Academic journal article Journal of Caribbean Literatures

B' Rabby as a "True-True Bahamian": Rabbyism as Bahamian Ethos and World View in the Bahamas' Folk Tradition and the Works of Strachan and Glinton-Meicholas

Academic journal article Journal of Caribbean Literatures

B' Rabby as a "True-True Bahamian": Rabbyism as Bahamian Ethos and World View in the Bahamas' Folk Tradition and the Works of Strachan and Glinton-Meicholas

Article excerpt

Introduction

Almost everyone who has visited the Bahamas will tell you the same thing about my people; Bahamians are very friendly, open and honest, always smiling and eager to please. Indeed, all of the travel guides depict Bahamians, to one degree or another, as being amongst the most beautiful people of earth. In the Pelican Guide to the Bahamas, for instance, we are described as a "generally gregarious, inquisitive and delightfully friendly people" (Moore 42). Similarly, Bahamas for Dummies calls Bahamians "some of the most personable people around," adding the caveat, "as long as visitors treat them with respect" (Derrick 337). Even the Lonely Planet whose accounts and advice are typically the most nuanced of the popular guides suggests that in the urban centers "you'll meet dozens of genuinely charming people with a friendliness that never pales" for every "wisecracking tough [that you meet] wanting to separate you from your money" (Baker 57-8). It also describes Bahamians who live on the family islands as "unspoiled by city life" and "friendliness personified, displaying a gentle wisdom and ever-present caring for other people" (58). From the guides you get a clear sense that if the Bahamas is paradise--and each guide offers reason after reason why the typical visitor might honestly believe that this nation of islands is at least a close approximation of Eden--then Bahamians, it seems, are precisely the sort of people that you'd expect to find there: gregarious, personable, genuinely charming, friendliness personified. (2)

The Bahamas, however, is not quite paradise, and there are some untoward, if often below the surface, aspects of Bahamian culture (barely hinted at in the travel guides). (3) For instance, we are a little bit too willing to ignore rules that don't quite suit us. Think of our blatant disregard of copyright law. Pirated copies of recently released DVDs and CDs are often easier to find in local stores than legitimate, factory-packaged releases. Think of our sometimes relaxed attitudes to our marriage vows. Serial adultery, which is euphemistically called "sweethearting," is something of a national pastime. What's worse, we're a little bit too accepting of corruption. In the 1980s, for instance, our political leaders were accused of all sorts of corruption, from accepting kickbacks to facilitating the trade of illicit drugs, yet the government of the day was not called to account nor did they face any real penalty at the polls; the Pindling administration was re-elected twice during that era by overwhelming margins. The gregarious, genuinely charming, caring Bahamians have an alter-ego. Our cultural system is far more complex than the brochure discourse about our nation of islands suggests.

Geertz has explained that a cultural system has both a particular ethos and a definite world view. As he describes,

   a people's ethos is the tone, character, and quality of their life,
   its moral and aesthetic style and mood; it is the underlying
   attitude toward themselves and their world that life reflects.
   Their world view is their picture of the way things in sheer
   actuality are, their concept of nature, of self, of society. It
   contains their most comprehensive ideas of order. (127)

According to Geertz, there is a definite, symbiotic relationship between the values that a people hold, their morality, their notion of how people should behave and their beliefs about how the world really works. The ethos is "intellectually reasonable" to the extent that it represents "a way of life implied by the actual state of affairs which the world view describes" (127). Likewise, the worldview is only "emotionally acceptable" to the degree to which its "image" of the "actual state of affairs" represents "an authentic expression" of the "way of life" required by a people's ethos.

Religion, Geertz explains, is one arena where this play of ethos and world view occurs: "religious belief and ritual confront and mutually confirm one another . …

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