The Island Reader
The Books that are the Islands’ Literature and form the Backbone of the Island Culture

July 1st, 2009
by Thomas Tomczyk

[private] Literature about the Bay Islands has been trickling down to us for over a century. The archipelago inspires researchers to conduct studies and analysis, locals to write introspective stories, and expats to act on their writing bug.

While much of the population of the Bay Islands is semi-literate and rarely reads anything other than the Bible or La Prensa, the literature about the islands will continue to shape the cultural identity of islanders for generations to come.

Over the last six years we have comprised a library of books about the Bay Islands and wanted to share our golden nuggets. Many of these books can be found through online bookstores, some at the few local booksellers, several are extremely hard to find.

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“Through the Eyes of Diplomats” – History of the Bay Islands 1858-1895.
A collection of letters of Honduran officials and US diplomats. The letters give an inside look at the transition of the Bay Islands from being a British Colony to a Honduran Department. Accounts of physical description of the islands, strategies at protecting American interests in Bay Islands and looking after citizen rights, comments on political developments in Honduras.

“Great Shipwrecks and Castaways: Authentic Accounts of Disasters at Sea” by Charles Neider gives Philip Ashton’s account of his 18 month stay on Roatan when he escaped from the psychotic Pirate Captain Ned Low.

“Historical Geography of the Bay Islands, Honduras” by William Davidson is the only book about the archipelago that had two printings. The book’s subtitle tells of an undertone that has continued on the Bay Islands since 1600s: “Anglo-Hispanic Conflict in the Western Caribbean.” The author has written a reference guide of knowledge for anyone living in the Bay Islands. It is a fundamental source of understanding the history and context of the Bay Islands. An excellent bibliography and index.

“The Bay Islands or The Gentle Art of Cutting the Painter” by Michael Duncan is an excellent study of the Bay Islands’ history in the early 1800s – its most volatile time of population transfers and political arguing between Honduras, Great Britain and United States. The thin, 20 page work, full of facts and historical research, was published by University of Warwick’s Center for Caribbean Studies.

“The Other Side of Paradise: Tourism, Conservation, and Development in the Bay Islands” by Susan Stonich, Ph.D. is a critical analysis of Bay Island society at a crossroads. It is not meant to be an easy read, but a social science research work. It continues where Davidson left off. The book captures Bay Islands at an early crossroads in its development. Stonich came to the Bay Islands in 1980 and continued her research for about 10 years, using “a political ecology perspective to examine the linkages between tourism development, local conflict, and environmental conservation initiatives.” The book, published in 2000, includes excellent charts and land use studies. Many of the Bay Islands people’s names have been substituted, yet a careful reader will have no difficulty in identifying the characters.

“Loss of Innocence” by Carolyn Olsen Ph.D., is an ethnographical study of Sandy Bay, Roatan. There are several interviews with elders, environmental portraits and diagrams of community settlement. In a work that became her Ph.D. dissertation Olsen documents the 1980s, and the time of Sandy Bay transitioning from a fishing community to a tourist destination.

“The First Bay Islands English Grammar Work Manual” by Artly Brooks is a homegrown effort at creating a school textbook to introduce the basics of Bay Islands history, culture and geography. The textbook is intended for children seven through ten.

“Diving and Snorkeling Honduras’ Bay Islands” is the book that is most widely printed about the archipelago.

v7-7-Feature-Bay Islands Books“Judas Bird” is a nearly 1000 page historical novel by David K. Evans offers something for everyone: intrigue, action, pirates, romance, comedy, mystery, history, anthropology, good guys, bad guys, even socio-economic theory. Todd, an American ex-Peace Corps volunteer returns to the Island because he’s bored with the work he’s chosen. Colleen, the beautiful young heroine, comes from Scotland and is on Roatan because she has inherited a lovely mountain top estate on this far away island, a place she has never heard of before. Charles Tegget, a land thief with a irritable smile, is the novel’s antihero. Todd and Colleen arrive on Roatan just in time to get caught up in Tegget’s latest scheme, an attempt to steal a beautiful beach property from the family who has owned it for over 150 years. (based on Moragh Orr Montoya) David K. Evans, Ph.D. has written other books about the Bay Islands. A very useful research tool is his 1995 “Bay Islands Sourcebook,” a working annotated bibliography of maps and books referring to the Bay Islands from 1502 until 1995. From the reference of Columbus to Guanaja in his fourth voyage, to unpublished dissertations, maps, this is an excellent and fundamental source for Bay Islands’ in-depth researchers. “Red at Dawn,” is Evans’ newest novel loosely following the adventures of Phillip Ashton, a skipper whose accounts were published in the “Great Shipwrecks and Castaways.”

“Utila: Past and Present” by Richard H. Rose in 1904 is the oldest work of literature about the Bay Islands. Delightful photos of presidential visits, religious growth of Wesleyan Methodists and Seventh Day Adventists, small pox epidemic and even murders. Accompanied by wonderful XIX century photographs the book comprises a snapshot in history of Utila.

“And the Sea Shall Hide Them” by William Jackson, an Utilan living in US, is a fabulous example of island literature. Utilans have a tradition of being particularly eloquent and William Jackson continues in that tradition.

“Roatan Odyssey” a well written autobiographical account by Anne Jennings Brown. The captivating book describes the east end of Roatan in 1960s and 1970s. Brown has created a book equivalent of Herman Wouk’s “Don’t Stop the Carnival.”

“Blue Blaze” by Jane Harvey Houlson is a personal account of a young woman’s travels to Bay Islands of the 1930s. She was a long time assistant of Frederick Mitchell-Hedges, an English adventurer, traveler, and writer whom she called her “Chief” and dedicated her book to. Published in 1934, the book offers a glance at fishing, exploring caves and Paya artifacts on Helene, Barbaratt and Morat islands.

“A Gringa in Guanaja” by Sharon Lee Collins follows in Houlson’s footsteps and offers yet another autobiography of a American woman who settles on Guanaja. The book fuses fact and fiction in a lively account of life on the island.

“Wee Speak” by Candace Wells Hammond, an American resident on Roatan, is a wonderful effort at overcoming the language barrier between cultures and bridge linguistic barriers. The Book includes several island recipes and short stories.

“The Bay Islands of Honduras” is by far the best coffee table book about the Bay Islands. The book was edited by Alexandra Lytton Regalado, and with excellent photographs by Federico Trujillo, Andrea Vallerani, Cesar Rodas. Part of the profits from the sale of this bilingual book went to the now-closed Doc Polo Galindo Clinic in Punta Gorda. Full page color photographs taken in 2001 now serve as documents of how the islands were transformed in the last several years. The work is full of wonderful portraits of island characters: fishermen, storekeepers, expats, children. A photo essay about making of cassava bread, aerial photographs and even a guide of best dive sites with descriptions is included. Excellent printing, layout and hard cover binding.

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