Posts Tagged “caribbean”
Cruise Ship leaving Charlotte Amalie Harbor, St. Thomas
The Origin of Football, Basketball, Baseball and all the Other Games Played with a Ball
Today, games played with a rubber ball are such a significant part of modern culture that championship sports events are observed by more people, and with more fervor and enthusiasm, than most national holidays or religious celebrations. Ball games are taken so seriously that nations have actually gone to war over the outcome of soccer competitions.
Until the end of the fifteenth century, when Europeans first made contact with the Tainos, rubber ball games were unknown in Europe and, presumably, in the rest of the world. There was no such thing as football, soccer, basketball or baseball…. read more
Virgin Islands News
Regatta: Winds Plays Hide and Seek Saturday
By Source staff — March 24, 2013
Despite winds that played hide and seek all Saturday afternoon, Michigan sailor Dalton DeVos maintained his lead in the Melges 32 class in the 40th International Rolex Regatta taking place in the waters off St. Thomas.
Saturday’s action took place on three stages. The one-design Melges 32 class started out in Great Bay, but playful winds caused the race committee to re-set marks further out in Pillsbury Sound. Races in the IC-24 and Beach Cat classes were delayed a half hour at mid-day as the wind ebbed and finally flowed in Jersey Bay. The spinnaker and non-spinnaker fleets had no trouble finding steady wind on courses set along the south coast of neighboring St. John…. read more
St. John Weather
Partly cloudy with rain showers
High of 82 degrees F
Winds from the North at 10 to 15 mph shifting to the West in the afternoon
Chance of rain 20%
Sunset: 6:31 PM AST
Water temperature (Charlotte Amalie Harbor, St. Thomas): 86 degrees F
St. John Live Music Schedule
3:30 – 6:30
Sunday Brunch 10:00 am
Cruz Bay Prime
7:00 – 10:00
Lemuel Callwood Steel Pan
4:00 – 6:00
10:00 am – 2:00 pm
6:30 – 9:00
7:00 – 10:00
7:00 – 10:00
Sun Dog Cafe
11:00 am- 2:00 pm
See Weekly Schedule
The late Ethien Chinnery, with his son Curtney “Ghost” Chinnery at Ethien’s 92nd birthday celebration
The following account was told to me by one of Jost Dyke’s most respected culture men, the late Mr. Ethien “Cool” Chinnery and father of Curtney “Ghost” Chinnery a.k.a “The Ghost From Jost”, one of the authors featured in Tales of St. John and the Caribbean:
Fish sold for five cents a pound. That’s when you get five cents a pound. Sometimes you get nothing.
The boats from Jost Van Dyke would go south of St. John to fish. We used to meet these boats going to St. Thomas from Tortola. You throw up maybe five or six long string of fish in the boat and send them to such and such a woman in St. Thomas.
When you go to St. Thomas to get this money from the lady for the fishes, sometimes you don’t get anything at all… read more
St. John News
Two popular bars on St. John have been sold
The Beach Bar and Woody’s have both been sold to new owners. Service at the two popular St. John gathering places is expected continue seamlessly.
No More St. John Sun Times
The local newspaper, St. John Sun Times has published it’s March-April “Goodbye Issue.”
St. John Weather
High Surf Advisory
Partly cloudy with rain showers
High of 79 degrees F
Winds from the NNW at 10 to 15 mph
Chance of rain 20%
Sunset: 6:27 PM AST
Water temperature (Charlotte Amalie Harbor): 84 degrees F
St. John Live Music Schedule
3:30 – 6:30
Sunday Brunch 10:00 am
Cruz Bay Prime
7:00 – 10:00
Lemuel Callwood Steel Pan
4:00 – 6:00
10:00 am – 2:00 pm
6:30 – 9:00
7:00 – 10:00
7:00 – 10:00
Sun Dog Cafe
11:00 am- 2:00 pm
See Weekly Schedule
Happy May Day!
Among other signs of springtime on St. John are the spectacular flowers produced by the pinguin plant. Officially called Bromelia pinguin, they are also known as false pineapples as they really do resemble the pineapple plant.
The pinguins is native to central America, but through both the forces of nature and human cultivation have spread to the Caribbean, Florida and Hawaii.
The long, narrow and and stiff leaves are somewhat cactus-like having numerous barbed spines that stick out in two directions, making it very unfriendly to passersby. This characteristic to a large degree been responsible for the pinguin’s cultivation as they make an effective natural fence. In plantation days they were often planted on either or both sides of stone walls to prevent both escapes by enslaved workers and attacks or intrusions from without.
