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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.