Bermuda: Culture & History
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Bermuda, like every island or country in the Western Hemisphere was first inhabited by the Indians. The history of them has been greatly missing and only mentions the hostile relations between them and the Virginia Company. Geologists have concluded that Bermuda came into existence after a volcanic eruption over one hundred million years ago. Even though the soil is of volcanic formation, yet it is surrounded by coral reefs that protect it from natural erosion. There is a steep drop off beyond the coral reefs as the water is about three miles deep. The water within the coral reefs area is fairly calm, dreamily blue-green and transparent, and the beaches have a lovely pink cast.
The Bermudan culture is a combination of British and African heritages. The British have had their greatest cultural influences in institutions such as the form of government, educational system and the island's legal framework. The English culture is highly prevalent in the forms of clothes, uniforms worn by judges and police people. The international game of cricket is widely played on the island. The majority of churchgoers are of the Anglican religion. The African influence is more subtle but can be found in the island music and dance, especially in music of African origin, which comes from the West Indies, music such as calypso, reggae and also in the rhythm of Gombey dancers.
The Gombey dance has its origination in West African tribal music and it is also incorporates the influences from Christian missionaries, the British military and most visibly from the American Indians from whom they adapted their costumes. The conglomeration of these different cultures has blended together to form a potpourri that is unique to Bermuda. Gombey dancing is actually well choreographed to specific rhythms and often portraits biblical stories. The dancers usually go to perform on the streets on Boxing Day the day after Christmas and New Year's Day.
Bermuda does not have a distinctive cuisine but does have some local seafood dishes that are indeed worthy of mention. The island's fish chowder is usually made with rockfish or snapper and is flavoured with local black rum and sherry pepper sauce. Codfish (or commonly called salt-fish) cakes were once the staple food on the island is still prepared on special occasions. Johnnycakes, cornmeal griddlecakes with peas and rice are popular foods, which are regularly eaten.
Black Seal Rum is a locally brewed alcoholic beverage, which the locals tend to drink with ginger beer; visitors on the other hand tend to have that drink "on the rocks." The traditional meal is fed on Sundays and it consists of codfish, eggs, boiled Irish potatoes, bananas, and avocado with a sauce consisting of onions and tomatoes.
Bermuda obtained its name from the Spanish sea captain Juan de Bermudez who sited the island around 1503. The Spanish did not claim it as they did not feel it had anything to offer, and, as it is surrounded by dangerous reefs, they had encountered numerous nautical misadventures, which had littered the sea bed with enough booty to become interested in scuba diving for more than a recreational sport.
Sir George Somers encountered a hurricane and his ship was wrecked on its way from England to Jamestown, Virginia. The admiral built replacement vessels from fine Bermuda cedar, left a couple of people behind to claim the island. Somers to Bermuda later that year but died of exhaustion.
The Virginia Company organized 60 settlers to establish a colony on the island. The topsoil was very thin and this along with its lack of water prevented commercial crops like sugar cane from being introduced. Bermuda had large reserves of gunpowder and in spite of being loyal to the British Crown; it was in desperate need for food assistance. Bermuda therefore covertly traded the gunpowder for a year's supply of provisions. The settlers became dependent on food imports from the American colonies, which they secured exchange, by supplying sea salt from the Turks Islands in return for provisions.
Slavery was forcibly introduced in Bermuda in 1616 and most them came from Africa, but others were American Indians. These slaves were usually employed as domestic servants or trades people rather than agricultural labourers. Slavery was abolished in 1834 and the majority of people residing there registered themselves as black or "colored".
Despite the fact that Bermudans depended on the American colonies for food, they sided with the British during the American war of Independence. The British Navy used Bermuda as a base during the War of 1812 to attack Washington D.C. The Americans responded by confiscating the unprotected cargo of Bermuda's merchant fleet, which devastated the local economy.
United States felt that because Bermuda was close to its territory, she had the rights to set up bases on Bermudan soil during World War II. Subsequently, the British signed a ninety-nine year lease agreement, which gave United States military control over a substantial portion of the land. The international airport on St. David's island is a place that the U.S. military had previously occupied. The United States and Bermuda became linked up again when the Volstead Act was passed in the United States. Thousands of American tourists came to Bermuda looking for whiskey. This brought plenty of needed hard currency to Bermuda.
The best things to result from the Second World War were women being granted the right to vote, and, more importantly, some of the franchise qualifications restricting the power of black voters were removed. The island was granted full internal self-government in 1968, while defense security and diplomatic affairs were left in control to the British crown. Bermudans have at times called for their independence and have rioted to obtain independence. Unfortunately, the referendum given to the people there to vote on, almost two-thirds of the people failed to vote for their independence.
British, American and Canadian firms set up their headquarters in Bermuda to benefit from their low taxation. These so-called exempt companies that use Bermuda as their offshore operations, have increased tremendously during recent years. Tourism has replaced farming and the onion trade as the second most important industry in Bermuda.
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