and learn about the island, while you’re protecting your community and yourself by staying home. Get fascinating and free stuff from Les Fruits de Mer–every day!

Learn about Caribbean critters today! Everything we are sharing today is about insects and other bugs!


Bugs in Paradise
For a little fun today
We thought it would be nice
To make an ebook just for kids
Called Bugs in Paradise.
With photos to astound the eye
Of creatures where they dwell
The text is written all in verse
And will delight as well.

Free download:


Crazy Creatures Creative Activity Sheets
You’re invited to use your imagination! These activity sheets ask you to use your creativity to draw part of the picture. You can print them out, or just look at the instructions and draw on your own sheet of paper! Made by Jenn Yerkes.

Free download:


Bugs in Paradise
The critters of the tropical broadleaf forest are showcased in verse. Poetry selections read by the author. Watch:

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Amuseum@Home: Day 4

Discover amazing things about St. Martin from home! Have fun and learn about the island, while you’re protecting your community and yourself by staying home. Get fascinating and free stuff from Les Fruits de Mer–every day!

Learn about Caribbean animals today! Everything we are sharing today also includes some kind of aquatic animal, from fish and frogs to crabs and crayfish!


Caribbean Curiosities
Take a deeper dive into some of the amazing plants and animals that are featured at Amuseum Naturalis! Caribbean Curiosities tells the stories of some of St. Martin’s most dangerous invaders and some of its most amazing native treasures.

Free download:


Amuseum Coloring Pages
A set of four coloring pages designed by Emily Geoffroy for Amuseum Naturalis. The designs are crayfish, fish, fly and Gaïac.

Free download:


Gut Life
Learn about the fascinating freshwater ecosystems on St. Martin. Watch:

#AmuseumAtHome #museumsathome #museumfromhome #onlinemuseums #learninplace #stayhomeandlearn #learnathome #learnonline #socialdistance

Amuseum@Home: Day 3

Discover amazing things about St. Martin from home! Have fun and learn about the island, while you’re protecting your community and yourself by staying home. Get fascinating and free stuff from Les Fruits de Mer–every day!

Today we head over to the salt pond. For hundreds of years salt was made on St. Martin’s ponds, and in today’s video, we hear from Elise Hyman, who picked salt back in the day. We also have another book about birds that love ponds and an activity where you can make and color your own bird.


Pond Life
Learn the stories of seven different birds that live on St. Martin’s ponds. Some of them are year-round residents that raise families on our ponds each year, others are long distance travelers that come here each year to spend the winter months. They all depend on the same wetlands, which are critical to the ecology of the island and also an important part of its culture, history and identity.

Free download:


Sandpiper Build-A-Bird
Make this simple mobile from a single sheet of US legal sized (8.5″ x 14″) paper. (A smaller size of paper works, it just makes a smaller bird.) The shape is a flying sandpiper, but it can be colored creatively.

Print on card stock.
Color the two wing and body sets on the printed side.
Cut them out and glue together.
Use a utility knife to cut along the line marked in the body and insert the wings.
Make a hole where marked on the body and hang with recycled fishing line.

Free download:


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.

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Les Fruits de Mer Launch Amuseum@Home for Local Learning

Free ebooks about nature are included in Amuseum@Home.

The Les Fruits de Mer association has launched a free at-home learning program. Amuseum@Home shares several fun learning resources each day via social media and the Les Fruits de Mer website. The program supports local learning while schools are shut down and St. Martiners of all ages are staying at home to avoid spreading coronavirus. 

“With the acceleration of this global pandemic we knew we had to act,” explained Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “Sharing these free learning tools and activities can help kids stay engaged and entertained during this difficult time, while also learning about their island. It can help parents and teachers too. We hope that it also makes it easier for people to stay at home to slow the potential spread of coronavirus.”

The Amuseum@Home program launched on Sunday with an ebook about pond birds, a set of coloring pages and a short documentary film about flamingos on St. Martin. The theme for the day was wetlands. Les Fruits de Mer plans to share several resources each day.

Coloring pages and other activities are being shared for free.

“This is a very hard time, but the rich nature and heritage of St. Martin have a way of lifting spirits,” said Les Fruits de Mer co-founder Mark Yokoyama. “Let’s find inspiration in the stories of St. Martiners and in the amazing plants and animals that have survived countless droughts and tempests. It is a good time to explore and celebrate what makes this island special.” 

All of the Amuseum@Home materials are offered for free. To access them, visit Les Fruits de Mer on Facebook, or go to for daily collections of books, activities, videos and more.

Amuseum@Home: Day 2

Discover amazing things about St. Martin from home! Have fun and learn about the island, while you’re protecting your community and yourself by staying home. Get fascinating and free stuff from Les Fruits de Mer–every day!

Today, enjoy a book an activity and a short film. They are all about some of the unique animals that are found only on St. Martin or only in our region.


Caribbean Curiosities: Native Nature
St. Martin is full of unique animals. Many are found only in the Caribbean, and some are found only on St. Martin. Each species has its own story, and exploring this rich natural heritage is a fascinating way to explore the island. Learning how our wildlife became so unique is also a great way to understand the way all life has evolved and diversified. Enjoy six stories about bats, birds, lizards, fish and bugs.

Free download:


Native Islanders Activity Book
This activity book features coloring pages, activity pages and interesting information about species that are endemic to St. Martin and to the Caribbean. It features artwork by Emily Geoffroy and Jenn Yerkes and text by Jenn Yerkes and Mark Yokoyama.

Free download:


To the Bat Cave!
Caves are special places. They are home to bats and other animals, including many species that are found only in our region. Take a peek inside one of St. Martin’s most unique habitats, the Grotte du Puits des Terres Basses

#AmuseumAtHome #museumsathome #museumfromhome #onlinemuseums #learninplace #stayhomeandlearn #learnathome #learnonline #socialdistance


Amuseum@Home is a home learning program all about St. Martin’s nature and heritage. Download free books and activities, and watch free movies about St. Martin! If you’re just getting started, head to the bottom of this page and you can work your way through the program day by day. You can also keep an eye out for new activities by following Les Fruits de Mer on Facebook. Have fun and stay safe while learning about St. Martin!

Amuseum@Home: Day 1

Discover amazing things about St. Martin from home! Have fun and learn about the island, while you’re protecting your community and yourself by staying home. Get fascinating and free stuff from Les Fruits de Mer–every day!

Today, enjoy a book an activity and a short film. They are all about our wetlands. St. Martin’s ponds and mangrove forests are super interesting and important to both people and nature.


Pond Life: Reflections
If you like your ecosystems wet and wild, then you will love Pond Life: Reflections. Each chapter explores a different view into these ever-changing wild spaces. How do they transform with the seasons? What has changed in recent years? How do they reflect centuries of history? Like St. Martin itself, life on the pond is rich and always in motion. Ponds connect sea and land, human and nature, past and present: dive in, and discover.

Free download:


Wetland Coloring Pages
Enjoy three free coloring pages with poems about these awesome animals who live in St. Martin’s wetland habitats: Whimbrel, Ruddy Turnstone and Fiddler Crab.

Free download:


Return of the Flamingo
Two flamingos arrived on the salt pond at Orient Bay in 2018. Are they the first of many? What is the history of this amazing bird on St. Martin? Watch and find out:

#AmuseumAtHome #museumsathome #museumfromhome #onlinemuseums #learninplace #stayhomeandlearn #learnathome #learnonline #socialdistance

The St. Martin 100

Where can you look if you want to learn more about St. Martin? If you want to know about hotels, restaurant and tourist attractions, head to the internet. If you want to know what commanders were in charge of the colonies and how many barrels of salt were produced in the 19th century, look in various government archives. If you want to know foreigners saw the island, many of the history books written in the 20th century will tell you.

