Of Earthquakes and History
The tragic events that have occurred in Haiti within the last couple of days, and which are far from over, remind me of the cataclysmic effect natural disasters have on people, cities, artifacts, and ephemera. Nothing erases history faster than war or natural disasters.
I’m also reminded of another destructive earthquake, one that directly affected my family and the country where I was born.
At the end of 1972, a powerful earthquake devastated Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. Overnight, the city was transformed from a vibrant metropolis to a destroyed mess. Thousands were killed and many, many more were left homeless.
The center of Managua was hardest hit, with a number of its oldest buildings turned into ruins.
I would like to say that the city recovered, buildings were rebuilt, and its society rejuvenated, but no such thing ever happened. In fact, the central part of the city, where most of the damage was suffered, was never reconstructed. People just moved to the outskirts. In fact, Managua was in no condition to pick itself up for various reasons (mostly political), and so it never fully recovered.
When I saw the image of the destroyed Cathedral of Port-au-Prince, I couldn’t help but to remember a similar one of Managua’s Old Cathedral (also devastated in the 1972 earthquake, and which still stands, condemned, a literal shell of its former self).
Although a new cathedral eventually replaced it, I can’t help but to wonder how Port-au-Prince will deal with its own, as well as the many other historic buildings that have been damaged and/or destroyed.
Before those remnants of history can be dealt with, however, we have to help Haiti’s people, the ones who truly hold its memories, its experiences, and preserve and carry forward the very history which an earthquake has just tried to steal.
(above: Cathedral of Port-au-Prince – photo: REUTERS/Reuters TV; below: Old Cathedral of Managua – photo by Taran Rampersad)
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