PHILIPSBURG--Dr. Rhoda Arrindell says a national anthem of St. Maarten representing the aspirations of the people could play a big role in nation-building.
Arrindell delivered a presentation on the status of the development of a national anthem for St. Maarten to Members of Parliament (MPs) on Thursday.
In her presentation Arrindell quoted Article One Subsection Three of the Constitution of St. Maarten: “The national anthem of St. Maarten shall be established by national ordinance.”
“Our national anthem they say is an official patriotic hymn that is sung and played at official and public events,” said Arrindell. “It is a patriotic and musical composition symbolising or evoking sentiments such as history traditions/aspirations of a country.”
She explained that older anthems would often come from marches or hymns, but later versions tend to be more representative of the culture of times of the country they represent. In most cases they are officially sanctioned and could come out of a number of situations. She said those situations could be a new political status, victory during a war, etc.
In reference to the situation in St. Maarten, she said the debate for a national anthem dates back to at least the 1950s. In an apparent attempt to fill a vacuum, a school competition was held to select a song that could be played at public functions.
Although the most popular songs were reportedly judged to be “Island in the West” submitted by Orange School, the song that was eventually chosen was the St. Joseph School submission “O Sweet St. Martin’s Land”, a 1958 composition by Father Gerard Kemps, a Catholic priest residing on the French side of the island at the time. The song was originally composed in French and then translated into English.
A committee consisting of civil servants was established in 2000 to work on a national anthem. Arrindell said that, according to official documents, because of the political reality, the committee surmised that either a new song should be chosen or the lyrics of “O Sweet St. Martin’s Land” should be changed.
The committee further suggested making “O Sweet St. Martin’s Land” a national song and formalising another official anthem for the Dutch side of the island, as the song was being used by both sides.
She said the committee finally agreed to put this issue to the public before making decisions by elected officials and suggested that someone be approached to research and assist with documenting the existence and the cultural facts thereof.
Arrindell said that in 2011, on the first anniversary of the new status, in an attempt to comply with the constitutional requirement as the then Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport (ECYS) she had proposed a national committee to bring this process to a logical conclusion through a competition.
In the proposal a number of prominent experts would be identified to form a national anthem committee to select an anthem which would be brought before Parliament for ratification based on Article One Subsection Three of the constitution.
She said seven experts were identified; a writer, lyricist, historian, performing artist and musical arrangers. The route was chosen based on a precedent for the Netherlands Antilles where St. Maarten’s daughter of the soil won the competition for the creation of the national anthem.
However, Arrindell noted, the amount offered as prize money, US $10,000, was heavily condemned by the public. She pointed out that this is the same amount a calypso king would receive annually and the dollar equivalent to what then-16-year-old Zahira Hiliman had received for writing the national anthem in 1997. She gave context to MPs just how extensively the topic had been discussed in the media by showing various newspaper clippings.
“Moving forward, it is lamentable for me that in 2021, 10 years later, I am asked here before this committee to provide information on something that should seem a non-issue elsewhere – not the fact of which song, but the fact that we do not have an anthem today due to paralysis-analysis.
“The ‘how’ and the ‘who’ is not for me to decide, but I agree that an anthem representing the aspirations of the St. Maarten people could play a big role in nation-building. However, given the public responses in 2011, I would ask whether we’re at a level of maturity to put aside the politics for a while and sincerely focus on building a stronger nation.
“Ten years ago we let politics stand in the way of giving our people an anthem that they could be proud of today. Today will we get over our paralysis-analysis and come once and for all … build a proud, strong and self-reliant St. Maarten nation that our children would be proud to inherit.”
United Democrats (UD) MP Sarah Wescot-Williams said during the question round that she believes Parliament should call the government out on these matters. “If we don’t do that, these items are not going to get any priority in the context of today’s reality. I am fully in support of calling the government in and finding out what, if anything, they have done about their commitment,” she said.
“I’m a firm believer that as a country we should have a national anthem,” said Independent MP Claudius Buncamper. “As a member of parliament, I would give my support whole-heartedly for the moving, pushing forward of the national anthem. There is a lot of history that is being lost in what all has happened from the time the St. Martin song was written to the time they started the commission in 2000, to us becoming an autonomous country in 2010 and in 2021 we're still discussing a national anthem.”
Party for Progress (PFP) MP Melissa Gumbs asked, “What has the conversation been with the French side, the Collectivité about this matter?” She said nation-building and moving forward are discussed, but there is no official stance from the side of the Collectivité about what they see as the future of the land mass that the two countries share.