"By these shores I
was born; sound of the sea came in
at my window, life heaved and breathed in me then
with the strength of the turbulent soil... "
Edward Brathwaite, "South".
"And I am an orphaned
on a sandspit of memory
in a winter of bays.
I have no home"
Wayne Brown, "On the Coast'
"I was salt water,
washing all alien shores,
Citizen of the world, calling no land home,
Creature of flux and change...
... No tides compel into this inland sea,
Out of my life, out of this land shall grow
Fruit strong with the salt's sharp bitterness,
Rose warm with the sun's red glow,
Song for eternity
Song for a synthesis..."
G.A. Hamilton, "I was Salt"
"Porque el siniestro
dia el mar termina un dia,
ya la mano nocturna corta uno a uno sus dedos
hasta no ser, hasta que el hombre nace
y el capitdn descubre dentro de si el acero
ya la América sube su burbuja
y la costa levanta su palido arrecife
sucio de aurora, turbio de nacimento
hasta que de la.nave sale un grito y se ahoga
y otro grito y el alba que nace de la espuma."
Pablo Neruda, "Llega al Pacifico", Los Conquistadores,
Canto General, Losada
"December I, without
water, fuel and food, we were pointing our bow on a straight
course toward: Cuba, desperately seeking the lighthouse of Cabo Cruz. At two in
the morning, on a dark and tempestuous night, the situation was worrisome. The watches
moved about, looking for the beam of light which did not appear in the horizon..."
Reminisces ot the Cuban Revolutionary War,
Translated by Victoria Ortiz
"There are no borderlines
on the sea. The whole thing looks like one. I cannot even tell if we
are about to drop off the face of the earth. Maybe the world is flat and we're going to find
out, like the navigators of the old. As you know I'm not very religious. Still, I pray every night
that we won't be hit by a storm. When I do manage to sleep, I dream that the winds come out
of the sky and claim us for the sea. We go under and no one hears from us again."
Edwidge Danticat, Krik?,Krak!
"Krik? Krak! Somewhere
by the seacoast I feel a breath
of warm sea air and hear the laughter of children
An old granny smokes her pipe,
Surrounded by the village children....
"We tell them stories so that the young ones
will know what came before them.
They ask Krik? We say Krak!
Our stories are kept in our hearts "
Sal Scalora "White Darkness / Black Dreamings"
Haiti: Feeding the Spirit.
"I watch the landscape
of this island.... And you know that they coulda never hold people
here surrendered to unfreedom. The sky, the sea, every green leaf and tangle of vines sing
Earl Lovelace, Salt.
"Where are your monuments,
your battles, martyrs?
Where is your tribal memory? Sirs,
in that gray vault. The sea. The sea
has locked them up.
The sea is history... "
Derek Walcott, "The Sea Is History".
Moulded by the Sea
Our histories, as Caribbean peoples have been overwhelmingly shaped by the sea; the Caribbean Sea that surrounds us, and wider oceans over which our ancestors came. With any reflection, the sea and oceans can never just be biological or geological entities; for our lives and our fates have been intrinsically bound to them. Our artists have always understood this, capturing the symbolism of the sea in their paintings, poems and songs. All those who settle here, are sooner or later struck by the sea's significance - from painters who etched the horrors of slave ships and dying slaves cast overboard in the Middle Passage, to the night club singers, who in warmer tones, evoke for tourists, romantic images of sea swept islands:
Those who came over the seas
Indigenous peoples from mainland America, rode on waves in their canoes to the Antillean islands. Columbus sailed over wide unknown waters and found a New World. European settlers followed in sailing ships. Some, by way of Africa, traveled with cargoes of enslaved Africans in all the wretchedness of that long voyage. Later, indentured labourers, were brought with artifacts of their heritage, along with their hopes, all the way from their homes on the Indian sub-continent. And so too have come other workers and settlers: French, Spanish, Scottish, Irish, Danes, and Portuguese; later Chinese, Jews and Arabs. In earliest colonial times the Dutch plied the waters of the Caribbean, securing a lucrative trade while buccaneers, pirates and privateers ravished another kind of living on the high seas.
One notorious schemer is remembered in a folk song:
Stories in stone
Memoirs to those days are also written along the
coasts of almost every Caribbean island: fortifications which changed hands
between the French, Dutch, Spanish and English. Dark dungeons tell silently
the tale of incarceration while weathered buckshot and cannon and rusty
rifles bespeak the weapons of war from a different era. Many crucial battles
were fought and lost at sea. There is stately Shirley Heights in Antigua
and the beautiful Cabrits in Dominica, majestic Fort San Felipe in Puerto
Plata in the Dominican Republic, now a World Heritage Site and picturesque
Fort King George, above the town of Scarborough, Tobago. in all of these
the weapons still point seaward, for this was the direction from which
the troubles came.
