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Protecting Heritage in the Caribbean

Protecting Heritage in the Caribbean

by Todd Ahlman, Richard T. Callaghan, Michael P. Pateman, Daniel Torres Etayo, Bruce J. Larson

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Heritage preservation is a broad term that can include the protection of a wide range of human-mediated material and cultural processes ranging from specific artifacts, ancient rock art, and features of the built environment and modified landscapes. As a region of multiple independent nations and colonial territories, the Caribbean shares a common heritage at some


Heritage preservation is a broad term that can include the protection of a wide range of human-mediated material and cultural processes ranging from specific artifacts, ancient rock art, and features of the built environment and modified landscapes. As a region of multiple independent nations and colonial territories, the Caribbean shares a common heritage at some levels, yet at the same time there are vast historical and cultural differences. Likewise, approaches to Caribbean heritage preservation are similarly diverse in range and scope.   This volume addresses the problem of how Caribbean nations deal with the challenges of protecting their cultural heritages or patrimonies within the context of pressing economic development concerns. Is there formal legislation that requires cultural patrimony to be considered prior to the approval of development projects? Does legislation apply only to government-funded projects or to private ones as well? Are there levels of legislation: local, regional, national? Are heritage preservation laws enforced? For whom is the heritage protected and what public outreach is implemented to disseminate the information acquired and retained?   In this volume, practitioners of heritage management on the frontline of their own islands address the current state of affairs across the Caribbean to present a comprehensive overview of Caribbean heritage preservation challenges. Considerable variability is seen in how determined and serious different nations are in approaching the responsibilities of heritage preservation. Packaging these diverse scenarios into a single volume is a critical step in raising awareness of the importance of protecting and judiciously managing an ever-diminishing fund of Caribbean heritage for all.   Contributors Todd M. Ahlman / Benoît Bérard / Milton Eric Branford / Richard T. Callaghan / Kevin Farmer / R. Grant Gilmore III / Jay B. Haviser / Ainsley C. Henriques / William F. Keegan / Bruce J. Larson / Paul E. Lewis / Vel Lewis / Reg Murphy / Michael P. Pateman / Winston F. Phulgence / Esteban Prieto Vicioso / Basil A. Reid / Andrea Richards / Elizabeth Righter / Kelley Scudder-Temple / Peter E. Siegel / Christian Stouvenot / Daniel Torres Etayo

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A much called-for account on the state of cultural heritage management in the Caribbean. Siegel and righter are to be applauded for having assembled so many authors (mostly local) from so many islands. It is both timely and original in set up, and the questions posed cover a broad range of relevant issues from policy making to practice. In this respect it suits well the worldwide heritage debate.”—Corinne L. Hofman, Faculty of Archaeology, University of Leiden

"There are some very progressive and smart ideas in this book that could positively change the current lackluster preservation environment for the Caribbean. . . . This book is an excellent first step in understanding how the dual goals of promoting development and protecting national heritage can both be met through compromise, consultation, informed research, and by setting up systems of accountability.”—Journal of Caribbean Archaeology

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University of Alabama Press
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Caribbean Archaeology and Ethnohistory
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Copyright © 2011 The University of Alabama Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8173-5667-5

Chapter One

The Bahamas

Michael P. Pateman


The Commonwealth of The Bahamas became a nation independent from Great Britain in 1973. At that time the main source of Bahamian cultural heritage expression was Junkanoo (a parade with African roots held on Boxing Day and New Year's Day). Beyond parades, The Bahamas government lacked the educational or cultural infrastructure and the economic or political power to manage the nation's cultural resources. The government began to develop this infrastructure in the early 1990s, when Bahamian history was taught and tested in a new national exam, as opposed to British history and British national exams, in senior high school. Additionally, 25 years after independence the government passed legislation mandating the preservation and protection of Bahamian historical resources.