The pinguin flower morphs into a cluster of edible yellow fruits, which are tart and acidic, tasting somewhat like a strong lime. They can be eaten raw or cooked or made into a drink.
When it rains the penguin’s leaves direct the rainwater and accumulated organic matter down to the center of the plant where they are stored and eventually absorbed along with mosquitoes unfortunate enough to be attracted to the moisture only to find an acidic bath that kills and dissolves them adding nutrition for the plant.
St. John Live Music Schedule Tuesday May 1
Castaways – Karaoke Night – 9:00 – 777-3316
Driftwood Dave’s – Michael Beason – 8:00 – 777-4015
High Tide – Erin Hart – 6:00 – 9:00 – 714-6169
Island Blues – Karaoke & Open Mic – 8:00 – 11:00 – 776-6800
Morgan’s Mango – Greg Kinslow – 6:00 – 9:30 – 693-8141
Ocean Grill – Rascio on Steel Pan – 6:00 – 9:30 – 693-3304
Shipwreck Landing – Chris Carsel – 6:30 – 9:30
Spyglass – T-Bird – 5:00 – 8:00 – 776-1100
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It’s officially arrived. The first mass St. John hurricane anxiety of the 2011 Atlantic Storm season. A few days ago a mass of thunderclouds got together some 1000 miles of the shores of the Lessor Antilles, which are a line of islands extending from the Virgin islands on the north to Trinidad and Tobago on the south.
Forecasts indicated that these storms had the probability of organizing and strengthening so the system was given a name, sort of, Invest 91.
Computer models had Invest 91 heading directly for the St. John and the Virgin Islands, with initial forecasts for strengthening into a class one hurricane upon it’s approach to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
After that, it’s on everyone’s mind. Hurricane plans! pain in the neck. It’s early on the season and nobody wants to even be thinking about it, but it’s a fact of life here on our little island in the corner of the Caribbean Sea.
Last night the Invest 91 got a proper name, Tropical Storm Emily. Looks like it went directly from being an “Invest” to a named Tropical Storm, sparing us the depression associated with the Tropical Depression stage.
Emily appears to be safely south of us at the moment, but we’re close enough to the area of intense activity to be declared under a “Tropical Storm Watch,” meaning that tropical storm conditions are possible within the watch area within 48 hours.
Hopefully there will be no significant change in direction and intensity as it passes by us to the south.
So we wait and watch.
From Tales of St. John & the Caribbean
I first met Mervin when I lived in St. Thomas in the late 1960s. I had only been living in the Virgin Islands for about a month and the Caribbean experience was new and exciting. I had just purchased a 17-foot fishing boat from a Frenchtown fisherman. It was tied up to the seawall on the waterfront at Charlotte Amalie and I was standing there, looking out over the harbor, lost in daydreams about all the new adventures that awaited me. It was a feeling similar to the one I had when I bought my first automobile: a sense of freedom, of being able to get up and go wherever and whenever I wanted.
My attention was drawn to the entrance of Charlotte Amalie Harbor where a black-hulled, gaff-rigged, wooden schooner was coming in with all sails flying. I watched as the crew took down the sails and motored over to the seawall, tying up right behind my new boat. I could see three young men standing on deck, one black and two white. They scurried about the vessel, neatly arranging the lines and sails and making everything shipshape.
The schooner carried a cargo of colorful and delicious-looking tropical fruits and vegetables from Dominica, which the crew began to organize so that they could sell them to the shoppers and passers-by on the bustling St. Thomas waterfront.
It was truly a sight to behold, especially to an American recently arrived in the Caribbean. There were mangos of all sizes and colors, bananas with names like fig, apple and horse; limes the size of melons, ugli fruit, sweet green oranges and grapefruit, small ripe pineapples, green coconuts called jelly nuts, breadfruit, papaya, star-shaped carambolas, sugar apples and soursop, colorful sweet and hot peppers, tomatoes, eggplant; and root vegetables like yam, sweet potato, tanya, yucca and boniato.
While the three young men were getting ready for the day’s activities, I struck up a conversation with them, asking all kinds of questions like: What are your names? Where are you all from? What are those fruits over there? and Can I see the inside of the boat?
The two white men were British expatriates who had recently bought the old schooner for a song, but had spent a good deal of time and money in restoration and refitting. This was their first voyage of a commercial nature and all had gone well so far.
The black man was Mervin, a native of the island of Dominica. Mervin was the invaluable crewman. In addition to being a great sailor, Mervin could also be a navigator, carpenter, plumber, electrician, rigger and cook.
