Spring 1990, Volume 7.1
Dean W. Collinwoods and Rick Phillips
The National Literature of the New Bahamas*
Dean W. Collinwood (Ph.D., U of Chicago) is Associate Professor of Sociology at Weber State College. He has published articles in Industrial and Labor Relations Forum, The Journal of Caribbean Studies, The Latin American and Caribbean Contemporary Record, The Tsuda Review (Japan), and others. His books include Modern Bahamian Society (1989), The Bahamas Between Worlds (1989), and Japan and the Pacific Rim (1990, in press).
Rick Phillips is an undergraduate student majoring in Sociology at Weber State College.
Created centuries ago from windblown sand, the 700 islands of the Bahamas archipelgo stretch some 550 miles from Florida to Haiti. The tiny island of New Providence is the crowded home of 65 percent of the 230,000 Bahamian people and serves as the seat of government and primary tourist destination. A colony of Great Britain until 1973, the Bahamas has enjoyed a long history of democratic government, although until 1967 an extraordinary amount of power resided in the hands of a few wealthy white businessmen known as the Bay Street Boys. In that year the black nationalist Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) under the leadership of lawyer Lyndon 0. Pindling won the votes of the people (85 percent of whom are black) and brought black majority rule and, later, political independence to the Bahamas.
During the two decades of PLP leadership, the Bahamian standard of living has improved more than at any other time, and many, though certainly not most, Bahamians now live a lifestyle similar to middle-class North Americans. Government profits from mass tourism have been invested in basic economic infrastructure as well as health care, housing, Bahamian cultural arts, and education. Pride in "things Bahamian" is growing. The new College of the Bahamas offers courses in many vocational fields as well as in Bahamian and Caribbean literature, and the college library's expanded Bahamian section contains numerous scholarly and literary works produced by or about Bahamians. Bookstores in Nassau, the capital city, carry a variety of novels, poetry, and plays by local authors. Thus, though newly independent, the Bahamas is already a nation with a rich and rapidly growing literary corpus. Unfortunately, the literatature is hardly known outside its borders.
Stronger perhaps in poetry than in any other genre, the writings also include many good short stories, some excellent plays, and a few attempts at novels. In addition to their artistic merit, these works along with popular song lyrics, political tracts and cartoons, and a few thought pieces by Bahamian intellectuals, provide a rich source of data for cultural understanding. This paper will briefly introduce readers to the general characteristics of the Bahamian literary corpus, and then focus on Bahamian poetry to identify the cultural orbit of the Bahamian people vis-a-vis their geographic neighbors to the north (Canada and the United States) and the south (the West Indies islands).
Our analysis is based on a review of the writings of some forty contemporary Bahamian novelists, poets, lyricists, playwrights and other writers and scholars. Over 700 works of poetry, 14 short stories, 7 plays, 4 novels, 30 song lyrics, and a handful of prose pieces were collected and analyzed for the period 1965-1987. Some of these works were unpublished pieces sent to us specifically for this project. To the best of our knowledge the corpus we reviewed constitutes a majority of all the literary output from the Bahamas since the mid-1960s.
II. Characteristics of Bahamian Literature
Bahamian literature is a relatively new phenomenon (Bahamian Anthology 4; Collinwood and Dodge 201). Almost all of the works included in this study, and indeed ever published by Bahamians, were composed since about 1965 when the Bahamas was swept by comprehensive social and political change. The catalysts for these changes were the black rights movement in the United States and the continued dismantling of the British Empire after the end of World War 11. Such was the volume of creative literary output in the 1960s and 1970s (generally full of hope and anticipation rather than protest and anger), that Bahamian literature as a whole might still accurately be described as "independence literature."
