RADHICA DE SILVA
Cedros's rich historical legacy continues to be under threat with the bulldozing of 700 plus acres of land to facilitate housing.
Having already lost the giant cedars which gave it its name and the recent bulldozing of the century-old Brazilian nut trees, parts of the sprawling coconut estates of Cedros are now being ploughed down.
The bulldozing extends from Granville to Galfar where six housing projects are taking place simultaneously by different developers. Lands at Greenhill and Galfar are being sold on the international market for $50 (or US$ 8.30) per square feet.
During an interview, one of Cedros' tour guides Edward Marcelle said the burgeoning land development brings hope to the people of Cedros who are suffering from unemployment. With the closure of Petrotrin and the fall of the coconut and fishing industries, Marcelle said the only venture offering honest employment to the region was the expansive land development. Those who cannot find work often fall prey to the trafficking, burgeoning drug, guns and contraband trade.
Marcelle said while the area remains depressed, tourism bears greater potential for the community providing that the relics remain after the land projects are completed.
He revealed that there were over 20 historical sites in Cedros that were in dire need of preservation. Apart from the popular Greenhill fort with army bunkers, the tombstones of French planters Jean Cavalan and his brother Michel Cavalan at the N`Enviguse Estate and the ravages of the cocoa and citrus industries, Marcelle said there were sites in Cedros which remain undocumented.
"The old lighthouse that lies intact beneath the sea off the Constance Estate is one of these sites that has tremendous tourism potential," Marcelle said. While mass land erosion has been widely reported in the coast, few reports of land aggregation have been covered.
Marcelle said the entire community of Gran Chemin in Icacos should be marked as a historical site as there is evidence of Saladoids artifacts there. The Saladoids were the predecessors of the Tainos who lived here before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1498.
Marcelle said Gran Chemin in Icacos may be connected to Gran Chemin in Moruga because there was evidence of a coastline road in those days which has long disappeared.
"The same Mount Carmel celebrations held in June used to attract pilgrims from all the main Catholic centres in the country and are held in both areas. We had Spanish styled buildings and Amerindian artefacts. Pieces of Saladoid stones and pottery have been found there," Marcelle said.
The Constance Estate is also rich in artefacts as well.
"There are chimneys where they used to house seven distilleries for making rum. We had all the coppers for boiling and making wet sugar. The St Quintin Estate also had a chimney," Marcelle added.
Cavalos Sebastien, the owner of Columbia and St Quintin Estate once had a Great House at the Columbian Estate but this was burnt in the 1950s, Marcelle said. He lamented that several colonial houses have already been destroyed, long before the ploughing down of the coconut estates began.
"We still have the Borel House standing, which is a still a Tapia house made with compressed mud and grass but we lost the old barrack houses and the colonial house on Perseverance Estate," he added.
On the St Marie Estate, Marcelle said ancient concrete cisterns which stored water for the barrack houses during indentureship are still standing.
Marcelle said the old police station at Bonasse Village still had historical artefacts which were at least 130 years old.
"St Marie Estate still has a few old houses that are inaccessible. It was the biggest private landholding in the West Indies. It comprised 6,000 acres from the sea in Galfar to the sea in Bonasse. It was owned by the Singh family," he revealed.
The St Marie estate playground was made famous by the St Marie Cricket Club which produced Victor Marshall in the 1950s, and Marcelle noted that Captain Charita Sinanan was the long-standing captain of the club when Victor made the Trinidad team.
He noted that inside the Iros forests in Chatham there was the Bourg Congo, a French village which housed a slave penal structure.
"There was evidence of that structure with artifacts used for punishing the slaves but all of that has been gone. The place has been eroded, vandalised and artifacts have been taken. At Greenhill there are bunkers and at the San Jose lagoon in Icacos, there is great potential for tourism," Marcelle said.
Another resident Burt Beharry said Cedros has been changing over time but little has been done to document its progress. Beharry said the arrival of the Venezuelans in Cedros had changed the demography and cultural dynamics of Cedros.
"A lot is going on in Cedros but people are not paying enough attention. We need to have this area developed with better opportunities for locals and tourists," Beharry said.
Fisherman Patrick Gualchand said fishermen were prepared to be part of the revitalisation process.
"Right now we cannot make an honest day's work in the sea because pirates taking away our nets. We cannot go to Venezuela to fish any more. We are happy to have construction opportunities with these developments," Gualchand said.
Development affecting the water table
Meanwhile, councillor for Cedros Shankar Teelucksingh said while he welcomed the mass land development in the area, he was concerned that the water table was being affected.
Teelucksingh said the clearing of land at Testrail Estate in Granville was creating some problems. Teeluccksingh called on the Ministry of Planning to look into the development. Apart from the clearing of 100 acres in Granville, Teelucksingh said 250 acres were being developed at Galfar Estate by another individual, 15 acres at Icacos, 100 acres at Bamboo Development, 150 acres by Bhola's development at Perseverance Estate, and 100 acres at Columbia Estate in Fullarton.
Teelucksingh said environmental agencies must hold developers accountable to avoid any disasters such as what existed in Greenvale.
Asked what was being done to promote tourism and to preserve Cedros' legacy, Teelucksingh said they were in the process of developing the Cedros Boardwalk.
"We want to encourage local and foreign tourism. We want to preserve the shoreline and we are liaising with the Coastal Protection Unit for the preservation of the Columbus Bay and Granville beachfront," he added.
Contacted for comment, President of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists Trinidad Chapter Amrit Cooblal said Cedros was an attractive place for the study of history, archaeology, and geology.
"I don't mind being part of a team liaising with the archaeological unit to explore what Cedros offers," Cooblal said.
"From a geological point of view, Cedros is the most attractive place for outcrop work. It is a great place for geologists to explore mud volcanoes and study rocks which are millions of years old."
Preserve our history—Teelucksingh
University of the West Indies lecturer Dr Jerome Teelucksingh said there was a need to preserve historical sites that contain evidence of our ancestors.
"We also need to be careful of removing layers of soil that would contain evidence such as artefacts and skeletal remains. These are part of our history that should be preserved," he said. He said many people were focused on creating residential communities without any consideration of the historical value of the public space.
"Cedros in the southwestern peninsular has an important role not just because of the agriculture but because of the festivals celebrated here. Once the land is cleared and the residential area goes up, the historical value is lost forever. The Government needs to put in place policies and laws to ensure that developers and business community do not randomly erect structures and erase our history," Teelucksingh said.
"Evidence shows there were early indigenous people inhabiting Cedros. It is even more reason why the area should be surveyed and studied by archaeologists and historians before any development occurs."
Developer Deo Gosine did not answer questions posed to him by the Guardian. When this reporter called him on three occasions he said "Ma'am, I have all the necessary approvals. Thank you," before hanging up the phone. A list of questions was emailed to him but he did not reply. Another developer, Deochand Ramdhanie could not be reached for comment on his cellular phone.