The schooner from Dominica was not the only boat to have brought tropical fruits and vegetables to St. Thomas. There were other boats tied up to the seawall with produce for sale from Santo Domingo, from Puerto Rico and from the British Virgin Islands. In addition, there were kiosks on the walkway that were supplied daily with fruit and vegetables brought in by air from San Juan.
Notwithstanding, the tropical produce grown in the lush volcanic soil of the Dominican mountain valleys was bigger and better and less expensive.
Although sales were brisk and steady, the young entrepreneurs decided to expand the scope of their market and came up with a more direct sales approach; one that they hoped would enable them to sell out faster, with less competition, and at higher prices. Their idea was to sell door-to-door, so to speak, stopping alongside the yachts that were anchored in the harbor or tied up at the dock at the then-prestigious Yacht Haven Marina.
To put the plan into effect, they needed a boat about the size of mine. Their schooner was too big and not maneuverable enough for such an activity, and their dinghy was too small to carry an appreciable amount of goods.
The captain made me an offer: a portion of the profits in exchange for my time and for the use of my boat. I readily accepted their proposal, delighted by the opportunity to be part of this Virgin Island adventure.
That very afternoon, when business began to slow down at the waterfront, we loaded up my boat and motored around the harbor, stopping alongside the anchored yachts to show the people our fruits and vegetables. It was an easy sell. Everything looked just too delicious to pass up.
After that day, we all stayed in touch and whenever the fruit boat was in port, we would get together socially for a drink or a night on the town.
One day after I had moved to St. John, I received a call from Mervin, who had decided to leave the fruit boat and seek his fortune in the Virgin Islands. He needed a place to stay while he was waiting to receive some documents regarding his immigration status, and I told him that he could use my apartment in Coral Bay.
As usual, Mervin proved to be helpful and multitalented. He helped me build fish traps and, in a flamboyant spectacle of religion and theater, he fortified the house against evil spirits. Carrying a coal pot full of smoldering branches, leaves and herbs into every nook and cranny of the house, he chased away any “jumbies” that might have been lurking about.
In the mornings, we went into the bush to cut birch sticks for the fish pot braces, and after lunch, we spent long and tedious hours in the front yard tying up the chicken wire traps.
In the evenings, Mervin would captivate me with stories about the wonders of Dominica: rich jungles where every kind of tropical fruit imaginable grew in abundance, haunted mountains that rose above the clouds and where the Devil himself was known to walk, spectacular waterfalls possessed with spiritual powers, and hot springs whose waters could cure illnesses and restore lost youth. He told me of trained monkeys that would climb the tall coconut trees and throw coconuts down to the gatherers below, about his maternal grandmother who was a full-blooded Carib, and a princess among her people, about magic and jumbies and ghosts and zombies who roamed about on full-moon nights in a netherworld hovering between life and death, and about the poor farmer who shared his meager plate of food with a stray mongrel dog and awoke the next morning to find a $100 bill in the gourd where he had placed the dog’s food.
One story that particularly impressed me was the tale of the Donkey Foot Woman, which Mervin told me by candlelight one night when we were temporarily without electricity:
One evening, there was a festival in Mervin’s village. Housewives prepared plates of fish and meats and vegetables. Others brought rum and beer. A huge bonfire lit up the clear Caribbean night and the sound of music and laughter echoed throughout the village.
At one point, a crowd drew around to observe a group of young men and women who were dancing to an ancient African rhythm, expertly played on a variety of homemade percussion instruments.
One of the dancers was not from the village. She was a beautiful white woman wearing a large straw hat. No one knew who she was or where she came from.
A little boy stood next to his mother in the crowd. He stared at the strange woman, fascinated by the spectacle and the hypnotic beat of the music. Suddenly he turned to his mother and said, “Mommy, look de woman. She have a donkey foot!”
The little boy’s mother answered, “Me son, I see no woman with donkey foot.”
“Momma, momma, yes, look!” the boy cried, then loud enough for all to hear he yelled, “Watch de donkey foot!”
An instant later, the little boy fell to the ground dead, his skull mashed in by a mysterious and powerful blow.
Many years have now passed and much has changed since I last saw Mervin, but I still carry fond memories of him and of those wonderful and exciting days of my initiation into the island experience.
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The first Europeans to travel to the islands of the Americas were duly impressed by the boats used by the Taino natives they met there. Their craft were made from the hollowed out trees and were called canoas, from which the English word canoe came from.
