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An Aspirational Vision for Grenada’s Heritage

Heritage Comic 1

The rear courtyard of the National Museum is a hive of activity. In the rooms on the ground floor, small workshops turn out everything from pottery to covings, light fixtures to souvenirs. Each workshop employs a couple of people, creating castings, throwing clay, and carving stone and wood. Here on the table are a tray of ceramic lamp fittings, decorated with characteristic Saladoid curves and whorls copied from a reference library of archaeological reports. Once they have been fired, they will go to a hotel on Morne Rouge— a custom-designed order for refurbished rooms.

In the workshop next door, two young artists put the finishing touches on a large mosaic panel. A government minister points out to a small group of foreign investors how the mosaic takes its inspiration from ancient Amerindian and contemporary African culture. One of the artists is a local teacher, and the plaque is destined to hang in his school in the north of the island.

Upstairs, above the courtyard, the rooms are full of school students making things out of clay and wire, papier-mache and cloth. This week they have begun work on costumes for Carnival—one group is making new Shortknee tunics and masks; it is their turn to join in the Mas as new dancers. Another group is creating posters on large pieces of paper that describe the Shortknee Mas—these will be sent to the school in Mt. Royal on Carriacou, whose students will send back a description of their own Shakespeare Mas.

Heritage Comic 2

Their teacher is talking with a visiting anthropologist, who cannot make notes fast enough. The anthropologist’s students are enthusiastically helping to make new Shortknee “crowns”—a detail that has not been seen on the costumes since the 1960s and is being revived (Taylor 2009).

Back at the hotel on Grand Anse, a group of visitors from Guyana are clustered around a table set up in the lobby. Two potters demonstrate their skills, throwing and decorating replica ceramics—companions to those on sale in the hotel gift shop. A young archaeology student from Grenada talks confidently and knowledgeably about the ancient ceramics and how his group gives tours around the heritage of Mt. Rich—and, yes indeed, madam, we have a tour tomorrow. Would you like to sign up? (MYCEDO 2019).


Heritage Comic 3

And at the far end of the beach, just such a community excavation is taking place. Amid the music drifting from the bars, and under the curious gaze of visitors and locals alike, a huddle of local school children and diaspora kids from Peckham on a summer exchange program (Government of Grenada 2010), working alongside visiting archaeologists, are excavating the ghostly remains of a wooden boat in the sand by a new hotel development. 

“Was it abandoned here by pirates, slavers, or privateers?” the crowd asks. 

“None of these,” says the young woman leading the community archaeology team—it’s the remains of a fishing boat from the 1700s, perhaps damaged in a storm (Martin 2013:281). “My family used to be fishing folk in this part of the island,” she says, “this is part of my heritage, and now it’s part of my MA research.”

Next to the excavation trench, an old man with a grizzled gray beard and long dreadlocks paints a picture on a small board perched on a rickety easel. With quiet precision he paints the boat not ruined and buried in twenty-first- century sand, but being hauled up the beach, battered but still afloat, its crew saved from the eighteenth-century storm. His style is uncomplicated and “naive” (Mason 2005), but there is a real sense of place and time in the picture. 

“I’ll pay you twenty dollars for it,” a visitor says. 

“Thirty!” Another bids. 

The old man laughs. “This is for the museum,” he says. “You’ll have to paint your own!”

Such thought experiments are, in their own way, a kind of creative game; they are, of necessity, aspirational and idealized—perhaps even fanciful. But they are based in observations of things happening already on the island, as well as elsewhere, such as recorded by Brulotte (2012) and others (e.g., Hofman and Haviser 2015). 


Heritage Comic 4

Critically, however, this thought process allows us to see the future as unfixed and undetermined and to ask the crucial question: what if? What if we tried creative heritage projects on Grenada that were both ambitious in scale and interconnected across public, private, individual, and collective divides? What if we actively brought together heritage, art, sculpture, and archaeology—with entrepreneurship, training, and tourism? What if we broadened our remit and went beyond museums and schools, onto the beach, or into the hotels? What if we thought about archaeology, material culture, education, jobs, and government on Grenada in an entirely different way? What if my colleagues on the island were to read this chapter and themselves think: what if?

As the references indicate, while the individual elements in this narrative are all based on real elements situated within the broader archaeological and heritage setting of Grenada, this thought experiment allows us to “relax our conceptual hold” (Rowland 1976:48), and take the artifacts and data of archaeological research, and—using imagination and playfulness, performance, and enchantment—re-examine, re-present, and re-consider them within a narrative of professional practice (Perry 2018:218). Such a reconsideration suggests connections between elements—between visiting anthropological students and school craft projects, between carnival and revival of cultural practice, between artists and community heritage groups, between touristic development and marine archaeology. Currently, these individual elements are conceptualized as separate and discrete—but: what if? 

-- Guest Post by John Swogger


This was an excerpt from “Genuine Reproductions: Ethics, Practicalities, and Problems in Creating a Replica of a Zemi from Carriacou, Grenada, West Indies,” by John G. Swogger, published in the forthcoming book Real, Recent, or Replica: Precolumbian Caribbean Heritage as Art, Commodity, and Inspiration (Joanna Ostapkowicz and Jonathan A. Hanna, eds.), in print this month through the University of Alabama Press. 

The "RRR" volume focuses on the antiquities market in the Caribbean, highlighting case-studies on everything from looted artifacts to modern “neo-Amerindian” recreations across the region. Two chapters look at Grenada, so being that April is Heritage Month in Grenada, we thought it would be appropriate to reprint this excerpt (with permission from the author and UAP). We hope you found it as inspiring as we did!

The images included were from a series of comics Swogger produced for us during the 2018 Heritage Month. The entire series can be found on the Grenada Heritage Comics Facebook Page. 


References

Brulotte, Ronda L.
2012 Between Art and Artifact: Archaeological Replicas and Cultural Production in Oaxaca, Mexico. University of Texas Press, Austin.

Hofman, Corinne L., and Jay B. Haviser (editors)
2015 Managing Our Past into the Future: Archaeological Heritage Management in the Dutch Caribbean. Taboui 3, Sidestone Press, Leiden.

Government of Grenada, Official Website
2010 PM Thomas Makes Direct Appeals to Overseas Nationals to Invest at Home. www.gov.gd, accessed February 26, 2010.

Martin, John Angus
2013 Island Caribs and French Settlers in Grenada. Grenada National Museum Press, St. George’s.

Mason, Peter
2005 “Canute Calliste” (obituary). The Guardian (newspaper). November 25 2005, www.theguardian.com, accessed February 26, 2019.

MYCEDO
Mt. Rich Carib Stone Interpretation Center, http://www.mycedo.org, accessed February 26, 2019.

Perry, Sara
2018 Why Are Heritage Interpreters Voiceless at the Trowel’s Edge? A Plea for Rewriting the Archaeological Workflow. Advances in Archaeological Practice 6(3):212–227.

Rowland, Kurt F.
1976 Visual Education and Beyond. Ginn, London.

Taylor, Caldwell
2009 The Story of the Shortknee Part 1/2. https://spicemasgrenada.com/2010/06/08/the-story-of-the-shortknee-part-1-2/, accessed June 8, 2020


John G. Swogger is an archaeologist and illustrator based in Wales, UK. His blog can be found at https://johngswogger.wordpress.com/



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