“I concentrate on riding this wave of cool blueness, being inundated by it. It occurs to me that we must come up with words for the blues that appear in the Bahamas; the ones in the dictionary were made before anyone who recorded things in writing had seen the waters and sky of this country.”
The Bahamas sounds exotic, exquisite, luxurious. For the kids it sounds like a place where very wealthy people go for a holiday, own holiday houses or hide their money. This is not far from the reality, but the Bahamas is of course, much more than that. It’s a young country surrounded by beautiful waters, sublime weather and exposure to cyclones and hurricanes.
A lot can be said about the sea around the Bahamas. While the entry of Antarctica was full of snow and ice, and inspired us to find abandoned penguins while ice-skating, the focus of the Bahamas is the sea. It is a country spread over 233,000 square km of water.
Sydney Sealife has a virtual experience that welcomes the virtual visitor to immerse in the sea around the Bahamas. That sea is very blue due to high levels of chlorophyll and the Bahamas not having much plankton.
The Bahamian flag represents the sand of the beaches (gold), the surrounding blue seas (blue) and the strength of the Bahamian people (black).
Cooking Island Food
There is no Bahamian restaurant in Sydney, which leads us to organise another fun cooking night at home. We try to avoid the mistake of making too much food and decide for five dishes. All core Virtual Nomads are present – that is JK; CH (the Virtual Nomad Special Adviser who has been to approximately 140 countries); the kiddos L (16), FK (14) and A(10); and me of course. This Bahamian dinner is special as we have a new delightful addition to the group that is NA, L’s boyfriend (16).
We decide for five dishes prepared by three different teams. The menu consists of the following:
- Bahamian curry chicken or Bahamian stew chicken
- Pigeon peas and rice
- Bahamian mac and cheese
- Johnny cakes
- Bahamian fruit salad
Team 1 (JK with occasional moral support from FK) prepares an excellent Bahamian curry chicken while Team 2 (CH) creates a yummy mac and cheese. Team 3 (L and NA) team up to create outstanding Johnny cakes and my team (me and my moral supporter A) use our magic to make peas and rice, and fruit salad. We could have also prepared boiled fish dishes that are typical to the Bahamas but no one was too keen on the idea.
The Bahamian night is very lovely. The food is delicious and CH tells travel stories of different places she has been to, including the Bahamas. These tales capture the attention of the young nomads of the group. It is another lovely virtualnomading event and we are transported into the blue skies and waters of the Bahamas from the gloomy skies of winter Sydney.
Where the Pirates Are
The Bahamas is an archipelago of nearly 3000 islands, islets and rocks in the sea (30 of them are inhabited) with the capital Nassau on the island of New Providence. It was inhabited for centuries by Indigenous Taino in a relatively peaceful state until 1492 when Cristobal Colon (known in English as Christopher Columbus) with his troops set foot there. The Bahamas was the first landing place of the Spaniards and, as expected, they were not friendly and supportive of the ‘natives’. Instead they used them as slaves in mines and other back-breaking activities. The Spanish did not bother to colonise the islands but left that to the willing Brits who established a colony, initially as a safe place for puritans.
In the early 1700s the Bahamas became the pirate centre for the world and Blackbeard himself resided there. The British took control and made the Bahamas a British crown colony in 1718. Slavery was widespread with American Loyalists moving to the Bahamas in the aftermath of the American Civil War. While the slave trade met its end in 1807, it persisted in the Bahamas until 1834. Economic hardship remained a curse until the 1960s when tourism and tax free offshore deposits (for millionaires) allowed the Bahamas to build wealth. The Bahamas became independent in 1973 under the rule of Sir Lynden Pindling who was the PM for 23 years.
Today the Bahamas has the second-highest GDP in the region with tourism and offshore finance as its main industries. More than 70% are employed by tourism. The Bahamas is currently a parliamentary constitutional monarchy with predominantly a two-party system. The Panama Papers revealed that the Bahamas has the highest number of offshore companies of any jurisdiction in the world. English is the official language of this Caribbean island state of around half a million inhabitants.
Tales that we tell
The Bahamas is said to have strong Afro-Bahamian folk literature based on popular folk tales. Some of these tales are reproduced in Patricia Glinton-Meicholas’ book An Evening In Guanima: A Treasury of Folktales from the Bahamas. Patricia Glinton-Meicholas is the first winner of the Bahamas Cacique Award for writing and also the recipient of a Silver Jubilee of Independence Medal for Literature. She’s an author, lecturer, cultural critic and academic, and a fierce defender of Bahamian history, culture and tradition. Her books include a strong sense of Bahamian identity and place in the world.
That sounds like the right place to start submerging in Bahamian literature.
In the introduction of An evening in Guanima the author explains the importance of storytelling to the Bahamian culture and the culture’s roots in the Senegambia tradition (85% of the population derives from Africa). Bahamian storytelling is a wonderful hybrid mixture of tales from the mother continent, colonial and European influences. Patricia explains to us the purpose and format of these stories and the main themes she mentions are:
- Cleverness is the key to problem-solving / overcoming adversity, rivals etc.
- Goodness will always trump evil in the end
- Elders are repositories of wisdom and must be respected
- Good manners, good deeds and correct behaviour win out in the end
- Love can overcome death
- Pride goes before a fall
- Greed / intemperance brings about loss rather than gain
- Strangers are not to be trusted.