The smaller canoes were used by individuals for near shore fishing or by small parties of fishermen, hunters or warriors. The largest ones were the property of the caciques or chiefs and were capable of carrying as many as one hundred people over long distances.
Christopher Columbus wrote, “On every island there are many canoes of a single piece of wood; and though narrow, yet in length and shape similar to our rowboats, but swifter in movement. They steer only by oars. Some of these boats are large, some small, some of medium size. Yet they row many of the larger row-boats with eighteen cross-benches, with which they cross to all those islands, which are innumerable, and with these feats they perform their trading, and carry on commerce among them. I saw some of these canoes which were carrying seventy and eighty rowers.”
These great canoes were carved from a tree that the Taino called tsayee-baa. On St. John, this tree is called kapok, elsewhere it is known as ceiba or silk cotton.
For a people who possessed only stone tools, the felling and subsequent carving out of a tree large enough to make a hundred-person canoe was no mean feat. It was accomplished by making a fire at the base of the tree, which would char the trunk. The fire was then extinguished and the burned wood scraped out with sharp stone tools.
This process would be repeated again and again until the tree came down. The fallen tree would then be stripped of its branches and hauled out of the forest. The ends were then squared off and the bark removed. The same charring and scarping process would be used to carve out the inside of the trunk and after the proper configuration was obtained the canoa would be polished, painted and launched.
The incredible amount of manpower, time, dedication and craftsmanship required to produce a canoe of this magnitude is only part of the story. To the Taino, as well as to most other cultures of the Americas, the ceiba was a highly sacred and spiritual tree. It could not just be cut down and carved up without attention to the powerful spirit that resides within.
According to the Spanish chroniclers who left us the only written documents concerning of the Taino culture, the fabrication of these giant canoes involved a complicated spiritual ritual. The chief who intended to make the canoe would first need to communicate with the spirit of a ceiba tree, which could only be cut down if the tree spirit gave its permission. The spirit would also indicate the manner in which it would be transformed, giving detailed instructions as to the size, nature of carving and even the painting of the canoe. The spirit of the tree would then exist within the canoe, and the chief would carry the responsibility for that spirit for the rest of his life. This would involve ceremonies honoring and making offerings to the tree spirit.
The Tainos took pride in their courage on the high ocean as well as their skill in finding their way around their world. Columbus was often astonished at finding lone Taino fishermen sailing in the open ocean as he made his way among the islands. Once, a canoe full of Taino men followed him from island to island until one of their relatives, held captive on one of the ships, jumped over the side and was spirited away so quickly that the Spanish sailors could not recapture them.
The Taino were so comfortable at sea and so adept at navigation that they were said to make almost daily crossings over the rough and treacherous Mona Passage that separates Puerto Rico from Hispaniola.
The Tainos did not confine their sea travel to their homeland islands of the Caribbean and the Bahamas. They were also known to venture as far as the mainland of South America, Mexico, Yucatan and Central America, which, according to archeologists, explains the many cultural similarities between the Taino and the often advanced societies that inhabited these far off places.
Hatuéy was a great Taino cacique in Ayti, the land of mountains, now known as the nation of Haiti. He had first hand experience with the Spanish conquerors of his homeland, who had enslaved the Taino people, committing atrocities upon them and forcing them to labor, often to their deaths, in order to satisfy the Spaniard’s lust for gold. Rather than submit or offer resistance to the well-armed oppressors, Hatuéy chose to leave the land of his birth. He and his people escaped across the Windward Passage to Cuba.
In 1511, Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar, who had participated in the massacre of the Taino in the province of Xaraguá, and Pánfilo de Narvárez, a veteran of the conquest of Jamaica, were chosen by the Spanish to begin the conquest of the island of Cuba. The chronicler, Bartolomé de Las Casas, sailed with Narvárez. When Hatuéy heard rumors of this invasion, he proceeded to warn the caciques of eastern Cuba about this serious threat to their very existence.
Hatuéy arrived in the village of the Cuban cacique, Guamax accompanied by a small entourage and carrying in his canoe a basket filled with gold and gold jewelry.
Addressing Guamax’s people, Hatuéy explained that the Christians so cruelly mistreated the Taino people because the Christians had a God who they worshiped and revered. The Tainos were murdered and enslaved in order to take that God away from them.
Hatuéy then displayed the basket of gold to the gathered assembly and explained that this was the God of the Christians. He then asked the people to decide what to do with Him.
Hatuéy suggested that the people perform their ceremonial dance called the Arieto and the sacred and magical Cohoba ceremony in which hallucinogenic herbs are ingested. Perhaps the God would then be pleased and He would instruct the Christians not to kill the Tainos.
