By the year 1888, almost a whole generation had come and gone since emancipation, and the shameful apprenticeship system, which fell apart under the weight of rebellious negro labourers.
The English began to write extensively on the peculiarities of life in its West Indian colonies. Their writings give us a glimpse into our distant past. It allows us to chart our social, political and economic path which the inhabitants of the Bahamas have travelled through time.
By 1888, small fortunes had been made, by some Bahamians during the American Civil War by running the blockade. These were invested in a new industry. Winter tourism, as an economic industry, was just beginning to become of great importance to the islands.
From an extract in the May issue of a long ago magazine called Nineteenth Century, we read MORE ABOUT THE BAHAMAS in The Star (Saint Peter Port, Guernsey, England) Thursday 03 May 1888.
HOW THE BAHAMA NEGRO LIVED IN 1888
At this point, the writer describes the way negroes lived, and what they lived in. Negroes lived mostly in shanty style huts. Wooden, clapboard structures, usually with thatched roofs made from the broad leaves of coconut and palm trees. Though densely populated in areas, there was enough room for a small plot of land near to the house to grow a few vegetables or cultivate fruit trees.
The smallness of negro houses we learn was governed by superstition. To add to a house was considered unlucky. So no matter how many people lived in there, to extend the hut was not to be done.
Another way of life we read about was the tradition of shutting up the hut, closing the wooden window sashes tightly, and plugging every hole at nighttime. This was done irregardless of the oppressively hot Bahamas weather. No fresh air circulated for hours during the night. This enabled air borne viruses and bacteria to spread rapidly.
Such traditions were done out of fear. Fear of rats, wild dogs, mosquitoes, centipedes, scorpions, and a multitude of creepy crawling things finding their way in at night. One bite from such things could prove fatal in 1888.
Shutting up at night soon became a deadly tradition. It began to spread disease quickly within negro families, and among negro communities. One of the most deadliest diseases was consumption (a wasting away of the body) from pulmonary tuberculosis.
(The Illustrated London News, England) January 15, 1887)
A NEGRO’S COTTAGE
Embowered amidst fruit trees, a negro’s cottage is a picturesque abode—- a small wooden shanty half-hidden by roses, jessamine, and honeysuckle.
A shrub of gardenia often grows near the miniature verandah, over which trails stephanotis or passion-flowers, and winter is heralded by the poinsettia near the fence assuming its crimson crown. The cottage is generally much too small for the teeming family, and even when his means admit of doing so the owner rarely enlarges his house, as a superstition exists against it— to add to a house is unlucky.
Fortunately the windows are usually unglazed, so that during the day air circulates freely; but at night the shutters are fast closed and every chink and cranny stuffed to exclude ventilation, and in a hot climate the consequences are disastrous.
In slavery days consumption was almost unknown amongst the black people, but now much the largest population of deaths amongst them have been stated to arise from pulmonary complaints. So rapid is the progress of the disease that a month is a long time for the patient (if coloured) to last, once he has been seized by consumption; and cases are not uncommon in which the sufferer succumbs in a few days.
The people themselves ascribe the malady to the influx of American invalids, who of late years flock to Nassau (the capital of the Bahamas) during the winter.
The Negroes will tell you that before the Americans came there was no consumption in the place, but that the disease has spread amongst them from their taking in the washing of the foreign consumptives.
SLAVERY “Den I had no rent to pay, no food to buy… When I had massa he gib me ebbery ting.”
Slavery was both a physical, as well as a psychosocial state of being for the negro. So was Emancipation.
By 1888, the original Africans, those who lived during slavery, were now old. Some fifty-odd years after freedom came, life was harder, and less promising than they ever could have imagined in 1834.
Despite the flowery description of shanty cottages shaded by poinsettias in 1888, the truth was Bahamas negroes lived in abject squalor and brutal segregation. Death, disease, poverty, illiteracy and indifference was killing them, both physically, and psychologically. It is little wonder then that we read of an old negro, a former slave, being quoted, making fond representations of the bygone days of slavery and Massa.
THE “FLESH POTS” OF SLAVERY
(A flesh pot describes a place of comfort)
Sometimes a casual remark brings the slavery times startlingly near. It sounds strange to European ears to hear a man talk of events that happened when he was a slave.
Sometimes the old Negroes pine for the “fleshpots” of slavery and deplore the miseries of emancipation.
“Gubbenor Smith, him bad gubbenor,” remarked an old woman to her clergyman; “if he had not come, dey no make us free. Den I had no rent to pay, no food to buy. Now I must pay for de house, pay for de tea, pay for de clothes, pay for ebbery ting. When I had Massa he gib me ebbery ting.”
Though the older negroes look back with regret to the hotter suns and more luxuriant fields of their own land, after the second generation the darkies consider themselves real creoles, or natives of the West Indies, and regard with considerable contempt their brethren born on the dark continent, whom the disdainfully designated as “dem Africans.”
Towards the mixed race or “coloured people” the attitude of the full-blooded ebon brethren is a mixture of distrust, content, and envy, mulattos occupy the doubtful position assigned to that which is “neither fish, flesh, nor good herring.”
There is a negro saying, “Black people are a basket dat had a handle, and de buckras (white men) are a basket that hab a handle, de coloured people de be a basket dat hab no handle,” by which they mean that mulattos belong to no race or nation.
(MORE ABOUT THE BAHAMAS in The Star (Saint Peter Port, Guernsey, England) Thursday 03 May 1888.)