Examining the written record

  • Drawing the links: the Masquerade Troupes of St Kitts & Nevis and the Cocolo Dance Troupes of the Dominican Republic, as seen above, show clear and undeniable historical connections to our Gombeys

    Drawing the links: the Masquerade Troupes of St Kitts & Nevis and the Cocolo Dance Troupes of the Dominican Republic, as seen above, show clear and undeniable historical connections to our Gombeys


It is amusing when persons attempt to portray themselves as experts on subject matters that suit their particular personal narrative.

Even more amusing is when the written accounts of the actual experts lay to waste the false narratives of the self-described experts. So, today, let us have a read from one of Bermuda’s most recognised historians on the story of black Bermudians.

Historical clarity

In a seminal piece for The Bermudian in 1992, Cyril Packwood traced Bermuda’s ethnic origins from Africa to Bermuda through their capture and trade, and as indentured servants or chattel slaves for more than 200 years.

We are pleased to reproduce this article today.

“It is true that many Bermudian slaves did not come directly from Africa, but from an intermediary destination such as the West Indies. Their ethnic origin, however, was still Africa …”

“Slaves arrived in Bermuda from ships trading in the West Indies, from pirate ships, shipwrecks and directly from Africa.

“Shipowners would often give their sailors an African or an Indian to sell as payment for a successful voyage to the West Indies or Central America.

“Many early slaves had Spanish names because they had been captured by pirates from Spanish ships and taken from islands possessed by Spain.”

“Many African-Bermudians and Indians were imported from the West Indies and Central America during the period 1630-1640; consequently the 1670 report showed that the slave population had tripled.”

“Bermuda published three slave registration record books in 1821, 1830, and 1833. They shed illuminating light on the slave population: numbers, ages, colours, family relationships, occupations, and places of birth.

“All slaves were registered by name, sex, colour, employment, age and country. The vast majority of slaves listed were born in Bermuda. This proved the effectiveness of the various bans on importing slaves.

“Many of the Bermuda-born slaves were in their sixties and seventies. There were slaves listed who were born in Africa, the Bahamas, Madeira, Turks Island and from most of the West Indian islands.”

So let us ask ourselves the following questions:

Is Cyril Packwood recognised locally and internationally as an expert on Bermudian history?

“Packwood received a bachelor’s degree in history from Fisk in 1953 and a Master of Science in library science from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, a year later. He received a second master’s degree, in history, from Hunter College in New York in 1972.”

“He spent most of his professional life in New York. He worked in the New York Public Library system from 1957 to 1968 and from 1968 to 1985, at the Borough of Manhattan Community College Library, where he was supervising librarian.”

“In 1985, he was appointed head librarian of the Bermuda Library, the first black person to hold the position.”

So, if it is indeed accepted that someone is a trained historian, librarian and author of several books on Bermudian history, then common sense will dictate that the person did much research on any given topic that they wrote.

With that being said, it is a continued source of amazement that there are individuals who attempt to deny that Bermudians have undeniable historic known or unknown, familial links to the Caribbean.

Gombeys are Caribbean in origin

Furthermore, it is disrespectful to the highest degree, when these said individuals, attempt to say that our iconic Gombeys have nothing to do with the West Indies.

“The Gombey can be traced back to native Americans (the hatchets bow and arrow, peacock feathers, etc).”

Khalid Wasi

“The Gombeys we see today are a result of talents and traditions passed down through the centuries, with multigenerational troupes connected to a particular parish or family.

There are similar related traditions in the Bahamas, St Kitts and other Caribbean islands ...

The word Gombey is derived from an African word meaning rhythm or drum”

Bermuda.com

Have a look at the dress of the Masquerades in St Kitts or the Cocolo troupes in the Dominican Republic.

“The Cocolo dancing drama tradition developed among descendants of British Caribbean slaves who had come to the Dominican Republic in the mid-nineteenth century to work in the sugar fields.”

One look at these troupes, show the unmistaken similarity in head dress, masks, capes, hatchets, whips and arrows.

How could that have happened over the course of hundreds of years, if the tradition did not arrive from the Caribbean?

Not sure how Khalid Wasi can remotely deny that the majority of black Bermudians pre and post 1834, had origins in the West Indies or that our Bermudian Gombeys originated in the Caribbean. Nevertheless, the words of Cyril Packwood and the beat of the Gombey, dispel his false narratives.

Christopher Famous is the government MP for Devonshire East (Constituency 11). You can reach him on WhatsApp at 599-0901 or e-mail at carib_pro@yahoo.com

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Published Aug 7, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated Aug 7, 2020 at 9:24 am)

Examining the written record

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