After the ceremony, however, Hatuéy warned the assemblage that if they were to keep the God amongst them, the Christians would surely come and kill them in order to get possession of the God. It was finally decided to throw the God into the river.
Hatuéy’s warnings to the Cuban Taino precipitated several major rebellions and began an overall pattern of resistance against the Spanish in Cuba that was not completely subdued until the 1530′s.
Hatuéy himself was finally captured, and he and his warriors were burned alive at the stake. While tied to the stake Hatuéy was approached by a Spanish priest, who offered to baptize and convert Hatuéy, thus cleansing his sins against the Christian God which would allow Hatuéy to enter heaven and avoid hell.
Hatuéy asked for time to think about the offer. After a time Hatuéy responded by asking the priest where the Spanish went after they died. The priest told Hatuéy that baptized Christians went to heaven. Hatuéy then made his final decision. He told the priest not to baptize him because if the Spanish went to heaven, he preferred to go to hell.
The story of Hatuéy’s execution was recorded by Las Casas and is now part of Cuban folklore. Hatuéy has become a national folk hero representing Cuba’s struggle against foreign oppression, first from Spain and later from the United States of America.
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In 1647 the Caribbean island of St. Kitts was a hotbed of conspiracies, intrigues and power struggles. One of these conflicts involved the attempt by a certain Monsieur de Poiney to replace the then Governor General of the island.
Monsieur de Poiney had many powerful and important allies, but he also had many enemies. De Poiney had a tendency to deal quite harshly and ruthlessly with those who stood in the way of his goals. He divided his adversaries into two categories corresponding to their social position. His lower class opponents would often find themselves deported for one reason or another. Others turned up dead or missing. Some of his enemies, however, were prominent citizens who were not so easy to silence. If he had them sent back to France, they could cause trouble for him, and if they were to disappear or suffer untimely deaths, an investigation would ensue which could prove, at the very least, embarrassing.
De Poiney, being a creative individual, arranged for the formation of an expedition to explore and settle an outlying island. Sixty people, all political adversaries of De Poiney, were chosen to make the excursion. They were not expected to survive the voyage. Almost as soon as their ship weighed anchor, their lands and personal property were confiscated and sold to the highest bidder.
The captain of the ship carrying these unfortunates was a man named Jean Pinart. His instructions were to arrange for the demise of his passengers, but Pinart was not as cold blooded as his superior. He took the “explorers” to an island where food and water could be found. He also allowed them to keep a small boat and some tools and other supplies. From what records remain, it is very possible that this island was none other than St. John.
At this time the Virgin Islands were mostly uninhabited save for sporadic visits by pirates, woodcutters, fishermen and hunters. Spain still laid claim to the Virgin Islands by “right of discovery”. Although the Spanish never attempted to settle the islands, they did make occasional patrols to discourage others from doing so. On the first day ashore the castaways made a rather unnerving discovery. While preparing rudimentary shelters and scouting about the area, several fresh corpses were found on a nearby beach. They were Englishmen who had been caught there by the Spanish.
A week later a lone Spanish ship anchored in a nearby bay. A party of soldiers rowed ashore and attacked the settlers. When the Spanish realized they were vastly outnumbered, they beat a hasty retreat.
The very next day the Spaniards returned in greater number. Many of the exiles were killed. The survivors were dispersed into the hills and thick bush. Before setting sail the Spanish destroyed the exile’s camp, wrecked their boat and confiscated all their supplies.
The survivors of the attack reunited later that day. Their situation was desperate. They searched the wrecked campsite for anything useful that might have been overlooked by the Spaniards. They found one ax and one cutlass. They decided to construct a raft and send out a party in search of help.
Trees were cut and lashed together with whist vine to fashion a marginally seaworthy fourteen foot raft. A sail was fashioned out of cloth from the exiles clothing and sewn together using the “needle and thread” found within the leaf of the century plant. Oars were painstakingly carved and the boat was provisioned as well as possible.
Five men were chosen to set out to sea and look for help. They had no charts, no navigational equipment and little sailing experience. At first they decided to head east in an attempt to return to St. Kitts. The crew soon found that the little raft could hardly sail into the wind at all. After an entire night of arduous rowing they had only reached what we believe to be Norman Island.
The men spent the next day searching for food and fresh water, neither of which were to be found. They did, however, make the rather ominous discovery of the bones of an earlier visitor.
