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The history of the islands and how to maintain their culture

At the institute, I replaced Professor Carlos Martínez, who had done the important task of helping the University get closer to the community, with the support of the Caribbean Studies Group in Bogotá. 

I already knew the Islands, especially Providencia, where back in the 80s I was in charge of Hotel Aury for the Offices of the Araracuara Corporation. My first task after getting installed in San Andrés was to convince the University to open a Campus, as just having an institute did not necessarily constitute a campus. We had two plots of land and a blueprint for the Institute –made by Architect Pedro Juan Jaramillo–which we turned in a project, adapting it to the local conditions in all regards. Later, with the support of Biologist Petter Lowy, we began the task of establishing and launching the San Andrés Botanical Garden.

The University building, the Botanical Garden, and the PEAMA Classroom Building were built maintaining harmony and respect for the Island traditions and answering to the environmental conditions and the local resources.


Immediately we began another assignment with the group of professors: begin the publications of the Campus of the Caribbean. The first two were the book entitled, The Interest of America in Sea Power, Present and Future by U.S. Marine Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, (in the year 2000) and the collection of Caribbean Booklet Collection. But the biggest impact was publishing the book No Give Up, Maan!(in 2002) by Hazel Robinson Abraham.

This book, considered a foundational novel of the islands, turned into a reference book for the literature of the Islands and was included in the Afro-Colombian Literature Library of the Colombian Ministry of Culture. Then came other books like Sail Ahoy!!! (2004) and The Prince of St. Catherine (2009), and then others that rescued the valuable contributions of Hazel Robinson Abrahams.


Later we began the task of disclosing the results of the research projects over the culture of the islands carried out by the University. This was done thanks to the discovery of the walls that sheltered what had been the offices of the Bank of the Republic, demolished to build the current university campus, a task which waited for years for its materialization.


The large-format expositions and on material inalterable to the effects of an outdoor exposition allowed for three years to have scenarios in San Andrés as those of Calle 1 with Colón Avenue,  turned meeting and discussion areas of the Caribbean legacy. In this public space, the Caribbean campus has presented the expositions: “La casa isleña/Island houses”, “Ysla de Sta Catalina, and Providence Island” and “The Spirit of Persistence”.

The expositions, presented both in Spanish and in English, were seen day and night by island residents, schoolchildren, and countless tourists that visited San Andrés with great respect, without enduring any act of vandalism.

The islands of Providencia and Santa Catalina have a long and unknown history both to the country as the inhabitants of the Archipelago. We were interested in having quality graphic material for the exposition, so we at first, drew on the “Archivo General de Indias” (General Archives of the Indies), where we obtained, through an agreement, all the blueprints available of the islands in high-resolution formatting. 

Several of the blueprints showed were presented for the first time, highlighting the map sent by Diego de Mercado to King Philip the Third en 1617, alerting over the threat of an English invasion. Also, it was the first map of Providencia and Santa Catalina that was discovered in said archives.

This exposition was shown since October 4 of 2010 and for three more years at the mural of Colón Street in San Andrés; later at the Claustro San Agustín in Bogotá between October 26, 2010, and March 31, 2011, and seen by hundreds of people, fulfilling its purpose. The presentation at the Cloister had the support of Historian Malcolm Deas, who provided the English Empire perspective of the time.

The Spirit of Persistence

The exposition “The Spirit of Persistence” is the continuation of a chronicle of Hazel Robinson Abrahams published in August of 1959 in her column “Meridiano 81” (El Espectador Newspaper) on the Persistence schooner, built-in 1928 by Mr. Palmerston Coulson, who also built around 50 vessels and close to 100 houses on the Islands, with five helpers.

The final purpose was to rebuild the schooner so it would be anchored on the San Andrés bay as a live testament of the era of sail navigation. We did get a scale-model of the Sail Ahoy!!! novel vessel and the interviews to seafarers in the Caribbean Booklets. These and the exposition allowed recording one of the best eras of the islands.

In San Andrés, the exposition was part of the Padilla Expedition in homage to Admiral Padilla and was installed with the presence of military commanders of the island.

Island houses

The exposition Casa isleña/Island houses, exhibited between 2011 and 2013, is part of the research project over the architectural legacy of San Andrés, of Architect Clara Eugenia Sánchez, included her books  Casa isleña/Island houses and The Last China Closet. The author allowed discussions amongst youngsters of the island and inhabitants of the Archipelago, besides tourist viewings that routinely visit San Andrés, and also shared her results and proposal with the community.

For consulting:

- Island Houses

- The Spirit of Persistence

- Ysla de St. Catalina and Providence Island

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