But what if you want to learn about life on St. Martin—how it is and how it was? What about local culture? What about local events that weren’t “historical” enough to make it into the permanent record? What about the knowledge passed down from generations?

The best, and often only, source of this knowledge is direct conversation with St. Martiners. At this very moment, the people of the island know more about St. Martin than all the sites on the web and all the archives in Europe. This is a tremendous resource. It is the most vast and valuable part of St. Martin’s heritage.

There is a line that has been slipping away for a long time. It is a fuzzy line drawn somewhere in the early 1960s when the age of tourism began in earnest. It is a line that divides those that remember the island’s traditional period and those who never knew it. It is a line edging close to the horizon.

It is time to act while a different era is still remembered. (Barbara Cannegieter postcard collection)

St. Martin’s unique cultural legacy will endure, as it has for hundreds of years. But the depth and richness of that legacy will depend largely on what we are able to record today and in the coming few years. It will depend in part on how we protect and preserve what has already been documented. But most of all, it will depend on how many people we can speak to and how many stories we can record right now.

With time working against us, perhaps we can start by identifying the St. Martin 100. Who are the 100 St. Martiners who need to be interviewed most urgently? Perhaps their oral histories are of special value because of their experience or role in the community. Perhaps the perfect St. Martin 100 simply captures a diversity of experience: people from all walks of life from all over the island. Certainly it includes elders who can still remember life when it was very different here.

Of course, the St. Martin 100 is just a start. If 100 oral histories could be recorded a year, a library of 1,000 interviews could exist in a decade. So many stories would be saved and so many traditions described from different points of view. This would be a true library of culture and heritage.

Who would you suggest for the St. Martin 100? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or

St. Martin Nature Books Available at Amuseum Naturalis

Ten different local nature books are available at Amuseum Naturalis.

Nature lovers and book lovers have something to celebrate on St. Martin. Ten different books about local wildlife are now available at Amuseum Naturalis, including eight in English and two in French. All of the books are full of vivid color images and great stories about the island’s unique nature. They are published by the Les Fruits de Mer association.

“The last edition of our wildlife guide was completely sold out. So it’s great to have it available again–plus a bunch of other beautiful books!” said author Mark Yokoyama. “Most of them are available in print for the first time, and it’s really nice to sit down and flip through the pages. We’re especially excited to have the long-awaited French edition of the St. Martin wildlife guide!”

The first French edition of The Incomplete Guide to the Wildlife of St. Martin has been published thanks to a micro-project grant from the French Agency for Biodiversity’s Te Me Um resource center and its members. The project financed the French translation by Amandine Vaslet and the printing of 200 copies for schools. Teachers who would like a free copy for their classrooms can pick it up at Amuseum Naturalis.

The Incomplete Guide to the Wildlife of St. Martin is now available in French.

Copies of the French and English versions of the wildlife guide are also available to teachers from French Quarter thanks to the Quartier + Musée project funded by CGET and the Collectivité de Saint-Martin under the Politique de la Ville program. Teachers from French Quarter are encouraged to stop by the Amuseum to pick up their copies.

For the general public, books are available for purchase at Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House for $10 to $20. They are also available on Amazon for those not on the island.  As always, digital versions can be downloaded for free at Amuseum Naturalis is on the hill above Galion Beach in French Quarter. It is open 9am to noon, Tuesday to Saturday, and entry is free to all.

Truth in the Tale

Folktales can do many things. They can help explain the world around us. They can connect us to our past. They can tell us how to live our lives and how to tell right from wrong. They entertain us.

Folktales are often strange or magical. They are not necessarily meant to be taken literally. But often there is some truth in them. In several old folktales from St. Martin, we can learn something about people, nature and the connection between the two.

The book Folk-Lore of the Antilles, French and English collects folktales recorded in the 1920s on many islands. Many of them were recounted by young people, and many of them include birds and other animals.

The story Cockroach Fools Fowl was told by 13 year-old Samuel Saty of Marigot. In the story, a cockroach pretends to be sick so a chicken will feed it. The chicken gives it pap, a thick drink made from arrowroot or other starch. When the trickery is discovered, Fowl is so vexed he swallows the cockroach whole. Though chickens don’t make pap, they do spend much of their time looking for—and swallowing—insects.

A Blue Pigeon, and perhaps a farmer’s wife.

Pigeon Wife was told by Hilton Liburt, an 18 year-old from Philipsburg. In this story, someone was stealing a farmer’s corn from his field. The thief was his wife, who was a pigeon. She was eating the corn in the field at night. People and birds sometimes do compete for food. When people replace wild areas with farms, birds may eat the crops because their normal food is gone. This can be a problem for both farmers and birds.

The story Bo Pigeon and Mountain Dove Race for the King’s Daughter comes from St. Croix. A pigeon and a dove agree to race for the chance to marry a princess. In a twist that may be familiar to many St. Martiners, they agree to each drink a demijohn of rum before the race, but the pigeon drinks water. The dove is too drunk to fly and loses the race. The native Blue Pigeon is usually seen high up in the sky, and the Mountain Dove is often on the ground so perhaps this tale was invented to explain why these birds act the way they do.

The Mountain Dove on the ground, but probably not drunk.

Do you have a favorite local folktale? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or

Three Flowers

Flowers brighten our lives and decorate gardens and landscapes. On a tropical island, there are countless beautiful varieties and something is always in bloom. Each flower also has a story, and here are three of them.

Yellow Sage, the national flower of Sint Maarten.

Yellow Sage is the national flower of the country of Sint Maarten. Also known as Orange-yellow Sage, it is a variety of the species known as West Indian Sage. Other varieties of West Indian Sage flower in a variety of colors. The plant can grow into a large bush—two meters tall and just as wide. Native here, it has also been brought all over the world. It is used in plant medicine, as a natural fence and to control erosion with its extensive roots.

The flowers of the Flamboyant tree.

The Flamboyant tree is known for its beautiful flowers. Each summer, these trees explode into brilliant reds, oranges and yellows. Though native to Madagascar, it has been popular in the Caribbean for hundreds of years. On St. Martin, this tree has a special connection to emancipation. When emancipation in Dutch colonies took place on July 1, 1863 the Flamboyant was in full bloom, and freed St. Martiners carried branches of its beautiful flowers as they celebrated.

A Painted Lady butterfly feeds from Coralita flowers.

Today, one of the most commonly seen flowers on the island is the bright pink blossom of the Coralita vine. This non-native vine has covered many parts of the island, especially areas that were once used for livestock but are no longer managed. Although the flowers are beautiful and their nectar is well-loved by insects of all kinds, this vine tends to cover and smother any plants in its path. It also has potato-like tubers deep under the ground so it quickly regrows after being cleared. Of all St. Martin’s flowers, it is one of the most beautiful and problematic.

What is your favorite local flower? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or

Les Fruits de Mer Donates Exhibit Panels to French Quarter School

Some Les Fruits de Mer volunteers with the panels that were donated to Omer Arrondell Primary School.

Classroom walls at Omer Arrondell Primary School in French Quarter have gotten a lot more exciting. The Les Fruits de Mer association donated copies of 24 panels from Amuseum Naturalis to the school. The educational panels cover a variety of local nature and heritage topics and will rotate through the different classes.

“Our association’s mission is to share all the things that make St. Martin special,” explained Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “A lot of that is missing from school lesson plans, so this was a great opportunity to literally get this information into the classroom in a fun and colorful way.”

The panels were made as part of Les Fruits de Mer’s project Quartier+Museé. The project goal is to extend the connection between Amuseum Naturalis and French Quarter by featuring French Quarter topics at the Amuseum and sharing Amuseum content with the town. The project is funded by CGET and the Collectivité of Saint-Martin under the Politique de la Ville program.

