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Columns : Letters to The Editor Last Updated: May 19, 2017 - 2:27:19 PM

Pam Burnside: Economic Empowerment and Creativity
By Pamela Burnside
May 19, 2017 - 2:08:31 PM

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On behalf of Creative Nassau, I should like to respond directly to the urgent need for economic growth in The Bahamas by presenting two common sense solutions.

In 2014, Creative Nassau www.creativenassau.com a non-profit organization of passionate citizens, was successful in obtaining a prestigious UNESCO designation for the City of Nassau to become a member of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN) as a Creative City of Crafts and Folk Arts, without government assistance. Our application was based on our unique traditions of Straw Craft and Junkanoo.

The UCCN is an amazing global organization of 116 cities from 54 countries, and as one of the very first cities from the Caribbean region to be successful, we are rightly proud of this achievement for the benefit of our country. The UCCN is structured around seven creative fields of Crafts and Folk Arts, Design, Film, Gastronomy, Literature, Media Arts, and Music with Creativity as the main driving force.

Creative Nassau believes that we, the Bahamian people, have the means to grow our economy easily and exponentially by using the creative skills and resources that we already have, right here, right now, staring us right in the face! It is a simple formula which will provide jobs and increase revenue without huge capital expenditure or direct foreign investment, and it will ensure that money stays in the country!

My first example is our amazing Bahamian straw craft industry which should be revived to its former glory. In years gone by, persons from every part of this archipelago were able to support themselves and their families from this industry. The raw material, the straw palms and sisal plants, grow wild in the bush, particularly on the islands of Andros, Cat Island, Eleuthera, Exuma, Long Island and New Providence – lots of jobs were available from either harvesting and processing the raw material, stripping it to dye, plait or weave, making it into countless products for household, fashion or decorative uses, and selling it to the visitors and locals as an authentic, beautiful, uniquely Bahamian made product found nowhere else in the world!

Unfortunately, many of the amazing artisans and their phenomenal skill, are dying out, and we cannot allow their talent to die with them! Schools for teaching Bahamian straw craft are sorely needed so that this important story and tradition can be passed on to the younger generation. By working with your hands and honing these skills, jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities can be readily available for the citizens of this country in a field that deserves respect and pride as ‘we own tings’!

But where is the pride and respect in this crucial part of our Traditional Knowledge when we consider (if we ever even give it consideration) that a straw artisan is regarded as ‘poor people work’? This is a truly ignorant attitude which must be reversed. There is money to be made in Bahamian straw craft as evidenced by the many professional lawyers, accountant, doctors, teachers, administrators etc. practising today, whose education was paid for by the proceeds from this honourable industry!

Believing firmly in this extremely valuable part of our history, Creative Nassau, in conjunction with the Department of Forestry in the Ministry of Environment, took the initiative in March to apply to UNESCO for the element of Bahamian Straw craft to be protected under the UNESCO Convention of Intangible Cultural Heritage for possible inscription in 2018.

In view of this rich heritage detailed above, I ask, therefore, why that flea market junk is allowed to inhabit the hallowed halls of the straw market when our laws clearly state otherwise - and leave that there!

Secondly, our native pine industry and the Bahamian clapboard house deserve the spotlight as they are also ready for revival with a dual purpose. Bahamian pine forests abound in Abaco and Grand Bahama and the wood is being milled once again on a small scale to make products for use. This valuable resource is also being protected by the Department of Forestry in the Ministry of the Environment. Many people are not even aware of the importance of this natural resource. It has amazing properties, is resistant to termites, and is a beautiful wood!

Our ancestors used this wood to build their clapboard houses, many of which are still standing today as amazing examples of common sense Bahamian architecture which took the ingenuity of our forefathers hundreds of years to perfect and which we have, once again, disgracefully and unceremoniously thrown out of our consciousness, considering the clapboard house to be a vestige of poverty – again, how ignorant and shortsighted!

The clapboard house is perfectly suited to our climate and provides all of the attributes for our needs – porches for shade and community interaction, sloped roofs to deflect the driving rain and provide air flow, shuttered push out windows for shade and breeze as well as immediate protection for hurricanes, raised off the ground to allow for air flow as nature’s own air conditioning, tongue and groove planks for snug fits - we in The Bahamas were ‘green’ before ‘being green’ was even considered!

So why not develop this industry again, ourselves? It can provide jobs for many by training them in these skills and making them proud of working with their hands. By using this indigenous material and utilizing our traditional building technology, we can support our local pine industry to produce beautiful and affordable homes that their inhabitants can afford to pay for and be proud of because it is ‘we own tings’ whilst at the same time, keeping money in the country and not have to depend on FDI to ‘save’ us!

Within our history lies two amazing opportunities to turn around the economy, empower our people, develop entrepreneurial opportunities, provide jobs for countless people, build pride and respect for our heritage, and develop community – right here, staring us right in the face!!

See what you lookin’ at, Bahamas, and let’s march onward and upward together!

Yours sincerely,

Pam Burnside

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in his/her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of TheBahamasWeekly.com

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