However, this is not to suggest that Bahamian writers as a body have intentionally adhered to any national genre idiosyncratic to their nation; indeed there is no such national genre. Each writer seems to have followed his or her own lights with respect to style, although there is a preference for free rather than metered verse and standard English rather than dialect. This fluidity is, perhaps, a natural by-product of the educational establishment in the Bahamas which, until 1974, did not have any educational institutions beyond high school. Would-be authors had little opportunity for critical reviews of their writing from indigenous experts; if they received professional guidance, it had to come from persons unfamiliar with Bahamian culture. Even today, the course in Bahamian literature at the College of the Bahamas is taught by a Jamaican and is sometimes preempted by courses that favor Shakespeare and other foreign writers.
In addition, Bahamian literature, especially before the 1980s, was essentially didactic, written to socialize the younger generation. Unsettled by the rapidity of social change, many writers consciously set about reminding youth of their roots and the values they seemed so wont to discard in their rush to modernize. These works often privileged content over form. This has been particularly true of novels, and therefore there are no Bahamian novels of the stature of those produced by, say, V.S. Naipaul in Trinidad. To some Bahamian writers, the formal literary package into which thoughts are deposited is simply irrelevent when compared with the urgent need to educate the rising generation.
Another feature of the literature is that it is in general nonpartisan. That is, it is not intentionally promotional of any specific philosophy of government or social order. Very few writers reveal clear-cut commitments to ideologies of either the political right or left. Bahamian writers seem satisfied to tender criticisms without solutions; there are few secret socialists, closet communists, or reclusive rednecks. This quality of detachment is arguably illusory since one may claim that unless writers use the power of their pen to challenge the political order, they reveal their acquiescence (if not their satisfaction) with the status quo, which in the Bahamas is a free market economy with little social engineering and with political and legal institutions firmly rooted in British parliamentary democracy. Public acceptance of this nexus of economic, social and political power appears to be waning at the moment as slowly more and more writers find reason to fault the government for the catastrophic rise in crime and other social ills that have lately plagued the traditional tranquility of the islands.
As it happens, the apolitical tone of the majority of the early (pre-1980s) literature is not fully reflected in the examples below, because the specific focus of this paper is to reveal how Bahamian writers regard the several nation-states or cultures which border their own. Such a focus is inherently political. Hence we have intentionally selected those relatively few works which make ail internationally political or social statement. The bulk of the early corpus, however, is generally apolitical.
Further, Bahamians tend to write about domestic, even islandspecific topics rather than broader issues affecting human beings everywhere. Readers, of course, are always free to interpret passages as globally as they see fit, but specificity rather than generality seems to be the intent of most Bahamian writers. Indeed, much of the early poetry consists of paeans to the beauty of the writer's home island or the serenity of the specific settlement in which he or she was born. Bahamian poets usually do not invite readers to gaze at a beach and experience God; they suggest merely 11 see the beach." Of course, this is more true of some writers than others, and we sense a tone of increasing universality in much of the recent 1980s literature.
Finally, most contributors in the Bahamian literary community are not trained writers. As businessmen, students, and housewives, they tend to think of writing as a pastime, an attempt at individual creative expression without expectation of gain or fame. This in no way implies that the works are therefore amateurish or that they are not useful as a tool for cultural understanding. Moreover, some writers possess obvious talent which is recognized at home and occasionally abroad. But there is an unevenness in the quality of the output such that one cannot always rely on a particular author to consistently produce high quality work. Nevertheless, taken as a whole, the quality of the Bahamian literary corpus is praiseworthy as both literature and as socio-cultural output from a newly independent nation.
III. Major Social Themes
Bahamian literature, treated as a source of data about society, can be categorized under five major headings: those works that treat the phenomenon of rapid social change; those that applaud or conversely ridicule the Bahamian passion for North American-style cultural sophistication; those that reveal a yearning for a more certain national identity; those that reflect a nostalgia for the traditions of the pre-modern Bahamas, and those that exude national pride in the natural beauty of the Bahamian islands. We shall address each of these in order.
