Fall 1992, Volume 9.3
Dean W. Collinwood
Columbus and the Discovery of Self
Dean W. Collinwood (Ph.D., U of Chicago) is Associate Professor of Sociology at Weber State University and Associate Editor of Weber Studies. A former Fulbright Scholar (University of Tokyo) and Lecturer at the University of the West Indies/College of the Bahamas, he has published articles in The Journal of Caribbean Studies, The Latin American and Caribbean Contemporary Record, and others. His books include Modern Bahamian Society (1989), The Bahamas Between Worlds (1989), and Japan and the Pacific Rim (1991).
"From here, the next stop is the Azores," declared my friend, as he surveyed the vast Atlantic Ocean from his Bahamian bungalow. It seemed incredible, I mused, that Columbus could have found these flat, sandy, specks of land on the fringe of a gigantic ocean of 40 million square miles. Others had found them first, of course, but Columbus's adventure changed the world. So, on a warm June day in 1991499 years after Columbus set sail, I found myself in the country of Columbus's first New World landfall, embarking on a voyage of my own: to discover how Columbus and his enterprise, in the minds of those inhabiting the first islands he found, were weathering the turbulent intellectual water of the late 20th Century.
The Bahamas was not new to me; I had once lived and taught in Nassau and had subsequently spent a decade visiting and re-visiting the islands in an attempt to understand Bahamian culture, but that was before the era of deconstructionism and political correctness had burst upon the intellectual scene. In the old days, people could nonchalantly intone that Columbus had discovered America. Now, it seemed, everyone was scrambling to find a better word: should it be "encountered, " "invaded," "destroyed"? Never before, it seemed, were people so concerned about choosing the correct verb. The activist intellectuals of Europe and the Americas were having a nomenclature field day as they battled to replace one cognitive hegemony with another.
But, it was here, on one of the Bahamas' obscure sandy beaches , that the New World Era began, and therefore, it was here, I reasoned, that one must come to put things in perspective. Were Bahamians, I wondered, still proud of their historic Columbus connection? Did it matter to them that people were beginning to say rather nasty things about the "Great Discoverer"? As denizens of the lands he first reached, did they have a special place in their hearts for Columbus? Or as children of slaves, did they blame Columbus for their past?
To outsiders, especially North Americans, the terms "vacation" and "Bahamas" are synonymous. Nearly 3.5 million tourists visit the Bahamas every year, giving the islands the highest per resident income from tourism in the world. But, scholars have held that whereas the Bahamas has a tourist economy, it does not have a tourist society. That is, the values and lifestyle of the hospitality industry, built in part by foreign investors, are generally in conflict with traditional Bahamian ideas, and therefore most Bahamians dismiss tourism as a social, although certainly not economic, irrelevancy.
I was, therefore, more than a little surprised to see the energy and money that Bahamians were investing to lure tourists to the Bahamas during the Quincentennial year. Under the aegis of the Minister of Tourism with the former Bahamian Ambassador to the United Nations at its head, the Bahamas Quincentennial Commission has been planning yacht races, regattas, and countless other celebratory events. The scheme appears to be working, because tourist arrivals have already increased substantially over previous years (Cheatham 85-92). Entrepreneurs on the Family Islands (which include San Salvador and the other reputed Columbus landing sites) seem especially eager to cash in on the Anniversary windfall. In hyperbole typical of promotional brochures, they herald their islands as "unpolluted and unspoilt," and "quiet and peaceful as they were in Columbus's day" (Travel 1). Many Bahamian beaches are, of course, beautiful, but many others are pock marked with the detritus of insensitive tourists and careless islanders, and there are towns in the Bahamas where one cannot sleep easily for the noise of traffic and raucous revelry. But reality has never had much purchase on the hearts of Bahamian tourism promoters.
