John Gray becomes 'heritage' high school

Caymanian heritage is alive and well at John Gray High School, where students take part in a thriving heritage arts club. 

The aim of the club, according to the school, is to help retain Caymanian traditional crafts that might otherwise be forgotten.  

Each week, Cayman Traditional Arts instructor Donna Bryan shows students how to make items through the art of plaiting thatch.  

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

At first a volunteer with the school, and for the past two years an instructor through Cayman Traditional Arts, Ms. Bryan brings basket-loads of “strings,” long thin strands from the Silver Thatch Palms that grow in her back yard. 

Some have been left in their natural pale beige state, while others have been colored using clothes dye into an assortment of colors. 

She patiently teaches students how to plait using five, seven, nine or as many as 11 strings. The result is a length of plaited thatch that can then be sewn into a variety of items, such as hats, bags, belts, bracelets and slippers. 

“I’m impressed that some students had already learned 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. Bryan said. 

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. Bryan said. “Then the students could produce a much wider selection of items.” 

Patricia Forbes, acting deputy principal of Tarpon Academy at John Gray High School who has been a key organizer of the club, said, “It’s very important for the students to be able to learn about their heritage.  

“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.”  

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Thashawna Matthews has been working her thatch plait for a long time.

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Iesha MacIntosh, Shaquana Welcome and Thashawna Matthews practice plaiting their thatch rope.

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Heritage arts instructor Donna Bryan with student Cristal Garro-Prado.
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