Much more than the Bermuda Triangle

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Living on the island of Bermuda Niroshan Fernando brings forth Bermuda – a descriptive journey into an island unfamiliar to many. Even though the Bermuda Triangle is well known within the world, only a handful is familiar with the island of Bermuda. Using the firsthand experience of living and working on the island of Bermuda, Fernando portrays the cultural aspects combined with the socio-political background of Bermuda.

Many assume that Bermuda is part of the Caribbean islands. However, Bermuda is an island in the North Atlantic. Its 700 miles north of the Bahamas and the Caribbean, and only 600 miles or so off the Eastern coast of the USA, and is Britain’s oldest British Overseas Territory. It’s administered independently as a country.

Bermuda is a cluster of mostly-interconnected small islands and is a vacation destination that has become a second-home for many on the East coast of North America. This British Overseas Territory was formerly known as the ‘Isle of Devils.’ The island is also known as the northeastern point of the mysterious Bermuda Triangle. The archipelago is a group of limestone islands atop of a flat, extinct submarine volcano, which rises more than 4,300 m (14,000 ft) from the ocean floor. Bermuda consists of the main island Bermuda (or Main Island), some adjacent islands, and about 170 plus small coral islands and islets in the North Atlantic Ocean.

Bermuda has a population of 64,000 people (in 2020). The capital is Hamilton; the largest town is St. George’s. The British island territory has a diverse population, 54 per cent are black, 31 per cent are white, 8 per cent are multiracial, 4 per cent are Asian, and 4 per cent are from other races. The predominant language on Bermuda is Bermudian English.

Fernando explores the history of Bermuda with rich descriptions. Some five hundred years ago, Spanish explorer Juan de Bermudez discovered the isolated archipelago, but he did not attempt to land. Bermuda was first settled in 1609 by shipwrecked English colonists heading for Virginia. In 1620 Bermuda became a self-governing British colony. Today Bermuda is a diversified community consisting of numerous nationalities and ethnic groups, about 54 per cent of Bermudians are of African descent. Bermuda has developed into a highly successful offshore financial centre and has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world; the economy is based primarily upon international business and tourism.

Bermuda is a Parliamentary self-governing overseas territory of the United Kingdom. Bermuda’s legal system is based on English common law. Queen Elizabeth II is head of State and is represented in Bermuda by a governor, whom she appoints. The head of Government is the Premier of Bermuda.

Bermuda architecture today refers to the style, not the construction as Fernando depicts in Bermuda. It follows closely the style often referred to as British Colonial, found throughout the Caribbean (800 miles to the south). Then, much of the construction was local, including limestone (instead of concrete block), all roof slates, and native cedar wood. Nowadays, all construction workers in Bermuda must by law be Bermudian, and concrete block and some of the roof slate they use is made locally. Nevertheless, practically everything else such as wood timbers and tools they use is imported. Native cedar wood, which once supplied roof slates, structural supports and an impressive range of locally made heavy and light furniture, is now both rare and expensive.

Bermuda architecture began as English stone architecture of the mid-17th century, modified to suit local environmental or building conditions and is known as UK colonial architecture. It is basically the same kind used in the Bahamas and other Caribbean islands too. When the use of Bermuda limestone was the main ingredient, local homes large and small had some uniqueness. Now that Bermuda limestone is no longer used, much of the uniqueness has gone. 

Smaller, older, private dwelling homes are basically English cottages, built by the original settlers and adapted to the specific and unique conditions existing in Bermuda.  Larger Bermuda homes, including many properties that are now hotels are also mostly English in architecture, more in the line of mansions instead of cottages. Local Legislation protects 800 historically important buildings built of Bermuda stone from 1619. There are many handsome examples of stately 17th and 18th century homes.

The archipelago of Bermuda has a very mild climate due to the influence of the Gulf Stream, but it is not a tropical paradise, at least in winter. Annual precipitation is quite abundant, being around 1,400 millimetres (55 inches). The rains are fairly evenly distributed over the seasons, since the flow of weather fronts which occur in winter is replaced by the tropical rains of the summer months. Anyway, the least rainy months are April and May, while the rainiest month is October.

Sometimes, the archipelago can be hit by hurricanes. The hurricane season runs from June to November, although they are more likely from August to October. Since the ocean at this latitude is not as warm as the Gulf of Mexico, hurricanes do not generally hit Bermuda at the peak of their violence, however, they can still bring strong winds and heavy rains. Some hurricanes that hit Bermuda with considerable intensity were the Hurricane of Havana and Bermuda in October 1926, Arlene in August 1963, Hurricane Emily in September 1987, Fabian in August 2003, Fay and Gonzalo, both in October 2014, and Nicole in October 2016.

Impacted by the climate Bermuda fashion has formed within the island. This had a widespread influence among the visitors to the island as well due to the convenience of the comfortable dress code known as ‘Bermuda Shorts’. Bermuda shorts were originally created for the British military force in the 20th century. The concept of Bermuda shorts was brought by men whose duty was to make sure army personnel were appropriately and lightly attired while doing duty in sub-tropical parts of the old British Empire. It was hard to carry out duty wearing full trousers in the hot weather of this sub-tropical region. So these shorts were designed in order to provide comfort to army personnel. The clothing stores of Bermuda started to copy the long-in-use summer warm-weather standard dress of British Army shorts and long socks of officers. Thus were ‘Bermuda Shorts’ introduced to the world.  Tailors in the city of Hamilton and the old town modified the garb of Bermuda shorts somewhat. They also established it as the fashion.

British tourists arriving by steamship for long winter holidays were the first to get into the style and helped spread the fashion to the USA and elsewhere around the world. In doing so, they also helped to ensure that Bermuda shorts became better known as casual wear instead of correct business attire by day and night. It came to the notice of Bermudian businessmen who used to wear long trousers in the heat of Bermudian late spring, summers and early fall, and into dry weather. The businessmen adopted Bermuda shorts instead of long trousers. They also added their own version of the original military knee length socks, with the turn down at the top. Started as men’s shorts clothing it is now also available for women in various designs. Tourists visiting the island prefer the shorts as it is comfortable to wear and suits the weather of the island.

Comprising colourful images Bermuda by Fernando is a unique depiction of the island of Bermuda which will inspire the reader to explore a land unfamiliar to many.

By Nisansala Dharmasena Bertholameuz