The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

Archive for the month “April, 2015”

Dry Weather Stories

The Saba Islander

It is not unusual around my house to get news making phone calls. I cannot remember what year it was, but I was busy taking some water from a cistern in a pail by gravity to water my plants. One of my children ran down where I was busy and said: “Daddy, Mammie says to come quick, the Queen is on the phone.” “The Queen,” I said! Well better go see who it is. “Which Queen,” I called out on my way up to the house? My wife asked:”How many Queens do you know?” Picked up the phone and indeed it was the office of Her Majesty. Not the lady in person, mind you, but her office. They were calling to make plans for a visit she was going to make to the islands and needed some input from me as to who they could put on the committee. Two…

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THE LABEGA’S

THE LABEGA’S

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Vincent Labega (September 30th, 1924 —-February 25th, 2015

BY: Will Johnson

When I heard the news of the death of Vincent Labega, I remembered Fred Train once telling me: “Boy dem Labega’s is one set of brainsers me son.” He would have known. His sister Rosie was married to Clem Labega.

I use Facebook to post a lot of old photographs of the islands and people. I don’t look at messages too often. However when I did I saw a message from Fabian Badejoe asking if I could contribute something to the eulogy for Vincent Labega. I immediately sent the following message: “ “The Labega family were always known for their smarts going back to when the family was first established on St. Maarten centuries ago. Vincent who we now mourn was one of the quickest witted people I ever came in contact with. He had a special smile when he was about to make a remark on any particular subject. I palled around mostly with his brother Clem, but there were many times when our regular group would include Vincent. There was a time when he worked for the United States weather bureau which provided service to Juliana airport. Both he and his brother Clem followed in their father Percy’s footsteps by studying for wireless operator. Vincent was also an avid ham radio operator. I remember once sitting with him in his office close to the Juliana airport. He was doing Morse code. Although he was hard of hearing he was tuned in so well, and understood the Morse code so well, that he would be laughing at times. After the Morse code conversation he would tell me the joke his Morse code friend had shared with him.

The last time I saw him he was sitting in front of an old house with some friends on Backstreet and we talked briefly. He was still looking good. I am happy that he lived to be 90 and my sympathy goes out to the extended Labega family. With his passing yet another great native St. Martin mind has left us behind but the memory of our friendship will last a very long time. May he rest in peace.”

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Ceremony for the 100th anniversary of the Methodist Church. In the photo several Labega ladies including Jazz, her aunt Helen and another aunt.

But it was too late for Fabian and so he asked me if I could put Vincent “Under the Sea Grape Tree” when I got a chance and he also sent me a copy of the eulogy from which I will quote.

“Eulogy for the late Vincent Alexis Labega (September 30th, 1924 – February 25th, 2015) by Regina LaBega and Sunilda Gomez-LaBega.

“Vincent Alexis Labega was indeed an icon; one of that generation of St. Martiners that made the best of their God-given talents to build this island and lay the foundation for our economic progress today. And daddy was multi-talented. He was a very good musician, and exceptional pianist whose skills earned him the nickname, “Paliachi”. He who gave everyone a nickname also got one himself. He played several musical instruments, including the guitar, mandarin, and the so-called Hawaiian guitar which you placed on your laps to play.

“Almost everyone knows him as one of the first amateur ham operators on the island. He was in tune with the rest of the world.

Although he has been referred to as being very disciplined – perhaps because unlike quite a number of his peers at the time, he did not frequent bars, and did not drink – he knew how to adapt to the time, and was quite liberal in his views and attitude as he grew older. However, he never compromised on a good education. In fact, he valued nothing more than a sound education, as opposed to just book knowledge. He had a disdain for those he called in his usual frank and sometimes hilarious manner, ‘educated jackasses.’ He always insisted on academic excellence and none of us could have come home with grades less than 8 or 8.5 without some serious consequences.

He was an avid reader as well who never stopped reading books and newspapers until his last breath. It was from him that many of us developed the love and habit of reading. He used to say that his children learned how to read first before they could talk! But he didn’t read for reading sake; he had a very critical mind and like to discuss the latest books he read.

Daddy was an educator himself. He taught for some time on Statia. He loved teaching. In fact, he never stopped being a teacher all his life because for him teaching was not only imparting knowledge but more importantly sharing it, whether it was about operating a ham radio, about music, or about any of the areas he was skilled in, including that of being a renowned technician, the go-to guy to fix anything that needed fixing – radios, fans, machines-any and everything. It is said that it only took him two days to repair broken machinery at the airport in those days, a testimony to how good he was.