While often considered part of the Caribbean, The Bahamas are actually located in the Atlantic Ocean, just north and east of the Caribbean Sea. The Bahama island chain forms a 1,223-km arc (760 mi) of 29 islands, 661 cays, and 2,387 rock formations laid out in a northwest to southeast direction, through the Atlantic Ocean that acts as a natural barrier across the eastern gateway to the Gulf of Mexico (Sealey 1994). The westernmost island of Bimini is located approximately 80 km (50 mi) off the southeast coast of Florida, and the southernmost island of Great Inagua is located 130 km (80 mi) off the northwestern coast of Hispaniola and 88 km (55 mi) off the eastern coast of Cuba. The population of The Bahamas as of the 2007 census estimate is 305,655, with the majority of people living on three islands, New Providence (Nassau) 210,832, Grand Bahama Island (Freeport) 46,994, and the Abaco Islands (Marsh Harbour) 13,170. This population is divided ethnically into 85 percent black, 12 percent white, and 3 percent other (Bahamas Department of Statistics 2008)

Although The Bahamas was recognized as the location of Columbus's landfall in the New World, cultural resources were often ignored by the local community and the government. Early archaeologists (preindependence in 1973) often would seek permission to excavate or remove artifacts from landowners, as in De Booy in 1912 and 1913, Hoffman in 1967, and Rainey in 1934; or conduct coastline surveys via boat or motorcycle, as in MacLaury in 1968, Sears in 1975, and Sullivan in 1974, with no oversight from the central government or permission to remove cultural artifacts. As a result of this, early collections are scattered through out the United States and Europe, including prominent institutions such as the Smithsonian and the British Museum. With few reports existing on the early fieldwork, this has made it difficult to track cultural property. The author has been engaged in an effort for the last five years to find all reports written on Bahamian archaeology and to locate foreign heritage holdings. Many of the early archaeologists became territorial over the discovery of sites and were hesitant to share research results, resulting in friction between the few researchers in The Bahamas.

From the 1950s the exclusive focus of these early archaeologists was the excavation and study of the Lucayan sites (precontact people of The Bahamas), gradually shifting to European colonial sites (Scudder-Temple 2009). This trait also was followed in historic preservation with an early focus on the European colonial heritage and the control of potential wealth and treasure. With independence, antiquities regulations and guidelines, and the gradual emergence of an Afro-Bahamian middle class (Scudder 2009), there was a shift to sites with African heritage.

The geographic nature and centralization of the majority of the population makes the control, management, and oversight of heritage resources in The Bahamas difficult. This chapter first describes heritage management in The Bahamas before antiquities regulations. Next there is an examination of the Antiquities, Monuments, and Museums Act (1998) and an evaluation of some of the successes for the protection of cultural resources since its inception. The chapter will end with a discussion of the weaknesses of heritage management in The Bahamas and suggestions for improvement.

Heritage Management before the Antiquities Act

The first legislative attempt for the protection of cultural resources was The Bahamas National Trust Act (1959). The main purpose of the National Trust was for "promoting the permanent preservation for the benefit and enjoyment of The Bahamas of lands and tenements (including buildings) and submarine areas of beauty or natural or historic interest" (National Trust Act 1959: Section 4, part 1). This was accomplished by in situ preservation. However, this act was inadequate for the protection of heritage resources. The National Trust was a nonprofit, nongovernment agency that had to raise money to complete its mandate. Thus the membership and the contributors to the National Trust were primarily the elite of Bahamian society—traditionally whites or foreign-born residents (referred to as ex-pats). The concept of "historic interest" as stated in the National Trust Act was not defined and therefore left for interpretation. These combined factors led to a focus on the preservation of buildings and sites with European colonial heritage and a disconnect with most Afro-Bahamians.

Additionally, the government sanctioned archaeological surveys and excavations through the National Trust. However, the oversight by the National Trust was purely administrative and uninformed as there were no archaeologists on staff or on the board of directors. It is important to note that the National Trust must be credited with having the first cultural resources management (CRM) survey conducted in The Bahamas. This was conducted on Inagua Island of a proposed U.S. Customs Aerostat Base (Keegan 1992). This survey showed government decision makers the importance of conducting a cultural resources survey before development. This first CRM project came about because the director of the Bahamas National Trust demanded the U.S. government follow the same rules that applied in the United States. At the time there were no laws that required such compliance in The Bahamas.

The next legislative effort for protection and preservation of heritage resources was developed out of a desire to protect and control wealth and treasure. The Abandoned Wreck Act (1965) stated that any shipwreck that has remained continuously on the Bahamian seabed for 50 years or longer "is hereby vested in Her Majesty in right of Her Government of The Bahamas" and all "claims of all persons to abandoned wreck are hereby barred" (Abandoned Wreck Act 1965: Section 3). The goal of this legislation was not for the protection of the maritime heritage of The Bahamas but to allow the government to control the potential financial benefits of treasure and salvage.

