Preserving Barbados’s Cultural Heritage

Shell/Stone Axeheads made by the Carib people who began to inhabit Barbados in the 13th Century

A debate in the Barbadian Senate over a new piece of legislation that would increase protection for artifacts of cultural significance has Barbadian citizens and politicians alike trying to find the right balance between the right to privacy and the government’s prerogative to protect antiquities of significant monetary and cultural value to the country.

The legislation, known as the “Preservation and Antiquities Bill 2011,” is more or less similar to many other anti-antiquities trafficking laws passed in the Commonwealth of Nations (of which Barbados is a member) and resolutions passed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in years past. The bill passed the Barbadian House of Assembly (the lower house) without issue, and much of the Senate’s objection to it stems from a clause that gives the Director of the Barbados Museum the power to confiscate objects that he thinks may be stolen antiquities from private property. Many see this as a violation of privacy rights, although the clause does force the director to give the possessor of the possible stolen property 48 hours notice before he is allowed to search, and to obtain a warrant if refused entry. Nonetheless, Barbadian culture values privacy very highly, and this “violation” in order to obtain even important cultural artifacts is seen by many as not worth it.

The Barbadian government certainly has an incentive and even a right to keep its country’s valuable cultural artifacts safe; this is made even more legitimate by the recent declaration of the Barbadian capital of Bridgetown as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, they must find a better balance between necessity and privacy, in order to avoid possible abuses and to quell possible outrage by citizens. Keeping history alive is important, but protecting the constitutional rights of the citizens of a country is more important.

Source Citation: “Preserving Cultural Heritage.” The Barbados Advocate, , sec. Editorial, 10 27, 2011. http://www.barbadosadvocate.com/newsitem.asp?more=editorial&NewsID=20586 (accessed November 28, 2011).

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7 Responses to Preserving Barbados’s Cultural Heritage

  1. tnoh says:

    I agree with the blogger that their government should find a balance between preserving Barbado’s cultural heriatge and privacy. The government should certainly not be allowed to enter private houses and confiscate valuable antiquities in my opinion. But this goal should be achieved with the entire nation’s teamwork- the government could perhaps make this happen by giving proper incentives to their citizens. They could, for example, reward people who bring out the antiquities instead of barging in and confiscating what could be private property. This way, everyone can support the bill and be unified as a country.

  2. sjchretien says:

    This bill is a bad idea. Who is the Director of a museum to determine whether a citizen has illegally obtained a historical artifact? This is not only wrong but also sets an extremely dangerous precedent. What if the next bill passed authorized the director of a government agency to arrest you if he thought you may have committed a crime? This is no way to run a democracy.

    Clearly, there must be a balance between private property rights and the government’s interest in protecting artifacts. Instead of running violating peoples’ privacy, the government should work to foster a better public-private partnership when it comes to protecting antiquities.

  3. bmathieu says:

    I believe that Barbados should have the right to do whatever is necessary (within reason) to recover stolen cultural artifacts. As one of the most thriving businesses in the black market, I think that more should be done to prevent antiquities theft. However, I also believe that ensuring the safety and privacy of the people is the utmost responsibility of any government. Thus, the government of Barbados – or any country for that matter – should be very careful in its selection of how to deal with the ongoing problem of antiquities theft. The recently announced legislation does not appear to significantly infringe on privacy rights, as individuals are given 48 hours notice prior to search and may request the investigator acquire a search warrant. However, as mentioned above, I also believe that museum officials should work closely with local law enforcement officials and not try to take law in their own hands.

  4. raphillips says:

    I believe that this bill may infringe upon the privacy of the citizens of Barbados. Although preserving artifacts is important for the society and culture of the Barbadian people, I do think that the government needs to be careful in preserving the utmost rights to people’s privacy and property. This is a fragile issue, because it does require the government to step on toes, however, if done right it could contribute greatly to the society.

  5. tmbyrket says:

    While it is important for a country to protect its heritage and history, I also believe that protecting a citizen’s privacy should be a government’s number one priority. Personally, I think that it is hard to legislate something this broad. It is possible that a private owner could find an artifact on their property and not realize that it might have been stolen from somewhere earlier. I think the best way to handle cases like this is on a case-by-case basis. Maybe this is unrealistic, but I do think it is idealistic.

  6. mksatyal says:

    I agree that recovering stolen items, and preserving them, is important. However, I don’t think that putting the responsibility to take care of this issue on one person, the Director of the Barbados Museum, is not a good idea. It is too much for one person to handle, and it also opens the door to the abuse of that power. They should find a different method of recovering stolen artifacts.

  7. ccglisson says:

    I agree with the blogger in that plivacy should be more imporatnt than the pursuit of history/ understanding more about the nation’s past. I have learned a lot about UNESCO and about various antiquities acts, and in this case, I think that if the objects are found/ originated on private property they should belong to the woner of the property. However, this case mentions stolen artifacts on private property and i think that Barbados, rather than leaving the law in the hands of the area’s Museums, should mount criminal investigations against the alleged thieves of these cultural artifacts.

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