It took 39 Amerindians of the Wai Wai tribe, including two females, to painstakingly affix over 500,000 troolie palm leaves, held together by vines gathered from the remote St Cuthbert’s Mission to restore the Umana Yana, the meeting place, to its original look. After three weeks, the team of ‘restorers’ led by Captain Paul Chekema from Gunn’s Strip, a remote community in Region Nine, has completed the task and has handed back the National Monument, located in Kingston, to the Ministry of Culture , Youth and Sport. The benab was originally built by more than 60 Wai Wais in 1972 to facilitate the first Non Aligned Monument meeting; lasting 80 days and costing about $26,000. Prior to the repairs, the Culture Ministry had awarded a $16M contract to Chekema and his team for the rehabilitation, as the present generation of the village vowed to continue the tradition of preserving the National Monument.
Despite heavy rainfall, the determined Wai Wais ensured the project was completed on time. Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport, Alfred King expressed his gratitude to the workers for a task well organized. King said that they met all the requirements and that the structure will again function effectively. “It requires skills and experience to thatch a roof of this nature,” he highlighted.
King emphasised that over the next few weeks, the structure will be further refurbished, as new furnishings will be added, sound system will be installed and the floor and counters will be renovated. Subsequently; the structure will be ready for public use in approximately one month. King commended the team on its display of quality, discipline, and conformation to the timeline that was expected.
Captain Chekema stated that the project was challenging, since it was difficult to acquire materials, however, it was completed after a lot of hard work. Government has been instrumental in the preservation of the country’s historical landmarks for present and future generations, as they are indicators of the road traveled and must be treasured.