Benedict Thielen "The Bahamas-Golden Archipelago"

Holiday December 1964, pp. 62- 73, 135-140

rough and unfinished. But it is this that gives them their beauty and strength. there is a quality of naturalness about them, whose existence we have forgotten. The wood they are made of seems still to hold some of the life of the tree from which it was cut.

A few days after returning to Nassau from Great Exuma, I sailed north in the big charter ketch Traveler II and at Man of War Cay, off Great Abaco, saw how the native boats are built. The little landlocked harbor is a wonderfully peaceful spot and I can't imagine a more agreeable way of spending an afternoon than watching Uncle Will Albury, the master builder of them all, as he putters about his boatyard.

Lying around on the warm ground or curing in the water at the harbor's edge are gnarled shapes, flaked with peeling bark, of the wood he will choose for knees and ribs, frames and planking. The boats sheer and flare will grow from these muddy or sunbaked roots, branches and crotches of pine and cedar, madeira and the hard dark red wood they call horseflesh. In the open-sided sheds there the whine of power tools but below it there is the delicate shaving of the hand-held plane and the quick chip of the adze. When a boat is ready to be launched, the ways, instead of being greased, are smeared with the cool green jelly-flesh of the aloes which grow wild a few feet away.

"Slickest thing there is," Uncle Will said, and his voice rose sharply on the last word, as all Bahamian voices do.

Although the accent of no two islands is exactly the same, the speech of the Bahamas is the speech of Sam Weller's London, of East End sailors impressed into service who skipped ship in some sunny Bahamian harbor. V's and W's become transposed, H's are dropped and added. You are 'appy in Habaco and at Spanish Vells it's werry himportant to put hoile in your hengine.

Like the Elizabethan turns of phrase of the Southern U. S. mountaineer the speech of the Bahamian reflects a profound conservatism, the result of an isolation imposed in the one case by mountains, in the other by the fact of living on an island. This is true insularity and the smaller and more self-contained the island the greater is its resistance to outside influence and change.

On the way back from Man of War Cay Traveler II puts in at Spanish Wells, on St. George's Cay , at the northern tip of Eleuthera.

It would be hard to find a prettier village. There is a square, precise quality about the neat red-roofed houses that line its waterfront and stand symmetrical as toy houses made of building blocks along its back streets. They are painted pink and white, green and blue, and their trim may be lavender or yellow or cerise. Breadfruit, sapodillas, and green-gold Malay cocoanuts hang from the trees in their yards. Among the flamboyant bougainvillaeas and hibiscus are flower beds of asters, petunias and the pale Bahamian roses. The people of Spanish Wells are noted for being sober and industrious and their modest prosperity shows in their homes. Yet something, you feel, is lacking. Presently you realize that what is lacking in them all is the color they have dared to put on their houses but which has become leached out of themselves.

As I sat on the deck of Traveler II and watched them going by on bicycles, on scooters or on foot, I began to have the curious feeling of seeing the same person over and over. It was as though actors in a troupe which was too small for the number of parts in the play were doubling in various roles and each time one of them came on stage you had a vague sense of having seen him before. Under their distinct round-crowned broad-brimmed straw hats the faces of the people of Spanish Wells are a sallow white, their eyes an oddly staring blue. When bareheaded their hair is a lank and lusterless blond. Here, as with the American mountaineers, is the ultimate triumph of the WASP—the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant—the end product of centuries of inbred and unbending racial pride. Hidden away somewhere are its aberrations: the dwarfs, the idiots and the deaf mutes.

Towards dusk, as I walked down the street with Travelers II's skipper, Art Crimmins, we passed a Negro.

"A few years ago you wouldn't have seen that," Art said. "There used to be a sign that said, 'Colored man, don't be here after the sun goes down.' They could work here but they'd have to leave the island every night and row back to The Bluff, three miles across the water on Eleuthera.

That evening we sat for a while in the little parlor of a woman Art knew. "Captain," she said, "I hear you've been up to Abaco. I hear there are some good men up there. I'd be glad to take a man, like a widower with four or five kids, and work hard for him. Next time you go up there you see if you can find me someone like that."

We sailed to Harbour Island, another small island off the tip of Eleuthera. Although its settlement, Dunmore Town, was bigger than Spanish Wells, its streets and houses were not very different. But among them was a soft sound of black voices and along the waterfront, when someone tripped and almost fell from the pier, there was the whoops of black laughter.

Dunmore Town is one of the oldest settlements in the Bahamas and one of the most charming. Freeport, on Grand Bahama, to which I flew after returning to Nassau, is the newest. Like an adolescent's, its charm is potential rather than actual. But if you mention Freeport to any businessman on Bay Street his face will be suffused with the special radiance which only the thought of money in the millions can generate. A large part of the Bahamas Handbook and Businessman's Annual is devoted to Grand Bahama and its glowing industrial and touristic future.No one stands more in awe that I do before bunkering stations, newly dredged harbors, cement plants, housing developments and luxury hotels which are complete with /

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