Local blood ties cut across racial lines
Christopher Famous in one of his recent columns reminded many of us about our connections with the West Indies, more particularly the bloodline connections. He is, of course, correct. I for one cannot deny it, having direct roots from St Vincent, Turks and Caicos, Saba and Haiti. The vast majority of Bermudians will carry similar strands and, hence, blood ties to the Caribbean.
The interesting thing when speaking of blood ties, which Famous is always keen to emphasise, is how and what those blood ties mean in the overall scheme of DNA to many Bermudians. I should say, the majority of Bermudians, including myself.
One of my grandsons this year decided to do a DNA test. He comes up with 41 per cent Nigerian, 18 per cent northern England, 7 per cent Native American, then an assortment of Welsh, North African, etc.
One of my sons, while attending Dalhousie University in a genetics class, discovered what the teachers found interesting in Bermudian students like him and made the disclosure that Bermudians, whether black or white, were at the edge of their own ethnicity. That the black and white Bermudian genetic profile was closer to each other than, for example, Japanese, should come as no surprise, given our history. We are actually cousins.
The reality is that I, as a black Bermudian of the Darrell family, am closer or as close a relative but having far more common traceable and extended family bonds with the Goslings, the Burlands, the Brewers, the Tuckers and the Coxes than the Caribbean, which is a far wider pool. I have multiple strands of Bermudian roots flowing all the way back to the early 1600s through the Darrell, Wilkinson, Williams, Harvey and Stowe bloodlines.
In and around 1800, there were only 8,000 or so Bermudian souls who together were the repository for all the history and development to that point. It was from that cultural blend and experience that such things as the Bermudian accent derived.
Native accents are perhaps the strongest evidence of a particular or unique culture. It takes centuries to develop a distinct accent and that is what occurred during Bermuda’s early formative years.
In fact, we would know that whenever anyone travels and lives in another society, there is always the tendency for their native language and expressions to adapt over time and even change towards the prevailing or dominant culture. So for any who have doubts as to whether there is such a thing as a native Bermudian, all one needs to do is check one’s own accent and if it is laden with the familiar “um mum”, then you know it came from the pre-1800 experience and the 8,000 souls who preceded us that transmitted their accent.
Bermudians are in reality a tribe whose DNA profiles indicate that they are, in spite of their different shades, all from one genetic pool for the most part. That old genetic pool has branched out and over time has been influenced by Portuguese, Azorean, West Indian, French and now Filipino but for most the dominant gene pool are extracted from the families resident in Bermuda since the early 1600s.
So I am happy Famous brought up the subject of blood ties because those ties extend all over Bermuda and need to be celebrated because we are first and foremost Bermudian — and we must build on the fact that we are one family. It is useful and informative to know our relatives in distant lands, but it would be truly hypocritical if we tried to establish our foreign ties and deny or fail to acknowledge the local blood ties that cut across racial lines.
Bermuda is now celebrating 400 years of parliament, the oldest in the western hemisphere, as is St Peter’s, the oldest Anglican church. Our heritage as a people is centuries old; it is adorned with the likes of Sally Bassett, Mary Prince, Jemmy Darrell, the Gunpowder heist, the colonisation of Turks Island, the discovery and colonisation of Bahamas, the salt trade and even the overthrow of Jamaica from the Spanish.
In all those episodes there was black and white, yes, blood history.
History for black people did not begin with the extension of Dockyard, even though it did for one of my great-grandfathers. Nor did the struggle for liberation begin from Monk to Mazumbo; it goes far deeper than that.
We mutinied and stole whole ships, and headed for freedom centuries ago — and Sally wasn’t the only person of colour executed. As Bermudians, we need to become acquainted with our own native history as a priority. That’s the way we will be proud of our own identity as one people.
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