Saba Heritage Center hosts discussion about ancient climate and foods of Saba

On Thursday, April 7, 2022, the Saba Heritage Center hosted a community session on research currently being carried out in Saba by the Island(er)s at the Helm program. Researchers Dr. Jaime Pagán Jiménez and Dr. Kees Nooren presented their research plans and initial findings. Participants were also invited to share stories and exchange knowledge on social adaptation to climate change in Saba.

Island Council Member Vito Charles welcomes the attendants to the Saba Heritage Center. Photo: Peter Johnson.

Participants were welcomed to the Saba Heritage Center by Island Council Member and Board Member of the Saba Heritage Center Vito Charles and Island Governor Jonathan Johnson. Prof. dr. Corinne Hofman, one of the principal investigators of the program, gave an introduction, followed by presentations by Dr. Pagán Jiménez and Dr. Nooren, and a final word of thanks by archaeologist Dr. Menno Hoogland.

Paleoecologist Dr. Nooren shared his research project, in which he will investigate sediments from archaeological sites like Spring Bay and Plum Piece to understand how Saba’s vegetation and climate looked in the past and changed over time. Dr. Pagán Jiménez shared the first results on the types of food grown and eaten by Saba’s first inhabitants. As a paleoethnobotanical specialist, he studies past human interactions with plants through archaeological research.

Adapt to hurricanes

The researchers explained what their projects can show about changing agriculture, landscapes and water systems and what this can tell us about how climate change was experienced in Saba long ago, and in more recent times. Dr. Nooren mentioned that previous research on St. Martin indicates that droughts and hurricanes were frequent in the time that the first inhabitants lived on the islands. Through their work, they will be able to understand how islanders have adapted to extreme weather events like devastating hurricanes and droughts over time.

“We have interesting paleoethnobotanical information on Saba’s pre-colonial agricultural past, but it is still quite limited. I have no doubt that the access of people to scientific and traditional knowledge about the ancient, and more recent agricultural and culinary practices of Saba will provide new food strategies based on our historic experiences with traditional plants. This merging of knowledge will help us deal with the increasingly powerful climate threats we face on the islands,” Dr. Pagán Jiménez, who is from Puerto Rico, explained.

Island(er)s at the Helm

These projects are part of the Island(er)s at the Helm research program, which focuses on social adaptation to climate challenges in the (Dutch) Caribbean. Saban-born Lysanne Charles, who is also part of this program, contributes to this by investigating the role of local knowledge and practices in policy development for hurricane preparedness on Saba, St. Eustatius and St. Maarten.

Vito Charles emphasized the importance of this event. “Presentations like these allow the Saba Heritage Center to optimally function as a place where the community can come together to share knowledge of the past and ensure that Saba’s heritage and traditional practices continue to be passed on to future generations.”

Upcoming events

Island(er)s at the Helm hosts regular public stakeholder meetings, where societal partners and interested parties discuss the progress of the research and exchange knowledge and ideas with the research team. “Exchanging knowledge with the community in every step of the research and co-creation is what drives Island(er)s at the Helm,” said Prof. dr. Hofman.  The next events are organized in collaboration with the University of St. Martin (USM) in St. Maarten on Tuesday, April 12 and Wednesday, May 18, 2022.

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