The Dutch heritage organisation Heemschut has asked the Island Government to look into ways to better protect heritage and to integrate heritage more in other policy fields. They suggest that Bonaire en Sint-Eustatius could be an example for Saba for how better protecting the island’s heritage. This is key for the future welfare on any Caribbean island for which tourism is an important economic factor.
Saba only measures thirteen square kilometers in size but is packed with history and heritage. The island has rugged terrains and a mild climate. The cultural heritage in the form of wooden cottages and private burial sites are well situated in this dramatic landscape. One will find the monumental cottages and burial sites in places with intruiging names like Hell’s Gate, Windwardside, S. John’s and The Bottom. The Bottom is the capital of the island. Here you can find the main government buildings and the residence of the lieutenant governor. The Bottom has around 40 historic buildings and Windwardside 70. The facades of the original houses are covered with white painted wooden shingles or wooden panels. The red painted shingles on the roofs are iconic in the landscape. The hatches are white and green while fascia boards and the veranda’s are finished with gingerbread moldings.
At first it would seem that Saba is an Unspoiled Queen. However, the island lacks clear protective measures. If you return to the island more often and look closer you will see the decay. It looks like the island is unspoiled but the heritage is under threat. Only a small part of the island is a natural reserve. The seas around the island are well protected.
Saba has no policy, no monuments council, no monument registry system and therefore no ways to protect the heritage from being demolished. Until some form of protection through the designation of monuments is arranged, people can tear down their wooden cottages and build multi-storey buildings with concrete or stone. There are laws that forbid buildings with more than two storeys but they are not applied. Cottages are under threat by construction of new buildings. Some are already renovated.
The Dutch heritage organisation Heemschut woud like to see that the build environment and private burial sites are better protected. In spite of several calls to actions and some initiatives to start designating monuments on the island, it has not yet resulted to any form of protection. We urge the government to do so, because the historic buildings are fast disappearing. Bonaire and Statia show how it can be done. Bonaire has even started a Fund for monuments.
Protection is not enough. A full-fledged heritage policy means an integral approach to heritage with implementation in other policy fields. Local Saban student Sharuska Oleana has written a thesis about the strong relationshop between tourism and heritage on Saba in 2016. She concludes that more effort should be put in protecting the build environment as it is good for tourism and an important economic asset in a fast changing Caribbean.
Survey Historic privat burial sites by Rene Caderius van Veen.
English translation article Dr. Frans Brugman, Saba, still Unspoiled Queen?
Press release Heemschut