Everywhere I looked I found examples of Columbus-mania emanating from the Bahamian government and the tourist industry; statuary was going up, brochures were going out, and hoteliers and casino operators were smacking their lips. While intellectuals and activists on both sides of the Atlantic were engaging in painful debate over the place of Columbus in historydid he discover, or did he destroy?the Bahamian tourist industry in 1991 was carrying blissfully on, making money, and having a wonderful time. It did not matter so much, the industry said, what Columbus did, as where he did it; the object, not the verb, was the thing. For these out-island Bahamians, it would be tolerable to claim that Columbus had discovered America; it would be much better to say that he had discovered the Bahamas; and it would be fiscally exquisite to declare that he had discovered the Bahamas out-islands!
But I knew that this monetary myopia did not represent reality, and I hoped that most Bahamians understood that too. It was, after all, on the shore of their landfall island that the first forced capture by Europeans of a Native Americana Bahamian, if you willtranspired. And it was the resulting institution of slavery that forced the ancestors of the majority of Bahamians todayblack and whiteto these resource-poor islands where they historically suffered the ignominy of slavery and currently endure the indignities of mass tourism.
Moreover, I hoped that Bahamians would know, as should Caucasian, Hispanic, Asian, and African-Americans, that they are living on stolen land, land that once belonged to the Aztecs, the Calusas, the Caribs, and in the Bahamas, to the Lucayan branch of the Arawak Indians. More than anything, I wanted to spend an afternoon sipping cold drinks with the descendants of the Lucayans Columbus met in 1492; I wanted to ask them how Columbus had fared in their collective memory; had they made peace with their reduced place in history; had they forgiven Columbus for enslaving some of their ancestors within hours after touching the shores of their homeland? I yearned for their replies but, of course, I could not even put the questions, for the peaceful Lucayans are deadevery man, woman, and child. Within 25 years of Columbus's landfall, the Lucayans had all been forcefully removed from their homeland, subjected to brutality, and discarded as one would a used tissue. And not just the Lucayans themselves, but also their Arawak cousins on other islands all extinct within three generations after European contact (Johnson, Slavery, and Collinwood, Worlds 2).
That the Bahamas had thus lain fallow of inhabitants for nearly 130 years probably made it easier for the Puritan English settlers of 1648 to believe that Providence had prepared the islands for them. But by their own accounts, the God they worshipped would hardly have approved the rapine, mayhem, and genocide that preceded their arrival.
With conservatives hotly defending the intellectual and moral honor of Western Civilization against the onslaught of ethnic deconstructionists, the ghostly silence of the Lucayans spoke to me louder that ever before. For this race of human beings, at least, this entire race, there would be no need to "re-think Columbus," no purpose to debating his role; for them, Christopher Columbus was the prime mover in their extinction. Where, I wondered, could one find a more convincing revisionist argument? Could not Western Civilization have advanced without the genocide of these few gentle people, I wondered? Do Bahamians realize that the tortuous debate over which of their islands was Columbus's actual landfall would be irrelevant today if any of the people he had met had been left to tell the tale? I wondered if Bahamians, of all people, understood that it was upon these gruesome facts of history that their nation had been conceived?
Somewhat to my surprise, I learned that educated Bahamians, at least, are indeed aware of that history and of their "occupation" of lands rightfully belonging to others. In fact, the Bahamas Historical Society, the Department of Archives of the Ministry of Education and Culture, and the College of the Bahamas, have cooperated for the past decade to conduct archaeological investigations of Lucayan settlements on New Providence and other islands (Bahamas Archaeological 1-3). To be sure, much of the initial interest was sparked by North American archaeologists looking for undiscovered sites to excavate, but Bahamians seem to have caught the spirit of the work. Moreover, in the absence of a written history of these pre-encounter Indians, a certain mystique had developed among Bahamian poets and short-story writers about their exigent lifestyle. Bahamian poet Percival A. Miller, for instance, describes the probable relationship between the warlike Caribs and the peaceful Lucayans: "Said the carib to his brother/they have beautiful women, villages . . . /let us enslave them, drink their blood" (17).
