Here Follow the Precise Words of the Admiral

As I saw that they were very friendly to us, and perceived that they could be much more easily converted to our holy faith by gentle means than by force, I presented them with some red caps, and strings of beads to wear upon the neck, and many other trifles of small value, wherewith they were much delighted, and became wonderfully attached to us. … But they seemed on the whole to me, to be a very poor people. They all go completely naked, even the women, though I saw but one girl. All whom I saw were young, not above thirty years of age, well made, with fine shapes and faces; their hair short, and coarse like that of a horse’s tail, combed toward the forehead, except a small portion which they suffer to hang down behind, and never cut. … It appears to me, that the people are ingenious, and would be good servants and I am of opinion that they would very readily become Christians, as they appear to have no religion. They very quickly learn such words as are spoken to them. If it please our Lord, I intend at my return to carry home six of them to your Highnesses, that they may learn our language.

In the morning, I ordered the boats to be got ready, and coasted along the island toward the north- northeast to examine that part of it, we having landed first at the eastern part. Presently we discovered two or three villages, and the people all came down to the shore, calling out to us, and giving thanks to God. Some brought us water, and others victuals: others seeing that I was not disposed to land, plunged into the sea and swam out to us, and we perceived that they interrogated us if we had come from heaven. An old man came on board my boat; the others, both men and women cried with loud voices, “Come and see the men who have come from heavens. Bring them victuals and drink.”

(The above are excerpts from the journal of Christopher Columbus. It appears to me that these passages must have inspired the television commercial that the Bahamas’ Ministry of Tourism commissioned to be aired during the 2013 Super Bowl.)

Paradise behind Fences: The Creation of a Two-Tier State

Below is a must-read letter to the editor written by my colleague at the College of the Bahamas, Dr. Ian Bethell-Bennett. Originally published in the Nassau Guardian on 21st November, 2012, it addresses an important reality that has the potential to severely, and adversely, impact our lives on this evermore overcrowded rock of nineteen miles by seven miles we call New Providence.

Tourism is a wonderful industry; it pays our BEC, BTC, Water and Sewerage and Cable Bahamas bills, gives us money to shop in Miami and Ft. Lauderdale and creates mega-resorts that we wonder around as if in a dream. It creates the hottest, coolest clubs, restaurants and discos. It removes most resources from the local grasp, enclosing them within the resort’s limits. Locals can only venture there at the owners’ pleasure; it is private land on what may have been once upon a time public access property. Sadly, as I walked along the lovely newly fenced in Paradise ‘public’ beach access, it became clear that Bahamians are up against a monster. While the beach on this part of Paradise Island has been open to the public for years, it has not been public in the true sense of the word in many years. Atlantis actually acquired the beach years ago. Unfortunately, Bahamians were probably unaware of that fact.

As the beach access is controlled and restricted, Bahamians seem to be unaware that they are losing rights that they thought they had as a part of their birth. Yet, people seem nonplussed by it. As the gate stands locked across the ‘public access’, tourists approach from the inside and are confused as to how to leave. Locals simply duck under, jump over or somehow negotiate in and out. Ease of access is gone. The owners are asserting their right to the land. As the new owners/managers of Atlantis flex their muscles, asserting their ownership of the land that allows people to access the beach, the public wonders by apparently unaware.

Conditions of Beach Access: Access to this property is limited to those authorized, from time to time… Persons entering the property may be subject to a search and/or questioning.

A few years ago, Adrian Gibson (Tribune 13/11/09) wrote a piece on public beach access and the right to it. Yes, Bahamians may use the beach up to the high water mark, but he left out that we are not guaranteed access to the high-water mark. Private property extinguishes the right to that access, unless there is a common law right-of-way provided to the beach, which is usual for many coastal communities, but seems to be tentative on Paradise Island. However, the signs do say, as is customary, that the beach is accessible to Paradise Island residents. This does not include New Providence residents. Tourists are less important – or perhaps more important than locals; they do not live here, they simply play here, they do pay though. However, they may gain access by the virtue of their identity; they are not local.

All governments talk about tourism’s benefits for the local economy, but what are they? It seems, to date, that they include jobs, at the expense of land. Low-paying service jobs at the expense of high-earning professions, all of which allow for diversity. Yes, we must recognize that the government has provided Goodman’s Bay for public use, and so kindly too, along with Montagu. However, as the population grows two public beaches with a smattering of a few other local access points seem rather inadequate. Perhaps, though, we matter less in this country. Unfortunately, the more people feel penned in and ghettoized, the more they begin to act as people do when in confined spaces and not allowed to enjoy the pleasure they see on the other side. As the tourism areas grow, the local area shrinks. Areas such as Bain Town and Millennium Gardens become more crowded and other troubles brew.