“He was, without doubt, one of the outstanding pioneers of aviation and tourism on the island, with his brother Clem, and Claude, all now evergreen memory, and others of their generation who labored day and night to lay the foundation upon which we thrive today as a touristic destination.

He was influenced by his father Percy who was in charge of the telephone company and the postal services for the three Windward Islands and also served as radio operator and Administrator of Saba and Vincent would often go to Saba to be with his father.

“Daddy was very humble, very unassuming and self-effacing, perhaps even to a fault – another LaBega trait. And he was a good father who did all he had to do to provide for his family; a well-rounded, intelligent and caring St. Martiner who never liked to be on the losing side.”

In the eulogy reference was also made to his ghost writing for the St. Martin Star. In the fifth anniversary editorial of that paper Alan Richardson the Editor gave me all the credit for bringing about this paper. Why? Because I had such a popular column ‘The Exile Speaks’in the NEW AGE newspaper of my friend Mervin Scot, that the Democrat Party had to come up with something to defend themselves. I think that Vincent’s column in that paper was “The Bomber” if I am not mistaken.

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Administrator of Saba the Hon. Edward Caroll Labega. He was Administrator of Saba from 1958 to 1960. Here is is handing out an award to Miss Janice Johnson for student of the year. His first wife was a Johnson from Saba, a sister of “Mum” and Gillie I think.

Vincent’s brother Clem and I lived like brothers although I was opposition to his beloved Democrat Party. He used to tell me that the name Labega originated from “De la Vega”. It was pronounced on Saba as “Labegaah” and they were involved on Saba as well. Percy, the father, and I were nearly lost together on Capt. Mathew Levenston’s sloop the “Gloria” on September 7th, 1957. We left Saba just before sunset and were caught in a storm around 11pm and were battered about at sea until 3pm the following day, when we were seen drifting on the Saba Bank. Kenneth Peterson came to the rescue with his boat and towed us back into the roadstead of Fort Bay.

I had a lively correspondence with Fred Labega Jr. who lived on Curacao and whose two brothers were married to two red-head girls from Saba. Their father Elias Hassell was a schooner captain from Saba and lived on St. Croix. He traded between the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico in the first half of the last century. Fred’s father William Frederick Adolphus Labega (born 1871 on St. Maarten, died 1937 on Curacao) was an educator by profession but a writer during his free time. While gathering material for my book “For the Love of St. Maarten” published by McMillan Caribbean Fred Labega Jr. then 88 revealed that his father wrote many novels, sonnets, and poems, as well as 240 aphorisms. Two of these aphorisms are: “In every well-balanced mind the spiritual must govern the material,” and “Solitude is imagination’s nest, where the sublimest thoughts are hatched.”

“Feddy”, as he was known to family and friends, was a qualified headmaster. He also held degrees in English and French, and was fluent in Spanish. He completed his education in Curacao. He served as tutor to the children of some of the wealthy families at a time when these families either had tutors from England or sent their children to the United States for their education.

As a teacher Labega was always on friendly terms with the teachers and officials in Marigot. They were from Guadeloupe, so Mr. Labega was afforded many opportunities to use the French language. It is believed that a German nun in the Roman Catholic convent in Philipsburg taught him Spanish. This he put to good use in the Dominican Republic where he taught English from the time of his “retirement” on St. Maarten until shortly before his death.

Mr. Labega was a head teacher in the government school: Cul-de-Sac, Little Bay, Philipsburg (Old Dutch Church), and in later years he also served at the Mount William School. In the Dominican Republic he taught at the Escuela Normal at San Pedro de Macoris.

When Labega died from paralysis in 1937, “De Bovenwindse Stemmen” called him a “hard working student (who) never relaxed his efforts at self-improvement.” We also learned from that obituary that he contributed articles to the press on Curacao, Santo Domingo, and for some time to “De Bovenwindse Stemmen”itself.

The other St. Martin newspaper “De Slag om Slag” said of Mr. Labega, “He was one of the most popular men of his day…a brilliant scholar…a self-taught man…a great poet… (Who) hated popularity and led a retiring life.” Mr. Labega contributed to the Curacao newspaper “Vrijmoedige” and later for several years to the “Amigo de Curacao”. Of his work the newspaper says the following:

“Many of his works are nom-de-plume, the best of which have never been published. His best verses are “Lines Written in Little Bay Church Yard”, and “Evening Reveries”.