An awareness of social change is one of the most universal motifs among Bahamian writers. Some bemoan modernization and innovation while others find in these movements an opportunity for personal and national progress. For example, Ashley Saunders writes of the "confusion" and "absurdities" of modern society while Susan Wallace admonishes her fellow citizens that the new Bahamas requires a "stress on education" so that Bahamians will not appear foolish when observed by outsiders. Most important, she says:
Somebody bes start writin'
Somebody best write fas'
'Cause it done too late already
Ta keep up wid de pas'. (25)
Whatever their individual orientation toward the value of change, almost all writers, especially those writing in the 1980s, see the new Bahamas degenerating into a moral wasteland. Alchohol and drug abuse, violent crime, sexual promiscuity, and family dissolution are but a few of the signs of moral decay which Bahamian writers almost universally decry (Collinwood, Tsuda 45-47). Eddie Minnis's calypso lyrics with their pointed denunciations of corruption in high places and dissolution among the common people represent a particularly popular example of this motif:
Go down East Street, Go down Farm Road, Go down Grant's Town, Go down Base Road; Yer see young men An' dey look so old-Man dat booze gat dem knock out cold.
(Minnis, Nicole 'an)
No change has been more central to modern Bahamian history than the advent of black majority rule and the termination of centuries of colonial rule by Great Britain. Fifteen years ago the poets were unanimously enthusiastic about the potential of these racial and political realignments to bring social equality and material progress to the nation. Today, however, more and more of the new works reveal the stinging disappointment of unfulfilled expectations. One particularly telling piece comes from Jeanne Thompson. In her ever popular newspaper satire column, skeptical and street-wise Zeke is having an argument with naive and old-fashioned Sophie:
Right away Zeke tell her that when we get independence, we suppose to move forward.... and he want to know what you celebrating if errything going backwards insteada forwards. So Zeke tell Sophie that they coulda have as much rally and flag waving and whatever for celebrating independence but he ain't see no reason for him to go take part because he ain't see nothing to celebrate. (Nassau Guardian 2)
Although Bahamian writers are of two minds about the value of cultural change, they are agreed about one thing: the sophistication that has come with urbanization and modernization is superficial and ephemeral. Eddie Minnis has been particularly vocal about what he sees as false sophistication among Bahamian people. They ought to know, he argues, that Bahamians as Bahamians, have their own respectable brand of cultural savoir faire. They need not mimic the irrelevant styles of foreign cultures to be persons of worth. Alas, his message falls on deaf ears, and he despairingly concludes that "[foreign] technology makin' fool outta you an' me" (Minnis Nicole 'an).
Contrary to popular belief among tourists, the Bahamas is a country with very little of what might be called "voodoo religion." The people are, for the most part, Protestant fundamentalists lists with mainstream Anglicans and Catholics also represented, especially among the upper class. Therefore, reliance on astrology, horoscopes and superstition is probably no more prevalent than in North America and Europe. Yet, as Minnis's novel Island Boy so clearly reveals, trust in chance or luck as the avenue to material success is incredibly strong. Indeed reliance on chance rather than hard work, formal education, and rational investment of time and money is the real black magic of the modern Bahamas.
The next major theme, that of a desire for a more certain national identity, is so endemic that it is implied in all the others. In the Bahamas there is a sense of urgency about identity that one does not usually find in the national literatures of developed nations-and this despite the fact that the Bahamas has been settled for some 300 years, longer than either the United States or Canada. How can this anomaly be explained? Bahamians seem to feel that the long years of colonial domination constituted a cultural coma from which they have only recently awakened. Because of political independence, to use a phrase current in the Bahamas and the U.S. South, the Bahamas has been "born again." Therefore, though old, it is new; though experienced, it is naive. The very fact that a 300 year old country has only a 20 year literary history is telling testimony of the power of colonial domination to make of its inhabitants a non-people. The Bahamas today is in the position of trying to catch up with itself, to find out what has happened to itself and its world while it lay unconscious for three colonial centuries. Therein resides the pulsating urgency of Bahamian writers to know who they are,. where they fit in the world, and what definition they should attach to the word "Bahamian."