The Public Records Act (1971) was established with the main purposes of the collection, protection, and preservation of Bahamian governmental records and archives and the development of the Bahamas National Archives. This showed an interest by the government in the protection and preservation of Bahamian history. Also, the Archives began hosting exhibits on Bahamian history and culture in 1973. This led to the Department of Archives being designated by the government in the early 1980s as the organization in charge of The Bahamas' material heritage, historic buildings, sites, and archaeology. However, this designation was not accompanied by legislative legal support and there was little financial support.

Despite this shortfall, the Archives established a museum, archaeology, and historic preservation section to stimulate development in conserving The Bahamas' material culture, and hired the first government archaeologist, Anthony "Tony" Aarons (1988–1993), a Jamaican national. This section's major goals were to spearhead and control archaeology, to document and preserve historic buildings, to curate and preserve artifacts, and to establish museums. Considering the legislative and budgetary limitations, significant archaeological excavations were sponsored by the Department of Archives, including the Clifton Plantation (Wilkie and Farnsworth 2005) and the Promised Land Plantation (Farnsworth 2000), New Providence; Cartwright Cave at Mortimer's, Long Island (Aarons 1989); Sanctuary Blue Hole (Lucayan mass burial) and Stargate Blue Hole (submerged Lucayan canoe), South Andros (Pateman 2007); Preacher's Cave (first English settlement), North Eleuthera (Carr et al. 1991); and the Long Bay Site (proposed Columbus landfall site), San Salvador (Hoffman 1987).

The Archives also led the charge for the development of a National Art Gallery. One of the early goals was to restore Villa Doyle, a historic residence (1860s) in Nassau, purchased by the government of The Bahamas in 1995, and to ultimately convert it into the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas. The National Art Gallery was officially opened on July 7, 2003, with three Bahamian-themed exhibits (Bahamas Government 2008). The mission of the National Art Gallery is to collect, exhibit, preserve, and document a National Collection of Art for the benefit and education of Bahamians and the wider international audiences (Bahamas Government 2008).

The Antiquities, Monuments, and Museums Act (1998)

In 1998 the government of The Bahamas passed legislation that called for "the preservation, conservation, restoration, documentation, study and presentation of sites and objects of historical, anthropological, archaeological and paleontological interest, to establish a National Museum, and for matters ancillary thereto or connected therewith" (Bahamas Government 1998). The Antiquities, Monuments and Museums Act established a corporate, quasi-government agency (the Antiquities, Monuments, and Museums Corporation, or AMMC) in which Bahamians were intended to have a directed influence over the management and preservation of The Bahamas' cultural heritage, which previously was not afforded to them. One of the major benefits of the Antiquities Act was that it placed all cultural heritage programs under one office that had been previously spread among several agencies, including the National Trust and the Archives.


Prior to the Antiquities Act, during the 1980s to 1990s archaeologists seeking to conduct fieldwork in The Bahamas would gain permits from the Archives. However, this was limited mainly to research archaeologists and field schools. As the protection of heritage resources was not mandated by law, The Bahamas lost many valuable historic sites to foreign investment and development. Occasionally, prior to the destruction of a site, the Department of Archives would conduct salvage archaeology operations, but this work was limited and was mainly conducted on New Providence.

Part IV of the Antiquities Act states that prior to the excavation and/or removal of antiquities, a license must be granted. The act also levied fines against the destruction of antiquities without prior approval. This led the AMMC in 2003 and 2004 to develop a permit system with the aid of Kelley Scudder, James Miller, and the author to manage the activities of archaeologists through out The Bahamas (see Scudder 2004). This resulted in the development of three forms of permits and associated fees for individual researchers ($250), field schools ($500), and development projects ($1,000). The permits mandated development projects to incorporate members of the local community for which the project was being undertaken. It was hoped that including community members would increase Bahamian interest in the protection and preservation of the cultural heritage of their communities. This forced development projects to go into the local communities (through CRM initiatives) and undertake oral histories (examples are Herbster and Cox 2008: Mayaguana; and Scudder 2009: Rum Cay). An additional goal of the permit system was to track whether researchers had submitted reports for work conducted. The permit system placed time limitations on the development of reports and required that a final report be submitted and accepted by the AMMC prior to the issuance of a new permit.

