One of the most erroneous situations that occurs, more often than not, when the country of Bermuda is discussed, is that most people who have never visited our Island assume that it is located in the Caribbean. As a result, people expect us to sound typically like our ancestors from Jamaica. However if you listen to Chewstick on this website, you will hear our dialect and discover that Bermuda has a unique culture with its own peculiarities and distinctions. So let’s start from the beginning so that you can get a better understanding of Bermuda and our people.
Bermuda is a British colony which was originally discovered by Juan de Bermúdez, a Spanish explorer, in the early 1500’s. But it was not until the year 1609 that Bermuda was settled by Sir George Somers who was on his way from England to Jamestown, Virginia when his ship, the Sea Venture, was wrecked on the reefs just off the shores of Bermuda. He and his crew safely made it to the mainland and did not run into anyone except for some wild pigs that noisily roamed the Islands. The sound of the pigs was so raucous, many ships would by-pass the Island which became known as the Isle of Devils. And oh yes, there are a number of Islands that make up Bermuda although most are too tiny to even put a house on. The total number that makes up the group of Bermudian Islands varies from 120 to 123 to 181 and more, depending on the source. Regardless, the Islands are surrounded by coral reefs that form a protective barrier for the main Island – protection from intruders at one time such as submarines but still provides a protective barrier from very large fish. To this day, a local pilot is needed to board any incoming cruise ships to navigate the channels and the reefs to bring ships safely to shore.
However back to Sir George – he did not stay in Bermuda. He built two (2) ships, the Deliverance and the Patience. He left a few men in Bermuda and proceeded on to Jamestown about ten (10) months later. When he got to Virginia, he discovered that the seamen who had arrived before him were starving and experiencing hard times. So Sir George Somers helped several of them to return to England. In the meantime, he returned to Bermuda to get more supplies but unfortunately he got sick and died there.
Bermuda’s first capital, the Town of St. George, became settled in 1612 when a group from the Virginia Company, England came to Bermuda to colonize the Island. However Bermudians have always considered 1609 to be the beginning of our history.
Examining the location of the Island will immediately clarify why and how the culture became a very mixed population. Situated about 590 miles east, south-east of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, the Bermuda Islands provided a convenient naval base for the British against the U.S. during the American Revolution and the War of 1812. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the slave trade was very active. Black slaves were bought in from the West Indies, Irish and Scottish indentured servants were imported from England and Native Americans mainly from the Algonquian tribe, were shipped to Bermuda from New England. Portuguese were also bought in to support the agriculture industry which was very much on the rise in the 19th century. They were contracted for a period and expected to return to their homeland, the Azores, Madeira and Cape Verde Islands. However by the mid-1900s, a sizeable number of the Portuguese were allowed to stay in Bermuda. So the culture mix is not so surprising now, is it? Over the years, Bermuda has remained a British Colony but regardless of the mixed population, the racial divide eventually became allocated into two races, the Northern European race, the White race and everyone else, who fell under the “colored” race. It was not until the 20th century that the various divisions of races expanded to include Asian and Other. In fact, due to the numbers of inter-racial marriages and/or births whether by choice or not, many Bermudians are now choosing to label themselves as multi-racial since many of the indigenous locals are a mixture of any combinations of North American Indian, West Indian, African, Portuguese, Irish and more. The majority of our people though trace their lineages to the Caribbean and African heritage.
Divided into nine (9) parishes, Bermuda is shaped like a fish-hook, with a current population of just over 69,000.
The main Island of Bermuda is approximately twenty-two (22) miles long and four (4) miles across the mid-section. I can go on and on about our island and our history, but this information can be googled where you will find that we experienced many years of racial depression and political upheavals. We exported onions and lilies, we were very successful shipbuilders, we were involved in the salt trade, tourism was one of our major industries while reinsurance and international banking, over the last 25 years or more, as opposed to tourism, continue to be our leading industries. But I would like to take a moment to speak personally about the kind-hearted people that Bermudians have been known for. We have always been a welcoming people, a generous people but who often times ‘wear our hearts on our sleeve.’ Over the years, we have learned many hard lessons as many of our people have been taken advantage off by outsider investors in addition to the years of racial dissidence on Island. These situations have had a negative impact upon our people’s attitudes, but deep down in their hearts, my people still and ever will remain a kind-hearted, giving people because it’s really a natural part of our DNA.
Regardless of all that we have experienced from outside influences from the U.K., the U.S., the impact of the digital era etc., my people are a strongly religious people. Through all their struggles, Bermuda has the most churches per square mile than any other place on earth. For a small Island of 22 square miles, the Roman Catholic and Seventh-day Adventists are the more dominant denominations while there exists a large segment of the population (about 20%) who do not claim any affiliation. English is the main language however there is also a small segment that speaks Portuguese. Our Bermudian folk are very approachable and they will assist you if you ask. In fact, you may be very surprised how accommodating they are. So if you find yourself lost on the Island, or just needing directions, ask a local.