The teachers were excited to receive the bilingual English-French panels. Each panel tells a unique story about St. Martin and is illustrated with vivid photos. Topics include the animals that live only on St. Martin, the bear-sized rodent that once lived here, the origins of bush medicine plants and techniques and the native tree with the hardest wood in the world.

Les Fruits de Mer hopes to find the funds to print panels for as many schools as possible. The association is also happy to share the panel designs with any school or organization interested in printing their own copies. Amuseum Naturalis offers free school and youth group visits as well. Contact Les Fruits de Mer at to find out more.

Amuseum Naturalis is open from 9am to noon Tuesday to Saturday, and admission is free to all. It is located at The Old House, on the hill above Galion Beach in French Quarter. More information and a map are available at

Culture Connection

The National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC provides an amazing look at the heritage of over 40 million people. A visit is a rich and rewarding experience for anyone. What would a resource like this look like on St. Martin?

The richness of the museum is a reflection of the richness of the culture it presents. The museum gives a detailed history of the black experience in America. But often cultural aspects are the strongest and provide us with our best connections to the past. Both African American culture and the Afro-Caribbean culture of St. Martin have countless facets to explore.

The Point of Pines Cabin, a 1953 home rebuilt on the museum floor.

The histories of both places share the horrors of the slavery era and the challenges of sharing an era when black voices were suppressed and excluded from the record. One way of helping visitors connect with the lives of enslaved people was sharing objects and stories from everyday life, even an entire home that was brought into the museum and restored.

Another key method was using peoples’ own words to tell their stories and reveal history. From old letters and documents to recordings and interviews made more recently, much of the story was told by those who lived it. Seeing these words and hearing these voices helped visitors connect deeply.

The museum also drew heavily on culture and art. The African diaspora includes many of the greatest musicians, performers and artists of all time. Music and art were featured in their own galleries, but they were also used all over the museum, making other materials more engaging. Intangible culture and heritage were presented on equal footing with objects and documents.

An exhibit on gestures in African American culture.

The museum also had opportunities for visitors to share their stories and connect them to history. The Family Research Center helps visitors explore their genealogy to learn more about their ancestors. Reflections Booths located on the museum floor give visitors a chance to share their own stories.

The Reflections Booth is a place to share your own story.

All of these techniques could be used in a St. Martin Museum of Afro-Caribbean History and Culture. Right now, the story is not told as well as it should be, even though it is the history of most of the people on the island.

What Afro-Caribbean history or culture would you want to see in a St. Martin museum? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or

The sculpture Mothership (Capsule) by Jefferson Pinder.

Three Landscapes

Anyone who has spent even a little time on St. Martin is used to watching it change. Winter’s lush green hills are bare and bone dry in the spring. Beaches grow and shrink with shifting sands. Heavy machines cut into the hillsides to clear land for roads and buildings. Ponds are filled, great trees grow and die. Ruins collapse under the weight of centuries, or just the years since Hurricane Luis.

St. Martin may be almost unrecognizable to someone born here 80 years ago. But even a long human life is just a moment in the vast age of an island. St. Martin has been through even bigger changes, witnessed by people who are long since gone, and in the ages before anyone was here to see them at all. Here are a few of them.

The size of ice age super St. Martin.

Look in the direction of St. Barts and imagine not sea, but land, between here and there. Then imagine unbroken land continuing just as far on the other side of St. Barts. Imagine land extending for miles in almost every direction from the St. Martin of today, forming an island the size of Trinidad. It may sound impossible, but 12,000 years ago when the sea level was more than 100 meters lower, this is how St. Martin was.

Imagine your surroundings with every sign of human presence gone. Thick scrub full of thorny plants fills most coastal areas and lowlands. Explosions of bright blue flowers dot the landscape where Lignum Vitae trees are in bloom. In each ravine, massive trees have grown tall to capture sunlight in the canopy leaving a cool and open forest floor. Flocks of parrots fly over, chattering to each other, and huge colonies of egrets nest on the mangrove trees that surround every pond. This is the paradise that the first Amerindian people discovered here about 5,000 years ago.

Some structures from the sugar era still stand. (Barbara Cannegieter postcard collection)

Imagine a St. Martin 200 years ago, covered almost completely with fields of giant grass, with thick stalks twice the height of a person. The fields reach high into the hills, covering many places that have regrown trees in the centuries since. A few dozen plantation houses are spread around the island, built in wood on stone foundations. Somewhere near each one there is a raised ring where cows or donkeys circle, turning the giant rollers that crush the sugarcane. Near each mill there is a cluster of small wattle and daub homes. Most of the people on the island live in them, surviving day by day under an unimaginably terrible system of slavery that they would soon take a part in overthrowing.

What St. Martin era are you curious about? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or

Myths of French and Dutch

The idea of St. Martin as a two-nation island is central to its image. It is the one fact that appears in every article about St. Martin. It is technically true, in a political sense. The north of St. Martin is part of France, and the south is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. At the same time, it is also a myth that misrepresents the island in many ways.

Much of St. Martin culture exists between and beyond the flags that fly at the border monument.

No matter who was in charge, through most of history the people of St. Martin were mostly not French or Dutch. During the early colonial period, many people were English or Irish, possibly the majority at some points in time.

By the end of the 1700s, enslaved people from Africa vastly outnumbered Europeans. These people were not given the rights of human beings at all, much less the rights of French or Dutch citizens. The language of the island has always been English, and the culture is Caribbean with many influences. Many of the superficial trappings of French and Dutch culture arrived when tourism grew in the late 20th century, a marketing myth manifesting itself across the island.

A key part of the dual nation myth is the division of the island with the Treaty of Concordia in 1648. There is a notion that two nations have peacefully coexisted on the island since then. But they haven’t really. There have been frequent disputes over the border, which was only marked in 1772. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the French and Dutch governments broke the treaty to invade and take over the opposite half of the island six different times. The harmony of the island probably has more to do with the unity of the people of St. Martin, sharing culture and family across the border, rather than two “great nations” finding peace with each other.

A line on a map only tells part of the story.

Misconceptions about St. Martin come from many times and places. Older histories only recorded the lives of the wealthy and the powerful. We know the names of the white men who gave the order to build bridges and forts, but not the people who actually built them. In the modern era, the myth of a French and Dutch island was promoted as something tourists would find fun and sophisticated.

Of course, there is French and Dutch heritage on the island, and there are fascinating things to learn about it. The challenge is simply to escape the bounds of a single narrative. Smothered beneath the myth of French and Dutch is a far richer story waiting to be heard.

What St. Martin history and culture do you feel is overlooked? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or

Three Plant Stories

St. Martin looks like a tropical paradise, especially during the winter. Fall rains paint St. Martin in beautiful greens from hill to valley. But life isn’t that easy for plants on St. Martin. The ones that do well here are super tough and adapted to survive. Here are three plant stories that everyone should know.

Every plant has a strategy for surviving the dry season.

St. Martin is a dry island. It is easy to forget during the green fall and winter seasons. The spring dry season pushes plants to the limit, and they all have strategies for survival. Some lose their leaves to save water. Some have deep roots to tap into hidden water, others have shallow roots spread out to catch as much as they can from a passing shower. Every single plant on the island has found a way to live through the dry season. Years of drought, which have become more frequent, can even push the best adapted plants over the edge.

Mangroves protect land and sea.

Mangroves are protectors of both land and sea. Mangroves are a group of trees adapted to live in and near saltwater areas. Along coastlines, they absorb the power of incoming waves and keep beaches from washing into the sea. They also trap soil and leaves that wash down from the hills. This provides food for crabs and other pond animals. It also protects coral reefs. Without mangroves, nutrients from the land would wash out to sea and feed algae that would smother the coral. Living between land and sea, mangroves are vital to life both above and beneath the water.