More interesting to me is Miller's attempt to speak for the Lucayans, to offer an account of their likely inner fears upon first espying Columbus's fleet at anchor beyond the reef of Guanahani Island:
The Ballad of the Great Canoe
1. A band of numen came today
riding the wide water out of the dawn
in a canoe as big as a pueblo.
2. Their hair was like the silk of maize
their skin was paler than the sand
their knitted garments sheathed their limbs
helmet like peapods hid their crowns
they spoke the language of birds and cattle.
. . . .
3. We ran into the bushes and hid
but we came back to touch them
we had to see if they were men as we were
what use is the hamac if the stranger is not known
what joy is the full tabaca if you cannot test the
stranger's strength. (8)
. . .
The irony, of course, is that the Lucayan's flight from the Caribs put them directly in the line of fire of an even more unimaginably powerful enemy. These peaceful villagers, who fashioned tools out of conch shells, and carved canoes and paddles out of wood, but had no known weapons of war (they did have spears for hunting) were the first to suffer at the hands of the European greed for gold and power. Nor would it have made a difference where in the Caribbean, or the Western Hemisphere for that matter, they had fled for safety; neither race nor nation was strong enough to withstand the devastating gale winds of foreign culture which Columbus unleased in the New World. Miller cannot help but notice the unsettling parallel between mass foreign penetration in the Bahamas today with the avalanche of foreign culture Columbus let loose on the same islands five centuries ago. The first wave of outside culture annihilated the island's inhabitants; will traditional Bahamian culture, too, be thus swept away?
At Summer's End
. . . .
4. What can hinder it
not prayerswe are not so united
what can turn it away
not seedingwe have not enough silver chloride
what can break its power
we have no mountains
we are a country of low-lying islands.
5. There is Inagua in the south, it will enter the channel there
and not be broken by salt lakes and ponds there
or dull its wrath for the chimney nests of the flamingoes there
what does it care for the peace of Red Bay or
for the slumber of Abrahams Bay. Columbus's
footsteps never held much reverence in its calculations
other Genoans will come, though not for discovery
other courtiers of statedom will come with cameras and straw hats. (1-6)
What pleases me most about Miller's writing is not the theme he choosesafter all, he is merely noting the obviousbut rather that he is willing to challenge the tourist industry and the government's rosy portrayal of Columbus. Another Bahamian poet and political activist does the same with the following revisionist interpretation:
Why do they celebrate, these millions?
Who gained because he came
And with him greed
Religion without Christ
Diseases that the savage could not name
Being unknown before?
. . . .
Sun saw black bodies slink
Being lashed by overseer authority;
Regarded laws that freed but could not legislate
Beheld the reach for repossession of their father's house
Their dispossessor! (Turner-Rolle, unpublished)
This poem could have easily been penned by an embittered member of the American Indian Movement, or of the Midatlantic Indian Alliance, or of a score of other counter-Quincentenary groups active in North America. But in the Bahamas, I found, there are no such groups, and such an "anti-attitude" toward Columbus is not standard fare. More typical are these poems by Bahamian Susan Wallace:
Impenetrable clouds, it seems,
Encompass one Columbus bold,
Whose fighting efforts seek to prove the world is round.
. . .
And then, 'A light!', the Admiral cries.
. . .
The expedition now is o'er
And Spanish banners wave above the sand,
And kneeling men embrace the ground with tears of joy.
Then stands the Admiral forth and names the land San Salvador.
A Story O' De Pas'
Some say one mountain did sink in de sea
An' leave all 'ee peaks jookin' out;
Columbus soon come wid dem sailin' boats tree,
An' spy dem lil isles ta de Sout'.
He lan' on one islan' he call Salvado,
An' kiss dem wite san's as he pray;
Poor fool, he'en try fine out how many isles mo,
Gone trottin' on he merry way.
