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Saba Spotlight: "When We Was We" A Saban movie

1._One_of_many_digitised_photos_of_Saban_history_William_Rudolph_Chila_Dinzey_1876-1963 One of many digitised photos of Saban history, William Rudolph 'Chila' Dinzey (1876-1963)


At Queen Wilhelmina Library in The Bottom are more than 100 cassette tapes that were recorded in 1985, as part of the "Saba Oral History and Traditions Project." There were roughly 65 Sabans interviewed. These interviews were mainly conducted by Voltaire Simmons, and included questions regarding life on Saba during the late 1800s to early 1900s. Sadly, all of the interviewees have passed away.


Peter Johnson, a local resident of Saba and the youngest son of Will and Lynne Jonson, found their stories to be so incredible that he was moved to bring this national treasure of Saban history to light in an accessible way for Sabans at home and abroad. “The tapes were in very poor condition, but I was able to digitise them using a converter and audio-enhancing software. I was inspired to make a film, documenting their tales and anecdotes. I sampled quotes concerning Saban life and dubbed them over appropriate historical pictures and modern video” Johnson explained.



 Raymond Simmons discussing his genealogy research with some attendees


The film is titled "When We Was We" and is just over 25 minutes long. Johnson made the video accessible on YouTube and organised a viewing at Eugenius Johnson Centre in Windwardside on Saturday, April 11. On the evening of April 11, the audience was first greeted by Will Johnson, who is a strong advocate for cultural preservation on Saba. After the introduction speech, Raymond Stanley Simmons II gave a presentation about “The Saba Family Tree Project” including other side projects, such as the cemetery headstones and the Facebook webpage "Of Saban Descent".


This project is an independent non-funded initiative trying to preserve the history and heritage of Saban people. The historical material is collected mostly from first-hand interviews with elders of prominent members of Sabans, who were often involved as Merchant Marines, but also the many people, men and women, who were left behind. “We have built a database of more than 23,000 individuals, and more than 8,000 marriages organised in "Family Clusters". This helps anyone tied to Saba, investigate his or her roots. I have an extensive collection of old photographs that also allows us to place a face to the many names we have accumulated to date”, Simmons said. For family members there is a free photo restoration service provided, and print charts of their family trees, which are made available for free.


After Simmon’s presentation, Johnson took the stage and proudly premiered his video to the audience. As news travels fast on Saba, many people gave very positive feedback to the film. The fact that it is available online gives people of Saban decent, as well as everyone else based anywhere in the world, the chance to view this movie. “I thought the turnout was great, and it was nice to see so many Saba people there”, Johnson mentioned to The Daily Herald after the presentation. “The tape conversion and restoration process took several months, as tapes were only able to be converted at the rate at which they played, and then needed to be enhanced electronically. Funding for the project was made available by Prince Bernhard Cultural Fund Caribbean Region. Without its gracious support, I wouldn't have been able to complete the film”, Johnson emphasised. In the past days, Johnson received a lot of positive feedback from relatives, who for instance were happy to hear their grandmother or grandfather again. Because of the success of this project, Johnson plans to do similar but probably smaller projects in the near future.