“The islanders, as naked as their mothers bore them, are very simple and honest, and exceedingly liberal with all they have; none of them refusing anything he may possess when he is asked for it … they exhibit great love towards all others in preference to themselves; they also give objects of great value for trifles, and content themselves with little or nothing in return… With 50 men you could subject everyone and make them do what you wished…”
– October 14, 1492, Christopher Columbus
Lucayan Indians and Columbus
In 1492, on his way to India, Columbus “discovered” the “New World” making landfall on the island of San Salvador in the Bahamas, home of the Lucayan indigenous people. Barely 25 years after first contact with European Man, all these ‘very simple and honest’ islanders who had been living there peacefully for many centuries fishing in the shallow waters surrounding their tiny pieces of scattered land, were completely extinct, wiped out from the face of the earth, forever.
The genocide of the Bahamian native population had been achieved through imported European diseases, starvation, and mass abduction into slavery, for soon after the discovery, Columbus and his successor realized with disappointment that there was no gold and riches to be found on the islands; no resources of any value to the Spanish Crown, except people: working force for the mines and plantations further southwest in Cuba and The Americas: slaves, who didn’t last long.
After the Spanish conquistadores, the Bahamas became a wasteland, abandoned, unpeopled, unclaimed, until 1649, when English Puritans known as “Eleutheran Adventurers” arrived in search of religious freedom and settled on the island today known as Eleuthera. By the end of the 17th century there were over a thousand settlers struggling to survive in a land made of sand and limestone, where agriculture was impossible.
Fortunately, many Spanish Galleons and other heavily laden cargo ships passing regularly through the deeper channels near islands and reefs on their way between the New and the Old World often ended up wrecked on the rocks, providing the peaceful god-fearing settlers with rich booty. Wrecking became the main local industry and soon pirates joined in. The age of piracy began.
Age of Piracy
The well-traveled shipping routes around the island of New Providence made Nassau, an ungoverned lawless commercial port, pirates’ paradise lined with brothels and taverns for ‘common cheats, thieves and lewd persons’, where one could bump into famous pirates like Henry Morgan, Jack Calico, Blackbeard, and the terrifying Amazons Anne Boney and Mary Read. Their motto was Take what you can, give nothing back.
The looting of ships got so out of hand, that the King of England appointed a Royal Governor to Nassau whose job was to restore order. The Bahamas’ new motto was Expulsis Piratis – Restituta Commercia (Pirates Expelled – Commerce Restored). The age of piracy ended.
In the course of the 18th century the Bahamas have been attacked, invaded and claimed twice by the Continental American army and once by the Spanish, but finally, thanks to the Treaty of Versailles, it remained a British colony until July 10, 1973 when the Bahamas officially became the Independent Commonwealth of the Bahamas, ending 325 years of peaceful British rule.
Following the American Revolution, Loyalists: rich slave and landowners unhappy with the idea of a new United States, began migrating to the Bahamas bringing all their possessions and slaves to start a new life and new plantations under the British flag. But many got ruined as agriculture on the sandy islands proved to be impossible, and so they left setting their slaves (of which they had no more use) free even before the British Empire abolished the slave trade in 1807. By 1838 slavery was ended and the Royal Navy added to the Bahamian population of newly-freed slaves the human cargo they had captured in slave ships. By early 1830s the black population, more than 10,000, outnumbered the white and permanent settlements of freed slaves were established on 17 islands.
Today, the population of the Bahamas, about 400,000, is 90% black descendants of West Africans whose ancestors settled on the islands during the slavery period. Apart from the heavily populated capital Nassau, there are few large settlements of a few thousand people and numerous small ones of less than 100 people scattered on the many islands and cays.
Tourism is their main source of income and most Bahamians are employed in the tourist industry. For this reason, people everywhere are extremely welcoming to visitors, making the Bahamas truly paradise for the tourist and cruiser.
Each small settlement has its own vibe and we love visiting them and meeting the locals.
Black Point Settlement
Black Point is a small settlement of two hundred people on Great Guana Cay in Exumas with a big and wide anchorage very popular with boaters even though there is no marina, no fuel or water available for cruising boats, but a laundry. People come here with huge bags full of dirty cloths and spend a day at the public coin-laundry.
We spend a week there not once using the laundry, as we do our washing by hand to save on coins. But we use the free Wi-Fi streaming from the local bar. And we explore the island and meet the locals.
Walking on the main street, on our way to the small grocery store to buy ice cream, we pass by a lamp pole that looks strangely familiar. It is actually a tall two-spreader mast, yeah, why not?
We see people, women and men, sitting in front of houses under the shade of trees weaving palm leaves into long stripes of different widths. The entire village weaving. They sell the rolls by the foot in Nassau, on the straw market, to be made into handbags sold to tourists.
Agnes shows me how it’s done. It’s really easy, man, and you find the palm leaves everywhere on the islands, no need to invest.
We will be making some handbags, Maya and me. Will show you a photo when it is ready. Should look something like this:
We also stumble upon the most unexpected outdoor art gallery. The artist is 70-year-old Willy, whose grandparents, parents and children were born on this same piece of land. The art gallery is located in his front yard which everyone refers to as “The Garden of Eden” and the artworks are environmental sculptures and installations of unaltered driftwood and dead mangroves found on the island.
Each sculpture represents an animal or a person. There are two lobsters, a flamingo, a lioness, one male and one female iguana, an Indian head, a giraffe, a ballet dancer, and many many other fantastical creatures trapped in wood. Admission to the Garden of Eden is free of charge and a tour by Willy himself is included; donations are welcomed.Share