Evans On Evans

July 1st, 2005
by Thomas Tomczyk

[private] v3-7-Interview-Dr. David Evans Born in 1933 in Portsmouth, Virginia, Dr. Evans received his B.S. degree in Geology from Tulane University. He spent several years in the military and eventually started his graduate UC Berkley program at 28.

Dr. David K. Evans first came to Roatan in June of 1961. On his way to Nicaragua’s Corn Islands, it was by chance that he landed on the Honduran coast and met Walter McNab, a young boat captain from French Harbour. “When I got off a mail boat in Coxen Hole there were no roads, no electric lights, no vehicles and no tourists,” said Dr. Evans.

Dr. Evans was looking for a place to do his doctoral thesis in Anthropology and it was the village of French Harbour that caught his imagination. Evans spent several months in what was then a quiet fishing village conducting his research.

Dr. Evans received his doctorate in 1966 and joined the ranks of Wake Forrest University academics, where he taught for 32 years. For 14 years Dr. Evans studied nutrition and hypertension on Saba in the Dutch Antilles and researched these issues among the Roatan natives.

In 1967 he formed the Overseas Research Center, a program that brought hundreds of High School and University students from all around the US to do research and conduct studies not only on Roatan, but in Costa Rica, Norway and Scotland.

Even though retired, once a year Dr. Evans still brings a group of students to his Roatan research station in First Bight and plans to run the center at least for another three years. His possible replacement to run the program is a Wake Forrest University professor, Dr. Margaret Bender, an anthropologist specializing in linguistics and folklore. “Academically there have not been a lot of people here. A geographer [William Davidson] came here and wrote a book. Marine scientists and geologists came,” said Dr. Evans.

In 2004 Dr. Evans published a first work of fiction related to Roatan: the almost 1,000 page historical novel “The Judas Bird.” He is now working on another novel.

Bay Islands VOICE: Is “The Judas Bird” your first novel?
Dr. David Evans: It’s not my first book, but my first novel. Unfortunately has a lot of computer typos, but it is selling well and I am pleased. (…) I wanted to talk about some of the problems I saw on the island and not get personal. I wanted to start in the present, 1995, but I wanted to use a mechanism of flashing back to XVI and XVII century to work in the history of the island. The book I am working on now is called “Red at Dawn,” and it takes place on the island between 1722 and 1725; mostly around Port Royal. The next book I am thinking about is from a perspective of the aboriginals at the time of meeting Columbus in 1502 and slavery times in the XVI and XVII centuries.
B.I.V.: So you are evolving from an academic and researcher into a novelist.
Dr. D.E.: I don’t know if I want to call this an evolution. That’s what I wanted to do when I got out of the Navy. I went to Europe to become a writer. But I met a young German girl and decided to go to graduate school. So I’ve gone thru 38 years of academic life before I had the time to really write.
B.I.V.: So you are catching-up, making-up for lost time.
Dr. D.E.: Yes, I’m catching up to something I didn’t make time to really do.
B.I.V.: Should there be a bigger effort at trying to preserve the history, culture of the island?
Dr. D.E.: That was one other reason for writing the book, too. I felt if I didn’t get this down… well, I am not the youngest person in the world. What I would like to see is little museums in all these villages. They could be used as tourist attractions, but they also could be used for schools and reminding the kids where this all came from. (…) It’s a cultural chasm, a cultural abyss. The younger people don’t know anything but cars and televisions, they never thought about what their fathers did.
B.I.V.: How does the island evolution make you feel?
Dr. D.E.: I watched the island change and some of it is painful to watch. So it’s been a mixed bag that way. (…) Some people, gringos that lived here for five years continually, feel that they know far more than I do. They do if they are talking about individual changes, but I am looking at a broader canvas. I’ve seen the changes occur and tried to record them. (…) I’m not an islander, but I am probably as close to being an islander as you can be
B.I.V.: What are your greatest concerns with how the island is growing?
Dr. D.E.: I have the great-grand-son of one of my characters in the novel [The Judas Bird] reflect on this. Before you had your sisters land that could be passed through the family and now it is all being sold and stolen. (…) And many of the people that are doing the land robbing are islanders themselves and relatives that are getting land that should have not come to them in the first place. This was a problem in Key West, in many places. On islands there is only so much land. I also don’t know where the islanders are going to live. AIDS is a big problem and maybe that will reduce the number of population. We are also going to have problems with water. The aquifers can only handle so much. (…) I’ve heard from too many very, very reliable people that a cruise ship [at Roatan harbor] was taking [local] water… something like 45,000 gallons at a time. Of course that’s lowering the aquifer too fast and it will fill with brackish water and salt. And once it’s ruined, it is ruined for all time.
B.I.V.: What do you think the islands will become like.
Dr. D.E.: There is a Greek saying: ‘If you want to make gods laugh tell them your plans for the future.’ I just can’t imagine what this place will be like in 20 years. Surely it is going to be more Hispanicized than it is now. I won’t be here to see it, that’s all I know.
B.I.V.: Why were you attracted to this part of the Caribbean?
Dr. D.E.: I don’t know. I spent a lot of time in the Navy in the South Pacific on a number of islands. But islands and mountains are where I’ve been drawn to all my life. I guess I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about a lot of things, haven’t thought much about my own psyche. It’s probably not possible to work out what draws me here. I like it. I often have to ask myself when I get really disgusted with everything, when nothing is working: ‘Why I keep coming back.” But, I do. I’m like the swallows, I suppose.
B.I.V.: Any regrets about something you wanted to do, but didn’t.
Dr. D.E.: I always wanted to build on our property a functioning school to teach kids trades: plumbing, electrical work. Because when they go away to school they all go into hotel management. And there is a lot more to living than taking care of tourists. Maybe my daughter will do this. [/private]

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