Every forest is growing back.

From seaside scrub to forested hill, every landscape we see has been changed by humans. During the colonial period, especially when sugar cane was grown, natural vegetation was cut to make way for agriculture. Virtually every wild space on St. Martin is actually growing back after being cleared. As agriculture has declined, many spaces that were once farmed or grazed by livestock are slowly returning to a more natural state. But this process can take hundreds of years, and even a beautifully regrown forest will probably not have the same richness and mix of species as what was once there.

What St. Martin plant story do you think everyone should know? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or

Three Wildlife Stories

There are infinite interesting facts about St. Martin wildlife. But if you had just a couple minutes to tell someone what is so special about St. Martin, what would you choose? Here are three wildlife stories that everyone should know.

The Bearded Anole is only found on St. Martin.

There are animals that live only on St. Martin. There are two lizards you can see today, and one that is extinct. These animals were stranded here thousands or millions of years ago and evolved right here to become unique species. If they don’t have the habitat they need here, they could disappear from the world. That’s a good reason to make sure we save some wild spaces. The unique animal you are most likely to see is the Bearded Anole, a small tree lizard that is usually tan with bright blue around its eyes. The Spotted Woodslave is harder to find. It is a giant gecko that lives in the forest.

St. Martin is home to many migratory birds.

About half our birds are long distance travelers. Some birds live here all year, but about half the species that have been seen here are migratory birds. Most spend their summer in North America raising their chicks. Many go as far north as Canada and Alaska. When it is too cold to find food there, they come to St. Martin, or stop here on their way further south. Out salt ponds attract many birds that come to hunt fish, crabs or snails. Many of these birds spend most of their year here, so we could think of them as St. Martin birds that summer in the north.

Non-native animals are transforming St. Martin. The island is now home to many animals that were not from here. Amerindians brought the Red-footed Tortoise in prehistoric times, rats arrived on the first European ships and the mongoose was introduced in 1888. These days, most species arrive with shipments of trees and plants. The Cuban Tree Frog, Giant African Land Snail and the Brahminy Blind Snake probably arrived this way. Some cause trouble for native species, others don’t. The mongoose exterminated our native snake and two lizards. Introduced snails can eat up both gardens and wild plants.

The mongoose has exterminated three native animals.

What St. Martin wildlife story do you think everyone should know? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or

Rare Books

On St. Martin, countless stories have been lost to time. For most of recorded history, only the thinnest slice of life was documented. For the vast majority of people, not a single word was written about their life, toils, resourcefulness, beliefs or loves.

But even the things that were recorded are vulnerable. Things as important as the Treaty of Concordia, which split the island between the French and Dutch in 1648, have gone missing. One of the original copies is still missing today. Other records have been lost, or destroyed in fire, flood or hurricane.

Books written about St. Martin are crucial links to information that is lost, or locked away in distant archives. Dr. J. Hartog’s book, History of Sint Maarten and Saint Martin is one of those links. He made detailed notes of the Lieutenant-Governor’s Journals of Sint Maarten as part of his research. In 1974, those journals were destroyed in a fire. Hartog’s book is the last record of much of this information.

A few out of print books about St. Martin.

S.J. Kruythoff’s The Netherlands Windward Islands contains some historical research. But it also includes many things that wouldn’t be recorded at all without his book, like the local names of plants and animals. His observations about nature and culture in the first half of the 20th century are priceless and unique. Very little was being published about the island at this time.

The Making of an Island by Jean Glasscock contains stories from conversations she had with St. Martiners between the 1960s and early 1980s. This is hardly ancient history, but St. Martin was tremendously different back then. Many of the people she spoke to have now passed.

The list goes on. For the Love of St. Maarten by Will Johnson, L’Immuable et le Changeant by Yves Monnier, Windward Children by Dorothy and John Keur and Beyond the Tourist Trap by Sypkens Smit each include stories of the island that can be found nowhere else.

These authors have succeeded where even governments responsible for preserving the public record have often failed. These works can still be read. Thanks to the number of copies that exist, they will almost surely survive long into the future.

Although these books are on many bookshelves, all of them are currently out of print. Copies can still be found occasionally by those with patience and the money to pay rare book prices. Someday they will enter the public domain, but many of us will be long dead by then.

In the meantime, what can we do? It is crucial that local libraries, schools and cultural institutions have copies of these works so they are available to the people of St. Martin. If possible, perhaps some of them could be reprinted with the permission of the authors and publishers. These books may also inform new works that continue the grand project of telling the story of St. Martin.

What is your favorite book about St. Martin? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or

Cultural Resolutions

2020 is a brand new year. It is a chance to make a change and to try new things. Many of us have made resolutions, plans to improve ourselves or our community in this new year. Whether you have made other resolutions or not, here are a few cultural resolutions that you might consider for 2020.

Experience culture. St. Martin has plenty of culture, and it is easy to access. There are museums, galleries, events and performances. Experiencing culture in person is enriching. It is a break from the everyday and a reminder of what the island has to offer. Going to an event is also a chance to connect with the community. St. Martin culture is a set of shared traditions. If you don’t share in them, you lose your connection to this culture.

Participants reenact the Diamond Estate freedom run.

Participate in culture. Culture is for and by everyone. The only limitation is who chooses to take part. Your story is part of the St. Martin story, and it is as important as anyone else’s. Write down a story told to you by a parent or grandparent. Share a family recipe. Scan your family photos. Record an interview with a relative. The story of St. Martin is incomplete without your contribution.

Support culture. There are a handful of people who have worked tirelessly to preserve and share St. Martin culture for years or decades. They’ve done amazing things, but they have also had a lot of help from countless other people. Museums, book fairs and festivals don’t happen by themselves. They are created by volunteers and supported by donors. They are everyday people like you and me, but without their generosity perhaps culture would disappear on St. Martin.

Learning to find meaning in family photos during a workshop at Amuseum Naturalis.

There are plenty of reasons why being culturally active today is important to St. Martin. Stories are lost each year as elders pass away. Letters, diaries and photos are lost or destroyed with no backup. Many of the cultural leaders of the 80s and 90s have retired without a new generation to carry on work in their fields.

But the most important reason to be culturally active is because it will improve your life. Culture links you to your past and makes you optimistic about the future. Culture is the thing that connects a community across time and space. Without culture, we are alone. And that’s no way to spend 2020.

What is your cultural resolution for 2020? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or

On Sandy Ground

Anyone in search of a deeper understanding of the recent protests would do well to read the book Saint-Martin: Destabilization of the French Caribbean by the late Daniella Jeffry. It focuses primarily on a period of great change on the island, from the late 1970s to the early 1990s.

Jeffry set the stage with an overview of colonial history, and what she called the “Traditional Period” between 1848 and 1963. In her view, the collapse of the sugar industry, the end of slavery and the departure of white plantation owners led to a time of relative peace during this period. People farmed, fished and did seasonal salt work. People were poor, but largely free to do as they wished. France had little interest in St. Martin, giving the island a kind of independence.

Sandy Ground resident and her home circa 1980. (Photo from Yves Monnier)

Things began to change as tourism developed. The Dutch side began first, building the new airport and pier and the first hotels. By the beginning of the 1980s and feeling 20 years behind, France was in a rush to develop their side of the island. 

The 1980s were a turbulent time, even though tourists might remember it as a golden age. There was massive development, immigration tripled the population of French St. Martin, and the French state increased its involvement in local affairs. Laws and zoning plans were changed to facilitate tourism development. 

