Thursday, July 31, 2008


At the height of summer, Bermudians take a few days off to enjoy a holiday and a spot of cricket. Cricket? The annual Cup Match between the St George’s and Somerset cricket clubs. To make it all seem a bit more official, they turned the last Thursday of July into a public holiday in celebration of Emancipation Day. The public holiday was introduced in 1947 (the annual game has been played since 1902)—it was in 1999 that the celebration of emancipation became formally part of the ritual of the Cup Match, and the day was formally renamed Emancipation day at the same time. Just how important is this cricket match? Well, the population of Bermuda is under 70,000, and the match attracts more than 7000 at the venue—so, even a non-maths type can see that’s a significant proportion of the population. And of course it’s broadcast, so that the rest of the nation is probably glued to the telly. Oh—and Emancipation Day? It celebrates the British Empire’s Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, which was enacted on 1 August, 1834. A lot of the Caribbean nations take it as a public holiday—some on the date itself, some on the first Monday in August—or, here, the last Thursday of July.

I hope you all know that Bermuda is not a single island—apparently the number “138” is “approximate,” although it seems like a pretty specific number to me. Call me crazy. I mean, what do I know? Or maybe whole islands periodically disappear in the Bermuda Triangle. Maybe they suspect one of the islands is actually Leviathan or Dr Doolittle’s Great Pink Sea-snail. Don’t ask me. Speaking of pink, Bermuda has pink sand beaches. They look pretty.

So Bermuda was discovered at the very beginning of the 16th century—perhaps in 1503. This discovery is attributed to Juan de Bermúdez, hence the name. Early on both the Spanish and the Portuguese used the islands as a handy spot to replenish meat and water, though from the outset stories of devils and ghostly things came from the islands—which they named the Isle of Devils. So Bermuda’s always been a bit of a mystery spot, apparently—even if it was probably just loud birds that scared people. Still, they didn’t want to risk settling the island. Add to that the fact that the shipwreck of Sir George Somers off Bermuda is thought to have been an inspiration for Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and the spook factor doesn’t let up.

But you can be sure that it was neither the Spanish nor the Portuguese that brought cricket to Bermuda. Early in the 17th century the English staked a claim and, interestingly, the first British coins minted in the Americas were made here. When King Charles I was beheaded back in Britain during the English Civil War (1649) Bermuda reacted with the Bermudian Civil War. They were very pro-the British crown, and those who weren’t went into exile in the Bahamas.

After trying a few things to liven up their economy, salt was deemed to be the key. After deforesting the islands, the salt trade became their major source of income and grew to be the world's largest, though sailors were also dab hands at the merchant trade in general, as well as a little whaling and privateering (read: piracy!) when needed. Oh, and the HMS Pickle (yes, Pickle), the boat that brought news of the Admiral Nelson back to England, was made in Bermuda.

And, more recently, Bermuda signals: tax haven. Anyone who has talked tennis with me, and brought up the subject of Pat Rafter knows that a) I’m not a big fan of his (controversial, especially for an Aussie girl, but that’s just how it is) and b) I’m very unimpressed that he lives in Bermuda and doesn’t pay taxes in Australia—and that this was true when in 2002 he won Australian of the Year. I could rant about this, but I won’t bore you.

Bermuda, by the way, does also have a Bermuda day. I chose Emancipation Day because I wanted to represent this somewhere in the project—it’s spread over a number of nations and territories, but it represents another important marker in “independence.” Plus, I’m kind of fond of the fact that Bermudians combine emancipation with cricket.

I suppose I should mention that triangle, right? Also known as the Devil’s Triangle. Bermuda is meant to be, popularly, one of the “points” of the triangle—the other points are San Juan, Puerto Rico and someplace on the (Atlantic) coast of Florida. Some may be disappointed in Lawrence David Kusche’s conclusion that the whole fuss is a “manufactured mystery”—and who am I to spoil your fun? If you want to test the waters, but also want some insurance, Lloyd’s of London will help you out—they don’t think the area is any more dangerous than any other oceanic region, so presumably there’s no extra charge for those wanting to explore the area. Go to.

But read a poem first. I found this piece, “Wild Jasmine,” online here—it’s by Alan Smith.

Wild Jasmine

Her water never broke

but the tides came in nonetheless

she smelled it months away at sea

approaching with the casual assuredness 

of longtail flights

but loudly and repeatedly announced

with sea-fondled baubles 

deposited on the north shoreline

the sudden inexplicable scent of wild jasmine

the phosphorescent aqua seas of her dreams

yes the tides did come

two new lives uncovered in the pink sands

unnoticed in the blue distance

the glistening tail and shadow of doubt

submerging and heading out to open ocean

—by Alan Smith

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