Letter from Nassau

The Bahamian bubble: will it burst?

BEVERLEY BAXTER February 13 1960
Letter from Nassau

The Bahamian bubble: will it burst?

BEVERLEY BAXTER February 13 1960

The Bahamian bubble: will it burst?

Letter from Nassau


There is something strangely akin to far-off coaching days as one waits at an aerodrome in the dark of an evening for the blaring announcement that we should now proceed to our plane. Trains and ships can normally keep to a schedule. but the aeroplane is fastidious about visibility and is not ashamed to wait.

On these occasions, I invariably purchase a well-known American magazine which tests one's knowledge of words. Take "unscrupulous” for example. Does it mean unfair, unkind, untrue, high-minded or without conscience? You cannot fool me. I have never once been wrong, which is either a tribute to my education or a sad commentary on the vocabulary of the average American.

A stentorian speaker device bursts on our ears and asks Mrs. Einstein to report to one of the desks. A family of five children, who have been playing games of their own invention, grow drowsyeyed. I turn to the magazine once more. Does "omniverous” mean hilarious? Certainly not! What kind of people does the editor think we are?

Somewhere about this time the booming voice informs listening travelers that our flight to Prestwick is ready. Babies and light luggage are gathered in a heap. The only pretty girl in sight kisses her mother good-by. But alas! it is the mother who gets on the plane.

There is no sense of elation or excitement. Only casually do we glance at our motionless plane which sits like a vast bullfinch.

The giant engines roar and the plane trembles, but we do not advance an inch. The mothers sort out their children and the pretty hostesses bring pillows for their weary little heads. A calm loudspeaker voice informs us that the plane will come down at the Scottish airport before taking off for Boston.

Just one final success with the word quiz before the semi-disrobing for the ocean flight. Does the word "valiant” mean suspicious, alert, lively, courageous or untrustworthy? Don’t they have such a thing as compulsory education in the U. S. A.?

It was raining at Prestwick but we took a breather of Scottish air before starting the ocean flight. Over the sea the engines finally lull us to sleep, or semi-sleep, even though the ear catches a strange varying crescendo as if the engine had drunk too much petrol and was going easy on the beverage for a bit. It was my fourth Atlantic flight in twelve months, but the magic and wonder of it never lose their spell.

Boston is to air travelers just another sprawling aerodrome, with no visual or spiritual relation to the city that threw a tea party and thus brought on the war that won America CONTINUED ON PAGE 56

Letter from Nassau

I continued from øace 10

“Wherever black and white live side by side there’ll be trouble”

her independence. In fact, aerodromes are so far removed from the centre of the cities which bear their name that passengers feel they are being smuggled to their destination. To the Baxters, Boston was merely a stopover.

Even when the mighty plane finally came to rest at Nassau in the Bahamas, there was nothing to suggest that we had come to anything more than a collection of sheds and offices instead of an island of infinite beauty and elegance.

Its beauty, of course, is not the whole story of Nassau, for as long as black and white try to live together in a common community, there will be trouble, no matter how earnestly both sides try to prevent it. It was so with Othello—even though he was more tanned than black— and it will always be, except that in its own way, Nassau has made genuine progress.

On Christmas Day, Sir Raynor Arthur, governor of the Bahamas, took my wife and me to a junior reformatory school for erring black boys. Under the direction of the headmaster, some sixty darkskinned lads sang Hark the Herald Angels Sing with a volume that would have shaken the Albert Hall. Then the governor gave them a short talk, to the point and without lecturing them, and they listened with awed silence.

The boys we saw represent some of the families whose problems make the governing of the Bahamas so complicated. The islands have no income tax, no surtax and no estate duties. Nor is there a welfare state as we know it in England. Poverty-stricken people who are ill must depend on charity. Without these taxes, how does the government meet its financian obligations? I talked this over with a wealthy man who has lived here for years, and he explained that indirect taxation amounts to more than fifty pounds a year per capita. The freedom from direct taxation encourages big companies to register in the Bahamas, and the islands benefit from their presence.

Personally, I cannot understand why London has not exerted pressure to create

a welfare state. That was the one good thing which the socialists in Britain did when they were swept to power in 1945. No doubt we Tories would have done it if the verdict had gone our way, but the credit must go to Attlee and his Labor supporters.

But how serious is the unrest of the natives in the Bahamas? That is not easy to determine, especially as the dark Bahamians have a cheerfulness which makes the whites by contrast seem concerned with many cares. The natives sing as they offer their wares on the streets. They wait patiently with their boats to ferry you across to Paradise Island. They sing as you bathe in the lovely waters. And their love of pageantry is remarkable.

On Christmas morning we saw cele-

E. P. Taylor tries out the golf course at his 4,000-acre Lyford Cay resort, which also offers yacht space, luxury rooms.

brations that would make anything in London or Toronto or New York look drab. The natives played cowbells, drums and cornets as they marched and danced through the streets in their fancy homemade costumes. All night they had danced and sung as if there were no whites alive,; and the rhythmic movements, like the music and the drums, never paused for a minute.

When I am back in London, I shall still recall the endless vitality and cheerful laughter of these people, whose ancestors were brought in chains from Africa. To them laughter and rhythm are as natural as the sun glinfing on the sapphire watgr.

I shall recall their little boats coming from the islands to offer catches of fish and baskets of fruit. And Til remember how their songs* and laughter had no relation to the amount of merchandise they sold.

I do not doubt that there is the arrogance of wealth here but the kindliness to visitors is far more in evidence. There is an old saying that people who live on islands like to be visited. The Bahamians are no exception.

Will the Nassau boom go on forever? Will those georgeous country houses still be able to command their indoor and outdoor staffs in five years’ time.?

Amazingly enough, there are signs that it may. That handsome, vigorous tycoon, E. P. Taylor, has invested heavily in the future by building a most modern golf club twenty miles from Nassau and is now building houses for sale near the beach. Taylor, it is acknowledged, is a shrewd investor, and no doubt he realizes this investment may take a little time before paying dividends.

I have only one regret about my visit here. Our arrival was just too late for us to witness an amateur production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, with Lady Arthur, the governor’s wife, conducting.

The plane to take us to Jamaica is five hours late. But who would complain about a delay that gives us that much longer on this beautiful island? it