Site File

The development of a Bahamas national inventory of heritage sites has traditionally been a goal of the various agencies that have been associated with the protection of cultural resources. However, the results have been mixed, both positive and negative. The National Trust developed the National Register, which listed structures older than 50 years. As discussed earlier, the majority of this listing focused on the colonial heritage and the built architectural environment. In the 1980s several researchers (for example, see Keegan 1985 and Winter 1981) conducted multiple surveys of The Bahamas with a goal of locating, identifying, and numbering pre-Columbian sites. They designated sites with an island code and a serial number separated by a hyphen. This format was limited to pre-Columbian sites, with historic researchers proposing a separate system, a two-letter island code followed by a two-letter identification code, to keep pre-Columbian sites separate from historic sites. However, with limited central oversight, researchers often visited similar islands, assigning separate site numbers to the same sites, or following a separate numbering system. This resulted in duplicate numbers, numbering systems with no compatibility, and confusion. The Archives in the late 1980s compiled all of these records in handwritten forms in an attempt to control and prevent future problems. Yet researchers continued to assign site numbers on their own.

Over the past ten years the AMMC has sought to gain control of this with the aid of James Miller (Miller 2008). The first step was to organize the historic listing into one site file combining archaeology, both pre-and post-Columbian, and historic structures, starting with the previous work completed by the Archives and the National Trust. This step was important because it would allow access to historic site data stored in one location. All site numbers were standardized, starting with a two-letter island code followed by a three-digit number with leading zeroes as appropriate. These data are stored in two formats. The first is a paper file system and the second a computerized database. The new numbering system allowed proper sorting of the new computerized data and prevented past problems with duplicate or nonstandard numbering. If two numbers had been assigned by different researchers, the number published first was given priority followed by the designation date. All prior site numbering information was included in the paper folder to explain past and present numbering. Presently, all site numbers are now assigned by the AMMC to prevent confusion.

Better Site Protection and Historic Restoration

The preservation and protection of the cultural heritage in The Bahamas has benefited from the Antiquities Act. This chapter has outlined two of the methods employed by the agency responsible for the protection of the Bahamas' cultural heritage. But there are many other benefits, a few of which are outlined below.

Perhaps the most important benefit is an increased understanding by the government and the local public of the importance of the protection for heritage resources through out the islands. This has resulted in sites being better protected from foreign and local development. A major example, the Clifton Heritage Park is discussed in the next section. Additionally, the government has invested, through the AMMC, in the restoration and preservation of key historic resources through out the islands. These resources include the Pompey Museum, or historic Vendu house, a former marketplace where commodities, including slaves, were bought and sold; the historic forts; and the Centerville House Complex, a former mansion and ancillary buildings of a rumrunner, which are being developed as the central museum in the national museum system, all on New Providence. Additionally, on the Family Islands small museums have been established in many local communities in historic buildings, including Cherokee Sound, Abaco; The Mission House, Rock Sound, Eleuthera; and the San Salvador Museum.

Clifton Heritage Park

The government has shown a commitment to preserve and promote the history and heritage of The Bahamas through the development of the antiquities legislation. This commitment was tested during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Foreign developers proposed a residential development for a portion of western New Providence known as Clifton. The Clifton area is rich in Bahamian heritage and environmental features. Clifton is the location of many heritage sites, including Lucayan sites, preloyalist settlements, several plantations—the most famous of which is the Whylly plantation—and postemancipation settlements, along with many environmental features, including beaches, wetlands, and coppice forests. The Whylly plantation is the last publicly accessible plantation on New Providence and represents a nearly complete plantation landscape complex, including the great house area, slave quarters, stone walls, and work areas.


Excerpted from PROTECTING HERITAGE IN THE CARIBBEAN Copyright © 2011 by The University of Alabama Press. Excerpted by permission of THE UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Peter E. Siegel is an associate professor of anthropology at Montclair State University, Montclair, New Jersey, and editor of Ancient Borinquen: Archaeology and Ethnohistory of Native Puerto Rico.   Elizabeth Righter is a former territorial archaeologist for the U.S. Virgin Islands State Historic Preservation Office, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, and editor of The Tutu Archaeological Village Site: A Multidisciplinary Case Study in Human Adaptation.

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