What tourism actually develops, as the title indicates is a two-tier community where the tourists that can afford, or apparently afford, the pleasure of luxury have the pickings of the coast and all the accoutrements of the resorts, while the locals serve them to be able to afford to eat. As tourists go, they are unaware of the disparity that they create. They save for months, or in some cases years to come here for a few days of luxury, or to take a cruise. Often, they live out their dreams while here. So the country becomes a place of play, according to Mimi Sheller and John Urry in Tourism Mobilities. It also becomes a place in play; a place that is created according to the whims of the tourist or those catering to them. The place is produced to attract tourists. What is the actual cost of that production? Local development is sidelined in favor of the mega-resort.

As Frantz Fanon argues, locals become second-class citizens. Tragically, the resentment and anger build and it often turns in on itself until it becomes too explosive. Rather similar to colonialism, tourism creates a separation between those who serve and those who are served. This separation is not only mental but physical. Or, it is not only physical but also mental. It becomes real and as Fanon and Camus illustrate, manifests in physical and psychological ways. We not only begin to kill each other, we also begin to hate ourselves and what we see ourselves as. But we downplay the violence and crime, we protect the tourist areas with increased police presence, all the while encouraging the others out of those areas. Regulations are made to limit local access to said areas, after all, it is private property and if you do not look the part, management reserves the right of admission.

Cabbage Beach is no longer accessible to 250,000 Nassauvians, only to residents of Hog Island aka Paradise Island, most of whom are expatriates.

As the coastline becomes out of bounds for many of the blacks who inhabit paradise, it becomes a place where those who fly in for five days and four nights enjoy all manner of pleasure. They play. Meanwhile, the locals who can no longer freely access the coast or most of the desirable spaces unless paying top dollar, are consumed as mere pawns to a hungry industry.

As the local community gains jobs and loses land, it also feels like it has more disposable income. At least that is one of the objectives. We want to buy things. We are willing to sell our souls to buy some thing, any thing that we are told will make us better looking, more desirable or happier. We assume that the tourists who inhabit the destination that paradise promises are happy and rich. That is the image we see.

When I walked past the beach this morning and realized that I no longer had access to it, a button was pressed and a sad realization took hold. As many of the taxi-driven, cruise-shipped-in tourists also realized, but they had to find an entrance. That entrance is at the pleasure of the owner. Tragically, the government did not have the foresight to write in a clause that would protect coastal land for continued enjoyment by locals and others who may wish to live near it. They simply sold it. The owners who bought then also sold and made massive profits. The ones who lost out and continue to lose out are those very people who are meant to be benefiting from all this development.

In the long run, the tourists may be willing to pay $10 or $20 to visit the beach for a few hours as their ship passes by, but what of those rich, and noble locals who braid hair day in and day out, work in hotels, restaurants, banks, shops, laundries, those who work to pay to stay alive? If we go to the beach daily do we have to pay $10 or $20 to swim? It may sound like a little, but $10 times 5 equals $50. A mere drop in the bucket to swim in the beautiful aquamarine waters that hem in these islands. Many can afford to pay this and others will pay it and smile, because they look rich paying it. But the fact is that we have sold our navel string and birthright for a song, much like the yellow bird caught in that sickly sweet rendering of paradise.

To be sure tourism is a great provider of jobs that pay bills. It creates wealth for some and pleasure for others. It also creates envy and discontent. More fully, it creates a two-tiered country where those who can pay to play and fly in for the pleasures of paradise, luxuriate in spaces that protect themselves with chain-link fences against the vagrancies and dalliances of those beyond.

Collins Wall 2.0

The segregation of the 1950s does not compare to the mindful segregation of a people no longer able to enjoy the natural pleasures of their land because said nature has been mega-resorted. More tragically, we do not even realize it is happening. The Bahamas is certainly becoming a destination, but not one that we can all pay to play in. Paradise truly exists behind fences.

Dr. Ian Bethell-Bennett

Doing History, Part I

This year’s Shakespeare in Paradise will feature a production entitled, “Speak the Speech,” which tells the Bahamian story through historic speeches and other primary sources. While working on this project with Festival Director Nicolette Bethel, I discovered and rediscovered a trove of interesting documents that many of my readers may not necessarily be familiar with.

Today, I share with you a “proclamation and address” by Lieutenant Governor Balfour shortly before Emancipation in 1834. In it, Balfour advises the population on the changes that are about to happen. This document was published in the Royal Gazette. I thank my students for their assistance in unearthing it from the National Archives on Mackey Street.