He wrote several novels. Two of the best were “Hail Columbine” and “A Mother’s Fault”, but democracy was not ripe enough to accept such broadminded literary works when he attempted at publication.

An acquaintance of the great William T. Stead, a certain Mr. John White, who incidentally was in some way or other connected with the White House, took these manuscript novels along with him and submitted them to Mr. Stead. But after Mr. Stead’s death on the “Titanic” disaster in 1912, a clerk finding the manuscripts on the great editor’s desk returned them.

“A Mother’s Fault” was never published, but is a manuscript worth reading. The Editor of “De Slag om Slag” “Broertje Brouwer” son of legendary Lt. Governor A.J.C. Brouwer adds: Our Editor is proud to say that he took private lessons from Mr. Labega for some time.” Many others on St. Maarten at the time were proud to say the same thing.

Peter Lambertus Labega and his wife Mary Eliza Hassell.

Peter Lambertus Labega and his wife Mary Eliza Hasell

I wonder if any of Mr. Labega’s descendants of today have any of his writings left.

I have already written the life story of Clem Labega. Vincent and Clem’s parents were married on Wednesday April 9th, 1924. Wilfred Percy Mendez Labega (26) son of Victor Emanuel Labega and Marie Isolene Arrindell, married Maria Denise Josephine Arrindell (31) daughter of Joseph Romney Arrindell and Marie Eglantine Howell.

Administrator Max Huith wife Cynthia Labega 1948,

Administrator Max Huith and his wife Cynthia Labega 1948 with their two sons both of whom became Medical Doctors later on in life.

There were other Labega’s who married into then prominent St. Maarten families such as Mr. Max Huith whose wife was Cynthia Labega. He was Administrator of Saba, and we also had Edward Carrol Labega(born 26 April 1909) who was Administrator of Saba from 1958 to 1960 whose first wife was a Johnson .His two story house on the Front street was later owned by my friend Frederic Froston.

They also held prominent positions on Curacao such as Head of the “LANDS RADIO DIENST” and so on.

With Vincent’s death while laying to rest one of the old guard members of the Labega family, rest assured that there are a number of that prominent family still around and as Fred Train would remind you:” Dem Labega’s are a set of brainsers too me son.”

May Vincent rest in peace.

THE GOVERNOR’S ENGLISH LETTERS

THE GOVERNOR’S ENGLISH LETTERS

BY; Will Johnson

Governor Moses Leverock and family 1870?

Lt. Governor Moses Leverock with his second wife Mary Ann Winfield. By his first wife Ann Rebecca Beakes he had three children and by his second wife three (five of them pictured here.)He was Lt. Governor of Saba from 1863 until he died in 1875.

In going through some old documents from the 1860’s I found lots of correspondence between the Governor J.D. Crol on Curacao and Lt. Governor Moses Leverock on Saba.

1907 - Postcard Saba

When Moses Leverock was Lt. Governor he carried out this Honorary function from his home in The Bottom. There was no salary to speak of then. One of his predecessors of the Beaks family had to operate a pirate ship in order to maintain his family so that they would not have to starve. These two buildings came about around 1890 or so and served as the Post office, and office of the Lt. Governor and the other building was the police station and the jail. Typical Dutch thinking. In our new status the first things the Dutch did was to build new jails and strengthen the Police force and send out new immigrants to harass the indigenous people of the islands.

Remarkably enough for those times when the Governor on Curacao considered himself as a sort of Viceroy for the Dutch West Indies he recognized that Saba was an English speaking community. Even resolutions and various laws were translated into English to accommodate the Lt. Governor of Saba. In those days also Saba was Dutch only on paper. The small budget of around one thousand guilders per month was brought up by the residents of Saba. In 1865 there were 1.809 people living on Saba, all of them born here with about five foreigners living here. There was a delegated court of justice on Saba and an appeals court on St. Eustatius. Our local people were in charge of everything. Compare with today. Everything is in Dutch sent out to an English speaking people. No respect is shown for our history or our culture. Several Dutch wealthy people have set up a so called “Saba News” in order to put the Saba people to fight one another so that they can take over the islands resources and land which has been held in a sacred trust by the indigenous people for over four hundred years.  We will deal with these situations in another forum, but for now I just want to bring to the attention of our Dutch colonizers that we have a history, a culture and there was respect for that in former times. Not so anymore.