Sev'n hundid islan's bin dere in de sun,
Spoatin' de wite sandy beach,
Dem clear waves jes' splash on dem beach, erryone,
As far up as dey cudda reach.
And if these lines chronicling Columbus's adventure are not convincing enough as praise, the following laudatory poem by Raymond Waldin Brown leaves no doubt that the posture toward Columbus by Bahamians generally follows the official government and tourist industry's promotional hyperbole:
If Columbus Returned Today
If Columbus returned today,
To the islands he misnamed,
The Admiral of the Ocean Seas,
Would say, "By George I'll do it again."
If Columbus returned today,
To San Salvador which he named,
The people would give a fanfare,
And the Admiral would join the game.
. . . .
If Columbus returned today,
We would show him brotherly love,
How blacks and whites as equals live,
And praise the same God up above.
. . . .
Brown's assertion that whites and people of color live equally in the Bahamas is more wish than reality; they do not live equally today, nor have they done since first they met centuries ago on a sandy beach. It is as if both Wallace and Brown have psychologically detached Columbus from all the subsequent history of Western colonization. And yet it was Columbus's own example that set the pattern for the eventual enslavement and degradation of the ancestors of 85 percent of the Bahamian people. Indeed, Columbus wrote in his log on his very first day in the New World that he intended to "take six [or seven] of [the Lucayans] to Your Highnesses when I depart" (Fuson 77), speaking of them as if they were pieces of wood, conch shells, or other inanimate objects. He knew they did not want to go with him ("none seems inclined to make the journey," he wrote, and "all they want to do is escape,") (Fuson 78,81), but he captured them anyway, and when one after another began to dive overboard, with Columbus's men in hot pursuit, Columbus decided he had better sail far enough away that his captives would find it unprofitable to jump ship. In other words, Columbus knew his reason and hardened his heart.
I have a friend, an expert on the Caribbean, who claims that, all things considered, the hours of first contact between the Old and New Worlds went pretty well: "Nobody got killed, and both sides engaged in peaceful business transactions," he claims. But we need to be brutally honest with history and admit that on the very first day of European activity in the New World, some half a dozen husbands, fathers, brothers, nephews, or grandsons were forcibly removed from their families and homelands in the name of greed and glory. Some say we should not judge Columbus against the standards of 20th Century America (Foote). But by the standards of his own era, Columbus should have known that he was destroying families. He should have known this because, at the very least, he, too, had a family; he had once been a son, he had been a husband, and he was, then, a father.
Despite a few escapees, the capture of the Lucayans went smoothly enough that Columbus could write these now infamous words to his royal Spanish sponsors:
[T]hese people are very unskilled in arms . . . when Your Highnesses so command, then can all be carried off to Castile or held captive in the island itself, since with fifty men they would be all kept in subjection and forced to do whatever may be wished. (Fuson 80)
This philosophy was, of course, actively applied to Africans once the indigenous labor pool of Lucayans, Tainos, Arawaks, Caribs, and others had been decimated by abuse and disease. Although there is a vibrant cottage industry within the field of Black Studies whose aim it is to quantify the Black diaspora, it is doubtful that we will ever know how many millions of Africans were brutally repatriated to the isles of the Caribbean and the lands of North and South America during the 350 years of legal slavery. Some estimates put the number of slaves entering the Bahamas during the Atlantic trade at a relatively small 10,000 (Collinwood, Worlds 7-12). Most of them were "seasoned" on the cotton plantations of the U.S. South before fleeing with their masters to the Bahamas at the conclusion of the American War of Independence. Since neither cotton nor anything else could be profitably grown on the infertile skin of soil that constitutes "land" in the Bahamas, the plantations soon failed. Many masters simply abandoned their slaves, while others moved to the cities and trained their human property to be domestic servants. These conditions, along with the persistent poverty of the early years of Bahamian settlement that equalized, somewhat, the status differences between blacks and whites, yielded a slavery experience in the Bahamas that was somewhat more mild than that found on other Caribbean islands (Collinwood, Worlds 10-12).
