Come One, Come All! Show us How You Write
August is Bay Islands Heritage Month. Schools on the islands will organize activities to showcase and promote the cultural diversity and traditions of the people of the Bay Islands and challenge students to learn, explore and understand their rich history and culture.
In keeping with the spirit of the Month, the Bay Islands Voice is organizing an essay competition for students of English on the islands. The winner will be selected in August, and the winning essay will appear in this space in September, together with the author’s photo.
The purpose of the competition is both to encourage Bay Islands students to maintain excellence in written English – the heritage language of most islanders – and to give voice to a new generation of island thinkers and leaders with new ideas about how to improve the quality of life of island residents.
Bay Islands Heritage Month commemorates the abolition of slavery in the British Caribbean through the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, which went into effect in August 1834. The Act freed all slaves in the British Empire, although many were still indentured to their former owners until 1838.
The Abolition Act was a major impetus for the migration of British subjects, both former slaves and former slave masters (or in some cases neither), to the Bay Islands beginning in the 1830s, mostly from the Cayman Islands. These English-speakers soon outnumbered the Garifuna, who had settled on Roatan in 1797 after being expelled from St. Vincent following a failed revolt against the British. By about 1850, historical records indicate most of the approximately 2,000 people living on the Bay Islands were British subjects, and most of them were former slaves.
Although Queen Victoria’s government formally relinquished all claims to the Bay Islands in 1860, making them indisputably part of Spanish-speaking Honduras, most Bay Islanders retained their English-speaking identity into modern times.
In the 20th century, Honduras implemented a policy of castellanización, which required that only Spanish be taught in the public schools. Generations of Bay Islands students were obliged to study after hours in private homes from the Royal Reader to retain their English-speaking heritage. The current Honduran Constitution, adopted in 1982, commits the government to promote the use of Spanish.
But in the 1990s, prompted by the adoption of the 1989 Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (ILO 169), the Honduran Government began to officially acknowledge and appreciate the linguistic and cultural heritage of its indigenous and afro-descended minorities. English-speaking Bay Islanders were officially recognized as an indigenous group for purposes of the convention, and a 1997 law stated they were entitled to instruction in their native language.
However, 16 years later, making that “entitlement” a reality remains a challenge. Although there are bilingual programs now in Bay Islands public schools, most public school teachers come from the mainland and speak only Spanish.
More importantly, there is little indication that the powers that be on the mainland appreciate the potential value in today’s global economy of having an English-speaking enclave 30 miles off their coast. Other countries are investing heavily to teach English to their students so they can participate in the burgeoning global information and services economy, where English is paramount. Honduras already has a group of English speakers. It just doesn’t want to acknowledge them.
The Voice Essay Competition is an inducement for English-speaking island students to persevere despite those impediments to maintain high standards in the language of their forebears.
Essays, to be submitted in English, should be 750 to 1,000 words and address the topic: “What I would do to improve the quality of life for the people of the Bay Islands.” Essays will be judged on the basis of proper English grammar and style, structure, persuasive power, logic, originality, the compellingness of the ideas presented, the passion with which they are argued and their relevance to the current reality of the Bay Islands.
A panel of three judges, chaired by the Publisher of the Voice, will evaluate the submissions and select the winner.
To be eligible, essay writers must be enrolled in a public or private school on the Bay Islands in grade six or higher or have graduated within the past year and must have studied at least five years in Bay Islands schools. Essays must be the original work of the entrants. Entrants may seek advice and comment from friends, family, teachers or mentors, but any substantial reworking of the essay must be the work of the entrant. Essays found to be in whole or in substantial part not the original work of the entrant will be disqualified.
Essays should be submitted by email to firstname.lastname@example.org on or before August 9. The winner will be notified by August 21.
Good luck! And may the most articulate voice win.