Celebrating Museum Connections on International Museums Day 2015

Recently, two officers of the Friends of the West Indian Museum of Panama visited Jamaica and the UWI Museum. We were happy to receive the following from them and want to give our IMD focus to them and to some others near and far who are working to establish and maintain small museums:

Panama museum

The West Indian Museum of Panama is located in a small, former church building that had a mainly West Indian congregation. Features include photos of West Indians who came to work on the Canal, statistical information on this group and information on wages, as well as exhibits on living conditions. Melva Lowe de Goodin, the Treasurer of the Friends group, had this to say about their activities:

“During our recent visit to Jamaica in April, we were pleased to visit the UWI Museum and to receive such a warm welcome from Curator, Suzanne Francis-Brown. Our organization, the Society of Friends of the West Indian Museum of Panama (SAMAAP), is actively seeking to maintain Afro-Caribbean history and culture alive in Panama. In 1995, we translated to Spanish Velma Newton’s book The Silver Men: West Indian Labour Migration to Panama 1850 – 1914. It made a significant impact on the content of our historical accounts of the building of the Panama Railroad and the Canal. In 2001, we sponsored Dr. Rex Nettleford as a keynote speaker at a University of Panama/SAMAAP Conference. During that visit, the University of Panama and UWI had signed an agreement for academic and cultural collaboration. We would like to see a greater implementation of the objectives of that agreement. Besides being a full-time teacher in the English Department of the University of Panama, Veronica Forte is the current president of the Society of Friends of the West Indian Museum of Panama (SAMAAP). I am a retired teacher of English from the University of Panama, and I currently serve as treasurer of SAMAAP. I recently published People of African Ancestry of Panama, which I am now promoting in Jamaica, for I see the need to strengthen the ties between Latin America countries and the Caribbean.”

The establishment of museums is of course a major way in which various groups preserve and interpret aspects of their history and heritage. In Jamaica, some of the better known secondary schools have established small museums in recent years: St Andrew High School for Girls from 2011, Jamaica College only recently. This year, we have had visits from the President of the Calabar High School Old Boys’ Association, looking for ideas in terms of establishing a facility there and, most recently from a member of the Methodist Church family which is looking at starting a small museum adjacent to the historic Coke Methodist Church in the centre of the city of Kingston.

Within the past year we also co-hosted the 25th anniversary conference of the Museums Association of the Caribbean (MAC) and we salute all MAC members, large and small. And in March 2015 it was a pleasure to visit the museums and collections of the University of Havana during a seminar that they hosted on University Cultural Heritage.

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