Grand Bahama in 1917
Around the Residency on Eight Mile Rock there is a constant stream of
"visitors." Sometimes it is Aunt Celia, sometimes Siva's mother,
or Dolly's children, or Papa Hanna, or people for ac rust of bread and
butter, for a cupful of hominy ("grits") or for permission to
gather guavas, herbs, weeds,coconuts ... occasionally someone brings the
Commissioner a live fowl, for a present, and gets some old garments in
And when it enters one head to do any of these things it will be followed
by dozens of othersfor these people think in herds ... so one week
may see a stream of people offering chickens or eggs, after which you
may go for a month and not see a chicken or an egg ... and so on.
In the midst of the throng one grizzled, half-white, old man in rags
does not attract much attention.
Such an old man was Josiah Anthem and his repeated visits in which he
mumbled something about a "basket" or a "batstead"
which was like "Nuttin ever made on dis island." didn't seem
very interesting. One evening, however, after heavy rain, when I had to
take my shoes and stockings off to wade down the road to the little white
church, where the blaze of orange and lemon sunset was thrilling behind
the palmetto trees, and the little white waves washed over the reef where
the crabs scurried into the coral crevices, Anthem stopped me politely
and spoke again of his "bashted". (He evidently do not know
the real word at all!)
So I went with him to see it. He led me to a swamp, in the deeper parts
of which naked young/ negroes were swimming and diving, behind the sea-grape
bushes. But a man dressed in white sat smoking under a shelter of palm
thatch! He had been to Florida.
Anthem went before me, gallantly taking down the wall as he went to
lay its grey rocks in the path for me to step over.
"Dis my place," he said, and "Dis my pig," as we came
upon a black creature of that ilk. A buxom girl in pink strayed among
"Dis my daughter," he proclaimed and, as we came to a rocky
pathway strewn with white sand,
"Dis my house," he said with pardonable pride. It was carved
all over, and the reddish-brown paint, blended with the white and the
olive-green on the doors and shutters, might have been chosen by any artist.
It was "right."
"Dis my wife, Miss Anthem."
An old negress with a yellow and blue bandana round her head, gold earrings
in her ears and a palm hat on top of all, held out a bony hand and welcomed
me with courtesy.
Inside, the tiny house was carved and the old lady's bedstead was painted
periwinkle blue, with a design of red and white at the head and foot:
a patchwork quilt (very clean) completed the room. In the living-room
each wall had a carved square set on points, in which two hearts were
engraved and various family marks arranged underneath.
A crowd of little darky children of both sexes and all ages were about
the placegrandchildren; and the daughter murmured; /
"Not ebreybody can't paint nor carve same's my fader," while
the old lady nodding her head kept on repeating:
"No ma'am not ebreybody can't do it."
Then the old man brought out the chief labour of his hands, piece by piece.
"But how can I sell it when nobody never comes to see?"
That certainly was a problem. No two pieces of the carving were alike
... he had not repeated his design anywhere. Every one of the partitions
was of the "right" proportion and in the "right" place,
and as he stood admiring it, Anthem said quietly: I could do better'n
dat." Already he was thinking out his next work of art!
Slowly it was impressed upon his mind that if he put the carved bedstead
upon a sponging vessel and sent it across to Nassau in the fashionable
season he might sell it and even get an order for another.
"If God gives life I will do dat," he announced slowly.
"If God gives life," echoed the old lady.
And they sent their children to speed the departing guest and lead her,
in the brilliant moonlight, across the pools of rain-water.
* * * * * * * *
* * *
"Shall the dust praise Thee?" PSALM
One shining day a month or two later, a man met me in Bay Street; he
held out a piece of paper on which was written "Miss Defries, Nassau,"
and he said:/
"Dis you, ma'am?"
For a moment I could not think what it meant, and they I rememberedAnthem,
who had been ten days and ten nights at sea, in such a gale that two anchors
could not hold them, with thirty-five souls on board, and the vessel not
much over thirty feet long.
God had given life!
And the carver had found me.
We were doomed to disappointment, for when we landed the bed, to my surprise,
everybody I showed it to seemed to expect it to be like the deep carving
of olden days, and my interest in it they could not comprehend.
They had not seen the desolation of Grand Bahama, nor the squalor of the
homes, and so to them it did not seem wonderful,as it did to me, that
one man alone in all that place, should try to create beauty, unconsciously
fulfilling a song of Whittier's, which ends
"In Labour as in Prayer fulfilling the same Law."
In olden days the whole community belied in this, and everybody made
and patronised fine workmanship; but never had it occurred to me that
anyone would expect this isolated survivalspiritually impoverished
and without precedent or supportwithout even tools to produce workmanship
like that of old, when workers made beautyas the beaver fells the
tree or the spider spins the webby second nature.
"Savages," I was told, "can carve better than this man
does"which was true, of course. But the pathos of this man
and his carved bedstead can/ perhaps, only be clear to those who have
read Masefiled's "Dauber" and understand the tragedy in that.
Savages, you see, are a community of craftsmen, following leisurely, as
a part of their daily life, the inherited tradition of countless centuries,
which white men ruthlessly break.
Anthem was like a rent and tattered sail after a storm.
Yet his children might recover what still must remain in their bloodand
if there was a revival of craftsmanship on these islands (as in England)
much good (moral and commercial) might result, But the people must not
be expected to produce things of an English or American character: they
must follow their own bent after having been initiated by someone who
has studied craftsmanship and ethnology.
Anthem's bed is still for sale, in Nassau, though he has returned to
It will last good for thirty years, whereas cheap machine-made
imported furniture soon goes to sawdust in the tropics.
Yet, curiously enough, people think the latter has "intrinsic"
Whereas, really, all value is relative.
I value Anthem's bed, not only because it will last, but also because
he is the only man out of the whole population to attempt to make for
himself something better that he or his community had ever seen before.
His pride in it was wonderful! And he said it was meant for the mother
and father ad all the children to sleep in: "A family bed,"
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