Track 2: Sustainability and Conservation of Built Heritage in the Americas
It is not the best of times for cemeteries in Jamaica. Many are neglected and vandalized, especially those associated with dwindling communities such as the Jews and Chinese. The Jews were seventeenth century settlers in Jamaica and with the end of slavery in the nineteenth century, the Chinese were brought in as laborers. Over time, these two ethnic groups have intermarried with other races and religions and there has been significant migration to other countries, particularly during the troubled 1960s and 70s. The memory of these communities and their contributions to the history of Jamaica are fading. Cemeteries and their markers are a major piece of historical documentation of people who are gone and largely forgotten. Changing and deteriorating neighborhoods bordering the cemeteries treat them as a dumping ground as well targets for vandalism.
This paper is a look at the challenges of restoring and maintaining cemeteries in poor communities that have no interest in the people that have been buried in them. Both the Chinese and Jews have recently begun efforts to restore the memory of their ancestor’s contributions. As members of the diaspora start to look for their roots, interest in the cemeteries is reviving. For the Jewish cemeteries, the Jamaican Jewish Cemetery Preservation Fund (JJCPF), a non-profit American based organization with both American and Jamaican members has begun documenting the cemeteries and implementing maintenance and conservation measures. The Chinese Benevolent Association (CBA) has, within the last few years, begun to revive their main cemetery in Kingston. Both groups face issues of security, vandalism, and maintenance. Kingston cemeteries also have the additional challenge of keeping peace with gangs that boarder the cemeteries.
In February 2019, the JJCPF and CBA met to discuss the challenges and strategies with funding restoration work; learning how the cemetery markers should be conserved in the local climate; and documenting the cemeteries. This is difficult and time consuming work that is currently being done by volunteers. Both groups will be trying to find a way to work together to revive interest in the cemeteries by Jamaicans and the diaspora of Jews and Chinese. They are hoping increasing tourism will bring more interest and possibly additional funding.