Ask any Gibraltarian how he or she feels about their identity
|by EDWIN J REYES,
Minister for Culture and Heritage
This is the twelfth in the Calpe series but it is my first as I was only elected into government at the latter end of last year. Within my portfolio I hold responsibility for Culture, Heritage, Sport and Leisure and backing and actively supporting proactive conferences is one of the most rewarding of my tasks.
The months that I have been responsible for these areas of Government have exposed me to many aspects of the rich history of Gibraltar. Most Gibraltarians, I dare say all, are very conscious and aware of the rich history that precedes us; I am well aware of the value of the heritage that gives material substance to that history but I am also very conscious of the great need that there is, not just here - but worldwide, to somehow conserve and protect that intangible heritage that is sometimes so hard to grasp.
Ask any Gibraltarian how he or she feels about their identity and they will answer precisely that: ?I am a Gibraltarian?; but try and define it and grasp it in all its levels of detail and one may be hard pressed to somehow wrap up the feeling into a hermetic definition. Identity, in all its facets and levels of complexity, is precisely that feeling that we all know intuitively but which may be harder to define.
As Dr Geraldine Finlayson recognises in the abstract of the paper that she will present on Friday, there have been relatively few studies of Gibraltar?s community and, if I may quote her, ??where it has been recorded it has been from an outside perspective where at times observers have been unable to recognise the intricacies of an event or may have even misunderstood the complexities of the issues as a result of their lack of understanding of our culture, of our language - or even our customs.?
It was for this reason that my Ministry set up last year an Institute of Gibraltarian Studies which Geraldine heads among her other functions related to heritage and culture. This project is still in an embryonic stage but this conference will do much to reinforce its importance: having spent a great amount of time, funding and effort in protecting our tangible heritage, it is now time to take the first steps in the direction of intangible heritage as a correlate of our identity. It is by study and debate, and not through stubborn, antiquated and confrontationalist nationalistic rhetoric, that we will best understand others and ourselves. If that helps us to live as a harmonious community within a wider world of plural identities then the task will have been worthwhile. It is about time that we confined dangerous nationalistic ideologies, at all levels from individuals to States, to the waste paper basket.
The richness and diversity of Gibraltar?s history, due to the Rock?s unique geographical position between Africa and Europe and between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, is second to none. This place has attracted humans since the earliest times. Many have left traces of their time on this Rock ? prehistoric peoples, Phoenicians, Muslims, Spanish and British. It has the potential to become a natural research laboratory, something that was recognised three decades ago by another of our speakers ? Professor Larry Sawchuk from Toronto in Canada. Larry first came to Gibraltar as a PhD student in the 1970s and has kept coming back since to what has become his second home. During this time he has conducted a detailed study of the Gibraltarian community from a medical anthropological perspective and his publications on the subject have given us an essential yardstick. I know that Professor Sawchuk has established an excellent collaboration with a number of persons and departments in Gibraltar, not least the Gibraltar Museum, and that he will continue to do so, God willing, for many more years to come.
The range of speakers that we have been able to get together here in Gibraltar is truly astonishing. Few communities our size could hope to attract such a distinguished gathering. It pleases me to see so many Gibraltarians among the speakers and discussants in this conference because it shows off another facet of our nature: we may be small but it seems that we are blessed with the talent and energy that can provide no fewer than seven contributors, just short of 40% of the conference?s total.
It is important to see that these Gibraltarians are not just talking about their own place but that they have important things to say about the wider world. Professor Clive Finlayson and Dr Darren Fa, both from the Gibraltar Museum, will be kicking off the conference with a wide, dare I say global, vision on the origins of identity; on Friday Dennis Beiso, the Gibraltar Government?s Archivist, will compare Gibraltar with Andorra. Furthermore, one of our discussants, Dr Andrew Canessa, is a social anthropologist who has done important work in Bolivia since 1989.
Dr Kevin Lane, now based in Manchester University, has spent many years away from Gibraltar looking at Andean archaeology. I know that he visits the Rock regularly and he will bring his knowledge of material culture to give a distinctive approach to the question of Gibraltarian identity. Dr Jennifer Ballantine is another Gibraltarian who has spent time away from the Rock and has focused her research on Cuba in a colonial and post-colonial context. She has been a part of Lancaster University?s project looking at culture, identity and society in Gibraltar and will be presenting a case study from this work.
