‘Sacred Space and Social Memory’: lessons from the land in the Grenadines and the Isle of Skye 

On opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean lie Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and the Isle of Skye. The cultures of these two islands have unique connections to land, in which the natural environment is deeply intertwined with culture and community. These connections have endured through a long history of challenge: clearances, dispossession, and displacement in Scotland; and slavery, colonial legacies and genocide of Indigenous people in the Caribbean (see video). And even as the legacies of these histories remain today – a housing crisis driven by unsustainable tourism in Skye, continued privatisation of islands of the Grenadines – the communities of these islands continue to find identity as their relationship with land changes over time.  

Indigenous history of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, a film by Vincentian filmmaker Akley Olton 

Holly Bynoe has set out to uplift the stories of these communities, highlighting how people in the Grenadines and Skye traditionally and currently connect with and learn from land. She is pursuing a PhD in the School of Art History under a 5-year research project called ‘Shared Island Stories Between Scotland and the Caribbean: Past, Present, Future’ titled ‘Sacred Space and Social Memory: Interrogating Co-Becoming in Communities and Community-Based Organizations across the Grenadines and Skye.’ Through uplifting stories from the communities of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Skye, Bynoe showcases how aspects like community, adaptation and creativity can arise from people’s relationships with each other, and with the natural environment. The project is highly collaborative, including collaborations with non-profit organisations including Flourish Together, The Hub Collective, and We Are Mayreau, heritage centres, and individuals throughout the multi locations. 

Bynoe’s project emerges from her long-term interest in psychosocial work, the history of the Caribbean, and the complexities around livelihood in a time of ecological crisis. It also involves her 15-year career in the culture and arts sector with creative communities across Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Barbados, Martinique and The Bahamas, where she was Chief Curator at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas for five years. Throughout her career, she has identified global tendencies to view the living world as a passive natural resource, paired with increasing apathy toward community and land connection. Aiming to counter these attitudes, Bynoe’s goal is to shed light on new ways of thinking about the world, through sharing how people relate to their natural environment.  

Bynoe has recently completed her first visits to Skye, where she discovered the many ways that the community is sustained via their connection to land. She visited the sacred Loch Shianta, participated in cloth waulking workshops accompanied by Gaelic song, and volunteered at Flourish Together in Broadford and Strath – a community garden programme that welcomes and supports differently abled community members. These experiences indicated how land could be a receptacle for history, healing, and community, as well as communication. Through working with many adults with learning disabilities in the garden, Bynoe found that land could inspire new forms of expression, kinship and communicative movement. She also discovered that connecting to land can inspire resilience, as these organisations all work toward food and medicine security and ecological preservation in the context of climate change. 

To see more of Holly’s ongoing work, see her 2-Part post in Global Voices [Part 1, Part 2].