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From the yard outwards: forms of living this space on the Island of San Andrés

In San Andrés Island each one of the identity groups has a peculiar form of inhabiting the space. This text is the result of a historical analysis to try to understand the forms in which these subjects inhabit the space and the reasons that configured them. In this case, the analysis begins from my family house, a historic source, whose transformation between 1955 and 2000 –characterized by subdividing lands– shows settlement forms, being these phenomena consistent to the growing immigration toward the Archipelago and the conformation of the space.

My family home is the starting point to try to understand the transformation of the houses and how the historic movement is engraved in space usage. 

According to narratives gathered during the study, in the 60s “we all didn’t know each other” and relationships forged that went beyond people, up to their families. This was a period of constant exchange, of symbiosis and cultural learning among those who arrived to the island and those who ancestrally were linked to it. 

The relationships established between families of different origins allowed, for instance, that children of continental and insular roots grew together listening to traditional songs of San Andrés. In La casa isleña: Patrimonio cultural de San Andrés (The Island House: Cultural Legacy of San Andrés) Mark Bent May writes that “yards had fruit trees, mamoncillo, oranges, avocado, almond trees, and plantain”, and this “provided value to the house”, inclusively, many times, it gave it a name, as the case of my family’s house. 

The forms in which spaces are appropriated and modified are the result of the particularity of each time. The elements used to identify the transformations that occurred during these decades were: first, the materials, where there is a reduction of wood use, giving way to continental house structures and elements. Then the land, where there was a notable increase in subdivisions, evidencing the growing need for housing, manifested in building very close multi-family homes and the emergence of sectors without basic utilities. Lastly, the existence or absence of yards, which ultimately represented a pragmatic, cultural, social, and spiritual loss for intercultural and intergenerational dialogue. 

Yards –with their diversity– were important meeting spaces for islanders and also –learned from the prior– for those who arrived. There they placed plants that provided food and water wells for water extraction or storage; they also cooked in these areas: around the fire, they cooked the traditional rondón. In many homes –like for my family– the kitchen, up to this century, was not inside the home, but in the yard; there they grated coconut, started the fire for the grill, and cooked. 

Many traditional homes in San Andrés have yards that face the beach; although many people that arrived during this decade did not place their homes next to the ocean, the ones built had areas for cooking, talking, and washing, actions that naturally include an exchange in knowledge, socialization processes and the establishment of emotional ties with events that summoned and made people come together. 

However, those who arrived also brought other ways to use space, different from the islanders, which did not revolve around the yard. Therefore, from the 70s, certain sectors prioritized home construction, declining the importance of using these areas that brought interaction dynamics. With the loss of yards, the transition from self-consumption to depending on the market and imports became evident, where tourism had a great responsibility.

Yards not only play a pragmatic role, but they also played a vital role in the dynamics of economic exchange, above all social and cultural; yards keep histories and secrets, they were and still are important meeting spaces. 

Their presence of absences allowed the relationship between identity groups to be different from one decade to the next. Yard meetings for different purposes like, hair combing, cooking, or talking, are spaces for dialogue, learning, cooperation, and empathy for acknowledging multiple origins and knowledge that converge in the people that live on the island. 

In this sense, its disappearance implies a loss of important dialogue and sustenance space. Thinking on the spatiality of the islands, particularly in the subsequent context after hurricane Iota, demands thinking and integrating with the processes of rebuilding the traditional areas, bringing back yards, whose production answers to the knowledge and way of life of those who live in this territory.

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Read more:
González, G. (2004). Los nuevos Pañamanes en la isla de San Andrés. Maguaré, 18, 197-219.


1 Bartens, A. (2008). Variación en el criollo inglés del Caribe occidental: ¿Una cuestión de geografía o una dimensión del continuo criollo? Lingüística y Literatura (58), 103-131.

2 Gama Sánchez, C. (2004). Island Houses. San Andres's cultural heritage. San Andrés, Colombia: Universidad Nacional de Colombia Sede Caribe.



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