Sculptor Michael Maghiro among his creations One-Tété Lohkay (left) and a salt picker.
CAY HILL–After the powerful winds of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in September 2017 left her bent, but not broken, the statue dedicated to legendary heroine One-Tété Lohkay that once stood proud at the Cay Hill roundabout disappeared from the public domain.
The statue was removed a few months after the hurricanes and was never returned to her pedestal. She appeared to have been forgotten and unmissed. Now, almost three years after the devastating storms, the One-Tété Lohkay statue still remains where she was, at her sculptor’s house in Pointe Blanche, waiting for restoration.
The torn and tattered bronze statue was sculpted by Nigeria-born St. Maarten artist Michael Maghiro. It depicts One-Tété Lohkay running with a bundle of sugarcane sticks on her shoulder. If you look closely, you can see that one side of her chest is deformed. At first sight the statue looks worn, but apart from the bundle of sugarcane sticks, which currently lie at the woman’s feet, the sculpture seems only lightly damaged. However, due to the workings of sun, dust and wind, her once shiny bronze skin has made way for a dull complexion.
“Don’t worry, with only a little effort you can fix her up again nicely,” says Maghiro, picking up a handful of sand and rubbing it onto the statue to reveal some of its former glory. According to legend, One-Tété Lohkay was a young woman, or perhaps a girl, who was enslaved on a plantation in St. Maarten. However, she rebelled and ran away from her owners. One-Tété Lohkay was hunted down by her plantation owners, recaptured and brought back to the plantation.
As punishment for her defiance and as a warning to other slaves, the slave masters ordered that one of her breasts be cut off. That is how she became known as One-Tété Lohkay. Her statue was unveiled by then-Commissioner of Culture Louie Laveist on Emancipation Day 2006, when July 1 was not yet a public holiday.
The One-Tété Lohkay statue is not the only artwork by Maghiro that has fallen into a state of disrepair. The three bronze brown pelicans at the roundabout at the airport and the Salt Pickers monument in Philipsburg are also damaged. One of the salt pickers is currently keeping One-Tété Lohkay company at the sculptor’s house perched up high on Monte Vista. Maghiro said he is ready to repair his sculptures at any time, but up to now government has not made any money available for highly-needed repairs.
Fixing the One-Tété Lohkay statue would cost some US $6,000, but according to its creator, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport (ECYS) and the Ministry of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure VROMI are in a “perpetual” back-and-forth about which one should be responsible for works of art in public locations. “When the works were commissioned no contracts for maintenance were included. Normally, I would do maintenance and polish the statues every four months to keep them in good shape and look at their best. But here nobody is taking any responsibility. It seems as if nobody cares. I am tired of it. I am serious,” Maghiro said.
Department of Culture head Clara Reyes said on behalf of Minister of Culture and Rodolphe Samuel and the ECYS Ministry that the ministry is aware of the present location of the One-Tété Lohkay statue. “The sculpture is in safekeeping and awaiting funds to begin repairs. Yes, the government has every intention to repair and to replace it to its original location in the roundabout, but due to financial challenges post-Hurricane Irma and recently COVID-19 this has proven too difficult to execute in a timely manner,” said Reyes. With his landmark Ikemba gallery of African contemporary artwares on Front Street closed since Hurricane Irma, Maghiro has in the meantime increasingly tried his luck elsewhere in the Caribbean. “St. Maarten is my home since 1997, but I am primarily working in other parts of the world now,” he explained.
He is particularly successful in Tortola, US Virgin Islands, and in the Bahamas where he is working on statues honouring heroes and heroines in the Caribbean at Legends Garden at University of the Bahamas.
Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/statue-of-one-tete-lohkay-still-waiting-for-better-times