Some writers such as Johnson in The Road, Stirling in Upturned Turtles, and Minns in Island Boy, believe that identity can only be obtained by looking back at one's roots. Others, however, find that retrospection leads them directly to Africa, slavery, and ignominy. Playwright Winston Saunders's THEM reveals the mental anguish some Bahamians suffer as they attempt to reconcile themselves to either their black or their white heritage: "Go away," screams a pass-as-white daughter to her black mother, "for God's sake, just go away." In the final analysis, it seems to us, most questions about identity in the Bahamas are questions about race. Some writers are dealing with race, but until that explosive topic is confronted by the average Bahamian, the delicious sense of knowing who one is and what nation one belongs to will probably remain frustratingly out of reach to most Bahamians.
Another very prominent theme is, somewhat ironically, that of nostalgia, the intentional looking back and idealizing of the past. This appears to be inconsistent with our foregoing analysis, but we argue that the nostalgic impulse is in fact consonant with the reluctance to fully address the past. For the preferred Bahamian past is one with carefully defined limits, a restricted vision on history. In this, Bahamians are not unlike the Europeans of the Renaissance who reached back nearly two millennia to construct an artificial and factually inaccurate picture of their roots in the idealized democracy of ancient Greece. It served the ends of the European romanticists to ignore the fact that most Greeks were slaves or that women were merely chattel to be locked away inside the women's quarters or bought and sold at will.
Likewise, Bahamians today prefer a history which goes back no farther than the end of slavery, and more often than not, no farther than the childhood memory of the writer. It is a constructed past, a reminiscence of an era of emotional closeness that was probably never as real as it appears.-in- retrospect. In the past, in the simplicity of the telephone-fee, tax-free, pollution-free outer island settlements of 40 or 50 years ago resides the "real" Bahamas. It is recalled as a past of innocence, neighborliness, propriety, faith and humility Perhaps it was all those things, but it was also a past of ignorance, poverty, disease, heavy labor, and humiliation. Only a few of the writers (Johnson and Miller for example) seem to recognize that:
He sat while I pictured a necklace of islands
Scattered like pearls on the bed of the sea;
I dwelt on the tall mastheads riding at anchor,
The green slope, the soft wind, the coconut tree.
I revelled in memories seasoned with salt spray,
Of happy days under the tropical sun;
The visitors crowding their way along Bay Street
Cool in the dusk when the hard day is done.
But I did not tell of the heartbreak of people
Bound to the soil and the sea-bed for life,
And I did not sing of the rift that I see
Parting rich man and poor man, black man and white.
Because the rising generation of Bahamians now lives on the heavily populated island of New Providence and participates in an urban lifestyle highly penetrated by foreign cultures and far removed from that of their parents' childhood, it can be assumed that poems of nostalgic reverie will have little purchase on their emotions.
There is, however, one aspect of the Bahamian past and present, one facet of the identity motif, with which Bahamians are in agreement, namely, that their national home is a place of undeniable beauty. In the glories of nature they can take unreserved pride. Indeed every Bahamian writer serves as an unofficial publicist for the sand and sea which have been the fame of the Bahamas since Columbus set foot in 1492. Reading some works of poetry, one almost has the impression that one has picked up a travel brochure or sightseeing pamphlet. The islands have been good to the Bahamian people: they have served as a place of escape from the tyranny of slavery; have yielded their maritime bounties for a people who might have otherwise perished when their economies collapsed; have permitted them to remain aloof from the vexations of mainland America while reaping its benefits through tourism and trade.
Although flowers, the sea, fish and other fauna are frequently noted, none takes precedence over trees as a poetic symbol. Brown, Smith, Miller, Johnston and many other poets pepper their poetry with references to trees of all kinds. In a flat land surrounded by a sometimes menacing sea, there is "something ultimately safe about the trees," confesses Miller (Summer's 54). It is possible that the awareness of trees has African roots since trees were often sacred totems in some West African cultures (Collinwood and Dodge chapter 11). But it is more likely that the trees, many of which are fruit-bearing, constituted a natural "mother," providing nourishment even in the face of sustained poverty. Thus trees can be understood as reminders of the long distance Bahamians have come since the days when a meal might have been whatever one could gather from a mango or banana tree. They represent the stark contrast between the subsistence of the tentative past and the high-rolling confidence of today's flashy gambling casinos and multi-million dollar hotels.
