Haiti is well known as the First Black Republic in the World and the second country that has been independent in the American continent. Back to the time before its independence, a lot of things happened. It was the place where the indigenous people, named Taino, lived, there were pirate conflicts, conflicts between Spanish and French ships and so on. The conflicts often took place in the many bays of the Pearl of the Islands (the ancient name of Haiti) and also near Il-a-vache and Ile de la Tortue.
This longtime maritime history must have left traces in the waters surrounding Haiti. However, our country hasn’t yet made an inventory and explored its Underwater Cultural Heritage, even though it is such an important part of its identity! Fortunately in November 2009 Haiti signed up the 2001 UNESCO convention for the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage.
This year for the second UNESCO Foundation Course in the Caribbean, Haiti sent two participants: Syndy Alte, undergraduate student in Art history and archaeology and Camille Louis, a master in Cultural Resources: Archaeology/conservation. We believe that this Underwater Course is a great opportunity for Haiti. Through this capacity building programme the both of us can set up a management plan for underwater cultural heritage and hopefully also a unit that will be in charge to take care of and promote the underwater cultural heritage.
During this month of intensive training, we learned a lot. Our schedule was very interesting and quite busy. It took two weeks of intensive theoretical training, learning about the UNESCO convention, project design, different survey methods, fieldwork practice, we have learned about the component of ships, identify ceramics, site significance, and how to write a site management plan.
In week three we did our fieldwork. Through diving on the historical structures in Oranje Bay we put the significance assessment, recording underwater and the writing of the Management Plan into practice. An additional assignment was to come up with a storyboard about the site, aimed at the visitors of the local historical museum in Oranjestad, where the boards will be installed.
The group of students consists of people from different countries. It was a great experience for each of us to work with people from such a diversity of cultures.
There are many things to do in Haiti in terms of underwater culture heritage. It would be a great benefit for our country if more research will be done, if there will be more opportunity for jobs and of course a sustainable plan for the management of the underwater cultural heritage will be developed. The good news is: all our friends of the course are willing to come in Haiti in order to work hand in hand with us to help us fulfill this dream. And they are more than welcome!
Syndy Alte, undergraduate student in Art history and archaeology
Camille Louis, master in Cultural Resources: Archaeology/conservation