Because their progress upwind was painstakingly slow and difficult, the voyagers decided to abandon the idea of sailing to St. Kitts. Their only alternative was to head west and sail downwind even though they lacked knowledge of the geography of the area and had little idea of what lands lay in that direction.
Early the next morning the courageous crew once again put out to sea. They sailed along the southern coast of St. John, crossed Pillsbury Sound and made landfall on St. Thomas in late afternoon.
The next day the men began to explore the island looking for signs of human habitation. No settlements were found, but provisions, such as wild fruits and fresh water, were secured for the next leg of the journey.
The following morning the adventurers left St. Thomas taking advantage of that day’s brisk tradewinds. They sailed all day and all night and came ashore on a small beach on the island of Puerto Rico in the late morning. The men soon realized where they were, and their fear of the Spanish prevented them from seeking aid. Consequently, they continued on their way, only coming ashore on uninhabited parts of the island where the raft could secretly be provisioned.
When the rafters reached the western tip of Puerto Rico, they made the decision to continue across the vast passage that lay in front of them. They knew there would be no turning back. The seas became rough, and the raft was in imminent danger of breaking up or capsizing. Against all odds the badly damaged craft safely reached Mona Island which lies between Puerto Rico and Hispaniola almost in the middle of the Mona Passage.
Afraid to continue across the passage and unable to return in the direction from which they came, the five would be rescuers realized that they themselves were now marooned. They gave up their hope of obtaining help for their colleagues stranded on St. John and concentrated on their own rescue and survival.
An exploration of the island revealed abandoned huts and the remains of a small settlement. Here the castaways were able to find shelter and salvage some tools and supplies. They also found the island to have an abundance of wild fowl, readily available sea food and a variety of native fruits. For three months they eked out a meager existence.
One day a lookout spotted a vessel which was about to pass near the island. Being on the verge of starvation, the men chanced a hostile reception and lit their signal fire. The ship turned out to be a fishing boat out of Puerto Rico. Even though the captain and crew were Spanish, they took pity on the rag-tag group of adventurers and gave them clothing, bread and wine. The captain promised to come back to the island after the completion of their fishing expedition. At that time the exiles could chose whether or not they wanted to return with the boat and face a possibly unpleasant reception in the Spanish settlement of San Juan.
Two weeks later the fishermen reappeared and our intrepid adventurers decided to end their exile and take their chances with the Spanish. On the first day out an incredible thing happened. Another raft carrying a bedraggled crew of six was sighted about five miles off the coast of Puerto Rico. The raft was approached by the fishing vessel, and its occupants were taken aboard. By extraordinary coincidence these rafters turned out to be the last survivors of the original sixty St. Kitts colonists who had been marooned on St. John.
Upon reaching San Juan, the eleven survivors disembarked, resigning themselves to whatever fate awaited them at the hands of the Spanish authorities. Their amazing tale of survival and coincidence, however, enthralled all who heard it. Rather than being imprisoned or executed, the exiles received a heroes welcome. They found jobs in San Juan and eventually earned enough money to book passage back to Europe; all except for one, that is, who married a local woman and lived the rest of his days in Puerto Rico.
This story has nothing to do about St. John, but I will now justify it’s relevance for a St. John blog. Like I write, St. John, the Virgin Islands and the Caribbean. This broadens the topic base quite a bit. Now please allow me to stretch this a little bit. Here’s a story about a man from the Caribbean.
Really I just like stories, and I’d like to share this one….
Many people from the Caribbean have migrated to the big cities of the United States and Europe in search of better jobs. The following story concerns one such immigrant who settled in the Washington DC area.
Upon arriving in his new homeland a young man, a recent immigrant from the Caribbean, applied for a job with the Washington DC Fire Department. He passed through the screening process and underwent training as a fireman and EMT. Appreciative of the opportunities that had been presented to him, he became a gung-ho and dedicated employee.
On March 30, 1981, he happened to be at the George Washington University Hospital where he had just brought in an accident victim. While he was there, a call came in alerting the staff that a high priority trauma would soon be arriving at the emergency room.
Hearing the screech of tires outside, he proceeded to the front doors and saw a black limousine out of which emerged a swarm of gentlemen in suits and sunglasses surrounding older man who appeared to be injured. The older man, refusing to accept the help offered by his companions, walked unsteadily toward the emergency room doors. Just inside, he collapsed and fell into the arms of the Caribbean paramedic.
To the fireman’s amazement the man in his arms turned out to be none other than the President of the United States, Ronald Reagan. The President had just been shot by John Hinckley Jr. who, emulating Robert De Niro’s character, Travis Bickle in the movie Taxi Driver, had attempted the assassination in order to impress actress Jodie Foster.