Based on this information, I proceed to read the book. It is fascinating and slightly old fashioned. The stories that Patricia has created/collaged are simplistic and magical, as folk stories often are. All these stories carry a strong symbolic meaning and a lesson to learn while also including universal values of bravery, honesty and humility – be that the ghost of a loyal dog that punishes a wicked suitor of a good-hearted widow after his master’s death, or a hardworking mother with one grateful and one greedy and rude daughter and the lessons they learn from an old witch, or the smart boy who saves the children of uneducated children from being eaten by a devil disguised as a teacher. These are charming little tales if not very different from the archetypes of folk stories around the world. It is an easy read but not excessively memorable nor impactful. Nevertheless, it’s an enchanting and a wonderful expression of the cultural heritage and a testimony to its rich oral traditions.
As lovely as the folk stories are, I long for something a bit more substantial before moving onto the next country. I proceed to read another book from the same author, this time autobiographical ‘fiction’ named A Shift in the Light. It is a wonderful, well-narrated book of memories of a sun-filled childhood with colourful anecdotes and interesting characters. It is a warm reflection on a happy childhood with a best friend (and cousin), sister and several family members, and then a reflection on growing into an adult in a more uncertain and unequal environment. While the childhood period is carefree and beautiful, there are darker underlying themes such as parents’ unhappy marriage, global events or the rampant racism felt and experienced by the different Bahamian characters in the novel.
The book starts in the 1950s in the changing Bahamas and concludes in 2000. It is a testimony to a carefree childhood but also a love letter to the Bahamian spirit and identity. It is a story about decolonisation, defining the Bahamian nature and defining the future of the country. Patricia Glinton-Meicholas grows up to defend the uniqueness of the Bahamians, who are not Africans nor Europeans but a little bit of both. It is a wonderfully written book, rich in language, symbolism and story – a narration of family ties and friendship, tradition and modernity, racism and national pride.
Another Bahamian author that I am keen on reading is Natasha Rufin but her books, especially Sunflower, are not available on any literature platforms so I will place it on my reading wish list for now.
Beautiful setting for painful things
“They lied to me when they told everyone deserves a chance to succeed” (‘Passage’ by Kareem Mortimer)
The Bahamian film industry is not huge. The most prolific current movie maker is Kareem Mortiner who has directed and produced numerous tv series, documentaries, feature films and experimental art films. Kareem is an awarded filmmaker whose works tackle important societal themes from immigration and racism to LGBT rights and gender identity.
One of his most awarded films is ‘Children of God’, the first Caribbean film with LGBT themes. ‘Cargo’ is about human smuggling, ‘Wind jammers’ about racism and ‘I am not a dummy’ is about disability. His 2022 documentary on a Bahamian real estate ‘icon’ Sir Harold Christie won awards in the Academy of Interactive and Visual Arts (AIVA) Communicator Awards. The trailer is available on Youtube . His 2014 short film Passage was awarded the Best Short Film from the Diaspora by the African Movie Academy.
I decide to watch those that I can find access to and, after a search, I find the awarded short film ‘Passage”, and the feature film Children of God.
Passage is available on Youtube – a story of Haitian refugees being smuggled on a boat towards North America. It is incredibly powerful, haunting and unsettling, and with its mere 16 minutes, worthy of all the awards it has won. It has been a long time since I have seen something that keeps you at the edge of your seat every second.
Kareem’s first feature film Children of God is quite a milestone. Despite occasional clunkiness in some of the acting and the unevenness of the script, it deals with homophobia in the Bahamas and is beautifully shot. In 2006, Brokeback Mountain (a movie about gay cowboys that failed to win the rightly deserved Oscar for best movie) was banned in the Bahamas but Kareem’s film has been well received. It shows the Caribbean like a painting, beautiful blue skies and seas – a dreamy background to the pain and struggle depicted in the story.
About homophobia in the Bahamas, Kareem says in an interview:
“I think the Bahamas is a microcosm for what happens in the larger world, it’s just more intense and smaller,” Mortimer said, adding that he does not think that Caribbean people are intrinsically homophobic. Instead, he thinks much of the hostility can be blamed on pop culture imports, like the popular reggae dancehall song “Boom Bye Bye,” which advocates for the murder of gay men and women, and the influence of some “outlandish” religious groups who use anti-gay rhetoric.”
Most of the audio-visual material from the Bahamas though is far removed from the social commentary of Kareem Mortiner. I learn that several of the Bachelor and the Bachelorette series were filmed there, as were some of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.
Moody and upbeat island sounds
The Caribbean beat is often associated with chilled, relaxed Island-mood. Think about Blind Blake with his Gin & Coconut water song. More contemporary artists include Matthew Pinder with a lovely moody melody Golder Hour and Cascade. Not very distinctive or ground breaking but lovely enough nevertheless.
Brettina is a jazzy young artist with an acclaimed debut album (released in 2010). Bob Baiye is a fusion of jazz with Caribbean sounds. More mainstream but with a happy beat is Wendi. Her song Visage sounds like a Caribbean Eurovision song – happy and upbeat.
Next stop: Bahrain