History Exposed

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

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

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

The remains from salt production in Grand Case.

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

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

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

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

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

Amuseum Naturalis Open House

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

Setting Sail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amuseum Naturalis Open House

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Christmas Story

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

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

Christmas House aglow with lights.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Beautiful Sight to See

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

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

The Stories of Stuff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Records

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

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

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

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

History records the coming and going of cotton.

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

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

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

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

Changing Tastes

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

Fresh chicken on the go.

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

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

Fish in the pot.

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

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

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

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

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

Stories for Today

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

A postcard for The Old House museum.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changing Stories

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

A shark out of water.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mystery Spring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Salt Story

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

Elise Hyman can still remember the beauty of the salt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hundreds Discover St. Martin Wildlife at Endemic Animal Festival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.