The astonished fireman carried Reagan to a gurney and took him to the triage room where he helped tend to the President as doctors, nurses and technicians quickly arrived on the scene.
Meanwhile, secret service agents fanned out through the emergency room complex and saw to it that the area was secured. This meant that any non-essential personnel needed to be removed from the area, as the secret service had no way of knowing whether any of the patients might pose a security risk.
“What’s wrong with that guy?” barked a secret serviceman.
“Broken leg,” answered one of the hospital attendants.
“Get him out of here!”
“And what about that guy?”
“Get him out of here!”
And so it went until the room was cleared and other accommodations were found for the sick and wounded waiting to be attended to that day.
In the triage room, Reagan was stripped and examined. Doctors discovered a gunshot wound to the President’s chest, which had punctured one his lungs. The Chief Executive was rushed to the operating room where he underwent two hours of surgery to remove the .22 caliber explosive “devastator” bullet and to repair his collapsed lung.
When his shift was over, the Caribbean EMT and fireman went home where told his wife what had happened that night. “Oh, I’m so very proud of you, my dear, you’re a real hero” she exclaimed as she gave her husband a big hug.
That night, while laying in bed, the fireman also could not help but be proud of himself thinking how few people could say that they had played a part in saving the life of the President of the United States.
Two days later the fireman was summoned by his supervisor and told to report to the Secret Service office the next day. “Why do they want to see me?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” replied the supervisor, “maybe they want to give you a medal.”
That night he returned home and shared this new development with his wife. She agreed with the lighthearted speculation of the supervisor and told her husband that surely he was to receive some sort of reward or commendation for what he had done for the President on the night that he was shot.
The morning of his scheduled appointment, the fireman put on his best dress uniform and reported to the office of the Secret Service prepared to be recognized for the part that he had played in the drama at the hospital. His reception at the office, however, was icy, and he began to suspect that something was wrong. A receptionist told him to proceed to room 224, an office down the hall. Inside the sparsely furnished room he found a desk, a chair and two decidedly unfriendly and stern-faced men, who, without any exchange of pleasantries, instructed him to sit down in the wooden chair alongside the desk. The two secret servicemen remained standing.
“Where is it?” demanded one of the men, pointing a finger in the fireman’s chest. “We know you have it and you better give it up now.”
“What! What are you talking about? Where is what?” the fireman stammered.
“Don’t play dumb with us. Let us make this clear. If you don’t cooperate your career and your life will never be the same. You better come clean and tell us the truth.
The questioning continued in this manner for over an hour with the professional interrogators never revealing what it was they were talking about. Finally, he was summarily dismissed. As he reached the door, however, one of the agents added, “And, I wouldn’t talk about this to anyone if I were you, do you understand? This is not over. We’ll be speaking to you again”
Intimidated and bewildered, the fireman returned home and to his dismay found his house full of friends and family invited by his wife to celebrate her husband’s recognition. Totally chagrined, he was forced to explain to the well-wishers that far from being commended he was the subject of some sort of investigation the subject of which he did not know.
Several weeks after the shooting, during a meeting with his supervisor, the supervisor told him confidentially what happened. Sometime during the triage process, a pair of gold and diamond cufflinks and a tie clasp worn by President Reagan were stolen. They were a gift from the first lady, Nancy Reagan, on his inauguration and were worth $30,000.
It turned out that almost everyone in the emergency, triage and operating rooms were considered suspects and were questioned in the same manner as the fireman. Then, a week after the interrogations, the missing items miraculously appeared behind a file cabinet in the triage room stuffed in an envelope. As the room was cleaned and sterilized on a daily basis, it was unlikely that the jewelry had simply been misplaced. The most plausible explanation was that someone committed a crime of opportunity and then, fearful of the ruthless perseverance of the secret service investigators returned it to take the heat off themselves.
The fireman was relieved to finally learn the reason for his interrogation and to know that his ordeal was most likely over. Yet, he was disappointed the thief was never identified and that there might be some lingering suspicion about him. He felt like he had been put through the wringer. Having experienced the elation of having helped the President of the United States in a moment of need that so quickly yielded to the harrowing experience of being treated as a suspect in a crime he did not commit. And so it was that this son of the Caribbean found that life in the land of opportunity is not without some trying moments.
Some years later, after being promoted to the position of supervisor, the fireman from the Caribbean accompanied a friend of mine who was the producer for the TV show Emergency Call. It was during the making of one of the episodes that the fireman shared this story with my friend.