IV. The North-South Motif
In the second half of this paper we analyze literary works that grant readers some insight into the Bahamian mindset vis-a-vis other cultures and peoples, especially those which surround the Bahamas geographically. We refer to such works as having a northsouth motif. This is an intentional allusion, first, to the international and increasingly vocal "North/South Dialogue" or demand for resource equity between the industrial countries of the northern hemisphere and the developing nations of the southern hemisphere (a theme which Bahamian poets echo), and second, to the fact that the Bahamas is both geographically and sociologically at the crossroads of two very different cultural traditions: North America on its northern border, and the Caribbean or West Indian islands on its southern border.1
Of those several north-south issues which inspire literary passion, none stands out more than the Bahamian awareness of their minority status in a majority world. Excerpts from Percival Miller's poem, "Before the Dissolution of the Monarchy," best captures this thought:
In your heart, do you feel
Who invented the wheel
or who fashioned the engine
out of molten steel
not us ...
In your heart will you own
who invented the phone
or the science which walked on the moon
or outlined your origins from scattered bones
or television's glare...
not us ...
O.M. Smith tactfully reveals his orientation toward the United States with this recollection of his father's subservience to the superpower economy:
Stop the train
I want to get off
An orange tree
It just might be
One my father climbed
Twenty years ago
To pick clean
And then climb on
Quickly to the next
This is how
I always feel
Ing through Florida
(43 Poems 25).
To others, the sense of inferiority is expressed in the expectation that once a Bahamian has rubbed shoulders with the educational and cultural sophistication of the United States, Canada, or some similar place, he or she is supposed to have improved in some way. One cannot detect an expectation, in reverse, that the host nations would have improved because Bahamians had spent time inside their borders. For instance, O.M. Smith writes about getting a formal education abroad:
And it's hard to keep your
But you must!
Because, because, 0 Because
People are watching you
Especially when you leave
Go off to Memphis State University
And come back.
(43 Poems 11)
Likewise, if Bahamians want to see art "polished up/ Beautifully" (O.M. Smith, 43 Poems 45) they know they must trek north, to the Art Institute of Chicago, for instance, where they can admire Picasso up close. That so few poets seem to feel the same about Bahamian art is a telling commentary on their self-perception as a minority people, not only numerically, but creatively as well. It is our opinion that this self-perception is seriously flawed, that numbers are irrelevant, and that the Bahamian people are bursting with creative energy. But the fact of their self-denigration is undeniable. Even ritual events take on import only as they are linked with the north. Rahming notes that "little black children /crying/ still think Santa Claus/is white ... (Rahming 57).
Bahamian writers, then, recognize that the technological and cultural weight of the north (including implicitly Europe as well) overwhelms their own emergent culture. But in contrast to the average Bahamian citizens, they are certainly not prepared to believe that might makes right. Indeed, they see in the north some of the worst features that humanity has invented, as in O.M. Smith's reference to military armaments:
the things we buy
And the things
We buy for us
The real mccoy;
They are all
Toys even if they
Some toys tons of metal
And steel and move fast
(O.M. Smith 43 Poems 14)
Norris Carroll puts it even more forcefully in this bitter commentary on the devastation sent from the armories of Britain to the people of Biafra (it could have been said just as painfully about the United States and Vietnam):
And yet again they come,
The fast-moving metal murderers.
Airborne, out of reach of the stone
from the Riverbank;
Their engines roaring that droning
As death drops again from the air
In metal cases;
Whistling cases coming to kill...
Arbitrarily ... but to kill! .....