Jeffry’s book describes one series of events in March of 1980 may help us better understand the current conflict over today’s natural disaster risk prevention plan (PPRN). In early 1980, there was a development plan to transform Sandy Ground into a tourist area. The homes there where people lived and raised their families were largely built without permits on land that they did not have clear title to. One of the first steps was to knock down buildings that the state considered illegal.

Sandy Ground from above around 1980. (Photo by REGNAM)

In response to the first houses being bulldozed, 2nd Deputy Mayor Albert Romney-Burnett bulldozed the French security police barracks in the same area. The next Saturday, March 8th, a meeting was held to discuss the transfer of Sandy Ground land to the government.

Mayor Elie Fleming explained to the the tense crowd that due to the position of Sandy Ground, between lagoon and sea, and the distance between the high water marks on each side, the land actually belonged to the state. He said “Sandy Ground, for those who do not know, is the result of the abuses of those people who came here to work but could not find a place to live.” He said that these “greedy and selfish people” would not be allowed to continue living there. The area to be retaken by the state would be marked by the following Monday.

Mrs. Berry Gumbs, who owned a home in Sandy Ground, spoke up to say that no one could take her property. Albert Romney-Burnett encouraged residents to get their property ownership legalized. He also said, “St. Martin people are a very understanding people. But one thing is for sure, we are going to stand up for what is rightfully ours. I feel that St. Martin people have been pushed in a corner and we are going to stand up and defend ourselves.” He also made a call to “protest in a peaceful way.”

The comments from the crowd and the heated atmosphere seemed to change the mind of government. The plan to take Sandy Ground was not implemented in 1980. Since then, questions of land ownership and zoning have often caused dispute. And the echoes of March 8th, 1980 can still be heard.

What are your memories of unrest in the 1980s? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or

You can read Saint-Martin: Destabilization of the French Caribbean at Soualibra. You can buy it on Amazon or at Arnia Bookstore.

Merry Guavaberry

The guavaberry is an easy fruit to love. It is sweet and tangy and the tree itself is beautiful. It is native to St. Martin and other parts of the Caribbean, a natural part of the landscape.

The tree grows wild here, but it is also raised for its beauty, its wood, and especially its fruit. Guavaberry is made into tarts and jams, and it is used to flavor rum. It is one of the essential flavors of St. Martin.

The guavaberry plant and its traditions are presented at the Guavaberry Festival.

Although it is found on many islands, only a few places use it so much. St. Martin perhaps most of all, and also the Virgin Islands. The fact that it is popular in the northeast Caribbean is a reminder of the cultural connections between these islands.

Guavaberry is also popular in the San Pedro de Macorís area of the Dominican Republic. In the early 20th century, St. Martiners and people from nearby islands came to this area to work in agriculture. At the time, the St. Martin economy was struggling. The guavaberry traditions brought with these economic migrants are still alive there today.

Here, the guavaberry is a key part of deep cultural traditions. It is strongly connected to the Christmas season. Some would say that Christmas time is the one true time to enjoy guavaberry in all its forms. Perhaps the most traditional Chrismas song on the island is the guavaberry song, with its lyric “Good morning, good morning, I come for me guavaberry.”

Christmas is celebrated in countless places, but it has some special meaning in St. Martin. It comes at the end of the rainiest season when many crops are ready to harvest. It comes after the hurricane season, when everyone can breathe a sigh of relief. Guavaberry rum is the perfect drink for this moment of sweetness, celebration, release and friendship.

The Jolly Boys play the guavaberry song.

The Guavaberry Festival in Colombier brings all of these ideas and feelings together. It is a celebration of the fruit and of the season. It is a chance to get a tree or some seeds and take part in the tradition of cultivation. The joyous music is a living celebration of this wonderful tree.

What is your favorite way to enjoy guavaberry? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or

Postcards of Paradise

Pristine Galisbay beach (Barbara Cannegieter postcard collection)

While scanning selections from Barbara Cannegieter’s enormous collection of postcards, it was interesting to see how they changed through the years. Postcards are made to represent a place, or the ideal of a place. But places change, especially St. Martin.

Very early postcards, from the late 19th and early 20th centuries mostly document “important” things. Marigot and Philipsburg are there because they are the capitals. Front Street is featured because it is Front Street. St. Martin was a faraway place back then, more remote than anyone today could probably imagine. A postcard may have been a way of proving that it existed at all.

Over time, postcard images became more diverse. Many highlighted the natural beauty of green hills and unspoiled beaches. Scenes of Caribbean life were also popular: fishermen with their catch and produce for sale at Marigot market. The unique architecture of the island along Rue de la République and other streets is often on display.

Eventually, St. Martin as a tourist destination became the subject of many postcards. Hotels and resorts were on postcards, from the extravagant fake Mediterranean village of La Belle Creole to a variety of boxy and inelegant hotel buildings. Tourists appear in postcards, doing duty free shopping and water sports.

La Belle Creole (Barbara Cannegieter postcard collection)

Postcards reflect different views of the island. They were made to appeal to buyers, so they reflect what those buyers loved about St. Martin. At least, the ones that sold. They also helped create the image of St. Martin. These very specific images were how St. Martin was shared around the world.

How we see these images today can also tell us a lot. For St. Martiners, and others who love the island, postcards are powerful. Familiar views of towns bring a rush of nostalgia. People recognize the faces of fishermen and shopkeepers. Images of unspoiled landscapes often bring a sense of loss.

The St. Martin of all these old postcards is gone. Or at least, it has changed to the St. Martin of today. Simpson Bay will never be unbuilt, but we could protect the last few wild views. Some of the classic Caribbean houses of Grand Case, Marigot and French Quarter may be crumbling, but many could still be returned to glory. St. Martin may not have any fishing villages today, but it still has people who fish.

Scene on the dock in Marigot (Barbara Cannegieter postcard collection)

In every postcard, there is an element of St. Martin that is still here, whether it is a place, a tradition or a feeling. Perhaps it is hidden, perhaps it is in disrepair, perhaps it is hanging by a thread. But it is not too late to save a little bit of what we love from the past.

What do you miss from St. Martin’s past? What needs to be saved today? Tell us about it by writing in to The Daily Herald or to

See more old postcards and photos at the St. Martin Image Collection.

Image Building

Photos may be the most direct link we have to the past of the island. Photos capture people, places and things from the past. They capture culture and family history. They show us nature and the landscapes of the past. We can see what people were doing and the expressions on their faces.

Photos are also important because they contain stories that were never written down. Where written history features a handful of people, we have photos of many people. By preserving, sharing and studying these photos, we can build a more complete history.

Many people are already working on this project, perhaps without thinking of it in this way. There are people sharing photos on social media, and others commenting. Every time someone uploads a photo or identifies a person or a place or a year in a comment, our knowledge of the past increases.

Barbara Cannegieter’s postcard collection is also a rich source of local history and culture. (Photo from Barbara Cannegieter Postcard Collection)

Even the simple act of saving family photos, postcards and other materials is part of this process. Without these collections, there would be nothing to study or share. St. Martin is a land of 1,000 archivists who have protected these precious memories through the years.

A physical photo album has some limitations. It isn’t accessible to everyone. It could also be destroyed in a storm or thrown away by someone who doesn’t value it. Making images digital and sharing them brings them into the public sphere. It also ensures that at least some version of the image remains even if the original is lost.

Social sharing is a great way to help people connect to photos and share insights, but it also has limitations. Often photos are shared in low quality. This can be okay on a computer or phone screen, but some details may be lost. Also, social media is not very good for organizing photos. Many people may see and comment on a photo when it is posted, but it can be hard to find it again.