Not all the Gibraltar papers will be presented by Gibraltarians. I have already mentioned one exception and another is Dr ?ngel S?ez of the Instituto de Estudios Campogibral-tare?os in Algeciras. Dr S?ez is a specialist on fortifications and has written a number of papers and books relating to Gibraltar?s military history. His contribution will be precisely a look at how the location of the fortress of Gibraltar has led to, in his words, ??this singular society.?
Gibraltar?s connections with the outside world have been diverse throughout history, but some places have much closer connections than others. Take a close look at the telephone directory and you might be forgiven for thinking that you were in Malta. My maternal family proudly bear the surname Zammit and even our own Chief Minister?s surname, Caruana, is Maltese. So I am particularly pleased to welcome Anthony Pace, Superintendent of Cultural Heritage of the Government of Malta, who will talk to us tomorrow about the role of cultural heritage in shaping identity. I am aware that the Gibraltar Museum has close links with Tony?s department and that there are plans for future collaborations between them. Certainly the title of his paper whets the appetite, touching as it does on the sensitive nerve chord that tenuously links the real with the imagined.
If I may return briefly to our good friend Larry Sawchuk, I note that he will be making special reference to the evacuation of the Gibraltarians from the Rock during the Second World War, a key marker of Gibraltarian identity. Gibraltarians were made welcome in such distant places as Madeira, Jamaica and Northern Ireland during their imposed long sojourn away from home. What a pleasure it is to welcome here a representative from one of those ?homes abroad? - namely William Blair from the mid-Antrim Museums Service. Northern Ireland has a special place in the heart of many Gibraltarians and I thank you, on behalf of Gibraltar, for having been so good to us in our hour of need. Indeed my father and his immediate family were hosted by Northern Ireland during the War Years and, on behalf of my family, I thank you for your kind hospitality.
Religious and social tolerance is something that we are all proud of in Gibraltar. If you just walk down Main Street on any day of the week, but perhaps more so on a Saturday morning, and you will see a wonderful mix of religions and races all getting along with each other and enjoying life ? whether you have just left the synagogue, the hairdressers or shopping. That is how the world should be.
Professor David Abulafia from Cambridge will be talking to us tomorrow about the religious melting pot that was medieval Spain: paradoxically, that old territory of al-Andalus not only provided wonderful examples of tolerance but also of extreme cruelty. I am sure that Professor Abulafia?s paper will show us how thin the line is that separates tolerance from discrimination.
If you want to see the degree to which ignorance can lead to discrimination, pain and suffering then look no further than the case of the Australian Aborigines. It is an honour to have Mark Dugay-Grist among us to represent the oldest continuous living culture on Earth. Mark is uniquely placed to talk to us, as he puts it, ??his experiences, his highs and lows as an Aboriginal person who has been involved in research and data collection from Aboriginal skeletons for almost a quarter of a century.?
Latin America is also represented in this conference. Dr Alex Herrera has come all the way from Bogot?, in Colombia, to give us a perspective of ancient people who lived and died in the Andes of northern Peru and Professor Ulrich Kohler from Freiburg in Germany will talk to us about the Tzotzil people who live in the highlands of Chiapas in Mexico.
Of course, Africa could not be left out of this programme either. Professor Gunter Best from Muenster in Germany has spent some time in Gibraltar recently looking at aspects of social anthropology here, but he will be talking tomorrow about research that he has been carrying out on the ethnic identity of the Rift Valley people in Kenya. Professor Tim Insoll from the University of Manchester, who I gather has enthralled us in a previous Calpe Conference, will be looking at West Africa when he speaks to us about the Talensi of Northern Ghana.
Manchester University is well represented at this year?s conference. Dr Eleanor Casella will be monitoring, with Andrew Canessa, the progress of the conference and will no doubt be keeping detailed and copious notes. Together with Andrew and Jennifer Ballantine she will mastermind the final day?s discussion, threading together the various strands into, I am certain, a coherent plot. I have no doubt that the discussion itself will be a lively one.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have no wish to steal any more time from you but, in opening this conference, I did want to personally mention each and every speaker and discussant and thank them for being here with us today. I hope you will conclude that Gibraltar is a very open and welcoming place and trust those of you who are here for the first time will find this out for yourselves in the next few days.
There are others among you who have been here before and are already good friends of ours. It is a pleasure to welcome you back. To all of you, new comers and familiar faces, I wish a successful conference and an enjoyable stay in Gibraltar. I hope to be able to spend some time listening to the very interesting papers that lie ahead, but my numerous Ministerial duties and attendance at Parliament itself will take up a big chunk of my time. Nevertheless, I hope to meet you personally over the next few days during the course of the various social events that accompany the programme.
? Speech at the opening of the Calpe Conference yesterday.