April 27, 2010

Never Done... (Chapter Nine)

As I've said before, the waters surrounding the islands of the Bahamas (and most elsewhere in the Caribbean) are, without exception, the most spectacular colors and hues of blue, green, and turquoise one could ever see. Once you venture out ten or so feet from the beach the water is also as clear as any swimming pool.

The beaches on most of the out islands are the most beautiful in the world (as I know it) and while most of our time was spent on or in the water, fishing, diving and sailing, Mom and I loved to comb the undisturbed beaches in search of treasures. Mind you a treasure to us was probably more like trash to others, yet to this day (some 40 years later), we both still have some of them. Mom was most interested in finding a blob of ambergris (whale vomit) which is used in many of the more expensive perfumes; a single chunk of the stuff was worth thousands of dollars. As we would walk the beaches, Mom always picked up a stick or broken branch so that she could poke things that closely resembled what (she read) ambergris should look like. I remember well, one of the times she couldn't locate a stick or twig, she decided to put her big toe into a chunk of what looked familiar, only to severely burn it in a blob of oil... I really felt for her, it blistered up and looked like it hurt for days. I'm sure she remembers the burn more vividly than I...

A little history of the Bahamas:

Like many areas in the Caribbean, the hundreds of islands and cays that make up the Bahamas were "discovered" and claimed by European explorers in the late 1400s. The road back to independence and self rule was long but relatively peaceful.

The history of the Bahamas between the time that the islands were settled and the centuries that passed before independence explains why the culture and people of the Bahamas are rich with native Caribbean, European and African influences.

The first settlers on many of the islands, thought to be predominantly the Arawak speaking Lucayan or Taino people but also included the Ciboney and the Carib people, arrived from South America sometime in the 9th Century. For hundreds of years the indigenous culture thrived and spread from island to island.

Columbus landed at San Salvador claimed the Caribbean islands for the Spanish on his first journey to the Americas in 1492. The word Bahamas is thought to come from the Arawak name for the islands, but some historians believe it comes from the Spanish, "Baja Mar," which means "shallow sea."

During the time that Spain controlled the islands, African slaves were brought to work in the plantation fields or in the homes of the plantation owners, government officials and other wealthy Spaniards. Most of the original population was destroyed through fighting and diseases brought to the islands by the new African and Spanish inhabitants.

The Dutch gained control of the islands of the Bahamas (as they did the US Virgin Islands, hence the windmills/sugar cane mills in the VI's) for a short time, but lost them to the English. The Islands were claimed by the English in 1670. The Bahamas remained mainly under British rule for the next 300 years. A brief — one year — return to Spanish rule in 1782 ended with the Bahamas once again British colonies.

Slavery was officially abolished in the Bahamas in 1838 long after the Ameican revolution, and the loyalist's migration to the islands (circa: Wind from the Carolinas). Many former slaves remained on the land and eventually became land owners themselves. Although all residents of the Bahamas were free, the Islands remained a colony of the United Kingdom. The House of Assembly was established in 1729. This meant that much of the government of the country was actually based in the Bahamas. This history was a major factor that led to a peaceful negotiation for Bahama's Independence.

In 1964, after decades of debate and legal maneuvering, Great Britain granted The Islands Of The Bahamas limited self-government. The Bahamas became a British Commonwealth in 1969 ending the colonial rule, but not the British flavor of the islands.

The Islands became a nation on July 10, 1973, which is the date celebrated today as Bahamian Independence Day. This July 10th celebration of the beginning of Home Rule is an island party not to be missed.

Oddly enough, my eldest was born on July 10th, just a few years later, my personal reminder of that summer of 1973 when the fireworks started in the Bahamas...

Over and "Out" from Portsmouth, VA (the other P-Town)...

1 comment:

jenn said...

Ambergris is whale vomit?! I've read references to ambergris before and always assumed it was some exotic, elegant substance (like myrrh or something). So much for that...

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