EDITOR, The Tribune.
HERITAGE, def: “features belonging to the culture of a particular society, such as traditions, languages, or buildings, which come from the past and are still important.” (Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary)
Behhh. Mehhh. Goats bleat as they tumble out of an abandoned blue Jeep Cherokee and amble out of the roofless garage at the sound of the approaching truck. Not one or two, but perhaps a dozen of all shapes and sizes. The smell hits me as I exit the air-conditioned cab — an odour heightened by the wet from the rain. Goat urine and excrement. Pellets squish beneath my feet as I walk towards the animals. All edible vegetation has been devoured. Their smell. Their annoyed bleats. Decimated plants. Horns. Beards. Quite the sight.
Indeed, it is quite the ght. The goats have a spectacular hilltop ocean view. Do they care? Do they contemplate? Watch the sun rise? set? Do they know that are they the sole tenants of a more than 200-year-old historic site? Perhaps historic is the wrong word for, at the intersection of the driveway and the Queen’s Highway, the sign reads “Bahamas Heritage Site”. The round blue aluminum marker also has an outline map of Great and Little Exuma, below which reads “Exuma”.
Three other rust-stained, faded signs below get progressively harder to read: Tombs. The Hermitage Estate. An arrow pointing up the dirt driveway. On the ground below the signs, two plastic containers — one large and blue; the other, a white five gallon paint pail — together with empty bottles, wrappers, and other litter. Welcome to the island’s preeminent heritage site.
One hundred or so yards away from the signs, on the crest of a low ridge, is The Hermitage, rather the ruins of The Hermitage. The remnants of a failed Loyalist endeavor: a short lived cotton plantation carved out of inhospitable land by a family desperate to maintain ties to a British Empire of the late 1700s and a heinous Southern colonial lifestyle built on the backs of enslaved humans.
Given this, it is perhaps fitting that the only vestige of the “great house” is a ruin whose rafters and lathing are crowned by an enormous termite mound.
A crumbling edifice of a bygone era, now commandeered by goats. Goats perhaps owned by descendants of former slaves or masters/mistresses and their white handymen? Perhaps descendants of both, of miscegenation? How appropriate. Or not.
This is not the place to debate whether or not the remains of a slave owner’s house should be preserved.
There are strong arguments for and against such preservation, arguments whose merits depend on how well the story is told, interpreted — how honestly, unambiguously, objectively.
Rather, on this windy, rainy day, the question is: If The Hermitage is designated a “Bahamas Heritage Site,” shouldn’t it reflect the heritage of our country?
Is our heritage appropriately represented by a long abandoned, decaying building, overrun by goats, and surrounded by garbage — automobiles, a freezer, and other evidence of human assault on the environment. If this scene is truly representative of Bahamian heritage, so be it and shame on us. If it isn’t, then let’s not pretend that The Hermitage is a “Bahamas Heritage Site”.
At a minimum, remove the faded sign that, however dimly, reads “The Hermitage Estate.” If there needs to be a sign for the building, perhaps it should read “The Hermitage Ruins. Abandoned by humans during the late 1900s. Currently inhabited by goats, providing quaint pictures to share back home. Breathtaking views.”
Goats, ruins, trash. Ironic isn’t it, particularly as, in a wide range of cultures, goats have been viewed as symbols of vitality, creativity, perfectionism, energy, leadership, and so on.
December 12, 2017.