Yet, make no mistake about it, Bahamian slavery was real slavery. Blacks constituted that sweaty labor that undergirded the growth of the Bahamas in the early years of poverty and isolation. Black slaves were emotionally, physically, and sexually degraded; they could not testify against their masters, and they could be punished or even killed for the slightest provocation. Marriage and literacy were forbidden, and Bahamian law defined blacks as property to be bought and sold at the owner's discretion. I was not able to pass the still-standing stone Vendue House on Bay Street in Nassau, where slaves were once sold to the highest bidder, without feeling sorrow for the hundreds of destroyed families and the thousands of broken lives. Nor could I forget that on another Bahamian island not far to the south, Columbus had destroyed the very first non-white families he had met by promptly enslaving some of their members.
As I sniffed out the Bahamian/Columbus connection, I found that none of these early experiences was lost to the collective memory of the modern Bahamians. In casual conversation, in literature, in the identification of Bahamians with international black heroes such as Martin Luther King, Jr. or Nelson Mandela, in homilies from the pulpit and in political speechesin these ways and more, Bahamians actively keep alive the history, in part at least, of their former degradationalthough it is also very clear that when some modern, affluent Bahamians are confronted with the status incongruity of their past and their present, they sometimes choose not to look. "Roots of the past are dry and painful," writes one Bahamian poet, "Ghosts that yield their dust should not/Ghosts are not respectable" (Johnson, Road 6-7). Still, most Bahamians know, deep down, that "arriving" has not been easy, and that the Western value system has imposed on them centuries of hurt.
What mystified me was that Bahamians linked so little of that painful past with Columbus. It was as if no dirt could stick to him; he had become larger than life, almost a saint, if not that, at least a national hero. But how could descendants of slaves residing on land formerly occupied by a gentle people forced into extinction by Columbus and his followers simultaneously revere both him and modern-day black leaders like King and Mandela?
An answer to this paradox came to me while I was perusing the pages of a 1991 issue of Goombay, a Bahamian tourist magazine. A feature article described the ever-more precarious existence of the Bahama Parrot, a beautifully feathered green, white, blue, and red bird, native to the Bahamas, and now on the endangered list (Gnam 17-19). Five centuries ago the Bahama Parrot ranged over the entire Bahamian archipelago of 700 plus islands. Columbus wrote in his Diario that there were so many flocks of parrots that they obscured the sun. Today, the bird survives only on two islands. Who started the depredation that now threatens the species with extinction? We know that the Lucayans kept the parrots as pets, and Columbus gave their decline a little boost when he took 40 Bahama Parrots with him to Spain.
But Columbus's minor exploitation could certainly not have, by itself, caused the near-extinction of this beautiful species. Others must have contributed to its demise, and in recent years, the "others" have been none other than the Bahamians themselves. Bahamians poach parrots illegally for the pet trade, destroy habitat by careless development, and allow an over-abundance of pet cats to prey on the ground-nesting parrots. In short, the Bahamians are doing precisely what Columbus diddestroying rather than preserving what they find.
