Port Royal exhibition opens in Miami History Museum – Feb. 15th, 2007

More than 200 rare artifacts showcasing the history of Port Royal went on display Feb. 15, 2007 at the Historical Museum of Southern Florida in downtown Miami.

The exhibition titled ‘Port Royal, Jamaica’ and jointly coordinated by the Institute of Jamaica and the Historical Museum of Miami, and will run through June. It will then be moved to the Institute’s location in Kingston through January of next year.

The Minister of Tourism, Entertainment and Culture, Hon. Aloun Ndombet Assamba in declaring the exhibition open, told the large gathering of Jamaicans and friends that the potential snowball effect on Jamaica’s heritage tourism could be significant. She expected that the display would pique the interest of archaeologists, history students and even laypersons with an interest in the civilizations of the past, she continued.

Affirming that visitors to the Island also came to immerse themselves in the culture and understanding the way of life, the Minister also pointed out that research conducted in the development of the plan for sustainable tourism development indicated that the physical and natural beauty of pristine beaches and majestic mountains were additional features.

The seaside city of Port Royal has been a focal point of Caribbean and Atlantic history. It was also a cosmopolitan port and center for the African slave trade during the 17th century and a major base of the British Royal Navy during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Today, the maritime city is famous as a world historical site and a tourist attraction to local Jamaicans as well as the many visitors to the island.

Describing the display as “an amazing display of ‘objets d’art recovered from the sunken city of Port Royal” Minister Assamba revealed that this was the first time that the large collection of rare artifacts from that historic seaside town, much of which sank in a devastating earthquake in 1692, was being displayed in the United States.

The Minister encouraged the Jamaican nationals to add their own significant amount of colour, texture and context to the exhibition by being “invaluable interpreters of the passive language of print and still life in the brilliant oral tradition of our great little country.”

She further acknowledged that diplomatic relations between the USA and Jamaica is further cemented through cultural exchanges and collaborations such as the Port Royal exhibition, citing that understanding and appreciating one’s culture creates mutual respect.

The artifacts on display chronologically illustrate the life of that City since it was founded in 1655. Many of those artifacts were recovered through underwater archaeological expeditions carried out since the 1950s.

Some of the items include Chinese porcelain, German stoneware and Spanish silver coins, and red clay pipes associated with African craftsmen in the city then. Among the many skilled craftsmen inhabiting the City before it sank in the earthquake were shipwrights, blacksmiths, pewterers, and silversmiths.

The era of the Royal Navy is portrayed through such items as pharmaceutical vials from the Naval Hospital, the Spencer Browning & Rust telescope as well as a bust of Horatio Nelson, one of several British naval heroes who served in Port Royal during the 18th century.

Among the collection on display will also be a collection of rare maps, prints, books and manuscripts and a ship model, all to be borrowed from the National Library of Jamaica, the University of Florida (George A. Smathers Library) and the Historical Museum of South Florida.

A series of black and white photographs depicting community life in Port Royal line the walls of the Museum. A leading Jamaican photographer, Maria LaYacona, took those during the 1980s.

Throughout the duration of the four-month feature on Jamaica’s historic city the Museum will host a series of family-oriented educational lectures and entertainment programs about the island’s heritage and cultural traditions.

Several Jamaican agencies in the South Florida community were among the organizing committee, which included the Ministry of Tourism, Entertainment and Culture, the Consulate General of Jamaica, the Jamaica Information Service, Air Jamaica Limited, the Jamaica Tourist Board, the Jamaica Awareness, Jampact, the Jamaica Committee and the Jamaican Diaspora.

Chief curator for the Historical Museum of Southern Florida, Dr, Steven Stuempfle, said that the Museum is committed to partnering with institutions like those in Jamaica, to explore how events in the Caribbean have shaped world history during the past several centuries.

Also accompanying the Minister was Dr. Barry Chevannes, Chairman of the Institute of Jamaica who praised both institutions, the Institute and the Museum for the collaborative effort in providing a wealth of information embodied in the exhibition.

Similar sentiments were echoed by Consul General, Ricardo Allicock, Executive Director of the Institute, Mr. Vivian Crawford and Jamaican Diaspora advisory board member to the Southern USA, Marlon Hill.

Entertainment was provided by the Florida based cultural groups, the Jamaica Folk Revue and the Tallawah Mento Band, as they performed a variety of Jamaican folk songs.