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July - September 2006
Each spring, the Jamaican Chinese community celebrates Gah San (in the Hakka dialect, or Ching Ming as it is known in the Mandarin dialect). Family members clean graves and offer prayers at grave sites. This event, coordinated by the Chinese Benevolent Association, is heavily policed and usually involves intense searching for graves. Often graves are located based on the memories of someone who attended the burial decades earlier. Although they do not contain spatial references, copies of the archived records are also used. In 2005, ArcPad was employed in the field for the first time. By using data collected from field surveys, relatives could easily find the grave sites of loved ones.
Beyond simply mapping the cemetery and assisting relatives in locating graves, restoring the cemetery will require a vision of what the cemetery would look like as well as an overview of the cemetery that is not possible without a helicopter. A virtual cemetery was created using ArcScene. It shows the extent and distribution of the cemetery including actual tree and grave locations. It provides a dynamic, interactive environment that lets both descendants and potential overseas benefactors tour a place they may not be able to visit.
Both the Roman Catholic archdiocese and the Chinese Cemetery projects generated important information for both communities. These projects revealed nascent information to those in charge and helped many Catholics and Chinese understand, perhaps for the first time, the larger communities to which they belong. These projects were not simply mapping exercises; they showcased the abilities of GIS. GIS is now used as a management and planning tool for both organizations, and the information generated has proved informative and entertaining to the thousands of Jamaican Catholics and Chinese.
For more information, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or at Mona GeoInformaticS Ltd., University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, Kingston 7, Jamaica.
The author thanks His Grace, the Archbishop of Kingston, Lawrence A. Burke, S. J., as well as Monsignors Robert Haughton-James and Richard Albert, Father Michael Lewis, and Deacon Clive Chambers for providing information and guidance in carrying out the archdiocese mapping project. The author would also like to express appreciation to David Chang from the Chinese Benevolent Association for providing access to the archived information for the Chinese Cemetery, and for facilitating visits to the site for mapping. Finally, the author thanks members of the Mona Informatix team, particularly Valerie Hoo Fatt, for assisting in both projects.
About the Author
Parris Lyew-Ayee Jr. lectures about GIS at the University of the West Indies at Mona, Jamaica, and is the director of the campus GIS hub, Mona GeoInformaticS Ltd. His principal interest is the development of geographic information science in Jamaica and the involvement of analytical GIS in the different spheres of research across Jamaica and the region. He received his doctorate from the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, where he conducted advanced terrain diagnostic modeling and analyses using GIS techniques. He is also keenly interested in the integration of computer-aided architectural designs with GIS and has become more involved with archaeological and ecological surveys using GIS methods. This article stems from his interest in getting GIS involved in nonconventional, technically uncomplicated applications that can greatly benefit a wide cross section of nontechnical people and yield practical results.