Barbadian rum-maker RL Seale and Co is turning to history in a partnership with UWI scholars to research the storied enterprise of the liquor universally acknowledged as being invented here more than 300 years ago.
The Foursquare, St Philip-based distillery on Wednesday signed an agreement to work with UWI Cave Hill’s historians to help position Barbados as the globally recognised unique contributor to the world’s sugar industry both economically and socially, the two organisations agreed in a memorandum of understanding.
RL Seale and UWI are also hoping to use the research to bolster the drive to apply for a geographical indication for rum, the unique names assigned to places used to recognise a spirit drink as originating in a territory, country or region.
Geographical indications usually tend to raise the value of the spirit produced in the place of origin. A 2020 European Union study found that that the sales value of a product with a protected name is on average double that for similar products without certification.
Rum featured in a trade tussle for its place as a Barbadian drink. Famed UWI linguist Richard Allsopp, the author of the Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage, was once called in to settle the argument in the early 1990s with linguistic research pointing to rum’s origin here. The EU is the region with the world’s highest alcohol consumption.
Under the agreement, the 95-year-old firm will fund a postgraduate research project through three scholarships to be awarded to doctoral students researching the history of rum in previous centuries and rum branding.
Funding will also be provided for postdoctoral fellowships to research the history of Barbadian rum history over the next six years, with RL Seale committing $320,000 towards the scholarships as well as additional funding towards the island’s UNESCO World Heritage Nomination project.
At a brief signing ceremony at UWI Cave Hill, outgoing principal Professor the Most Honourable Eudine Barriteau said research into rum will be conducted by the Department of History and Philosophy which has a proven track record in intricate research topics of cultural significance.
She declared: “The purpose of today’s agreement is two-fold; it aims to generate research into the scientific, technical, economic and business histories of rum in Barbados, and also to support the country’s UNESCO World Heritage Nomination project, on the ‘The Industrial Heritage of Barbados: The Story of Sugar and Rum’. This is a serial nomination that Barbados will present for consideration by the World Heritage Committee, within the next five years.
“The project is being undertaken by the very vibrant Department of History and Philosophy, and that work they are doing is part of the commitment to developing the research on Barbados’ history and heritage, at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels.”
Professor Barriteau also stressed that though Barbados is generally proud of its rum heritage, it still remains an under-researched part of the island’s history, even though it has been quintessential to the nation’s economy today.
“Our brief snapshot of sugar and rum in Barbados doesn’t even come close to revealing the full stories of the two industries on which this economy was built,” she said. “I have no doubt, that the research undertaken in this project and associated projects will lend considerable depth to the history and development of the various sugar and rum producing estates and its justification for world heritage inscription.”
Richard Seale, executive chairman of the last of the big three rum distilleries to be wholly Barbadian-owned revealed that this new project had been in the planning stages for some time. Apart from being interested in the historic value of rum to the island, Seale said he was also adamant that any such research being done in the industry needed to be independent in nature, even with corporate support.
“The other thing I would mention as well is one of the [other] reasons we are working through the university, [is] that we felt the correct way to carry out this project was to do it independently with the university so that research will be completely independent, not tailored by any specific corporate interest,” he declared. (SB)