Preserving our physical heritage
Published: May 02, 2013
The Bahamas is quickly approaching its 40th anniversary of independence. Though independent from Britain for 40 years, the history of The Bahamas and the Bahamian people hardly started in 1973. Insufficient effort by successive governments to preserve the physical remnants of our heritage has led to mounting ignorance about our past.
Across the Bahamian archipelago hundreds of settlements have long since disappeared into the bushes. Some of these once held significant populations such as Long Cay, which at the turn of the 20th century was home to 500 residents. Now it has just a handful of inhabitants. Once a major port of call for steamships, this nondescript cay has for many faded from memory.
A walk through the bushes on most islands will reveal remnants from a bygone era. But without a context, such signs of human occupation mean little. Our failure to establish a proper network of heritage sites across the islands only magnifies disconnect between the older generation and the next. Many Nassuvians yearn to return to the Family Islands, the place of their ancestors and family names. But what else remains besides a name?
The creation of Clifton Heritage Park should be an emblem for future national park designations. Despite its recent marring by verbal accusations and physical altercations between two groups claiming to be acting in the interest of Clifton Bay, Clifton is a place for the Bahamian people. Its value as a place of natural refuge and heritage appreciation in the concrete jungle of Nassau far exceeds that of yet another monotonous housing development.
Now is the time to catalogue, designate and protect areas or monuments of importance to Bahamian heritage. By no means is this an insignificant undertaking. Yet, private organizations like the One Eleuthera coalition are vocal advocates for local heritage site protections. Cupid’s Cay, the birthplace of the modern Bahamas, is dishearteningly in shambles and the stunning Lighthouse Point threatened by development.
Rightly so, residents of the Family Islands are demanding attention to the preservation of local landmarks. But these same islands are desperate for economic stimulus through development. By recognizing our past we can pursue a development plan that integrates our heritage rather than erasing it completely.
Perhaps, the people of the Family Islands have a greater appreciation for their past. In Nassau, the Bahamas Historical Society has an aging audience, the Antiquities Monuments and Museums Corporation is woefully absent from the press, and we wait patiently for the National Museum of The Bahamas.
While politicians entertain immigration and gaming debates to put Bahamians first, the definition of being a Bahamian gets lost in translation. Bahamians came from Bermuda, England, America and Africa. We are a diverse people with a past entrenched in freedom, persecution, piracy, slavery and salvation. Acknowledging the past is inherent to succeeding in the future.