Fiction & Poetry -- The greatest literary figure inspired by The Bahamas was not Bahamian at all. He was Ernest Hemingway, a through-and-through American. The Bahamas figured in some of his fiction, notably Islands in the Stream. Hemingway preferred Bimini because of its fishing, and he was the first person the locals saw land a bluefin tuna on rod and reel. "Papa," as he was known, stayed at Helen Duncombe's Compleat Angler Hotel.
Hemingway went to Bimini first in 1934 on his boat, Pilar, bringing writer John Dos Passos, among others, with him. He was also there in 1937, working on revisions for his manuscript To Have and Have Not. But the Bahamians remember him mainly for Islands in the Stream. No writer before or since has captured in fiction the seedy charm of Bimini's Alice Town.
There are no Hemingways anymore, but novelists still use The Bahamas as a backdrop for their fiction. Instead of fishing, however, there is usually a drug-scene theme. Typical of this genre is David Poyer's Bahamas Blue (St. Martin's). Poyer, also the author of Hatteras Blue, obviously loves the sea, but hates the drug runners who use it. In his book, the hero sets off to make a 122m (400-ft.) dive to recover 50 tons of cocaine off the coast. It's a thriller, and certainly evocative of the 1990s in The Bahamas.
For insight into Bahamian life, read Desmond Bagley's novel Bahama Crisis (HarperCollins) or Dennis Ryan's book of poetry Bahamas: In a White Coming On (Dorrance).
Religion & Folklore -- Daniel J. Crowley's I Could Talk Old-Story Good: Creativity in Bahamian Folklore (University of California Press) and Leslie Higgs's Bush Medicine in The Bahamas (Nassau Guardian) are both recommended.
History -- From Columbus to today's historians, many authors have found the background of The Bahamas a trove of rich material. There are numerous volumes to choose from, but we'll start with just a sampling.
The Story of The Bahamas (Macmillan), by Paul Albury, is a 294-page history that's the best of its kind. It relates these islands' checkered past, from pirates to shipwreckers to rumrunners. Robert H. Fuson's The Log of Christopher Columbus (International Marine Publishing) presents the words of the explorer himself, providing the first impressions of The Bahamas ever recorded by a European. From his 1492 log comes the following: "I made sail and saw so many islands that I could not decide where to go first."
Grand Bahama (Macmillan), by Peter Barratt, a town planner in charge of developing Freeport on Grand Bahama, writes of how a barren pine-covered island became a major tourist center.
Photographer/writer Hans W. Hannau prepared The Bahama Islands in Full Color (Argos, Inc.), a large pictorial volume of color photographs. Somewhat of a coffee-table book, it does contain much general information about The Bahamas.
Travel -- Isles of Eden: Life in the Southern Family Islands of The Bahamas (Benjamin Publishing), by Harvey Lloyd, with a foreword by former prime minister Lynden Pindling, describes the island people who live in this rarely visited archipelago that stretches 145km (90 miles) southeast of Nassau all the way to Haiti. Lloyd blends unusual island photography with social commentary, history, and personal recollections.
Yachtsman's Guide to The Bahamas (Tropical Island Publishers), a thoroughly researched, annually revised guide, is essential for visitors contemplating boat tours.
The lush look of The Bahamas makes it a favorite with film crews. Among the films shot here were the James Bond movies Dr. No, Never Say Never Again, and Thunderball. Clifton Wall, off New Providence, is a dramatic sea wall near a dozen shallow and deep sites. One wreck here formed the backdrop for Never Say Never Again. The film crew sunk a 34m (110-ft.) freighter that had been seized by the Bahamian government as a dope runner. Considered the country's most photogenic wreck site, it was also used in the movie Wet Gold as well as in several television commercials. A few hundred yards away are the ruins of an airplane prop used in Thunderball. The movie's famous spear-gun sequence was shot at Thunderball Reef.
Parts of other films have also been shot in The Bahamas, including Splash! and Cocoon. In addition, Islands in the Stream, starring George C. Scott and Claire Bloom, is based on the Hemingway novel about a sculptor living in isolation in The Bahamas.
