The proposed Hyatt project is once again in the air. I have to admit that I’d taken great heart from the action by David Comissiong which resulted in significant delay to the endeavour. I do not think we need more hotel infrastructure in Barbados. There are enough derelict properties that investors can rehabilitate to bring new brands to the island without further defacing the coastal line of the island. I am also not completely sold on the proposed location for the Hyatt.
Further, the prototype of who a tourist is and what they are looking for in a destination has changed significantly over the last decade. Many tourists are in search of an authentic experience. They do not want to be housed in air conditioned ivory towers where familiar foods are served. The new tourist is catching the bus and wants ‘cook shop’ food.
Tourists from our major source markets are living environmentally conscious lives. When they travel to a destination, they want one where they feel like the country is doing the best in terms of its own preservation. Tourists now grade countries hard on their conservation efforts. They take note when it seems as though investors have a free-for-all and can do as they like without checks or balance.
There is another consternation I have about the Hyatt project. It has to do with my overall discomfort with how Historic Bridgetown is being managed. I can see history poised to repeat itself in relation to the Hyatt development. Just as Church Village perished to the superimposed Central Bank of Barbados, I can see Nelson Street ceasing to exist if the Hyatt project is allowed at the present location.
Come to think of it, there was an even more significant displacement in the History of Bridgetown and it seems like there is a deliberate attempt to keep those who do not know from ever knowing. I refer to the movement of Temple Yard and the plight of the Rastafarian community who now live and ply their trade from Cheapside. It seems as though since Bridgetown got its UNESCO designation in 2011, there has been a systematic whitening of the heritage.
In most of the information packages presented using radio or television media that I have seen associated with the project, I have never noticed information on Temple Yard and its history, Nelson Street and the black business and commerce that have characterized Bridgetown for years or lost settlements such as Church Village, for that matter.
The total removal of information on Temple Yard is of particular concern to me because of the significance of the space to the general Rastafarian movement in Barbados. Rastafarianism is an indigenous Afro-Caribbean belief system which fermented in Jamaica around the 1930s and 1940s. As in the case of Barbados, Jamaica has settlements of Rastafarians living in the rural areas but the movement of the faith into the city centres of the two islands provided oxygen for the wider growth of the movement.
It was Roy Best, the brother of noted Barbadian musician, El Verno Del Congo, who started the progenitor to Temple Yard around late 1977. Roy Best, known by his Rastafarian moniker Jah Spade, returned from travelling across England and Europe and set up a stall space to vend in Shepherd’s Alley (the alley between Cave Shepherd and Norman Centre). Jah Spade would have been fulfilling the tenant of Rastafarianism that Rastas should establish their own businesses as opposed to working to build the businesses of others.
Events on the world stage and within the widening Rastafarian movement in the Caribbean facilitated the rapid growth of what was renamed Rockers Alley. Generally, the sentiment of anti-imperialism and nationalism was high as a result of successive grants of independence across former colonies. Regionally, Haile Selassie, then Emperor of Ethiopia, had made a series of visits to various Caribbean islands, including Barbados in 1966, just before the island became independent.
His Imperial Majesty died in 1975, deifying himself eternally. There had also been a boost and attention to both broader Jamaican culture and Rastafarian livity as a result of the successful CARIFESTA held in Jamaica in 1976. Rastafarians were moving and trading among themselves in the Caribbean using sea vessels. This helped with the dissemination of literature and philosophy among them.
All these factors created a robust start to Rockers Alley and it was not before long that the space started to attract Government chagrin. There were complaints of weed smoke due to Rastafarians engaging in their sacrament in their work spaces. There were also issues of hygiene and order raised. Just four years into its existence, police swooped down on Rockers Alley to remove the Rastafarian artisans on Wednesday, December 9, 1981. The result was a huge crowd of onlookers lining Broad Street to observe what was happening.
The Rastafarian artisans mounted placards against police brutality as their means of livelihood were destroyed. Tensions ran high as onlookers lamented the heavy handed approach of the police. By the next week, the then Minister of Housing Delisle Bradshaw had identified space at Cumberland Street to relocate the Rastafarian artisans. It was this new location which became known as Temple Yard. It survived for 20 years before a fire destroyed many of the holdings and it was relocated to the present location at Cheapside.
Do any of the tours of Historic Bridgetown currently done pass through Temple Yard? Have the craftsmen of Temple Yard been invited to partnerships which see them being able to offer their natural juices and craft to tourists? I see no sense in having time and energy spent in safeguarding a designation if the average citizen sees no benefit.
In my view, the Hyatt project is another step in the wrong direction in relation to people empowerment in Bridgetown. We have a history of premiering money and resources over the right to be in a space because of years of practice. Every time Temple Yard was reconstituted, it was moved “further to the back of Town”. That was not by accident.
The lack of mention of Rockers Alley and Temple Yard when we discuss the Heritage of Bridgetown is also no accident. However, there are historical realities and no accurate history can ever be written of Bridgetown or its development if these oversights continue to prevail.
(Marsha Hinds-Layne is a full-time mummy and part-time lecturer in communications at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill. Email: [email protected])