“The English-speaking African with inside this country still don’t know who he is,” says Clive Ebanks while sipping a cup of sage tea and listening to Ehtiopian music at his plastic kitchen table in Gravel Bay, Roatan. “Eventually we gonna lost the language. We gonna lost the culture and everything else. Then we gonna be forced to be something that anybody tell us to be, and that’s not gonna work.”
Ebanks has turned his home, which is walking distance from the Coxen Hole cruise ship dock, into a sort of living museum of what he calls “the hidden community of the Caribbean” – the English-speaking Afro-Antilleans of the Bay Islands.
“These are the people that came out of East Africa,” he says, in contrast to the Garifuna, who he says trace their roots to West Africa. “We were the people that fought along with the British and Paya against the Spanish … I think it’s one of the most unique history and culture there is with inside the Caribbean.”
Ebanks’s primary goal is to “educate our people to who we really are, where we came from and where we going.” But he also invites visitors from off-island to “see and hear about this.”
There is no entry fee, but he welcomes donations.
The simple concrete structure is surrounded by gardens filled with fruit trees and various herbs and plants islanders have traditionally used for sustenance and medicine – plants like lion of the forest, flor de Jamaica and mother-in-Law’s tongue. He also has an old-fashioned outdoor kitchen with mud stove, a collection of Paya artifacts he has found on the property and a traditional thatched hut where guests can sit and “enjoy a cup of tea … enjoy the fruits and stuff … enjoy yourself a good coconut water … enjoy a good piece of coconut bread” and have a conversation.
“I don’t want a business,” Ebanks said. “I don’t want … no half-naked people runnin’ all over my land just for two dollars to go brag and boast about something that ain’t gonna be no good to me and I don’t dig, but enlighten those minds that is out there sleepin’ … That’s what I wanna do.”
Ebanks is the brother of Roatan’s new mayor, Dorn Ebanks, and he ran unsuccessfully for deputy mayor himself in 2008. But he said he became jaded on politics “after sittin’ down with these guys in Tegucigalpa … showing me their car and their money. I don’t see nothin’ in their mind and in their heart.”
After leaving politics, Ebanks turned to religion, in particular the teachings of Emmanuel Charles Edwards VII, founder of the Bobo Shanti Order of the Rastafari movement, which is based on ancient Ethiopian tradition. Ebanks considers him “the Black Christ in the flesh.” He sees former Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie as a God and believes the “Black Nation” is the “12th tribe of Israel.”
Ebanks is careful to distance himself from popular stereotypes of rastafari culture, however.
“Most of these Rastafarians that comes out with this dreded-looking hair and smokin’ weed, dancin’ reggae and sayin’ ‘Rastafari,’ he’s just a lost man somewhere along the way … wolf in sheep clothin’.”
For his part, Ebanks says he wears his hair according to Numbers Chapter VI, consumes cannabis only in tea form and doesn’t even listen to reggae. “I’m far away from reggae.”
For a time Ebanks was involved with the Bay Islands Culture Village, across the road from the airport. He now wants to affiliate his home museum with the Ethiopian African International Congress and obtain funding to build a “Jerusalem School” and community center on the premises.
“Ethiopia has stretched forth again her hand for us,” he said.
Ebanks plans to spend nine years spreading the message here on the Bay Islands, then emigrate with his family to Ethiopia, which he calls the “cradle of civilization and cradle of Christianity.”
“What I want to do here,” Ebanks said, is “purify the spirit of somebody that feels like he’s lettin’ it go. … Don’t wait to see your casket going down the road like that life will just end for you when you leave this … you forever livin’… That is the teaching that I got from His Majesty – Live!”