I have always been interested in other cultures. From a very young age my parents made sure to take us to cultural events all around the island of Curaçao, and there were many. So when I moved to St. Maarten I was actually surprised to find that most people were not that into the island’s culture. I get that St. Maarten has changed hands many times according to history books and I understand that the beauty of this little rock has attracted many nationalities who have all made sweet St. Maarten land their home. This of course can cause some dilution of the culture or enhancement depending on how you look at it. After all this island changed hands between the Spanish, French, Dutch and English so many times, it is enough to make one’s head spin. I’m sure they have all left a little of themselves behind. For many years St. Maarten was also considered Curaçao’s little sister (Curaçao being the largest of the 6 islands of the then Netherlands Antilles). You know, that one sister you keep back to make yourself shine brighter. I should know, I’m the oldest of four children and did this regularly to my younger siblings. In my opinion, the change of hands and the many nationalities who migrated here in the past have somehow all contributed a little to St. Maarten’s culture.
As I mentioned in previous posts my husband’s family goes back 200+ years on St. Maarten and he and his family have many stories about the old days when life on the island was simpler and the island’s culture could be be found in everything from the cuisine to dance and song. Something that unfortunately is lost with most today. But every now and again someone organizes a true St. Maarten get together or fête. I for one am always excited to attend them. The culture Gods must have heard my prayers when last weekend we received an invitation to support a fundraising BBQ on the estate of one of the island’s oldest families.
I cannot describe the feeling I experience every time I drive onto this very large and lush estate. It is a place I’ve been to on many other occasions and it’s one of my favorite places to be on St. Maarten. It is surrounded by beautiful green hills and it is so peaceful and beautiful that it always breaks my heart just a little bit when it’s time to leave.
The family traditionally has live music at these fêtes, usually performed by string bands playing sweet melodies from ancient times like the calypso, the bolera and the mazurka. If you’re lucky you will get to hear the masters of St. Maarten folklore themselves, Tanny & the Boys, a band with over 40 years of experience. They are to St. Maarten what Buena Vista Social Club is to Cuba. I myself have had the pleasure of seeing these icons or at least the members still alive today, perform live once or twice. The band, founded in the 70’s is said to be the oldest existing band on the island.
Entering the grounds we were greeted by friends and family who were happily drinking and eating away under this gorgeous tree. Like I said I’ve been to this estate before but for some reason I never paid attention to this very large and very impressive tree. What a beauty with its large trunk and majestic arms stretching over us like a gentle giant. The leaves undoubtedly whispering old tales in the wind.
The music started, played this time by two very well known gentlemen who have been calling St. Maarten their home for many years. These two gentlemen, one of whom was born here and is related to one of the island’s oldest families, have taken on the task of spreading the island’s culture through music. Mr. Jan Beaujon and Mr. Carlson Velasquez serenaded us with songs of times long past on their guitar and “TRES”, a three string guitar commonly used back in the day. While they played we all munched on rice and peas, baked Johnny cakes, whelks and dumplings, lobster salad and conch soup. Nostalgia was definitely in the air.
At that moment I wondered what it would be like if the new generation and those who now call this tiny rock home would show the same appreciation for all of this. In my opinion the island would be a more harmonious place.
So this St. Maarten’s day show some respect for the culture of St. Maarten. I’ve seen many people take advantage to show pride in their home countries by flying flags other than the St. Maarten flag on St. Maarten’s day. This is not only disrespectful but a slap in the face of all true St. Maarteners. Let us all get together and show this island how much we value her. She has after all been very good to us all.
*The above is based on my opinions, experiences and findings.