Creating an inventory of all small private graveyards may not be a very common retirement activity, yet this is exactly what Saba resident René Caderius van Veen has done in order to preserve a unique legacy. The initiator of the registry is a resident who worked as a volunteer most of his life in the preservation of European, particularly Dutch, cultural heritage. Before moving to Saba last year Caderius van Veen was involved with the “Heemschut” association and sought to expand the expertise and involvement of the 100 year-old Dutch national organisation on the Dutch Caribbean public entities.
He started by taking photos of the old gravesites out of a cultural-historical interest. His work was quickly noted by the local “Of Saban Descent” group of people interested in preserving local heritage. The latter expressed interest in mapping and tracing the graves of ancestors. Volunteering his time Caderius van Veen systematically mapped, photographed and catalogued the many gravesites. To the extent possible he gathered names and data of the people buried.
The concept to create a website with this information is that it would serve those Saban descendants who visit from abroad in search of their roots. The information makes it easy for these to find their ancestors’ graves.
Caderius van Veen explains that he considers the phenomenon of small private graveyards around households to be a special occurrence at the confluence of family choices and the topography of the island. He believes these sites are worthy of protection as monuments showcasing cultural history. He believes these sites are worth being maintained not only out of respect for ancestors but also for their added cultural value. While not a tourist attraction, the sites are part of the genuine old-world feel of the place, inspiring the simple multigenerational family life of bygone times.
The project is already stirring some interest in preservation with several inhabitants restoring the private gravesites around their cottages. The new “SABARC” organisation initiated by St. Maarten archaeologist Dr. Jay Haviser is also looking into involving pupils at the Saba Comprehensive School in the search to trace the names of all those graves on which the names are still anonymous. School teacher Ryan Esperson hopes to lead such a youth program raising the prospects for the future preservation of Saba’s cultural history.
The registry is available online for public access www.sabaweb.nl/graveyards/
Source: “The Daily Herald ” 2012-03-01
Before and after renovation pictures of a private graveyard in
Upper Hell’s Gate (Photo courtesy of René Caderius van Veen)
Some additional info:
Dr. Jay Haviser, was also very interested in this inventory from a cultural historical point of view. Haviser would like to have some more evidence about the shapes of the grave-stones in different periods. And he appeared to be right, for differences are evident between stones from say 1850 or 1900. Which was logic of course, for they always had been made by one and the same man in such a period. The oldest graves show a kind of fundament with natural stones, then different styles in concrete appear an after that graves with white tiles. The differences can be seen on the website now.
Another unique discovery was how during many centuries Sabans succeeded in burying their deceased in this big rock Saba. Not only because of the difficulties of digging in a rock but also because of the technique that is used. The graves are under the ground surrounded by sort of walls of natural stones that make that air can come inside which has special effects for better conservation of the bodies, of clothes, bibles and other attributes in the graves. This technique has so far only been discovered according Dr Jay Haviser in Scotland.