People who taught the world to sing
Because the sea is part of our history it is also in our songs - work songs and songs of adventure. These songs reflect how the sea has featured in all our enterprises. For decades now, people from India to England, Africa and back to the Caribbean, have swayed and sung to the sweet lilting music of the Jamaican born Harry Bellafonte:
This was another telling of the work and industry transacted beside the Caribbean Sea: the loading of banana boats by tired labourers, whose produce headed over the Atlantic to England. Over the years, the significance of such activities has grown more acute, as farmers in small islands have climbed even hillsides with dangerously steep gradients, to cultivate bananas on any and every type of land. The effects of soil erosion and the over use of fertilisers and pesticides that make their way into ground water, rivers and finally to the sea, devastate reefs in nearshore areas .
Most recently, with changes in external trade arrangements, that have threatened old patterns of survival through banana cultivation, thousands of Caribbean banana cultivators have felt great anxiety and alarm. Maestro David Rudder, has made a people's anguish into a lyrical lament:
Watchers for whales and jumping fish
Other livelihoods have been made by the sea, such
as whaling in Bequia and even in Barbados, where remnants of whaling stations
can still be seen. Fishing has been synonymous with the Caribbean islands
and the coastal regions of South and CentralAmerica. Traditionally fishing
has been done in many ways: whether by the communally pulled seine, the
beautiful circular cast net or the slender bamboo fishing rods seen in
many pace such as Grand Courland Bay, Tobago. These are the implements
of the artisanal fisherman.
Each place has its particular style of boat whether
for fishing or transportation. In St. Lucia, great ceremony still attends
the felling of the giant gommier tree of the forest for the making of the
traditional fisherman's canoe. Nobel laureate Derek Walcott, re-creates
the careful process of selecting the tree, cutting it and dressing the
wood, in the opening pages of Omeros.
Survivors on scattered shores
Wherever islands are in close proximity to each other, a brisk seaborne trade andtransportation system evolves. In the Grenadines, the regular passage of the "Mail Boat" brings all kinds of supplies to tiny islands like Union and Canouan: from heavily laden trucks and construction equipment to cases of soft drinks and every variety of household supplies and foodstuffs. Boats like these may be motor vessels, like the Snapper. Others are schooners, still using sails to help their small engines, like the Alexia II that plies between Grenada and Carriacou.
On these vessels of all varieties, with their
seasoned crews, are informal traders - often women - known as higglers
in some places. Their items for trade may range from home made chocolate,
cinnamon and nutmeg, to clothing, food and sometimes smuggled whisky. Ferries
that ply the waters of the northern Caribbean from Anguilla to St. Martin
or between the many islands of the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, also
carry many people and goods.
Lovers of winds and sails
The sea also shapes lives by fun and pleasure. Many islanders enjoy the excitement and thrill of annual boat races. In Anguilla, agile crews race around the 35 square mile island, (named by the French for its shape like an eel. They lean into the wind and toss heavy irons about their pitching vessels. With billowing mainsails, they compete to see who will be victorious.
In Antigua, boat racing has become a luxurious
hobby with international competitors who seem almost to fly above the waves
in the annual powerboat race. Trinidad and Tobago too, has its annual powerboat
racing competition known as "The Great Race". It begins in Trinidad and
ends in Tobago.
Merriment and music
The lives of seagoers are perhaps best captured in all their raw humanity, vigour and camaraderie in the cultural traditions that have evolved beside the sea. What might be called a Caribbean Sea shanty "Sloop John B" was made popular by the Barbadian group The Merrymen. Its catchy rhythm and sweet melody evoke the longing that is common to all people who spend most of their time in foreign ports and out at sea:
Such folk songs are also sung to visitors to our
Hosts to the world
Tourism is a billion dollar global industry. Throughout
the wider Caribbean, beaches, aquamarine waters, coral reefs and inland
rivers and forests with their wide array of wildlife, have become major
tourist attractions for leisure tourists and ecotourists. However, many
negative environmental impacts are associated with these ventures: destruction
of coral reefs and other habitats, coastal water pollution and sand mining,
are just a few of these. Our challenge is to market these resources for
our own economic development while carefully controlling tourism's effects
on our resources.
Oil that troubles our waters
Looming on our waters are also giant oil tankers, carrying cargoes worth millions through our destructible seas. Their cargo,-es could threaten the fragile eco-systems of our entire archipelago and continental coastlines. In St. Lucia, one oil company schedules regular visits of huge tankers. The industrial activity that the refinery creates here, must be weighed against the fearful possibility of a major oil pollution disaster that could cripple the island's tourism industry.