PROCLAMATION AND ADDRESS,
TO THE POPULATION OF THE BAHAMAS.

By His Excellency BLAYNEY TOWNLEY BALFOUR, Esquire, Lieutenant Governor and Commander in Chief in and over the Bahama Islands, Chancellor, Vice Admiral, and Ordinary of the same.

FELLOW SUBJECTS AND FRIENDS.

IN a few weeks Slavery will be at an end, and I therefore address you, that you may all know the chief points in the new system, and that you may not offend the Laws through ignorance.

MASTERS, remember that you must feed and clothe your Apprentices, and otherwise provide them, according to the Law. – Remember that you have no right to strike or imprison an apprentice; but if he deserve punishment, you must take him to a Special Justice.

SLAVES, you will, on the 1st of August, lose this name, and become free; but as I told you last year, you will not be altogether free, but for a few years you will have to work for your Masters as Apprentices; that is to say, as Free Servants who receive Food and Clothes and House, instead of Wages in Money.

Now, what is the difference between a Slave and an Apprentice? It is great – A master may flog a Slave; he may not, dare not, strike an Apprentice, or he will be punished.

A master may imprison a Slave in the Workhouse; he may not imprison an Apprentice.

A master may make a Slave work every day in his plantation, he may only make an Apprentice work five days in each week, and only nine hours each day, and the master must feed his Apprentice every day, and find him a House and Clothing.

But some of you are Sailors, and some are House Servants – and of course those must work every day, and perhaps for more than nine hours – But then, in return, the Law says that those who work every day shall be entirely free in four years, and those who work in the Fields cannot be entirely Free until the end of six years.

When you become entirely free you will have to pay for the House and Food and Clothes and Medicine which your Masters are now obliged to give.

If you are idle, or insolent to your masters, they will complain to the Justice, and you will be punished. If your masters treat you badly or strike you, or imprison you, you may complain, and they will be punished.

And now Farewell; be obedient and quiet, and the Law will protect you; but if you are not so, remember the Law can and will punish you.

Given under my hand and seal at Arms at Nassau, in the Island of New Providence, this twenty seventh day of June in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty four, and in the fifth year of His Majesty’s reign.
B. T. BALFOUR.
By His Excellency’s Command,
J. H. PERPALL,
Dep. Pub. Secy.

The attentive reader will no doubt notice that there is a lot of talk about the work apprentices are required to do, but not a word about any training they should receive, as one might expect for an apprenticeship system. That is because apprenticeship in this context was but a euphemism for continued slavery, which is what five full days a week of forced labour really amounts to.

“Apprenticeship” was one of the attempts on behalf of the British government to make emancipation more palatable to the slave owners. After all, in a legal sense, emancipation amounted to a large scale expropriation of private property. Now, not only were British slave owners financially compensated for the loss of their human property, but apprenticeship allowed them to perpetuate established modi operandi for several years.

Balfour emphasises that apprentices were entitled to food and clothing, but, while the particulars may have changed, this basic principle had long been established for slaves, too. In the Bahamas, it had been regularised by the Consolidated Slave Act of 1797, and arguably, even after the end of apprenticeship, it the truck system continued exploitation of labour for payment in kind throughout much of the nineteenth century.

The first Bahamian slave law had been passed in 1723, though arguably, the “Articles and Orders of the Company of Eleutherian Adventurers” (1647) already contained aspects of slavery. Since then, ameliorative elements had found their way into newer legislation, but the main means of controlling the masses remained the same: threats of punishment, especially physical punishment.

Urban Culture Renewed

Last night, I had the pleasure of attending “Summer Theater in the Parks.” This is a series of performances of two play by Tennessee Williams (“This Property is Condemned” & “Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen”) staged in various public parks throughout New Providence, produced and directed by Leslie Vanderpool, who is probably best known as the founder and director of the Bahamas International Film Festival (BIFF).

This experience was well worth writing about for several reasons. People often lament the lack of cultural offerings in Nassau. In the words of one expat who came here on a work permit, moving to the Bahamas was a “lack-of-culture shock.” I believe his judgement was overhasty, and Mr. Expat most likely did not look around very much, though I will concede that we have also not succeeded in publicising cultural events effectively enough.*

Cassandra Miller and Lorenz Wright, cast of “This Property is Condemned” – Photo © by Stephen B. Aranha

The actors last night were young Bahamians for whom the participation in “Summer Theatre in the Parks” marked their stage debuts. They undoubtedly rose to the opportunity to showcase that we do indeed have talent to boast about in this country. This is one reason why, apart from the cultural enjoyment provided to the audience, this programme deserves recognition.