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Anyone familiar with the Caribbean has certainly heard lurid tales about the fearsome natives of the Lesser Antilles, the Caribs. They have been described as bloodthirsty savages; cannibals who attacked the peace-loving Tainos, killing the men, kidnapping the women, and capturing young boys who were kept in pens to be castrated, fattened and eaten. The very word “cannibal” comes from “Caribal,” referring to the Carib tribe.
Who are these people, and what is behind the Carib myth?
The Carib’s savage reputation preceded actual European contact. Columbus first learned about them from the Lucayos, the Tainos of the Bahamas, whom he encountered on his first voyage. According to the Lucayos, a fierce and warlike people ruled many islands to the east.
Peter Martyr, who interviewed sailors returning from the first transatlantic voyages, documented: “The Caribs emasculated the boys whom they seized and those who were born of the captives, fed them fat and, at their festivals, and devoured them.”
Columbus did not personally encounter the Caribs until his second voyage, when the fleet came ashore on the island of Guadeloupe. Entering the Caribs’ homes, shore parties found “man’s flesh, duck’s flesh and goose flesh, all in one pot, and others on the spits ready to be laid to the fire. Entering into their inner lodgings, they found faggots of the bones of men’s arms and legs, which they reserve to head arrows, because they lack iron; the other bones they cast away when they have eaten the flesh. They found likewise the head of a young man, fastened to a post, and yet bleeding and drinking vessels made of skulls,” wrote Martyr.
On Guadeloupe, Columbus found six women, two children and a young man – Tainos from Boriken (Puerto Rico) – who had been captured by the Caribs. According to Columbus’s son Ferdinand, the Tainos begged the Spaniards to help them escape. “They elected to give themselves over to an unknown people so alien to their own, rather than remain amongst those who were so manifestly horrible and cruel and who had eaten their husbands and children.”
On his next stop, which was St. Croix, Columbus rescued more Taino captives. “Two slaves had so recently been castrated that they were still sore,” reported the leader of the St. Croix shore party, Michele de Cuneo.
Later on, rumors and tall tales of cannibalism circulated throughout the West Indies.
“The Caribbeans [Caribs] have tasted of all the nations that frequented them, and affirm that the French are the most delicate, and the Spaniards are hardest of digestion,” reads a passage in the book, History of the Carribby Islands.
A Frenchman named Laborde reported that he had had occasion to speak with a Carib whom he encountered on the island of St. Vincent eating a boiled human foot. The Carib explained to Laborde that he ate only Arawaks [Tainos] because “Christians gave him the belly-ache.”
On a similar note, there is the story that was told around the Caribbean of a Carib tribe in Dominica that became so ill, upon eating a Franciscan friar, that they vowed never to eat that variety of European again.
Knowing about this, when a crew of Spaniards sailing past Dominica needed to come ashore to reprovision, they shaved the head of a sailor like a Franciscan monk, put him in a gunny sack, tied a rope around his waist and sent him safely on his way. The Caribs, fearing indigestion, gave him a wide berth.
Tales such as these inspired Daniel Defoe’s famous novel, Robinson Crusoe, which supposedly took place on the island of Tobago. Crusoe’s “Man Friday” was an Arawak who had been captured in a raid. He had escaped and was hiding from the Caribs when Crusoe found him.
In all probability, these accounts of the Caribs’ taste for human flesh were exaggerated. The Caribs did not hunt humans for the purpose of providing food for their tribe. What they did was practice ritual cannibalism: They ate people or body parts ceremonially in order to absorb their spiritual and physical powers.
Certain human parts, such as the testicles, were considered to be especially empowering. Having nothing comparable to this in their own culture, Europeans jumped to the conclusion that the Caribs ate people for sustenance.
When they observed the two recently castrated captives in St. Croix,* they again explained the phenomenon through the experience of their own culture, in which food animals were tenderized and fattened in this manner.
The European fascination with cannibalism had another unexpected result. At the time of the discovery of the New World, the Caribs were far fewer in number, inhabited far less territory, and had a less-advanced culture than the Tainos. Nonetheless, this preoccupation with the consumption of human beings was responsible, to a great extent, for the fact that the islands of the West Indies and the sea that they define were ultimately named the Caribbean.
More importantly, the European revulsion of cannibalism was used as propaganda to justify the enslavement of the native islanders. In many cases, when laws were passed to protect the Tainos, slavers simply reclassified their captives as Caribs.
* My research shows that the island in question was in fact St. Martin, not St. Croix…read article
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