Venezuela and Trinidad both have their own lucrative
oil reserves on land and at sea. Foreign investors whose shares may greatly
influence the rise and fall of the world stock markets, are deeply involved
in these countries' economies. Inevitably, with oil and gas explorations
and the day to day activities at drilling sites and refineries, the problem
of chronic pollution surfaces at sea, along the shores, on land and in
In our waters, foreign interests other than oil companies, seek to net their profits. In all the oceans of the world, fishing can now be done by highly equipped crews and vessels, and the Caribbean is no exception. Satellite monitoring can identify where schooling fish are to be found, while other boats have sonar detectors. Some ships are equipped as floating sea food processing plants, capable of harvesting anything from giant whales to thousands of sardines. Whales can now be killed by harpoons equipped with explosives. They can also be relentlessly tracked to exhaustion by powerful boats and then killed. Deep sea fish are hooked by the hundreds, using long lining techniques. Fine meshed, nearly invisible drift nets have been depleting fish stocks, trapping myriad more creatures than commercial fish. juvenile fish, turtles and marine mammals are also killed. Drifting fragments of these nets continue to kill. Trawlers' gear drags along the sea floor disturbing and destroying many forms of sea life, while harvesting fish. In these nets turtles and dolphins also drown. All of these techniques may be used in the Caribbean, often illegally by foreign fleets.
Caribbean fishermen are obtaining bigger boats
with more sophisticated equipment and attempting to reduce fishing net
mesh sizes. Growing numbers of fishermen compete for dwindling resources.
Some use dynamite illegally, destroying numerous fish of all sizes and
ages in an attempt to harvest those that are commercially valuable. Competition
comes from foreign fishing vessels. The seas, once the domain of the solitary
fisherman must now be shared by a multitude of users. in a quest for food
and ultimately survival, there is a growing need for a communal approach
for the use and management of living and non-living resources of the seas.
Gentle divers of an ancient sea
The late Jacques Cousteau, who brought the world of the ocean into focus, in a way that could be popularly understood through his thousands of filmed undersea journeys, tells an amazing story of the Ama women divers.
For 1500 years in ancient Japan,, as well as neighbouring Korea, these women have traditionally dived for pearls. At least 30,000 of their kind remain. Today they mostly dive for food. Wearing only a loincloth, they have just begun to wear masks and snorkels within this century. They dive during both the, warm summers and the cooler winter months when temperatures can reach to 50 degrees F They plunge to depths of 20 to 80 feet - sometimes 100 - to gather food, in the form of shellfish and seaweed, which they place in a net around their waists, They learn to dive around puberty and do not stop till they are about 60 years old. They are known to dive right up to the point of childbirth and having given birth, resume shortly after, nursing their infants between dives!
A similar group of women once dived in the wave
tossed waters off Tierra del Fuego. They descended completely naked, through
waters averaging 42 degrees F to collect clams and crabs for food.
Pictures of the island
The question of who we are, is not just answered in being a people whose histories, pleasures and livelihoods are shaped by the sea. We ourselves are pictures of the ocean, the ocean that in fact covers most of the world.
Elisabeth Mann Borgese, youngest daughter of the celebrated author Thomas Mann and Chairman of the International Ocean Institute in Malta, gives a picture of who we all are as humans as well as where we all essentially live our lives. It is a vision that transcends our particular location in the Caribbean. The description is evolutionary in outlook yet filled with a sense of wonder that supercedes the merely biological. In The Drama of the Oceans she writes:
"Every woman's womb is a micro-ocean, the salinity of its fluid resembling that of the primeval waters; and every microcosm restages the drama of the origin of life in the gestation of every embryo, from one-celled protozoa through all the phases of gill-breathing and amphibian, to mammalian evolution,
And every human, in turn is a planet ocean,
for 71 percent of his substance consists of salty water, just as 71 percent
of the earth is covered by the oceans."
You take it from here . . .
Finding beauty in a painful past
The horrors of the Middle Passage for enslaved
Africans snatched from their homeland, may evoke a haunting memory; bloody
battles fought at sea amongst colonial powers have their own melancholy,
and pirates' tales may seem sordid. But all these have been part of our
history and eloquent voices - in architecture, art, songs and written histories,
have helped to record them. Many tales of human ingenuity and unforeseen
progress, are hidden within the fine details.
The sea is present to us in myriad ways, yet often,
many of these, we overlook. From the image of an embryo, enveloped in amniotic
fluid in utero; to the crowded ports and mining industries located near
our shores; to the daily routines of local and foreign fisher folk, connections
can be made to the sea.
Oil producing nations depend on this industry as the basis of their economic survival. Countries that have oil refineries, also place great value on the foreign exchange earned.