Alton Lowe, whose oil paintings are featured in Those Who Stayed, won’t be able to join me in Nassau for this Saturday’s book signing at Logos Bookstore. This week, as a tribute to Alton, I’m featuring some of his gorgeous paintings and corresponding excerpts from the book. Hope to see you at Logos on Saturday!
The earliest-known Bahamians were the Lucayans. Relatives of the Taino Arawak Indians of Cuba, Jamaica and Hispaniola, the Lucayans migrated north to the Turks and Caicos and then the Bahamas, beginning around 700 A.D.
For centuries, the Lucayans lived peacefully in villages like the one whose remains were discovered near Green Turtle Cay’s Bita Bay by archaeologist Bob Carr.
Their houses were round with conical roofs, a design that had proven effective for withstanding powerful tropical winds. Each village was headed by a cacique, a local male chief who allocated the communal food, arbitrated dispute, and was considered wiser, braver and stronger than other community members.
Individually, the Lucayans were fit and handsome. Their skin was bronze and their faces broad and smooth, with high cheekbones and brown eyes. Save for mantles of cotton netting worn by young girls and women, most Lucayans were nude. Their faces and naked bodies were painted with plant-based dyes of red, yellow, white and black.
Though manioc was their primary crop, Lucayan women also grew corn, sweet potatoes, cotton and tobacco. The men gathered fruits and berries, and fished for shark, manatee, crocodile, seal, conch and gamefish.
From the red soil, they made Palmettoware, pottery tempered with pieces of shells. Out of coral and conch shells, they fashioned tools and utensils, such as instruments for scaling fish. They wove intricate straw baskets and carved wooden spears, bowls and even rudimentary chairs called duhos, using fire to bring down trees and shape delicate carvings. They shared what they had, and conflict and crime within their villages were rare.
It was not at Bita Bay, but further south in the Bahamian archipelago where the very first sailing ships crossed the horizon.
On a clear Friday morning in October 1492, Christopher Columbus and his party clambered into small tenders and rowed ashore, marveling at the clarity of the shallow water. Columbus wept as he stepped ashore and into the white sand. He fell to his knees, thanking God.
In a scene that would be repeated throughout the Bahamas, the Lucayans fled at the sight of the foreign, clothed people.
According to Columbus, they hid in the bushes that fringed the beach. Eventually, enticed by the colourful beads and hats and tinkling bells offered by the Spanish, the Lucayans’ curiosity won out.
Later in his journal, Columbus would recall: “The men and women cried in loud voices: ‘Come and see the men who have come from heaven; bring them food and drink.’ Many came… each with something, giving thanks to God, throwing themselves on the ground and raising their hands to the sky.”
“Guileless, unsuspecting, generous and unselfish themselves,” wrote James Stark in Stark’s History and Guide to the Bahama Islands, “how could the aborigines understand the wonderful human beings who had suddenly landed upon their picturesque shores? In the distant east, from whence the strangers had come, only the morning sun, in golden effulgence, had ever before emerged. Were not these, then, the children of the sun? Had they not all the divine and none of the human?”
Sadly, these heavenly beings would prove more dangerous than the Lucayans could ever imagine.