The folk organisation, the Barbados Landship Association, considered a national treasure, could be among a number of cultural heritage icons to see its fortunes improved, according to Minister of Culture John King, in a call for the revival of intangible heritage arts.
The Landship, the 155-year-old benevolent society that is steeped in a unique blend of two curious traditions – African folk dance and martial arts with Barbadian love of naval and seafaring style – has seen community participation reach a “critically low level” with younger Barbadians unaware of its significance, the minister noted.
But King revealed that his ministry, working with the National Cultural Foundation, the Ministry of Youth and Community Empowerment and other non-governmental organisations to develop national programmes to bring about awareness of folk heritage.
He said a transfer of knowledge will create opportunities for writers, costume designers, painters, singers, set designers and those grounded in the cultural arts “ to create cultural products grounded in the folk vernacular”.
King was speaking as Landship’s last active “dock” in My Lord’s Hill, St Michael, became the site for the launch of a heritage preservation initiative, the “Sites of Memory” project. Over the next three years, 17 plaques will be unveiled at Landship docks across the island, with the first unveiling taking place on the eve of the island’s 52ndanniversary of independence.
The minister for the creative industries and culture said that Sites of Memory project sought to remind the public of the organisation’s rich legacy in danger of being lost to future generations.
“Preliminary research findings, particularly among millennials, indicate that the Landship is on the verge of being erased from our collective cultural memories,” said King. “Most people today know about its performance value as we see it mainly during the Crop Over Festival, at this time of year – for National Independence celebrations, or when there is a cultural showcase requiring a folk spectacle.
“However, their function as “friendly societies”, complete with ‘meeting turns’, community counselling and as an outpost of village welfare have nearly disappeared.”
Chief Cultural Officer Andrea Wells told launch guests – including the Landship’s Lord High Admiral Vernon Watson – that cultural practitioners had an obligation see ensure that intangible heritage forms were recognized and respected national.
“We are seeing first-hand the demolition and the destruction of our intangible heritage forms, Landship stick-licking, our choirs…. And we note the impact that the loss of this folk knowledge and traditions is having on us socially, culturally and creatively,” said Wells.
“We as cultural custodians are also required as part of our national duty to recognize and pay homage to those elements of our culture that are often overlooked and marginalized,” she added.