The buck's gotta stop somewhere

Yes, I'm still on the topic of tourism and culture.

The reason I'm so antsy about this, Idébu (you would say passionate, and you did, and why do you have to have that pesky accent aigu in the middle of your name?) is that there is a prevailing thought Out There that tourism destroys people's cultures. It's a very old thought. It's one of the reasons that our Caribbean neighbours chose in the beginning to reject the tourist industry as a major force for their development, and it was drummed into our heads all throughout school when I was coming up. Tourism is bad for a country because it destroys the culture and turns citizens into servants. Marion Bethel, the Bahamian poet, has even written a poem about it.

But I have always fought that idea. Since they first told me that tourism destroys countries and economies and citizens, I've disagreed. Because in The Bahamas, while tourism did bring several ills, it also brought many good things too; it gave Bahamians access to cash money when all they had was credit in white people's stores; it created infrastructure when there was none, it turned our major festival, Junkanoo, into a parade with pretty costumes rather than a parade with scary costumes, and it educated many people's children.

Now I am Going Back here. The Bahamas is a global pioneer in the tourist industry; tourism in our country is almost 200 years old. Together with the Mediterranean and (strange to say) Switzerland, The Bahamas has one of the few societies whose people have been making money off the tourist dollar for far longer than the industry has had a name.

As that is the case, it is impossible to separate tourism and tourists from the Bahamian self. We have been offering hospitality not only long before we knew ourselves, but literally since the abolition of slavery. Europeans were visiting Nassau for their health and for the winter since the 1830s, and Bahamians were offering them tours of New Providence since then. Tourism on a bigger scale started in 1860 when the Royal Victoria Hotel was built, the pride of the nation, and provided Bahamian musicians and artists with a place to go and make their performances happen. Of course many of the sights have changed -- we don't have the Mermaid Lake anymore, where phosphorescence would light up the wake of the boat and the trails of the oars, and the Blue Hills are being cut down for construction purposes, and many of the homes in which those tourists stayed have been demolished or disfigured, and the Royal Victoria, that architectural wonder, burned to the ground twenty years ago. But the forts are still there, and so are the Botanical Gardens, which were opened in part to provide tourists with a sense of Bahamian flora and fauna.

Tourism even helped fund the Bahamian civil rights movement. That was in the 1950s, during the post-war nightclub era, when tourism created Bahamian performers of world class status. Freddie Munnings' Cat and the Fiddle was a meeting place not only for Bahamian civil rights activists, but for the Americans as well; through Sidney Poitier, Andrew Jackson and Martin Luther King and others met with Lynden Pindling and the pioneers of Majority Rule within the confines of that club. And the fact that Freddie Munnings was independently wealthy -- one of the richest Black Bahamians at that time -- enabled him to help fund the fight for the abolition of the colour bar that prohibited Black Bahamians from entering selected establishments.

And tourism reinstated Junkanoo and made it an arena which was right for the developments dreamed about by men like Gus Cooper and Percy Francis and Brian Gibson and Phil Cooper and Winston Rolle and others.So why is tourism now the reason that all of the above are compromised, stymied, or dead?