David Maycock, who played the male protagonist in “Talk to Me Like the Rain…” offered that acting “is another avenue kids can take. There are so many other things they can do out there that are negative. If we go out there and perform for them, it gives them a sense that there is more to life than sitting around on the blocks doing nothing.” This is an important reason why Vanderpool is correct in asserting that this programme fulfills some essential functions of what is known as Urban Renewal in present-day Bahamian discourse.

Even more, “Summer Theatre in the Parks” allows us to reclaim our city and its parks. There is something to be said for utterly unrepresentative impromptu polling, and when I asked some members of last night’s audience at Fort Montagu how many of them would usually come to the park after dark, the count was zero. Yet “Summer Theatre in the Parks” succeeded in drawing a good crowd. There were no more seats to be had. Some families were sitting on blankets on the grass, others were standing in the back.

After the each play, the audience has the opportunity to ask the actors and director questions – about the plays, their acting, theatre in general. Thus, “Summer Theatre in the Parks” already is more than your ordinary theatre experience where the curtain falls and the only ones you can discuss the play with are fellow audience members. However, Vanderpool takes the interactivity one step further. After the two plays were over, she encouraged audience volunteers to take to the stage and improvise scenes based on the plays they have just seen. This not only heightened the audience’s appreciation for the actors’ performances, but it had a very educational aspect to it, as the audience learned some basic things about acting, and volunteers, through their reactions during improvising, learned something about themselves.

Stacey Stubbs and David Maycock, cast of “Talk to Me Like The Rain and Let Me Listen” – Photo © by Stephen B. Aranha

The atmosphere at Fort Montagu was enthralling. The wind may have presented an acoustic challenge to the actors, but they coolly mastered it. The trees around the stage created a cozy setting, and the fort in the background served as a reminder how we as a society have been shaped by our history that far too few of us know enough about, ironically because I would argue that Fort Montagu, built in 1741/42, is one of those historic structures in Nassau that is revered for all the wrong reasons.

Historically speaking, Fort Montagu was the site of the 1776 Battle of Nassau when the Continental Marines, the predecessor of the United States Marine Corps conquered it during the American War of Independence. This marked the Marines’ first ever amphibious landing. Arguably, the military structure preserved there is more important to U.S. history than to Bahamian history.

However, for Nassauvians, the park and beach have become an important recreational area during the twentieth century, until more recently it became less used due to beach erosion, pollution and crime. The government’s (and Kerzner’s!) efforts in restoring the beach are important in reviving that part of our city, and “Summer Theatre in the Parks” is another key factor. For too long, Nassau has suffered from a vicious cycle of areas being abandoned or neglected for fear of crime, but it was the abandonment and neglect that created many of the problems. Urban Renewal programmes must encourage us to reclaim our city and its parks, to use them more, not less.

So please seize this opportunity and see how uplifting an experience it is when young Bahamian actors take to the stage. The remaining schedule for “Summer Theatre in the Parks” is as follows:

Montagu Park, East Bay Street
July 26, Thursday 8pm – 9pm

Fox Hill Park, Fox Hill
July 20, Friday 8pm – 9pm
July 27, Friday 8pm – 9pm

Mason’s Addition Park, Centreville
July 21, Saturday 3pm – 5pm
July 28, Saturday 3pm – 5pm

Sarah Ingraham Park, Centreville
July 22, Sunday 3pm – 5pm
July 29, Sunday 3pm – 5pm

* Thankfully, traditional media nowadays offers a wide variety in Nassau, but that also makes it easier to miss events that are promoted through one particular outlet, be it newspaper, television or radio. Social media, especially Twitter and Facebook, have their strengths, but also their weaknesses, and unless a critical number of users share an event, its reach remains limited. This effect is intensified by Facebook’s practice of filtering its users newsfeeds based on what Facebook’s algorithms think its users want to see.
      Given the small size of our island, one of the most powerful channels of advertising events is the completely old-fashioned, non-digital, pre-analogue word-of-mouth, which is great if you are already in the loop, know the right people and happen to bump into them at the right time. The Nassau grapevine is far from being ready for retirement. More predictable are online resources that do not rely on users checking their Facebook feed at the right time, but that allow users to actively seeking them out. Well established is the Nassau Weekly Newsletter, and my new favourite is Smith & Benjamin’s Bahamian Art & Culture Newsletter. Both offer e-mail subscriptions, too.