For thousands of years, history has been written by the few, for the few and about the few. St. Martin is a perfect example. During the colonial period, most records were written for and by the colonial powers that ruled the island. During the modern period, most published writing about the island and its people was done by academics from other places.
Thankfully, there are some exceptions. There are history books by the late Daniella Jeffry, a wealth of literature, poetry and nonfiction published locally by House of Nehesi Publishers and the early issues of Discover Magazine edited by Sir Roland Richardson. Books and articles by St. Martiners are surely the most important works about St. Martin. They are the work of talented authors and dedicated publishers. But this small group of people can’t record and publish hundreds of years of St. Martin’s undocumented history and culture.
On St. Martin, history and culture have been passed down through the spoken word. These oral traditions are every bit as important as any written history. But a written history can live on forever, especially if thousands of copies are printed. In the past, oral traditions were vulnerable.
That doesn’t have to be the case today. Most people have a tool to record oral traditions right in our pocket: our phone. Just as importantly, we have the ability to share and preserve those recordings online. Today it is possible to build a lasting history of the people, by the people, for the people. And it we can do it in a way that embraces St. Martin’s oral tradition.
Right now, many of us have time to do this work. As we stay at home, we can tell the stories of our lives. We can reach out to our elders and preserve their experiences. It is a perfect time to connect with family and reflect on where we come from.
Preserving the stories of those who lived during St. Martin’s traditional period, before the rise of tourism, is the most urgent task. But everyone has stories worth saving. What was the island like during the huge changes of the 80s and 90s? What was it like to survive hurricanes Luis and Irma? What is your personal experience as a St. Martiner on a changing island? Or as an immigrant making a home here?
Preserving heritage is important work, and it is time to come together to do it. It is time for a heritage jollification. Every voice matters. Every story matters. Start recording today and encourage your friends and family to do it, too.
The Les Fruits de Mer association is working to help people document their stories, and to create an archive where those stories can be saved. They hope to share many of these stories as well, but only when permission is given to do so. Get tools and learn more at: https://www.lesfruitsdemer.com/projects/heritage-backup/. Let’s make this the legacy of our time of confinement.
Looking for inspiration to get started recording your memories? Here are a few places to get inspired:
The St. Martin Image Collection features photos and postcards of St. Martin going back over 100 years. Find landscapes that inspire memories and much more.
The First National Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) Inventory of Sint Maarten is the first collection of much of the cultural heritage of the island, from foods and craftsmanship to arts and festivals.
This 1940s and 1950s Ledger contains the accounts of purchases by dozens of St. Martiners. Take a look to find family members and explore what they were buying 75 years ago.
Watch St. Martiners tell their own stories in oral history films recorded by Les Fruits de Mer.