I pondered the similarity between Columbus's values and those of today's Bahamians while surveying the sparkling summer waters of a quiet bay in one of the Bahamian out islands, not far from one of Columbus's reputed landing sites. Anyone who has flown low over the Bahamas in a plane or enjoyed the islands from the deck of a sailboat will understand when I say that the sun, the sand, and the sea in the Bahamas, especially in the less-peopled out islands, combine to create a sensual experience of wondrous proportions. "Altogether, I am made delirious by my surroundings and wonder why Poe resorted to opium," exudes one Bahamian writer of his homeland (Thompson, "Turtles", unpublished). Lapping the shores of hundreds of coral and sand islands, the warm Bahamian Sea ("Bahama" means "shallow sea" in Spanish), which between some islands is no deeper than 3 feet at low tide, is a natural aquarium unmatched in this hemisphere. Around my feet as I strolled in the bay that day darted four-eyed butterfly fish, doctor fish, blue head wrasse, and bogreagories, to name a few fish I recognized. Amongst the turtle grass and coral were anchored jellyfish and sponges, and at the edge of the warm, salty water, crabs raced in and out of their sandy holes, while horseflies dashed between the sea oats, cactus, sisal, and hibiscus. The sun danced off water that was now blue, now green, now silver, while seagulls, sandpipers, and man-o-war birds winged their way, seemingly, to the white, puffy clouds above. Just off-shore, a 10 foot high covering of dense green clothed the land, broken here and there by a feathery casuarina tree, a deep-red poinciana, or a stately palm.
It is no wonder that even the gold-hungry Columbus had to pause for a moment to exclaim that "it is a pleasure to gaze upon this place because it is all so green, and the weather is delightful . . . there are groves of the most beautiful trees I have ever seen. They are as green and leafy as those of Spain in the months of April and May" (Fuson 78, 80). He also commented favorably on the clear water and the fresh, fragrant air.
But 500 years after Columbus, I could lose myself in an ecstasy of nature in the Bahamas only by carefully choosing not to see certain things. I had to conspire with the Tourist Ministry's advertising department to overlook the clumps of oil that dot the once pristine beaches, choose not to see the veneer of gasoline floating on the surface of the water near boat marinas, close an eye to the heaps of garbage that pollute some of the beaches and parks, and pretend that the diesel-tainted air of Nassau and Freeport was really a pleasing local fragrance.
On the very same day and just a few yards away from where I had escaped into my reverie on the beauty of the Bahamas, I counted, in an 18 square foot area of beach (like one Columbus had once described as "all clear") a dozen plastic oil containers, milk and soda pop bottles, and Chlorox containers; halves of two pairs of shoes; a wad of bailing wire; eleven scraps of lumber in all sizes and shapes (from the "Atlantic Hardware" my friend explained laconically); countless bits of shattered class; several wads of oil about the size of ping pong balls (these from the tankers that cleanse their holds off-shore); and assorted other pieces of pollution from the 20th Century. As if to confirm my own disjunctive experience of beauty confounded by pollution in the same space, Bahamian short-story writer Chester Thompson describes in "The Turtles of Tiloo" how near one island "the ocean shimmered and the wavetops danced in the early morning sunlight," while the shoreline remained "littered with an amazing clutter of flotsam, lumber, logs, boxes, lengths of rope, [and] net floats . . . . " (Thompson, unpublished).
Much of the refuse, to be sure, is carried by ocean currents from the Atlantic dumping grounds off the East coast of the United States. But much of it also is dropped by the hands of Bahamians themselves, repeating and extending the environmental abuse initiated by Columbus and his immediate followers. And why not, I realized at last, for these Bahamians, despite the appearance of minority status in the world because of their race and residence outside the metropoles of North America or Europe, are fully a part of the European value system that propelled Columbus to their shores in the first place! For three hundred years these people have been socialized and educated by the British; for over 160 years since the abolition of slavery, they have been full members of the Western system of capitalism and resource exploitation. They have ruled themselves by a democratic parliament that has been in existence longer than any other in the hemisphere. For three decades they have enjoyed black majority rule, and for 20 years they have been politically independent. They are not victims, as so many mainland ethnic deconstructionists claim them to be; they are full participants in the rape and the rewards of the world. Here is an incredible piece of irony, for the Bahamians, eager to line their pockets with the gold Columbus never found, are reenacting the tragedy that originally enslaved them. With that realization, I knew I was nearing the end of my journey to discover the connection between the "self" of the Bahamian people and the figure of Columbus.
