Spectators of the Smaatin National Cultural Parade could not miss these flag-bearing moko jumbies. Photo by John Halley.
PHILIPSBURG–In a splash of colour seldom seen outside the island’s two Carnival seasons, many considered the Smaatin National Cultural Parade on Saturday afternoon to be the highlight of the 64th annual St. Martin Day celebration.
The parade featured dozens of cultural groups, national associations, and primary school troupes clad in flamboyant traditional wear and elaborate cultural costumes. They made their way from L.B. Scott Road to Jocelyn Arndell Festival Village in front of hundreds of spectators lining the route. There were even baton-twirling majorettes and flag-waving moko jumbies towering over the crowd on stilts.
The official St. Martin Day programme started at 7:30am Saturday with the ringing of church bells, followed by an ecumenical service at St. Martin of Tours Roman Catholic Church in Philipsburg.
The traditional wreath-laying ceremony at the Bellevue border monument took place shortly before 10:00am.
St. Maarten Governor Ajamu Baly and Préfet Délégué for St. Martin and St. Barths Vincent Berton were the first to lay their wreaths before the monument’s obelisk, followed by St. Maarten Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs and First Vice-President of the Collectivité of St. Martin Alain Richardson. The four political leaders each paused for a solemn moment of reflection before walking away.
St. Maarten Police Force KPSM cadets, St. Maarten Volunteer Corps VKS members and St. Martin Police Aux Frontières (PAF) officers marched at the head of the Uniformed Parade, which went down Walter J.A. Nisbeth Road (Pondfill) before ending at Jocelyn Arndell Festival Village around 11:00am.
Behind the paramilitary and law enforcement groups were local drum bands, as well as Scout and Youth brigades.
Four groups that participated in the Uniformed Parade also performed a drill and marching demonstration at the start of the official St. Martin Day ceremony at Jocelyn Arndell Festival Village.
The ceremony saw speeches by Baly, Berton, Jacobs, and Richardson, as well as by St. Maarten Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport (ECYS) Rodolphe Samuel.
Most of the speeches focused on themes of unity, togetherness and the island’s shared history and values.
“As a people, we are strong together and we are a nation that is ever evolving. This occasion is not only just to enjoy our cultural heritage, but also to remind us of the responsibilities we bear towards each other and towards our nation,” said Jacobs, who draped her white dress with a sash made of the symbols and muted colours of the Unity Flag. “Let us continue to work together, embracing who we were, knowing who we are, and striving, in unity, for who we aim to become.”
Richardson, who spoke on behalf of President of the Collectivité of St. Martin Louis Mussington, said: “On a day like today, allow me to emphasise the need for us to remain more focused and more united, especially in the world where divisions and wars, disruption of all sorts, seems to be the name of the game. More than ever, we must surmount political differences, opposing ideologies to serve the common good, the greater good; to serve the interest of our entire country before everything else.”
The speeches were interspersed with songs, musical performances, and dances, including a stirring rendition of the maypole dance by National Institute of Arts (NIA).
With champagne glasses held aloft, the ceremony ended with Jacobs giving a toast to the island’s future.
Alongside high-ranking local officials, the ceremony was also attended by St. Eustatius Government Commissioner Alida Francis and St. Eustatius Island Council Member Clyde van Putten.
Those who stayed at Jocelyn Arndell Festival Village after the ceremony could have grabbed lunch from a number of booths or watched children play cultural games, such as the sack race.
The last two items on the official St. Martin Day programme were the Smaatin National Culture Parade and a Tradition Wear Display and Cultural Concert.
In addition, sporting events and private gatherings were hosted throughout the island on Saturday.