St. Martin may not have the resources to create a state of the art archive like those at the Library of Congress or New York Public Library. But it is possible to make a simple site where photos can be shared and information about them can be collected. You can find the beginnings of this site at

Right now, the St. Martin image collection includes photos and postcards from several generous people who offered to share what they have preserved. Others are welcome to contribute images or information about what is in the photos. Over time this can grow to a rich archive of images and stories that is accessible to all.

Even photos from not so long ago reveal amazing changes, like this photo of Marigot near Howell Center from 1962. (Photo by Gordon James)

Do you want to learn how to find the stories in your family photos? There will be a free workshop on Saturday, December 7th at Amuseum Naturalis. You will learn how to find the story in a family photo you bring. You will also get a scan of your photo that you can share with family for the holidays. To sign up, email

Find Stories in Your Family Photos at Free Workshop

Family photos are rich in meaning.

Do you ever wish you knew more about your family history? Are you looking for something special to share this holiday season? Sign up for the free Family Photo Workshop and you can do both these things. The workshop will be held at Amuseum Naturalis from 9am to noon on Saturday, December 7th.

Every photo also tells a story. When we learn how to read the story in a photo, that story comes alive and can be a part of history. Cesar Escalona is an expert at finding the meaning in photos, and he will help you find the story in one of your own family photos at the workshop. Cesar is an anthropologist and photographer who specializes in finding culture and history in photos.

“Photos show us many things about the past,” said Escalona. “We can see who our ancestors were, what they were doing, how they dressed and the landscape around them. They hold details about culture, everyday life and historical events. Photography also has a visual language, just like painting and other arts. By learning the basics of this language, we can find out what the photographer’s choices tell us.”

Each person will find the story in their own family photo using what they learn in the workshop. They will also receive a high-resolution scan of their photo so they can share their photo and story with family and friends for the holidays. It’s a great chance to discover and connect with your own family history, and share what you learn with your loved ones.

Even informal photos can tell us a lot about family and culture.

This workshop can also be a first step towards studying your family history in more detail and connecting it to the history of the island. Future workshops will cover topics like digitizing photos and how to protect and preserve family photos. 

To sign up for this workshop, email or send a message to Les Fruits de Mer by Facebook. You will need to bring at least one family photo to work with during the workshop. All other materials will be provided. The workshop is free, but space is limited, so make sure to reserve your spot!

Cesar Escalona is an anthropologist specializing in the study of photos. (Photo by Kristin DeFalco)

About the Workshop Leader
Cesar Escalona is an anthropologist from Central University of Venezuela. Since 2007 he has specialized in the study and audiovisual documentation of Venezuelan cultural diversity as expressed in the rituals and festivities of indigenous, Afro-Caribbean and Catholic people. He has also completed specialized studies in gender and sexual diversity (2013) and visual anthropology (2014). He is dedicated to development of visual methodologies and investigation of photographic image as narrative and construction of the past. As a university instructor and community teacher, he taught audiovisual methodologies and forms of research of the past in the rural communities of western Venezuela.

MBF 2019 Photos, Part Three

More great photos from the Migratory Bird Festival, thanks Aymeric Consavi, Damien Chagnaud and César Escalona!

The annual Migratory Bird Festival is organized by the Les Fruits de Mer association. The 2019 event was made possible by the generous support of this year’s sponsors: 97150, Animal Hospital of St. Maarten, Belair Beach Hotel, BirdsCaribbean, BZSE, Caraïbes Numeric Print, Delta Petroleum, Dynaf, Etna Ice Cream, Hotel L’Esplanade, Lagoonies Bistro and Bar, Trakx Design, White Sands Beach Club and Yacht Club Port de Plaisance.

MBF 2019 Photos, Part Two

More awesome photos from the 2019 Migratory Bird Festival, courtesy of photographer Kristin DeFalco…enjoy!

The annual Migratory Bird Festival is organized by the Les Fruits de Mer association. The 2019 event was made possible by the generous support of this year’s sponsors: 97150, Animal Hospital of St. Maarten, Belair Beach Hotel, BirdsCaribbean, BZSE, Caraïbes Numeric Print, Delta Petroleum, Dynaf, Etna Ice Cream, Hotel L’Esplanade, Lagoonies Bistro and Bar, Trakx Design, White Sands Beach Club and Yacht Club Port de Plaisance.

MBF Photos, Part One

Did you miss the seventh annual Migratory Bird Festival? Just want to revisit what a fantastic time it was? Check out some photos from the event!

The annual Migratory Bird Festival is organized by the Les Fruits de Mer association. The 2019 event was made possible by the generous support of this year’s sponsors: 97150, Animal Hospital of St. Maarten, Belair Beach Hotel, BirdsCaribbean, BZSE, Caraïbes Numeric Print, Delta Petroleum, Dynaf, Etna Ice Cream, Hotel L’Esplanade, Lagoonies Bistro and Bar, Trakx Design, White Sands Beach Club and Yacht Club Port de Plaisance.

Family Tree, Island History

At the Museums Association of the Caribbean conference in Martinique last week, Hannah K Scruggs, Kamilah Stinnett and Doretha Williams from The National Museum of African American History and Culture gave a presentation titled Genealogy in Museums: Finding Family while Exploring Cultural Heritage. Their museum has a Family History Center that hundreds of people visit each day. They offer six sessions each day where people can come in and get help researching their own family tree.

Genealogy, the study of family history, is a way for people to understand where they come from. It is also a way to find one’s place in history and in a community. It connects people to their own family, but also to the world.

Usually, the starting place for making a family tree is asking other family members, especially older ones. Scrapbooks and memorabilia can also give key details. More and more, records are being digitized and may be searchable online. Public records, newspapers and archives are all important resources.

Local records, like this salt production journal, can give family history clues.

For anyone with ancestors who were enslaved, it can be hard or even impossible to trace family roots through this period. Not being able to trace family history is a part of the trauma of enslavement that still hurts people today. But many people find it rewarding to discover the family history that is available.

At the Family History Center, visitors can have access to databases and help learning how to research. On St. Martin, it would be very good to have a similar center. By helping individual people learn about their own history, we could enrich what we know about the history of the island as well.

On St. Martin, family research would surely reveal many connections between local families. It would also show how people from St. Martin are connected to relatives on Anguilla, St. Kitts and beyond. In these connections, we can find stories of survival and cultural connections. A handful of people researching their own family histories would enrich the lives of everyone interested in St. Martin.

A family history is like a map for the past. Combined with photos and documents that can be scanned at the heritage preservation station at Amuseum Naturalis, we can make that past come alive. The history of the island can be transformed to include the history of everyone on the island. This inclusive history has its roots in the family tree.

Are you interested in researching your family tree? Have you already started? Tell us about it by writing in to The Daily Herald or to

Landscape and Memory

On the first morning of the Museums Association of the Caribbean conference, John Angus Martin gave a presentation called Exhibiting Slavery in the Caribbean Museum. It is a challenging topic that many museums have avoided in the past. His presentation sparked animated discussion amongst the attendees.

Martin focused specifically on how small museums in the Caribbean can tackle this topic. These museums tend to lack funding, resources and space to address a topic so big and important in the detail it deserves. Making space for people with diverse perspectives and different ways of processing this history is also hard.

Dry stone slave walls are legacy features that crisscross the island.

Despite the challenges, Martin had many suggestions. One key element is focusing on the people themselves. Exhibits that focus on artifacts or data tend to be cold and clinical. Stories should be personal. Humanity can be lost when exhibits focus on the magnitude of the slave trade. It is hard to tell personal stories when most names and lives were not recorded, but some records do exist.

Martin also highlighted the need to honor and memorialize. People should feel empathy and sorrow. There can be space for contemplation, and the hope of working towards a sense of closure. Featuring stories of resistance is part of this, but honoring how people survived is also important.

