The day after our arrival to Eleuthera our friend Tom rented a car and invited us to travel the island with him. On the way back to Rock Sound we stopped at Hatchet Bay Caves for a bit of spelunking. The names of many former visitors to the cave were written on the walls in spray paint by the more recent tourists, and in what appeared to be soot, by the caves earliest visitors.
It’s interesting how just a couple of hundred years or so can reclassify graffiti into historical record. It would have been an interesting, if not daunting task, to document all of the names and dates on the walls of the cave, so numerous were the inscriptions.
Who were those early visitors that wrote their names on the walls of that cave in soot and can be so clearly read even today. Were they some of the early Loyalists who moved to the island after the Revolutionary war? Perhaps, they are the names of some of the slaves they brought with them if they could write. One can imagine them steeling away from one of the early plantations so destined for failure on these unfertile islands. Escaping the monotony of building one of the many stone fences we have seen on the islands to record their names on the walls of the cave.
Many of the blacks in the Bahamas took the names of the landowners they worked for. We saw the last name of Rolle many times in the Exumas before we realized it was because those former slaves had adopted the names of their plantation owners. I did see a couple of tufts of cotton still growing next to a house in Hatchet Bay and some pineapples are grown on the island but all of those first plantations are little more than the foundations of failure today.
The names could have also been written by some of the blacks that had escaped slavery in the United States and fled to the Bahamas.
A hundred years before the Loyalists arrived in the Bahamas there were the Adventurers, who were seeking religious freedom from England. The name Eleutheria is taken from the Greek word meaning freedom. The first Adventurers actually shipwrecked on the reefs of Eleuthera in 1648. They carved out a meager existence on the island and held religious services in another natural shelter called Preachers Cave on the east side of Eleuthera. Their descendents are still living on the island today. Many live and work not far from the place where they landed, in Spanish Wells. With an accent unique to themselves they have a thriving fishing industry. All of the people who fish for lobster own shares in their boats. In this way they form a co-op pooling their resources and sharing the profits. They are understandably proud that many of the young people choose to stay on the island and don’t have to move to Nassau or the US to find work.
We did however feel slightly out of place in their tightly knit community. It was almost as if we had entered a real life version of M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Village”. Blond haired blue-eyed Eleuthreans sped about in golf carts and spoke with a drawl that sounded like a mix of the old south and British accents combined. Surely their descendents must have written their names on the walls of Hatchet Bay Cave. Just like the names of people we saw on our trip leaving Idaho, written with axle grease on rocks as they traveled the Oregon Trail, those immigrants and Bahamian Adventurers were recording their names in the landscape they passed through. I wonder if the blogs today will last as long as the soot and axle grease of those early immigrants.
As we push deeper into the cave along the trail marked by bits of broken kite string, other passages branch off into the darkness. If we were to explore them all would we find the name of Edward Teach or Mary Read? After all they sailed these waters the same as us. It’s not difficult to imagine them walking these same passages looking for a place to secret away their pirated treasure!
Watch your head,
Great essay Mark! How philosophical. My daughter, the anthropologist will find it interesting.
Keep them coming and keep running the boys competition. (We like all four of you authors!)