Here follows some of the correspondence from the Governor on Curacao, J.D. Crol.

Curacao, June 30th, 1864

N.67 9/22

Gezaghebber van Saba

“I have the honor to request you to inform the medical practitioner Klappers at your island that all medicines etc. required for the gratuitous treatment of the poor, the marechausees etc. are not to be furnished by him, but that he has to send in a proper acquisition list by your medium. When those articles will be furnished from the government hospital in their place. The Governor etc. was signed J.D.Crol.

Curacao the 14th of October 1864

No. 90 – 13/29

Pieces 4       In compliance with the request contained in your letter of the 8th ult. N.69, I have the honor to enclose to you a provisional Instruction and provisional Tariff for the medical practitioner in your island charged with the local medical services. You are requested to send the same over to Mr. Klappers for his guidance until a legal provision by the Supreme Government in Holland on the services of the local medical practitioner in the Dutch Windward Islands which soon is expected, shall be received.

With respect to the medicines etc. required for the medical attendance of the Marechausees, police agents and the poor, I have the honor to refer to my letter of 30th June last Nr. 67 – 9/22, while for those until now Mr. Kloppers he may present his bill, to be through your medium submitted to my approval. Enclosed you will also receive English translations of said instructions and tariff for your information.

The Governor, J.D.Crol.

Nr. 20. -10/17                                                      Curacao, 21 April 1865

“It is with deep regret that I have been informed by your letter of the 6th instant No. 19 of the death of Doctor Klappers. I have made the Minister of Colonies acquainted with this loss at the same time requesting his Excellency to provide in the want of a medical man in your island.

With regard to the medicines sent by Government for the treatment of the poor of which Mrs. Kloppers agreed to keep charge being at the same time willing to give any simple dose that may be required, I leave it to your judgement to act according to circumstances for the benefit of the poor. The Governor Etc. J.D. Crol.

Curacao, 22 May 1865

No. 40 -14/23

In answer to your letter of the 9th inst. I have the honor to inform you, that the passage money to which Mrs. Kloppers is entitled amounts to f 250.—for herself and f. 125.—for each child under 12 years of age. His Honor the Gezaghebber of St. Eustatius will be authorized by me to pay out said amounts whenever Mrs. Kloppers shall make up application for the same. The Governor. J.D. Crol.

No. 61 – 20/35                                     Curacao, the 20th July 1865

In answer to your letter of the 10th instant No. 43 I have the honor to inform you that it will be best to keep the government medicine left by Mrs. Kloppers until another physician shall be appointed for Saba to whom then these medicines may be given over. The Governor J.D.Crol.

No. 59-1833

Pieces 1                                                           Curacao, the 22nd July 1865

I have the honor to forward to you a petition of several inhabitants of Saba, containing a request that Dr. G.H. Brown residing in said island may be appointed as a government physician for Saba in the place of the late Mr. J.H. Kloppers. You are requested to return me said petition in agreement with same. Signed Governor J.D. Crol

No. 85 – 25/46 Letter sent by schooner “Harbinger” on August 7th, 1865. ** The large schooner the “Harbinger” was built on the Tent Bay by Capt. Solomon “Coonks” Simmons in 1861. He was assisted by John and his brother Phoenix Simmons.

Curacao the 9th October 1865

I have the honor to request you to forward to me by the first opportunity an extract from the Register of Deaths of your island, concerning the late Dr. J.W. Kloppers. Sent by schooner 22nd October 1865. Signed Governor J.D. Crol.

No. 101 – 29/61                                      Curacao, the 13th December 1865

Acknowledging the receipt of your letter of the 23rd ult. Nr. 79 with one enclosed from the Medical practitioner de Wilde, I have the honor with reference to my letter of June 30th, 1864, Nr. 67/22 to request you to inform said Mr. de Wilde that the medicines etc. required for the gratuitous treatment of the poor and Marechausees are not to be furnished by him, but that he has to send in to the government as soon as possible a proper statement of whatever medicines etc. may be required for that purpose in order that they may be forwarded to him by the first opportunity.

You are further requested to communicate to Mr. de Wilde that his correspondence with this government is to go through your medium under cachet Volant and not by closed letter in order to enable you if it should be required to add your considerations to the same without loss of time.

To His honour the Gezaghebber

Of Saba from the Governor J.D. Crol.

