68_G15_Spotlight_Bahamas

Global Issue 15

Spotlight The Bahamas A local sells conch shells from his boat in Nassau harbour. The shells make a trumpet sound when blown into and can often be heard during Junkanoo had wiped out the original inhabitants, the Lucayans – peaceful, generous Arawak people, who were potters, carvers, weavers and boat-builders, and who had welcomed and hosted the foreign invaders. Tales of treasure lured pirates and other adventurers, including Francis Drake and Walter Raleigh, operating under the sanction of Queen Elizabeth I. Other buccaneers rose to infamy, such as ‘Blackbeard’ Edward Teach, who proclaimed himself magistrate of Nassau in an attempt to maintain harmony among the rabble, and terrorised his victims by attaching flaming fuses to his matted beard and hair. ‘Calico Jack’ had two Amazonian cohorts – Mary Reed and Anne Bonney – who, if drawings of the day are accurate, fought topless. All this is reflected in the lively visual arts scene of The Bahamas today, especially by the Andros island artist Sebastian Victor Curtis. Several blood-letting scoundrels became pillars of society, a metamorphosis honoured in Bahamian drama and literature, in which what’s left of the piratical past is explored, sometimes characterised as a willing forgetfulness, a feeling of ‘anything goes’, even ‘slackness’. On the other hand, Bahamians’ air of un-American casualness is not without purpose – they exude a benign, nonchalant calm. Bahamian women are fiercely independent, the legacy of survival of the hardships Greedy Spaniards had wiped out the original inhabitants, the Lucayans – peaceful, generous Arawak people, who had welcomed the foreign invaders of a slave society. Both sexes exhibit an understated, yet sardonic, wit, preferably laced with sexual undertones, ‘enigmatik funkification’ has been proposed as a term to encompass this. After ‘emancipation’ from slavery, it was very hard for most Bahamians to scrape together a living. The US Civil War, and then later Prohibition, made Nassau into an entrepôt – a huge warehouse of kegs of rum and bales of cotton. Today, Bahamian commentators suggest the islands’ entrepreneurial spirit is a heritage of piracy and later history, engendering considerable resentment of foreign investment. It’s still a society of two peoples in terms of class, wealth and colour – whites at the top of the pile for 400 years, always pulling the political strings. The younger generation are influenced by the symbolism of US and Jamaican gangsta rappers, alcohol smuggling having morphed into drug selling for some. In essence, there are really two Bahamian cultures – that of Nassau and Freeport, which has absorbed half of all Bahamians, with a large professional class, compared with the more lackadaisical Family Islands, where there is plenty of poverty. But a dose of Goombay Smash, a killer drink concocted from coconut and dark rum with fruit punch, served in a pint-sized glass, at sunset by a sparkling Bahamian sea, helps the medicine go down. ● 68 l www.global -br ief ing.org thi rd quar ter 2013 global 


Global Issue 15
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