I wanted to dedicate Fridays to Jamaica. That is after all where I was born and raised and despite attempts for me to assimilate; embarrassing, international news making problems on the island; and 30 years after migrating, I am still very much and proudly JAMAICAN.
I have also spent most of my adult life volunteering in my community in an effort to promote and preserve my heritage so it felt strange to go on this blogging journey without having Jamaica or anything about the culture that I have worked so hard to maintain not be a significant part of my blog’s content. So three years later after launching this blog, Jamaica is finally front and center (well, at least on Fridays).
Anyways, I am eager to start planning my next trip. With all of this year’s ambitious plans, it’s probably not going to happen, but I didn’t think it would hurt to at least narrow my list. So yesterday, I ventured out to the UNESCO World Heritage site to check out what Country X and Country Y had to offer. On a whim, I scrolled down to Jamaica. I thought I made a mistake when Japan showed up under Italy. I scrolled back up and then down again and read slowly…Israel, Italy, Japan, Jerusalem, Jordan… Hmmm?
I went to my favorite search engine and typed “Jamaica UNESCO World Heritage Sites” and that’s when I realized that my island Jamaica, whose cultural influences and presence are visible in music, cooking, sports and more around the world has no designated UNESCO World Heritage properties. Not one! I was stunned.
The UNESCO World Heritage list includes 981 properties forming part of the cultural and natural heritage which the World Heritage Committee considers as having outstanding universal value. In order for a site to be considered it must meet criteria’s outlined in this list. (See World Heritage Criteria)
Based on this criteria, the following sites come to mind: Port Royal, Green Grotto Cave, the Aqueduct ruins in Montego Bay, Accompong, Fern Gully, Bamboo Avenue, the Great houses, the sugar plantations and yuh mean fi tell mi seh none a dem nuh qualify?
And it matters! While there is certainly prestige and funding that comes with a site being designated a UNESCO property there is also economics. It’s an old piece, but I think this paragraph from a 2009 editorial that was published in the Jamaica Gleaner sums it up best. “It is critical for Jamaica to establish a presence on the World Heritage list as a strategic move to attract cultural tourists who are seeking more authentic visitor experiences, and who, the research shows, stay longer and spend more at destinations.”
In 1988, Port Royal, Seville and Spanish Town were nominated but UNESCO determined that Seville and Port Royal were only significant for the island and Spanish Town was deferred. Do I need to get into how significant Port Royal was to the “New World” before it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1692? Despite this set back new sites (sort of) were submitted and today Blue and Johncrow Mountains, Seville Heritage Park and the underwater city of Port Royal are on a tentative list for inscription.
Apparently, we don’t have a big inventory of historic sites to submit for consideration, either. Perhaps, because it is steeped in colonialism and slavery, a lot of the great houses etc were never maintained and are now gone. These three sites are our only hope and there is no guarantee that we will finally land a spot on the list.
Our other hope…Last November, thanks to the efforts of Lisa Hanna and our folks at our Brussels, Belgium based embassy, Jamaica landed one of the 21 coveted seats for the World Heritage Committee. They hold the seat until 2017. I pray that the appointed individuals will be able to carry out the duties that they have been charged with and that they will find a diplomatic way to push Jamaica’s agenda.