Martin suggested that the starting point of exhibits about slavery should be here and now. The story should be told starting from the present and working back into the past. It should highlight how this history has influenced life and culture today. The focus should be local, and the local story should not be lost by trying to tell a global history of slavery.

Slavery exhibits should be rooted in the local landscape, which often a key to telling the story. Although many of the signs of slavery on plantations are gone, the land itself remains. The places where enslaved people lived and toiled are still here. The landscape itself was transformed by their labor. Many of the plants were brought with them are still growing here, what does remain from this era was built by their hands.

Sugar mill machinery was operated by enslaved people.

What do you want an exhibit about slavery? What would you like to learn or see? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or to

Kids Connect with Nature and Heritage at Migratory Bird Festival

Kids explore nature while playing BirdSleuth Caribbean games. (Photo by Kristin DeFalco)

On Saturday, hundreds of kids roamed garden paths looking for signs of birds. They dipped nets into huge old boiling coppers to find tadpoles and aquatic insects. They decorated their own bird backpacks to take home, and learned how their own family story is part of the island’s history. Learning has never looked so fun!

Historic boiling coppers are a hunting ground for kids looking for tadpoles and aquatic bugs. (Photo by Mark Yokoyama)

It was a beautiful sunny day during the island’s rainiest month, and over 250 people came out to enjoy the seventh annual Migratory Bird Festival at Amuseum Naturalis. The festival celebrates the birds that travel thousands of miles each year to come to St. Martin. It also celebrates the the things that make St. Martin special to both birds and people.

“This year’s festival was really special because we were able to provide buses for schools and youth groups,” said festival organizer Jenn Yerkes. “We were able to reach more youth than ever, and it is all thanks to our sponsors. It’s not enough to have a free event if the kids can’t get there, so we want to do this even more in the future.”

At the Portable Pond Station, people learned about all the underwater animals that many birds come to St. Martin to eat. They could even see them up close under the microscope. Kids explored the gardens and paths while playing Bird Bingo and a habitat scavenger hunt from the BirdSleuth Caribbean program. They also learned about pelicans and how plastic can harm birds.

A team of over 30 volunteers worked together to make the festival a success. (Photo by Mark Yokoyama)

In the craft area, kids and adults decorated canvas backpacks with bird art. They took the backpacks home, to use instead of plastic bags. The mobile media and learning hub IdeasBox was also at the event, bringing books, games and tablets loaded up with videos and e-books about St. Martin’s birds.

Cotton backpacks are a plastic alternative and look great with bird art. (Photo by Kristin DeFalco)

Heritage preservation work was also done at the event. One team of volunteers recorded oral history interviews with event visitors. Another team showcased the mobile heritage preservation station, scanning photos and giving advice on how to preserve pictures. Visitors saw how many things can be learned from photos, and how family stories and photos are part of the island’s history.

An interview team recorded oral histories at the event. (Photo by Mark Yokoyama)

The annual Migratory Bird Festival is organized by the Les Fruits de Mer association. The 2019 event was made possible by the generous support of this year’s sponsors: 97150, Animal Hospital of St. Maarten, Belair Beach Hotel, BirdsCaribbean, BZSE, Caraïbes Numeric Print, Delta Petroleum, Dynaf, Etna Ice Cream, Hotel L’Esplanade, Lagoonies Bistro and Bar, Trakx Design, White Sands Beach Club and Yacht Club Port de Plaisance.

At the Portable Pond, kids got an up-close peek into an underwater world. (Photo by Mark Yokoyama)

Plastic Problems

A Killdeer surrounded by plastic.

There’s too much plastic in the world. People have made almost 10 billion tons of plastic, and only 10% is recycled. The rest ends up in landfills, natural spaces and the sea. And there’s plenty of it on St. Martin. Some of the most beautiful places on the island are full of plastic garbage.

Plastic waste is ugly and it can cause problems for people. Mosquitos can breed in plastic containers full of rainwater. Plastic can also break down into tiny particles that are literally everywhere.

For birds, plastic is even worse. Many birds eat plastic. In the water, algae grows on plastic and make it smell like food. Birds eat it and feed it to their babies. Birds starve with stomachs full of plastic instead of food. Plastics also absorb toxic chemicals and poison birds. Sharp plastic objects can cause internal damage as well.

A Snowy Egret looks for food on a plastic bag.

Plastic can also trap birds. Old fishing gear and other plastics in the sea can trap birds. If a bird gets tangled in plastics, it can drown. This is a serious problem for the Magnificent Frigatebird that fishes and forages for food that is on the surface of the sea. Frigates don’t dive into the sea. If they do get caught and pulled into the water they can drown.

Plastic gets in the way. Plastic bags fly in the wind and plastics float across the sea. They clutter up beaches and ponds. These are places where birds hunt for food or make their nests.

A Black-necked Stilt nest beside a plastic bottle.

Plastics are a big problem on St. Martin, but there are many ways that you can help. Buy less plastic. You can connect with St. Martin traditions by using reusable bags, water bottles and food boxes like people did back in the day. You can recycle, and make sure your plastic never gets into wild spaces. Pick up plastic litter when you see it, or join a beach clean-up.

Your individual actions can help, but you can also encourage local government to make changes. Banning plastic bags and other single-use plastics can help everyone use less plastic. With laws to lead the way, people and businesses can find better alternatives for a cleaner and more beautiful St. Martin.

Do you remember the days when St. Martin was trash free? It could be that way again. To learn more about how plastics hurt birds and enjoy lots more fun activities, come to the Migratory Bird Festival from 9am-12pm on Saturday, November 9th at Amuseum Naturalis.

Fun Activities with Birds and Heritage at Free Migratory Bird Festival on Saturday

Measure your wingspan at the festival.

People of all ages are invited to learn about amazing traveling birds at the seventh annual Migratory Bird Festival this Saturday. They can also share their memories of the island to help preserve local heritage and stories. The free festival runs from 9am to noon at Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House in French Quarter.

BirdSleuth games are a fun way to learn about birds and enjoy nature.

“St. Martin is special to everyone who lives here, but it is also very special to birds,” said Les Fruits de Mer co-founder Mark Yokoyama. “Birds travel thousands of miles to live in St. Martin during the fall and winter. They depend on the fish and crabs in the island’s ponds, and the insects in our forests and fields. They’ve been coming here for millions of years, and the festival is a great way to learn about them and the island we share.”

Kids can catch and release aquatic animals like tadpoles and water beetles.

There are many fun things to do at the festival. You can see the incredible underwater world of insects, fish and crabs at the Portable Pond Discovery Station. You can test your detective skills with BirdSleuth activities. You can hear the calls of some of our migratory birds, and see how your wingspan measures up to theirs. You can also add bird art to a cotton backpack, and bring it home with you to use instead of plastic bags.

See all the critters that birds love to eat at the Portable Pond.

“We’ll also have some great heritage activities at the festival this year,” explained Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “We will be recording oral histories, and we’ll have a heritage preservation station. If you bring old photos or other items, we can scan them for you. You can also learn how these photos teach us about the culture and history of the island.”

This year guests can decorate a cotton backpack.

The festival is organized each year by the Les Fruits de Mer association. This year, several guests will also be leading activities. There will be a showcase of IdeasBox, a mobile library and learning hub that recently launched on St. Martin. The St. Maarten Nature Foundation will be presenting research on pelicans and what we can do to reduce plastic trash.

The Migratory Bird Festival is free. It lasts from 9am to noon on Saturday, November 9th, rain or shine. It will be held at Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House on the hill above Galion Beach in French Quarter. For more information, visit or find Les Fruits de Mer on Facebook. The event is made possible by the 2019 sponsors: 97150, Animal Hospital of St. Maarten, Belair Beach Hotel, BirdsCaribbean, BZSE, Caraïbes Numeric Print, Delta Petroleum, Dynaf, Etna Ice Cream, Hotel L’Esplanade, Lagoonies Bistro and Bar, Trakx Design, White Sands Beach Club and Yacht Club Port de Plaisance.

