October 23, 2020

John Gray students keep heritage alive


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Iesha, Shaquana and Thashawna practice thatchingA thriving heritage arts club at High School is helping to retain Caymanian traditional crafts for future generations that might otherwise easily be forgotten. Each week students learn how to make an array of items through the art of plaiting thatch under the guidance of Ms Donna Bryan, an instructor with Cayman Traditional Arts and a long-time proponent of the art, who is an instructor on the CTA’s Heritage Arts programme.

“My mother was excellent at plaiting thatch and brought us all up on the products she made through the art,” Ms Donna confirms.

At first a volunteer with the School and now, for the past two years, an instructor through Cayman Traditional Arts, Ms Donna brings with her basket loads of ‘strings’, long thin strands from the Silver Thatch Palms that grow in her backyard, the Cayman Islands’ National Tree. Some have been left in their natural pale beige state while others have been coloured using clothes dye into an assortment of colours.

Ms Donna then patiently teaches students how to plait using five, seven, nine or as many as eleven strings. The result is a length of plaited thatch that can then be sewn into a variety of attractive items, such as hats, bags, belts, bracelets, slippers and more.

“I’m impressed that some students had already learnt the art of plaiting thatch as they had been taught by their grandparents who were keen to pass their knowledge down through the generations,” Ms Donna notes.

Students are slowly amassing an array of beautifully made items that they hope to sell.

“It would be wonderful if we could raise sufficient funds to buy a sewing machine,” Ms Donna advises, “then the students could produce a much wider selection of items.”

Ms Patricia Forbes, Acting Deputy Principal, Tarpon Academy at John Gray High School has been a key organiser of the club.

“It’s very important for the students to be able to learn about their heritage,” she confirms. “Years ago the Cayman Islands were known for making the strongest rope in the world from our Silver Thatch Palm and so it is wonderful that Ms Donna is able to pass this skill on. Students really enjoy the club which we hold on a Tuesday lunchtime and we are very grateful to Ms Donna for initially volunteering her time and now instructing students with Cayman Traditional Arts.”


Iesha, Shaquana and Thashawna practice plaiting their thatch

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