Caymanians All?

March 1st, 2009
by Alfonso Ebanks

[private] v7-3-Our IslandsOn the 30th of June 1502 Christopher Columbus discovered the island of Bonacco.

He landed and replenished his supply of sweet drinking water from one of the many rivers running down the mountains of this verdant Bay of Honduras island. It was in Bonacco that he became the first European to drink the exotic brew called cacahualt by the natives, a brew now known as chocolate.

Almost a year later, trying to reach Hispaniola from the Isthmus of Panama, Columbus discovered the Cayman Islands. The Great Captain’s expeditionary force had been reduced to 2 caravels, both water-logged, worm-eaten and struggling to sail into the wind. These battered barges were captained by men with little knowledge of local currents, and found themselves far from their plotted course.

Almost all accounts of the Cayman Islands during this era describe turtles and alligators, with never a mention of human inhabitants. But the islands were eventually settled by British subjects knowledgeable in the construction of cisterns and tanks for storing rainwater.

Current-day versions of the history of the Cayman Islands ignore the Island of Bonacco, passing over its role in the growth of the Cayman Islands and vice versa. Yet the two islands have a similar history in that both were used by mostly British pirates and privateers. The Caymans served these pirates as waypoints, ports, and pantries abundant in rich turtle and caiman flesh. Bonnaco served them with drinking water and timber for refitting their vessels. Eventually both islands became colonies of Great Britain.

When turtles on the Caymans were almost extinct, Cayman vessels came to Bonacco for fresh supplies. The only cash crop the Caymanians planted was cotton, which quickly exhausted the limited available topsoil in the Caymans. When the US Civil War ended and southern states resumed full cotton production, plummeting prices forced Caymanian cotton growers out of production. Many former cotton farm masters and freed slaves made Bonacco their home, spearheading a migration of nearly half the Cayman’s population to the Bay Islands.

Long before any kind of development on their islands, Caymanians traded their local thatch rope for any available Bonakian foodstuffs which could survive the return journey. Bananas, plantains and root vegetables were traded, even drinking water in years of little rain in the Caymans.

For many years most older residents of Bonacco were Caymanians by birth. Even after Boancco was turned over to Honduras, Bonakians and Caymanians traveled back and forth without need of visas or permits. Many years ago on a trip to the low land an old lady in West Bay asked me where I was from. I told her I was from Bonacco and she replied “Same dog puppy, we are all one blood son”.

Bonakian names such as KirkConnell, Bodden, McCoy, McClean, Jackson, McLuaghlin, Bennett, Bush and Ebanks ought to be very familiar to Caymanians – indeed the name Ebanks originated in the Caymans. Bonakians of English descent are the only people in the Caribbean that speak Cayman’s English.

But in recent decades much has changed. Younger Caymanians believe themselves to be God’s gift to humanity. They forget the thatch rope days, and no longer distinguish between Spanish speaking Hondurenian and Bonakians. We Bonakians are all Hondurenians, and are kept from our ancestral home with all the legal power the Young Caymanians can muster.

I am one of many living outside the Cayman Islands who descends from John E. Banks, survivor of the Wreck of The Ten Sails. I send regards to all Caymanians from a fourth generation Bonakian/Caymanian. [/private]

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