Jamaica joins the rest of the world in marking Monday, April 18 as the International Day for Monuments and Sites.
The day has been celebrated since 1982 when it was first adopted by UNESCO. The theme for this year is the ‘Cultural Heritage of Water’.
Here in Jamaica, our bodies of water have played an integral role in development. This can be seen from the growth of early Taino villages along the banks of rivers and the sea coast, to the development of Port Royal as a major transshipment point in the 17th century and now the emergence of the newly erected Falmouth pier as a cruise shipping pier. Many of our ancestors came here by ships and landed at a various ports across the island that were built to facilitate transportation.
In observing this year’s theme, the International Council On Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) has noted that water “has also been the catalyst for the development of significant cultural practices which have generated intangible cultural heritage values. It has inspired poetry, literature, artistic endeavour such as painting, dance and sculpture. It has informed and inspired the development of philosophies and religious practices.”
The observation of International Day for Monuments and Sites was first proposed by ICOMOS, which is an international non-governmental organization of professionals, dedicated to the conservation of the world's historic monuments and sites. ICOMOS explains that “each year a theme is selected to help focus the celebration and promotion of cultural heritage across the world. The aim is to explore cultural heritage beyond the select group of sites on the World Heritage List and to encourage local communities and individuals to consider the importance of cultural heritage to their lives, identities and communities.”
Jamaica, the land of wood and water has been blessed with a number of resources and the Jamaica National Heritage Trust JNHT) has been working to protect them for future generations. The organization is in the process of designating the beautiful Blue Lagoon in Portland, a Protected National Heritage site. This, in a bid to regulate activities in the natural heritage site that are causing its deterioration.
The Underwater city of Port Royal site is now being submitted for nomination on the World Heritage List and this process has already begun with the JNHT as the lead agency. When the 1692 earthquake struck, 13 acres of the bustling city were submerged. Archaeological excavations have yielded an immense amount of materials that inform us as to what life was like in the 17th century. There are several opportunities which arise from Port Royal being a part of this world heritage list. They include: Prestige and World recognition; Increased tourism to the site; Increased business opportunities for local community; Opportunities to receive technical assistance from the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization – World Heritage Center (UNESCO – WHC); and to attract international funding for the development of the site which the country needs.
The JNHT in support of the UNESCO declaration is inviting all Jamaicans to reflect on the importance of this day and the importance of preserving our heritage resources.