The Bahamas maintains great pride in its original musical idioms, often comparing their vitality to the more famous musical traditions of Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and Trinidad. Other than the spirituals whose roots were shared by slaves in colonial North America, by far the most famous musical products of the archipelago are Goombay and its closely linked sibling, Junkanoo.
Goombay -- Goombay music is an art form whose melodies and body movements are always accompanied by the beat of goatskin drums and, when available, the liberal consumption of rum. Goombay is a musical combination of Africa's tribal heritage (especially that of the Egungun sect of the Yoruba tribe) mingled with the Native American and British colonial influences of the New World. Although its appeal quickly spread to other islands, its traditions remain strongest within The Bahamas.
The most outlandish moments of the Goombay world occur the day following Christmas (Boxing Day). Dancers outfit themselves in masquerade costumes whose bizarre accessories and glittering colors evoke the plumage of jungle birds. Once dismissed by the British colonials as the pastime of hooligans, Goombay is now the most widespread and broad-based celebratory motif in The Bahamas, richly encouraged by the island's political and business elite. Goombay musicians and dancers are almost always male, honoring a tradition whereby men and boys from the same family pass on the rhythms and dance techniques from generation to generation. Goombay is the Bantu word for "rhythm," while also referring to a type of African drum.
Today, Goombay has a gentle, rolling rhythm, a melody produced by either a piano, a guitar, or a saxophone, and the enthusiastic inclusion of bongos, maracas, and rhythm ("click") sticks. Lyrics, unlike the words that accompany reggae, are rarely politicized, dealing instead with topics that might have been referred to in another day as "saucy." Eventually, the sounds of Goombay would be commercialized and adapted into the louder and more strident musical form known as Junkanoo.
Junkanoo -- Until the 1940s, Junkanoo referred almost exclusively to the yuletide procession wherein revelers in elaborate costumes paraded down main streets accompanied solely by percussion music. (During the days of slavery, Christmas was the most important of the four annual holidays granted to slaves, and the one that merited the most exuberant celebrations.) The rhythms of Junkanoo became hypnotic, growing with the spectators' enthusiasm and the dancers' uninhibited movements. Essential to the tradition were the use of cowbells, traditional drums, and whistles.
Theories differ as to the origins of Junkanoo's name, but possible explanations include a Creole-pidgin derivation of French-speaking Haiti's term gens inconnus, which means "unknown people" -- a reference to the masked dancers.
Around World War II, Bahamian musicians fleshed out the yuletide Junkanoo parade's percussion rhythms with piano, electric bass, and guitar. This sparked the beginning of its development into what is today, the most prevalent musical form in The Bahamas.
Recordings -- One of the best-selling albums in Bahamian history is the privately produced An Evening with Ronnie. Composer of more hit singles than almost any other Bahamian star, Ronnie Butler's album contains renditions of "Burma Road," "Crow Calypso," and "Native Woman."
Tony McKay emigrated to New York and New Orleans after becoming an international sensation with his Junkanoo music. His best-selling records include Rushing Through the Crowd and Reincarnation.
The internationally acknowledged Baha Men (formerly High Voltage) reinterpret Goombay songs from the mid-20th century in Junkanoo. Of special interest are their Junkanoo adaptations of classic Goombay songs by such stars as George Symonette and Blind Blake.
Some of the best Junkanoo stars on the Bahamian scene are members of the group K.B., whose folk renditions revolving around Out Island values have led to such blockbusting singles as "She Fat," a romantic ode to the allure of overweight women. You'll find it on K.B.'s album Kickin' Bahamian.
The well-known Eddie Minnis survives exclusively on the sales of his paintings and records. His album Discovery, produced for the Bahamian quincentennial, features melodies and lyrics inspired by the folk idioms of the Exumas and Eleuthera. He has also produced other albums, all of which are available at record stores in Nassau.
The Bahamas has always inspired some of the Atlantic's most fervent religiosity. The country's most popular interpreter of gospel music is a Freeport-based group called the Cooling Waters, whose releases have approached the top of the religious-song charts in The Bahamas and the U.S.
One of the most important groups of all is King Eric and his Knights, whose leader is considered one of the patriarchs of Bahamian music. He composed an album, Island Boy, whose best-selling single, "Once Is Not Enough," later became the country's theme song.
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