Precious Memories

Written by Mark Yokoyama and César Escalona

Photos are a window into our lives. They show who we are and how we lived. They are a record of heritage, history and culture.

Some histories only record the lives of rich or powerful people. But most families have photos, so photos can tell the story of almost anyone. With photos, we can all be part of history.

Photos capture cultural heritage. You can see how people dressed and the houses they lived in. They show us events and places that were important to people.

Photos reveal culture in clothing and objects.

They show traditions that built up over time that make this island unique. When families took photos at parties, events and jollifications, they were making a historical record—even if they didn’t think of it that way at the time.

These photos show us people’s expressions and what they were doing. They show us how people interacted with each other. They also show material culture. We can see what people were wearing and the objects around them.

Photos taken outdoors show us the cultural landscape. We can see architecture and nature, and how people are interacting with the island. On St. Martin we often see how much the island has changed in a very short period of time.

Photos are a window into the past. We can use them to learn what life was like. But they also show us where our traditions came from. We can see the roots of today’s culture in the photos of yesterday.

Photos are art. The photographer was expressing their vision, and their creative choices are captured in the photo. Family portraits were made with care. Each detail reflects a choice: how the people were grouped, what they wore, where the photo was taken and how they posed. The choices have symbolic meaning we can study, telling us about the family and their culture.

Even a beach day snapshot can tell us many things.

Every picture is important. Old photos and photo albums are precious family memories. But they are also important historical archives. Your photos can be a part of history. When we preserve photos, we build a richer history of the island. We make sure everyone’s story is part of the story of St. Martin.

Do you have old family photos? You can have them scanned at Amuseum Naturalis in French Quarter. You can also learn more about why photos are so important at the heritage preservation station at the Migratory Bird Festival from 9am-12pm on Saturday, November 9th at Amuseum Naturalis.


Pounding arrowroot at the Arrowroot Jollification in Colombier.

In the first National Intangible Cultural Heritage Inventory of St. Maarten, jollification has a modest entry:

A traditional gathering of people to help build a house, well, or fence and at which food is served as compensation.

To most of the world, and even most of the Caribbean, a jollification is a just a party. Parties are great and jollification is a great word for party. But the meaning of the word on St. Martin is more complex. It also tell us a lot about local culture.

On St. Martin, neighbors had to come together to help each other. Some tasks, like fixing a roof or digging a well couldn’t happen any other way. Before the modern era most labor was done by hand. People had to lift and dig and carry together.

St. Martin was a small island and it was a poor island. But the people of the island provided for themselves by combining their talents and labor. There was not just an idea of community. People truly depended on each other.

Working together also makes sense in St. Martin’s climate. Crops had to be planted in time for the wet season. A well can only be dug during the dry season. People used jollification to do things when they needed to be done.

Reaping together at Arrowroot Jollifcation.

It would not be surprising if the roots of jollification stretch back to the time of slavery. Enslaved people were forced to work long hours. They typically worked six days a week. But they were also growing their own food and taking care of their basic needs during the little time they had left. It is hard to imagine how they could have survived without helping each other.

Today, the tradition of jollification is in decline. People are busy with their jobs. There are companies that build houses and replace roofs. Most St. Martiners aren’t digging wells or reaping provision grounds. Thankfully, the tradition is kept alive by events like the Arrowroot Jollification in Columbier.

Generation New Status band at Arrowroot Jollification.

Jollification is a key part of local culture, but it also has a place in today’s society. When people come together to volunteer, the spirit of jollification lives on. Especially when there are food and drinks. After all, volunteering isn’t really a jollification unless you also have a party.

What does jollification mean to you? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or

You can’t have a jollification without food

Les Fruits de Mer Association Launches Mobile Heritage Preservation Studio

Les Fruits de Mer volunteers record oral history interviews.

The Les Fruits de Mer association is thrilled to launch their new mobile heritage preservation studio. The portable studio can go anywhere. It is made to capture and preserve culture and heritage through oral history and other forms of archiving.

“We wanted to create a small mobile system so we could record heritage all over the island,” said Mark Yokoyama, co-founder of Les Fruits de Mer and Amuseum Naturalis. “It’s simple, it’s not pricey and it lets us document heritage on the go.”

The studio includes a scanner for photos, letters, and memorabilia, and a photo kit for heritage objects. A basic audio and video kit makes it easy to record interviews. Island Gems generously donated some of the items needed for the studio.

Heritage items are carefully photographed at Amuseum Naturalis.

“Over time, photos, letters, diaries, and other memorabilia become key records of culture, heritage and history. They are vital clues to how people lived in a previous era,” explained Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “They aren’t just valued for personal or family history. They become part of the history of the island. So when these things are lost, or damaged in a disaster like Irma, it’s a loss to the whole island. Digitizing them creates a backup for people and families. It also preserves the culture and history of the island.”

Scanning can help preserve fragile items like old photos.

The studio will officially launch at Les Fruits de Mer’s 2019 Migratory Bird Festival. At the event, volunteers will be using it to record oral histories. The festival is free to all, and everyone is invited to come share their stories. People can also bring their heritage photos, letters and other items for scanning. 

The festival will feature fun activities for all ages, like birdwatching, bird-themed games, discovery stations, and arts and crafts. It will take place Saturday November 9th from 9am to noon at Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House on the hill above Le Galion in French Quarter. The event is made possible by the 2019 sponsors: 97150, Animal Hospital of St. Maarten, Belair Beach Hotel, BirdsCaribbean, BZSE, Caraïbes Numeric Print, Delta Petroleum, Dynaf, Etna Ice Cream, Hotel L’Esplanade, Lagoonies Bistro and Bar, Trakx Design, White Sands Beach Club and Yacht Club Port de Plaisance.


What is St. Martin culture? It is hard to put a finger on it. Local culture is the way things are said, or a proverb or a story. It is the way a food is cooked and on what occasions it is served. It is stories, crafts, games, songs, dances and much more. It can be hard to point to something and say “That is St. Martin culture.” But at the same time, it is all around us.

Over the last few years, the Sint Maarten National Commission for UNESCO has worked with the Department of Culture to write down the things that make local culture special. They created a survey and collected over 230 responses. The resulting list is the first National Intangible Cultural Heritage Inventory of St. Maarten.

Rice and peas are on the menu at Yvette’s Restaurant and part of local heritage.

The inventory is focused on five areas: oral traditions; performing arts; social practices; rituals and festive events; knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe; and traditional craftsmanship knowledge and techniques. The list includes over 200 different entries across these categories.

The list is rich. It includes jumbie stories and and songs like Mama Make Yo’ Johnny Cakes Christmas Comin’. It includes carnival, boat racing and dominoes. Foods like locri, conkie and guava cheese are there. Skills like making coconut oil and cooking on a coal pot made the list. You can also find crafts like making a fish pot or dry stone wall.

Traditional boat building and racing are part of the inventory.

The inventory also notes which aspects of local culture are thriving or declining. Bull foot soup isn’t going to die out any time soon, but jollifications and horse races are less common than they were.

The intangible cultural heritage inventory is rich with things that make St. Martin special. There are also many things that still need to be added. The childhood game of rubbing a nickernut on a rock and then pressing the hot seed into a friend’s arm should probably be there. Also, the skill of making a noose from a blade of grass to catch a lizard.

The inventory is both a resource and an inspiration to those who have things to add to it. It is ready for your contributions. There is a copy at Amuseum Naturalis. You can also find it online at

What intangible heritage do you want to add to the inventory? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or