Identity of the native Bermudian


“O you mankind, surely We created you of a male and a female, and We have made you races and tribes that you may get mutually acquainted. Surely the most honourable among you in the providence of God are the most pious; surely God is ever-knowing, ever-cognisant.” — Koran

All over the planet, we have a variety of people with differing ethnicity and race. The beauty of the planet is meant to be seen in its diversity. We can be known by those differences, with the best among us not determined by our looks but by our behaviour.

Life isn’t static. There is always movement and the blending of cultures, customs and races. While there can be majorities and minorities, there is no need or prerogative of any group to destroy or colonise the identity or specificity of another subgroup by force or propaganda.

The Pacific is a beautiful example of thousands of years of ethnic divergence. To the untrained eye or ear, there could be an easy tendency to assume that many parts are all of one people. They look alike, the sounds of their vowels and consonants are similar, yet the languages are distinctly different and the DNA of the genetic pools are just as different.

Yes, you may use the generic term Asian, but look a little deeper because if one makes the assumption they are the same, a Japanese person would firmly argue that they are not Chinese or Vietnamese. A Malaysian will firmly assert they are not Indonesian and will be insulted for being identified that way.

We can also look a bit closer and take, for example, some ethnicity that had developed in the West Indies because of circumstances that forced movement and the histories of peoples to blend together, creating new identities.

In that regard, I speak of the Carib Indians, who were familiar to many islands and South America, and after whom the area was called the Caribbean. When the Africans were introduced to the area, many of them escaped slavery and captivity, and assimilated with the Caribs.

Later this assimilation became known as the “Black Caribs”, who along with indigenous Caribs resisted colonisation by all the European colonisers. They were forced to leave places such as St Vincent — the home of my great-grandfather — and became known as the Garifuna.

The Garifuna are Africans mixed with Carib; no one can deny either their African or Carib roots. Their circumstance has a uniqueness: they are a product of suffering and struggle of two separate groups of people, but ended up with a single identity and ethnicity of their own. It’s an important distinction and one the world does respect as belonging solely to them, as they recall the tales of their unique experience.

In similar fashion, Bermudians descending from the early 1600s have a unique experience with African, Native American, Irish and English thrown together to populate what has become the indigenous population of the island. Today the genetics of those subgroups of people have a distinct pattern that indicates its own ethnicity. When one adds the DNA pattern, the distinct dialect and unique history, we have a unique classification that could be rightfully termed as native to Bermuda.

As a qualifier, one of my sons attended Dalhousie University and as an elective chose a course in genetics. His DNA was tested as a sample student and the results gained — as reported by the professor — showed that Bermuda was at the edge of its own ethnicity and was more homogeneous than the Japanese.

The other thing needing to be understood, particularly because of the lifestyle of the early 1800s, with white men cohabitating with mulatto women, which became commonplace pre-emancipation, the majority of what is termed “white Bermudian” has at least a great-great-great-grandmother who was black.

Given the way assimilation occurs, there are very few whites who do not have a black Bermudian ancestor. This, like it or not, is a truth about the DNA of native Bermudians: they are more of a tribe than they are of separate races.

It is extremely important that Bermudians preserve their identity and, given the threats levied against that identity of being truly Bermudian and the attempts to deny its nativity by removing its authenticity, calling it only a by-product of an other, it has become necessary to add the distinction “native” to emphasise the ethnicity and uniqueness of their history as being connected to this island called Bermuda.

It is important that all global institutions, even Google and information networks, also the United Nations, find cause to recognise the nativity and indigenous status of native Bermudians. No one can claim or remove what is a self-evident and living truth. Those who can find their way into the 18th century and are of that history cannot be legislated away or buried under false myth.

A great example of this is in fact, the Garifuna, because those who are native Bermudian are as Bermudian, as they are Garifuna. All those who can trace their family into the 18th century, when asked about their ethnicity, should say I am native Bermudian and not just Bermudian.

The difference is, one is a national ID and can be granted; the other is anthropological and cannot.

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Published Aug 25, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated Aug 25, 2020 at 9:46 am)

Identity of the native Bermudian

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