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The St. Maarten Museum

~ Free entrance during International Museum Day, May 18 ~

 

By Rik Haverman

 

On Monday, May 18, International Museum Day will be celebrated around the world. Since 1977, awareness is raised on this day about how important museums are in the development of the society. The St. Maarten Museum (entrance located at the Speetjens Alley in Philipsburg) can’t lag behind. In honour of this day, admission to the museum is free. Director Elsje Bosch would like to invite as many St. Maarteners as possible and make them aware of their heritage. Therefore, the museum will be open from 10:00am until 6:00pm this coming Monday, May 18.

 

The first noticeable thing while walking inside the small museum is the amount of interesting information and the number of objects in such a small space. However, the museum is much more organized than the first impression suggests. The museum is divided into different subjects. Attention is paid to the pre-Columbian period, the plantation and slavery period, the historical fortifications on the island, historical household objects and maritime history.

 

Although historical subjects are prevalent in the main room, Bosch also tried to highlight other parts of St. Maarten culture. She believes that St. Maarten nature, environment and geology deserve attention in the museum. These subjects are presented in a room adjacent to the main room. In the same room, Bosch has created an exhibition about the hurricanes that have affected St. Maarten.

 

Bosch also tries to make St. Maarteners aware of the milestones the islanders achieved over the years. Therefore, she has decorated a wall full of portraits of national heroes. “Some students came by to visit the museum and were asking me all kinds of questions about Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and so forth. Afterwards, I was thinking: ‘Wait a minute, we have our own St. Maarten heroes…’ and from there came the idea for the wall.” The museum also focuses on more recent political achievements. For example, a whole information board is dedicated to 10-10-10: The day on which St. Maarten became a country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

 

Besides objects and information boards, the museum also makes use of multimedia to educate visitors about the heritage of The Friendly Island. A slide show of old pictures of St. Maarten, at the beginning of the 20th century, is even a showpiece of director Bosch. “I obtained this through a woman who was born here on St. Maarten. She came from a wealthy family so they had money to photograph back then. Her daughter made a slideshow of the pictures for her 80th birthday and sent me a copy of it. I was so happy when I obtained this; it really paints a picture of the old St. Maarten back in the 20s.” Another favourite item of the director is an Indian headdress from Suriname. The headdress is from an Arawak tribe, a tribe which also used to populate St. Maarten before the colonial rule came to the Caribbean.

 

The director has a long history in preserving the heritage of St. Maarten. After being a teacher for 30 years, Bosch became the director of St. Maarten National Heritage Foundation – a foundation that fought for the conservation of several historical sites on the island. For instance, she protested several times against the demolishing of Fort Amsterdam with other foundation members and organizations. Developers wanted to build hotels on the site of the fort. Another noteworthy project of Bosch was moving old historical houses from Front Street to somewhere else to preserve them. Once again, these historical sites had to make place for the tourist sector.

 

Bosch still visibly enjoys her work but hopes that in the future someone is willing to take over her museum collection. Ideally, St. Maarten will get an official national museum where her collection can be exhibited. “It’s part of the cultural policy of St. Maarten to gain a National Museum. I think this is important. A National Museum is the heart, brain and soul of a nation. Since we have become a country, I think we really need such a museum to present our heritage to people.”

 

For the International Museum Day, Bosch wants to invite all St. Maarteners to visit the museum. “We are the only museum on the Dutch side of the island; the only museum here that preserves our heritage. A heritage which is so important since our island is changing fast. St. Maarten is much more than the beach, casinos, bars and tourists. St. Maarten has a rich culture and history. Our island is multinational and multicultural. Through time, St. Maarten has been influenced by many different cultures: African, European, (South)-American, et cetera. If it wasn’t for the museum, people wouldn’t know anymore how it was back in the days.”