More eyes! More heads!
More junk piles!
Carroll is hopeful that the current state of affairs in which the white world controls the minds of the rest of the nations of the earth will soon change:
It's only a matter of time
Till the crushing train
Of Natural Justice
Bringing the boomerang-harvest,
From the seed
Of England's bitter sowing.
Equally undaunted, Brenda Vanderpool urges Bahamians to "search on" for respect, identity and recognition of their innate worth:
it is there, believe me, it is there,
yes it is there
we're very special people, and it's
really our world ... but it's gonna
take awhile, girl, yes it's gonna take
a while girl.
("More boiled Fish" unpublished)
Another concern of the writers we studied was that the valuable parts of their own culture would not be able to withstand the onslaught of culture from the north. For instance, Miller compares the hordes of tourists visiting the islands to a great hurricane. When they come they rake the shores, scavenging everything in sight, not unlike Columbus did 500 years earlier on the same islands:
footsteps never held much reverence in its calculations
other Genoans will come, though not for discovery
other courtiers of statedorn will come with cameras
and straw hats.
In the face of such a storm of fun seekers, all things Bahamian are under threat of being wrecked and washed into the sea. Rahming comments in "I Am a Bahamian":
For strangers see my land
Isles of palm trees in the sand
• place to buy
• place for fun
• place that pleases everyone
But this is my home.
Concludes Robert Johnson, "Our fate is still entangled in/Columbus' mistake" (11).
Despite the distance and mild hostility some writers harbor toward the culture of the north, it is also very clear that North American culture is more central to the Bahamian orbit of identity than any other, certainly more than that of the West Indies, and even more than that of Great Britain. One poet dedicated his entire book of poems to U.S. President Jimmy Carter (O.M. Smith, Bicentennial 2). Others have dedicated poems to Robert Kennedy and John F. Kennedy (Brown 2), and to Martin Luther King (Brown 83), recognizing King not only as a black man but also as a cultural representative of America. Some North American cities, particularly Miami, but also Toronto and others, are mentioned so often in stories and novels that one wonders if Bahamians make as much of a distinction between the Canadian and U.S./Bahamian political boundary as do the map and globe makers.
Some writers prefer to see "America" as a symbol of all things good. For example, Brown makes no secret of his admiration for the culture of the north. It is the "hope of/all the Earth", the "centre of the/Creation." (By implication, we should point out, he marginalizes and minimizes the value of his own nation):
I saw America from Canada to the
From the rugged Appalachians to the
Rocky Mountain Wilds,
I saw America from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean,
Bastion of democracy centre of this Creation
I saw America as I travelled from
State to State,
Millions of people happy with prosperity in their face,
I saw America with her forest of Pine and Birch,
,Unmatched in skill and science, hope of all the Earth.
Thus we find that with respect to the north, Bahamian writers exhibit an ambivalence of the sort psychologists might call "love/hate", although that is overstating it on both accounts.
However, if attitudinal ambivalence is true of the Bahamian mindset vis-a-vis countries to the north, it certainly is not true of those to the south. Indeed, it is accurate to say that Bahamian writers almost seem incapable of looking southward. The shared problems and strengths, the historical and racial connections of Jamaica, Haiti, the Turks and Caicos and other nearby neighbors are virtually ignored in all but a few works.
One of the exceptions is Armbrister's Bahamas Fever. This dime store "beach novel" about a beautiful Bahamian woman who, with the help of lady luck, charms her way into riches and fame, gives us one of the few literary clues as to the mindset of Bahamians toward their Caribbean neighbors. The picture is none too flattering; the Haitians one meets in this novel are nothing short of primitive heathens, lacking both culture and common sense. Those who know the Bahamas well understand that in certain ways, Haitians, especially those who are illegal immigrants, serve as the new "niggers" of Bahamian society. Some Bahamians seem to feel that they can more quickly ascend the social ladder if they have someone else to subjugate--a lesson they apparently learned well from their former colonial overseers.