That Columbus would be one of their heroes suddenly made a lot of sense to me. And that his name would be more pervasive in the Bahamas than King, Mandela or other heroes of the down-trodden now also made perfect sense. Columbus is popular in the Bahamas not just because it is the anniversary of his enterprise, and not just because the tourism industry is exploiting his accidental landing in the Bahamas in order to make money. No, Columbus is popular because Columbus's passion for riches and respectability resonate with those of the Bahamian people today, as does his practice of contriving artificial differences between human beings to facilitate personal aggrandizement.
Take color equality, for example. Columbus seemed to behave as if anyone whose skin color was darker than his own was automatically inferior. So too with many Bahamians who allocate the lowest social positions to the many dark-skinned Haitians who live among them and disparage them because they labor with their hands. "What? Me do farmin'?," one Bahamian told me, "Farmin' is for Haitians!" Well-known in the cities is the fact that when the Bahamian government rounds up and deports the illegal Haitians, people's yards and gardens go to weed, for many would not think of expending physical labor if they could get a Haitian to do it instead. It seems that prosperity and success have made it logically inconsistent for Bahamians to join forces with those seeking to redefine Columbus as an anti-hero, just as it has put the lie to the many angry denunciations of Western values hurled by deconstructionists and revisionists in Europe and North America who have near-fully joined the system and often occupy positions of privilege in academe, business, or government as lofty as any of the so-called "suppressor classes."
Several years ago I described one of the more obvious national character traits of the Bahamian people to be a pronounced, near-desperate striving for riches, respectability and sophistication (Collinwood & Dodge 222-225). This really is the engine behind mass tourism and the reason Bahamians like to distance themselves from their poorer, often darker, cousins in the rest of the Caribbean (Collinwood & Phillips 53-60). And yet, I also knew that many Bahamians identified with the Martin Luther Kings of the world and the philosophy of "black is beautiful." How could I explain this anomaly? The answer came from politics, for I had noticed over the years that racial issues became much more pronounced during election campaigns. Every black politician, it seemed, understood that stumping for racial equality would yield votes. After the election, however, the subject rarely came up; race, I found out, was not nearly as important as personal power. Thus it had been with the whole independence movement in 1973 and the majority rule movement a decade earlier. To be sure, "negritude" is a condition about which Bahamians have strong feelings, but Bahamian politicians had forged ideological linkages with the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s primarily because it made political sense. Today, when it is politically necessary, they remind people of the "race issue," using the movement to enhance their personal chances for riches, power, and social standing at home.
Historians now understand that it was a striving for precisely the same goal which propelled Christopher Columbus to the shores of the Bahamas in 1492. To attain the title of a Spanish "Don" and win the right to move in the circles of the Castillean upper classes, Columbus brutalized a people, abused the environment, and eventually undermined a civilzation. Having embraced the same goals, we can anticipate that many Bahamians will mistreat Haitians or others of low status, pollute and destroy their once-beautiful island paradise, and entice millions of tourists to their beaches, tourists whose insensitivity to the uniquenesses of Bahamian life will eventually undermine them. The early years of poverty, slavery, and isolation produced in Bahamians a wealth of solid virtues, many of which continue to enrich Bahamian lives today. But it is unfortunate that so many modern Bahamians have opted to discard some of their moral wealth in favor of the exploitative philosophy of Columbus et al.
My quest for the Columbus/Bahamian connection nearing an end, I gazed back across the Atlantic from the shore of a polluted Bahamian beach, and I recalled the words of a revisionist poem by Bahamian writer Robert Elliot Johnson: "Our fate is still entangled in /Columbus' mistake," he wrote. Intended to disparage Columbus and the agony he brought to millions, the words now took on new meaning as I realized that Bahamians were, indeed, caught up with Columbus's mistake, not as victims, but as victimizers. And so, too, I concluded were we all, abuser and abused, conservative and deconstructionist alikeall of us running around with some dirt sticking to us and all of us accusing the other side. It is time, I thought, indeed overdue, that we all launch our own voyages of self-discovery.
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