Invisible Moments

Playing dominos. Photo by Francisco Hidalgo.

A key part of St. Martin culture is hidden. Every description of the island begins by saying the island is half French and half Dutch. What this really means is almost never explained. A quick look at the tourist centers of the island reveals strong American influences. A population doubled over and over in the last fifty years is full of people from all over the Caribbean and beyond.

All of this is today’s St. Martin culture. The mix of people and traditions defines life on the island. It is a welcoming culture, The Friendly Island. It is a fast-moving culture that grew a quiet island into a tourist hub in a few decades. It keeps the island fun, fresh and exciting.

There is also a deeper, older culture. It doesn’t have much to do with the stories used to tell tourists what they should think about St. Martin. It is a Caribbean culture. It is a culture of people who worked together to survive when it wasn’t that easy. It is a culture connected to the land and the sea. It is a culture of making, building and growing.

Builders working in a churchyard. Photo by Gordon James.

Much of this culture is invisible. We see images of the bustling market, but rarely the fisherman at sea or the farmer in the field. We see images of churches and homes, but rarely the people building them. We see meals at fancy restaurants, but not home cooks at work. We may see weddings and big events, but rarely the quieter pastimes that people enjoyed.

Cleaning fish in Grand Case. Pierre Beauperthuy Collection.

Important work has been done to document this culture. The National Intangible Cultural Heritage Inventory for Sint Maarten includes many traditions common throughout the island. It is a key step in preserving cultural memory. Images, interviews, videos and stories can help bring the list to life.

Building kites. Pierre Beauperthuy Collection.

When we see photos of everyday life in the past, there is an instant fascination. Instead of seeing what the island is supposed to be, we see what it really was. Being able to connect with past keeps it from fading away entirely. It also helps us understand what St. Martin is today.

Do you have a photo of one of St. Martin’s invisible moments? Share it by sending it to [email protected] or to The Daily Herald.

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