Harbour Island – Ins and Outs of Island Life

I can’t help but feel a sense of nostalgia when I think of the Out Islands of The Bahamas. One particular island that always takes me back to my youth, is Harbour Island. I can’t quite figure out if it’s the colourful clapboard houses that line the narrow circular roads leading you to a path of the most fantastic beaches; or the way in which you arrive this tropical paradise in a water ferry, a short 10 minute journey from North Eleuthera dock with the most incredible blue sea as your backdrop. Whatever triggers those special memories, Harbour Island captures it all.

Approximately two miles east of North Eleuthera Island and some 60 miles from Nassau, Harbour Island is home to an estimated 2,000 people. Once the capital of The Bahamas and the second populated island in the 1900’s, this island was once famed for its rum making. Dunmore Town, the only town on the island, named after Lord Dunmore, Governor 1786-1797, is one of the oldest settlements in The Bahamas. Rich in history and colonial charm, this little Island which is 3 miles long and 1.5 miles wide, features the ‘Hill Steps’, which were cut from stone by the inhabitants.

One of my fondest memories as a little girl living on Harbour Island with my mum, was our weekly shops to the local grocery store, the ‘Piggly Wiggly’ and like its name, it captures the fun and excitement of the island. Although modestly stocked, it had all the essentials the islanders needed and more. Mr. Johnson, the shop attendant, always greeted you with a smile and if you were lucky, he would give you a ‘gum ball’, my favourite sweet. While mum attended to her weekly clinic, I would go in search of coco plums with my friends and spend days just playing ‘hopscotch’, ‘double Dutch’ and catching the island bees in my self constructed bee jar. Life was bliss! My ballet teacher was a small svelte British lady, Mrs. Coleman, who settled on the island ten years earlier and had two children, Joshua and Liam. I enjoyed my days learning how to dance and the many stories she would tell us about her childhood growing up in the East End of London; a far cry from the quiet, idyllic setting of Harbour Island, where the preferred means of transportation is by golf cart.

Having grown up in The Bahamas, I can appreciate and respect the mourning one goes through after the passing of a loved one. Whether it was a close or very distant relative, or family friend, the entire island mourns; so much so that this becomes a community gathering, which the locals refer to as a celebration of life. The actual burial is preceded by a ‘wake’, held the night before the funeral service, where the young and the old gather in the late evening to sing songs of praise, eat, and very often ‘drink’ until it knocks the life out of you. The actual service the following day is often held early morning, with a somewhat hearty sermon by the reverend and memories of those that loved them best. This is followed by a party, where you dance, sing and eat until your ‘heart is content’. For the average visitor on the island, this may same as a peculiar ‘send off’, but for the islanders, it was just another excuse to have a party. With all due respects of course!

What always surprised me and still to this day, are the many official roles one person can play on the island. The local court, police station and post office is conveniently located in one building. This is not too surprising. But, I recall one occasion when I collected our weekly post from the post office and Mr. Rolle politely excused himself as his court was in proceedings and he was presiding over a civil matter. Well, no less than 5 minutes later, a tourist stopped by to report a missing golf cart, which really was not surprising as someone possibly borrowed it, but definitely not stolen. On an island that’s only 3 miles long, surrounded by water, it couldn’t have gone that far. Unfortunately, the police station was closed and on the door read, ‘back in 30 minutes, next door in court’, signed Mr. Evans. Well, there was certainly a look of confusion on the tourist face, but I quickly reassured him that Mr. Evans would definitely be back soon, but quite possibly not in 30 minutes! As he reluctantly left the station, Johnny turned up in a golf cart, and quickly apologised for taking the wrong one. Oh the joys of island life….

I have often been asked by many of my international friends, how could you live on such a small island, where there is only one tv channel to entertain you and no shopping or nightlife? Well, my answer was simple, we entertained each other and ourselves. This was all we knew, and although our lives were simple we were happy. Having travelled to many countries and lived in many large cities, I can appreciate the simplicity of the islands and I hope one day that I can return to this idyllic way of life.

 

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