*From this letter you can see that RESPECT was shown to the position of the Lt. Governor of Saba back in 1865.

Nr.1/1                                                         Curacao, January 3rd, 1866

Mr. George M. Brown lately from your island, arrived here a few days ago and applied to me complaining of having been forced by the authority of Saba to leave the said island within a given time. On perusal of the various authentic document exhibited to me by the said Mr. Brown, it appears that this measure has been taken by you on the grounds of articles 11/14 of the decree of the 3rd March, 1831 no. 69, articles 11/14 of the decree of the 3rd March 1831 no. 69, and article 49 of the Government Regulation of 1848 No. 51.

I must however observe that Mr. Brown having resided on Saba for upwards of three years without hindrance or disturbance, and whereas it does not appear Mr. Brown has ever previous to the 17th of October last, officially been intimated to comply with the formality required by the said law of 1831 and 1848, consequently must have been considered having virtually (de facto) been admitted by the authorities of Saba: the stipulation of the articles of the laws above alluded to, cannot reasonably be enforced any more against Mr. Brown at all events before resorting to such an extreme measure as expulsion. Mr. Brown ought to have been allowed an opportunity as yet to comply with the requisite formality as prescribed by the decree of 1831g184C.

“It also appears by the warrant dated Saba 5 December 1865 and signed by the Recorder of the Delegated Bench of Justice that the measure against Mr. Brown has been taken in consequence of the contempt with which he had treated the authority of the Government of the island whilst it appears that for this very offence he has been prosecuted by you before the Delegated Bench of Justice and the said Bench by a sentence dated the 17th October 1865, declared itself incompetent to decide said cases and referred the parties to the Bench of Jurisdiction at St. Eustatius, now it is obvious that, instead of transferring the matter on political grounds the case ought to have been prosecuted by you before the Tribunal of St. Eustatius, and if so a legal sentence ought to have been rendered in the case but by a mere letter addressed by the Officer of the Public Ministry at St. Eustatius to the Delegated Bench of Justice for St. Eustatius and Saba, did not think the case brought by you against Mr. Brown, susceptible of being tried by that Court, as you had the authority and rights to send away any stranger who for legal reasons is to be looked upon as hurtful or mischievous and consequently to refuse further habitation in Saba to Mr. Brown, you could in no wise consider yourself authorized to resort to the step you have taken.

“I cannot at the same time abstain from expressing my surprise not having received any information from you on the subject, the warrant by which Mr. Brown was ordered to leave the island being stated the 5th December 1865 last, and your last official dispatch to me the 11th.

“On all these preceding grounds, and moreover taking in to consideration that it does not appear Mr. Brown has, during the three years of his sojourn in your island ever before given any cause for complaint, even your dispatch of 18th August last Nr. 59 containing nothing prejudicial to his private character, I permitted Mr. Brown to return to Saba on condition to conduct himself in a quiet and honorable manner.

In conclusion I beg to observe that as a consequence of the new Government Regulation which has entered in force the 1st of this month a new publication on the right of admitting and expelling of persons who are neither established in the different islands of the Colony must in the meantime earnestly recommend you the caution in resorting to any similar extreme measure as that of expelling without previously ascertaining the opinion of the Chief Government on the subject, as even International Interests may be jeopardized by it and consequently involve the Government in the most serious difficulties.

To His Honor the Gezaghebber of Saba                 From the Governor Etc.

Was signed J.D. Crol.

Curacao, January 2nd, 1866

Nr. 2/2

In connection with my letter of this date Nr. 1/1 I consider it not superfluous to observe to your Honor, that in my opinion Mr. Brown could not have been prosecuted in Saba for the payment of a debt contracted in the Danish Island of St. Thomas, such prosecution ought to have been instituted by the interested party in St. Thomas itself.

To His Honor the

Moses Leverock - Lieutenant Governor of Saba

This lithograph of Governor Moses Leverock is taken from a French Haitian book on Geography. He is the only white man pictured in the book, the rest are Haitian national heroes. The book is from the mid 186o’s.

Gezaghebber of Saba             from the Governor, J.D. Crol.

*** I must note here that back then Saba was much more dependent on St. Thomas than on the Governor on Curacao which office around that period until the early nineteen hundreds had never even paid a visit to the Dutch Windward Islands.

The point of this article is to demonstrate that RESPECT was shown to Saba and its people by recognizing that we were an English speaking people. Not so anymore it would seem to be!!

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