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Bermuda celebrates 50 years of Bahamian independence

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A Junkanoo celebration in the Bahamas (Photograph supplied)

Bermuda’s link with the Bahamas goes back to 1648 when fear of religious persecution drove William Sayle and his band of Christians to the island they named Eleuthera.

In more recent times Bermudians and Bahamians have naturally gravitated towards each other while studying abroad.

It is how the former Prime Minister of the Bahamas, the late Sir Lynden Pindling, became friends with the late Dame Lois Browne-Evans, Bermuda’s first female Opposition leader and attorney-general.

That story will be retold this week when Bahamians in Bermuda observe the 50th anniversary of their country’s independence from Britain.

A three-day celebration will take place in advance of the actual anniversary on July 10.

Shervonne Cash-Hollis, a Bahamian who moved to Bermuda in 2001, came up with the idea of holding the local festivities, which will also honour “three Bahamians that have made tremendous contribution within the Bermudian community”: Bertram McPhee, Willamae Smith and Leanora Carey.

“They've contributed to the Bahamians who relocated here and may have missed a little Bahamian-type food and that sort of camaraderie – they definitely made us feel at home,” Ms Cash-Hollis said.

“They have certainly opened up doors and connected the two cultures, in their small way, by being here. So we just wanted to give them their flowers while they are still with us.”

She learnt when she moved here that there are many families with the same surnames as in Eleuthera – Ratteray, Smith and Ferguson are on a list of those in common.

“That’s where it all formulated from – the historical path from over 400 years from the discovery of Eleuthera by Bermudians. And there are a lot of similarities, I would say, within the cultures as well,” she said.

Shervonne Cash-Hollis (Photograph supplied)

Ms Cash-Hollis highlighted Bermuda’s Gombeys versus Bahamas’s Goombays as an example, one of the differences being that “with your Gombeys you use sticks to beat the drum but with us, we use our hands”.

“Prior to me coming to the island in 2001, I was unaware of the close ties. Out of all of the island folks … I don't want to be prejudiced but I would say Bermudians and Bahamians are kind of a little closer; we have a lot of similarity. And like I said, it dates back from our history, more or less.

“A lot of Bermudians and Bahamians went to university together. When I say together, I mean they would have gone and ended up being [better] friends [than with] all of the Caribbean people there.”

It is estimated that there are fewer than 100 Bahamians living here today, a relatively “small population” when compared with residents from the Caribbean.

They used to meet as a group for parties and Bahamian activities but never had an official organisation until 2019 when the Bahamas Association formed as a registered charity in response to Hurricane Dorian.

Mindful that Bahamian consulates, embassies and ambassadors around the world would be celebrating the 50th anniversary, Ms Cash-Hollis decided that something should also be done here. She thought it better to hold it early because many Bahamians are expected to return home for all the festivities there.

“This is a global effort,” she said. “In the Bahamas they've been celebrating every month for this whole year. I can’t tell you the magnitude – what we say in the Bahamas is ‘we go big or we go home’. This is a global celebration of Bahamians around the world.

“Since Bahamians are in Bermuda, I thought about it. I thought about that history that we have. We have a similar culture and we have Bahamians in Bermuda who cannot make the trip back home and would love to be a part of the festivities.”

As Prime Minister of the Bahamas, the late Sir Lynden Pindling led the nation to independence on July 10, 1973

Back home on a visit last year she “approached some of the government officials” and started a discussion.

On her return to Bermuda, she raised the idea with the Bahamian Association.

“I am a former executive board member and so I approached them and said let's do it as a partnership.”

Ms Cash-Hollis is now chair of the 50th Independence Committee in Bermuda. The three-day celebration starts with an invitation-only event on Friday.

“[David Burt], the Premier of Bermuda, has so kindly opened up Camden for us and he will be hosting us with a welcome party and historical/cultural evening,” she said.

Although it will be a non-political event, there will likely be mention of how Sir Lynden helped start the Progressive Labour Party while on a visit here and how he urged Bermuda to consider independence, Ms Cash-Hollis added.

“‘The Father of our Nation’, as we call him, would have been good friends with Dame Lois Browne-Evans – their children are close, their families are close.

“They would have gone to England to law school together with a few other Caribbean leaders. And that's how it came about with them wanting to speak about independence for the islands. Now I know Bermuda is kind of against that but they would have started to say let's, you know, remove ourselves from the British colonial system.”

The guest speaker at the “historical/cultural event” on June 30 will be Dame Lois’s daughter, Tina Evans-Harvey.

“She'll be talking about being 11 years old in the Bahamas when we gained independence. She will speak about how she felt so proud experiencing our independence.”

H&H Gombeys will perform along with Rush Culture, a small Bahamian Junkanoo group living in Canada.

A gala dinner is scheduled for Saturday at Rosewood Bermuda where the keynote speaker will be Frederick Mitchell, Bahamas’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Dr McPhee, Ms Carey and Ms Smith will be honoured.

The celebration will come to a close on Sunday with a 10am service at the Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity.

Bahamas Goombays beating the drums (Photograph supplied)

“We have to wrap up with the spiritual side,” Ms Cash-Hollis said. “And that church has strong ties as well with the Most Holy Trinity in Bahamas. So, like I said, there's just so much history between the two cultures.”

Tickets for the Pre-Independence Golden Jubilee Gala are sold out. For more information: 703-0789; bahamianassociationbermuda@gmail.com

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Published June 26, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated June 26, 2023 at 7:13 am)

Bermuda celebrates 50 years of Bahamian independence

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