By Shondi N. Wells
Special to CSMS MagazineThe Bahamian culture is like no other. The people of the Bahamas consist of different immigrants from other Caribbean islands, as well as Chinese, Syrian, and Greek. These people—with different backgrounds, traditions and beliefs shaped Bahamian culture into the unique, colorful patchwork of life and lifestyle that it is today. Most Bahamians are of African descent—about 85 percent. The white population is directly descended from Loyalists, Eleutheran adventurers and sailors. Bahamians take great pride in their past, especially their names which are indicative of rich cultural legacy. The are many common names like the Gibsons, reputedly from Scotland, the Alburys, Malones, and Russells, said to be Irish Loyalists; and the Eleuthera Bethels, who say they came with those Zealous adventurers years ago. Religion is an integral part of Bahamian life. Even the tiniest village has a church, sometimes two. The people’s religious ardor and high regard for education are evidence of their Puritan heritage, derived from the Eleutheran Adventurers. A high percentage of Bahamians are members of Christian churches. Most are Protestants, the largest denominations being Baptist, Church of Anglicans, and Methodists. Roman Catholics also form a large minority in the Bahamian culture. The laid-back attitude of Bahamians is often misunderstood by those who are unaware that it evolves from years of a good life in a land where nature provides every need. Bahamians are humorous, helpful people who love to celebrate.EducationThe educational system of the Bahamas is modeled on that of Great Britain. Grade levels in secondary education are called “forms” and exams are required in order to attend college. Education is mandatory between the ages of five and fourteen. However, most students in the Bahamas continue their education until at least the age of sixteen.The Bahamian LanguageThe official language of Bahamas is English spoken with a British sounding accent and using some words distinct to the area. The language is sometimes referred to as a “Bahamian Dialect or Creole”. Bahamians have assumed that this language is simply a variety of English. However, academic research shows that this is not the case. In fact, there is much socio-historical and linguistic evidence to support the proposal that “Bahamian Dialect” is a Creole. A Creole has a jargon or pidgin in its ancestry; it is spoken by…a speech community, often whose ancestors were displaced geographically so that their ties with their original language were partially broken.In short, a Creole is a language that resulted from contact situation, was acquired by children as a first language and is now spoken by a speech community. We should keep in mind that every speaker shows some variations in speech. In societies such as the Bahamas, people may easily code switch from one variety to another, without realizing that they are actually using two different language systems.Bahamian Art, Dance, Music and CuisineThe Bahamian people have artistic sides, which they express through their colorful art, infectious music, exuberant dancing, and exotic cuisine. The traditional music of the Bahamas is “goombay”. This style of music combines the musical traditions from Africa with a European Colonial influence. Goombay is the Bantu word for “rhythm”. Rake and scrape bands have been playing goombay music since the time of slavery. Traditionally, rake and scrape music is used to accompany the Bahamian Quadrille and the Heel and Toe Polka dances—which is another example of how African and European influences have blended together. Some consider Bahamian music sacred, which has been influenced by colonial domination and American culture, to be its best cultural expression. Religious hymns resemble the American slave songs brought to the Bahamas during the Loyalist period. It is also common to hear contemporary African-American gospel and European classical harmonies in places of worship. In all but the strictest places of worship congregational singing is accompanied by hand clapping, rhythmic possession and spiritual dancing. The Bahamians are the delight of fresh seafood lovers who enjoy bountifully rich treasures from the sea. Crawfish, conch (pronounced “konk”), land crabs, and fish such as Grouper, Yellow Tail, and Red Snapper are local and tourist favorites of the island. Bahamians are experts at cooking this fish which is flaky, white, tender, and mild in flavor.The Bahamian GovernmentAn important turning point in the history of the Islands of the Bahamas took place in 1967. The movement to give equal rights, including the right to vote, was led by twelve men. These men made up the First Bahamas Cabinet under Majority Rule. The Islands of the Bahamas gained independence from Great Britain on July 10, 1973, which is celebrated as Bahamian Independence Day. As a member of the British Commonwealth, the Islands of the Bahamas have a symbolic link to Great Britain, with an appointed Governor-General representing the Queen of England. The Constitution, which has been in effect since 1973, declares that the Islands of the Bahamas are a sovereign democratic state. It guarantees fundamental human rights, such as freedom of expression and assembly, as well as protecting the privacy of the home. In 1997, local government was introduced into the Islands of the Bahamas with locally elected officials being charged with certain local responsibilities. General elections are held every five years but the ruling party can call an election at any time. To see a prime example of British influence on Bahamian government, plan to see the Changing of the Guards ceremony. There is much pomp and ceremony and the Royal Bahamas Police Force Band also performs. The ceremony occurs at Government House (the office and residence of the Governor-General) in Nassau every two weeks.Also see Pay attention to non verbal communication when we teach in multiethnic classrooms Creating culture diversityMake our society a better placeWhat we need to teach our ESOL students about Nonverbal communicationIndian Culture: Vibrant and thought-provokingRole of alternative languages in our society Note: Shondi N. Wells is an NSU student majoring in Education. She wrote this piece for CSMS Magazine. Excuse us for the error on the name that originally accompanied the article.