By Dr. Rhoda Arrindell
Chapter 1 of the States Regulation (aka Constitution) of Sint Maarten, in its English translation of the Dutch original states in Article 1.3 that: “By national ordinance the national flag, the coat of arms and the national anthem of Sint Maarten shall be enacted.” The coat of arms and national anthem had been enacted by Island Council resolutions before 10-10-10, and Parliament thereafter adopted them in the transition to the present status. So, why hasn’t Parliament to date passed legislation to enact a “national anthem”? A quick look backwards may shed light.
The debate of a national anthem for St. Martin (South) dates back at least to 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. Though the most popular song was reportedly judged to be “Island in the West,” submitted by the Oranje School, the song that was eventually chosen was the St. Joseph School’s submission, “Oh Sweet St. Martin’s Land,” a 1958 composition by Father Gerard Kemps, a Catholic priest residing on the French-controlled part of the island at the time. The song was originally composed in French, then translated into English.
In 2000, a committee, consisting of civil servants, including the current President of Parliament, was established to work on a national anthem, among other things. According to official documents, because of the “political reality,” the committee surmised that either a new song should be chosen, or the lyrics of “Oh Sweet St. Martin’s Land” should be changed. The committee members also 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.”
In 2011, in an attempt to comply with the constitutional requirement, as then Minister of MECSY, I proposed a national committee to bring this process to a logical conclusion through a competition. Some people, including some current members of Parliament, chose to politicize the issue, thereby creating an unnecessary controversy. The proposed national committee could not get off the ground by the time the coalition government fell, even though while the controversy raged on, a number of St. Martiners had either submitted entries or indicated their interest to participate in the competition, which was being modeled along the lines of the one held to choose an anthem for the now defunct Netherlands Antilles. That competition was won by Zahira Hilliman of St. Martin.
Today, 9 years after 10-10-10, Parliament has not complied with the very first article of the “Constitution” by passing the necessary legislation. The question, therefore, is why, despite the fact that several past and present members could have made this happen? In the meantime, we have been forced to continue living a lie, perpetuated by the same politicians, that we have a national “anthem,” when they very well know that we don’t.
If Fr. Kemp’s “Oh Sweet St. Martin’s Land” is their choice, for whatever reason, why hasn’t Parliament adopted it as our official national “anthem”?
When teach our children to sing and stand for a song we call the “national anthem,” while we know that Parliament has not yet done its job to enact one, we too are perpetuating a lie and are de facto teaching our children to repeat this lie. And each time “Oh Sweet St. Martin’s Land” is used in official settings at which our elected and appointed representatives are present, we must understand that they are all committing a fraud because it is not yet our “national anthem”. In other words, every day that passes that members of Parliament continue to ignore this basic legal requirement, they would be, in my humble view, in violation of the same “Constitution” they swore to uphold.
I agree with my good friend Fabian Badejo, who says that the perpetuation of this lie is a betrayal of the people. According to Fabian, “the people elect their representatives; they trust them to abide by the Constitution and to also tell them the truth; not enacting a law that would give us a national anthem as required by that same Constitution is not just a dereliction of duty, it is a flagrant, bold-faced betrayal of the trust the people placed in them.”
By Dr. Rhoda Arrindell