As for islands other than Haiti-Jamaica, Barbados, and the other islands of the Commonwealth Caribbean--Bahamians realize that they cannot lay claim to cultural superiority (although they make much of their standard of living relative to the West Indians), so they have, instead, constructed horizontal distance. For instance, when the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States joined the U.S. military in an invasion of the island of Grenada in 1983, the Prime Minister of the Bahamas went to great pains to squeeze from the crisis the statesman-like air he so desperately needed at that time, yet he gave not an inch of moral or material support to the Grenadians. How could Bahamians be expected, he argued, to know how to help a country so far removed from the Bahamas? It did not occur to him that geographic distance had not prevented Jamaica, the United States, and others from helping. Of course, the United States' reason for invading Grenada was military and ideological, but the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States came to Grenada's aid because they felt a kinship with their West Indian brothers. Thus, the Prime Minister's point clearly was that the Bahamas did not feel that kinship. Bahamians (mistakenly in our opinion) like to think of themselves as a people apart from the rest of the islands of the Caribbean. Indeed, they have never used the term "West Indian" to describe themselves. Poet Raymond Brown puts it this way:
This beautiful and blessed land,
With Nature herself its vendor,
These balmy isles with verdure crowned,
And hills bedecked in splendor.
Hurricanes that frequent other isles,
For years have passed you by,
Other lands can tell of hunger,
Your Limit has been the skies.
More fortunate than your sister isles,
Misfortune has shied from thee,
They have their ism and their schism,
You have the glorious sea.
Superior sometimes, detached always-this seems to describe the historic attitude of Bahamians toward their southern neighbors. The literature provides evidence of this attitude as much by its silence as by its occasional aspersions. At the governmental level there is evidence of some minor changes: the Bahamas is asserting itself in the Organization of American States, in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and in other multi-national and regional bodies (Collinwood in Hopkins, Latin 661). But at the level of the individual Bahamian citizen, there are still few who would accept admission at the University of the West Indies over colleges and universities in the United States and Canada, and there are even fewer who would consider vacationing in the West Indies when they could go to Florida or other points north. As we have noted, the orbit of identity for Bahamians is clearly the culture of the north.
The new Bahamian literature constitutes a rich source of literary enjoyment and cultural understanding. Initially an "independence literature," it is now becoming a literature of social betterment, criticism, and moral comment, and as such, its value to nonBahamians is growing. Indeed, one can construct a partial profile of the national character of the Bahamian people by analyzing the cultural and political content of the ever increasing number of poems and other literary works. The Bahamian found in these works is one who is at once confused and tantalized by rapid social change; who finds it easier to acquire the forms of sophistication than substance; who needs to look back to his earliest roots but prefers the safety of recent history instead; who is embarrassed by the moral dissolution of his cities but enamored of the natural beauty of the islands on which he lives.
With respect to the cross-cultural relationship that Bahamians have with their neighbors to the north and south, one can detect a pronounced shunning of the nations to the south and a confused ambivalence toward the north. Bahamian writers respect the eminence and vigor of North America while denouncing its abuses. They reflect in their writings a national desire for modernity and the "technostuff" of North America while deploring its political meddling and cultural dominance. They denounce the use of technology to subjugate weaker nations, yet they rely on the United States to protect them and other island nations from tyranny. Grateful for recent American efforts to bring about a state of racial equality within the United States, they abhor the injustices of the past and the continuing ones of the present in other nations. They speculate that the time will come when these injustices will be avenged. As the universality of the themes of Bahamian writers grows, we expect that more and more readers will look to Bahamian literature as a source of, not only culture-specific understanding, but of insight into the general human condition as well.
For centuries the Bahamas was kept administratively separate from the other British holdings in the Caribbean because of distance and perhaps because of the atypically large proportion of whites residing there (today about 15 percent), many of whom had been wealthy and loyal British subjects in the American colonies before the War of Independence.
-* Funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Midwest Faculty Seminar of the University of Chicago.