Who are ve

The Turks Islander Story
Written By: Leonardo Lightbourne

Brief History

The Turks and Caicos Islands have a complex history involving different indigenous groups and European colonization. When engaging in the conversation about who we are as Turks Islanders, it’s only fitting that we acknowledge the first people who inhabited this country. The original inhabitants of the islands were the Lucayan people, who were part of the Taino culture that extended across the Caribbean region.

The Lucayans were skilled seafarers and agriculturists, cultivating crops such as maize, sweet potatoes, and cassava. They lived in settlements and engaged in trade with other indigenous groups throughout the Caribbean. However, their encounter with European explorers, particularly Christopher Columbus during his first voyage in 1492, marked the beginning of their decline.

European colonization and the arrival of Spanish and later French and British settlers brought diseases, forced labor, and warfare to the Lucayans. The exploitation and mistreatment by the European colonizers devastated their population. By the late 16th century, the Lucayans had been largely decimated, either killed by diseases or enslaved by the Europeans, leading to the extinction of their culture.

After the decline of the indigenous Lucayans, the Turks and Caicos Islands became part of the broader colonial system that involved the transatlantic slave trade. The arrival of Africans to the islands can be traced back to the 17th century when European powers established sugar plantations and other agricultural enterprises in the Caribbean.

The British, in particular, played a significant role in bringing enslaved Africans to the Turks and Caicos Islands. These Africans were forcibly transported across the Atlantic Ocean, primarily from West Africa, to work as enslaved laborers on plantations and salt ponds. The salt industry became a crucial economic activity in the islands, and enslaved Africans played a vital role in its development. Slavery was deeply entrenched in the social and economic fabric of the Turks and Caicos Islands during this time.

When the British abolished the transatlantic slave trade in 1807 and slavery itself in 1834, the enslaved Africans in the Turks and Caicos Islands were emancipated. The descendants of the enslaved Africans who remained in the Turks and Caicos Islands played a significant role in shaping the islands’ culture and society. Their African heritage, blended with influences from the indigenous Lucayans and European colonizers, has contributed to a rich cultural mosaic in the islands.

Today, the Turks and Caicos Islands have a diverse population, with people of African descent comprising the majority. The legacy of African culture and history is celebrated through various cultural traditions, music, dance, cuisine, and festivals on the islands. The African presence in the Turks and Caicos Islands continues to be an integral part of their identity and heritage.

Who are ve’?

In essence, we are descendants of Africans living in the Caribbean who have adopted a range of indigenous, African and European cultures to form our own. My mother is a huge tea drinker; she’s the only person in our family that drinks multiple cups of tea daily. Tea drinking is often considered a quintessential part of British identity. My grandmother would start her day with a cup of tea every morning and maybe this was a practice that was passed down from her parents who were salt rackers on the island of South Caicos. The Turks and Caicos Islands were colonized by the British Empire and thus, my family carries the remnants of their cultural practices, quite similar to a lot of Caribbean families.

The Colonizers left their mark on our history but it cannot erase our African heritage. I remember as a child, when it rained my grandmother would go outside and dance in it. As I got older she stopped for health reasons but my curiosity grew about the origins of this practice. I never got a chance to ask her why she danced when it rained but I later learned that an African tribe called “the Tiv Tribe” from Nigeria was known for its rain dances.

The Tiv rain dance, known as “Swange,” was an important part of Tiv cultural practices and is performed during the rainy season when the first rains arrive. The Tiv people are primarily farmers, and their agricultural livelihood is dependent on rainfall for successful crop growth.

The rain dance served as a social and communal activity. It brings the Tiv community together, fostering unity and cooperation. It is an opportunity for people to express their gratitude for the life-giving rains and to celebrate the agricultural cycle that sustains their community.

It’s possible my grandmother’s ancestors were descendants from this tribe or a similar tribe from Africa and she carried on the tradition without knowing its origins. The Caribbean is an extension of Africa and it’s evident with our food, colourful local dresses and music.

For instance, ripsaw music, which originated in the Turks and Caicos Islands, has its roots in the cultural heritage of the islands’ African descendants. While the exact origins of ripsaw music are not well-documented, its African influences can be traced back to the traditions and musical practices brought by enslaved Africans during the transatlantic slave trade.

In answering the question “Who are ve’? I would say we are a people who have embraced a fusion of indigenous, African, and European cultures to form their own unique identity. The influence of British colonization is evident in their tea-drinking practices, which are considered quintessentially British. When you speak of the Turks and Caicos Islands, one must be mindful of the strong connection we hold with Africa through shared practices, such as food, traditional clothing, and music. We represent the resilience and cultural richness of the African diaspora in the Caribbean.

What makes us Special?

Apart from Grace Bay Beach being the number one beach in the world. What separates the Turks and Caicos Islands from the rest of the world is our people. In the Turks and Caicos Islands, the community plays an integral role in the lives of its residents. The small size of the country fosters a close-knit environment where neighbors are more like extended family members. This sense of community creates a supportive network, where helping and serving one another comes naturally. This spirit of solidarity seamlessly translates into the hospitality industry, where locals extend genuine warmth and care to visitors, making them feel like cherished guests.

Hospitality in the Turks and Caicos Islands is not just a profession; it is deeply embedded in the cultural fabric, passed down through generations. Servitude and the love of our neighbours is taught to us at a young age as we attended church. I worked in the hospitality industry for seven (7) years and I remember telling my guest all the time that the service part of my job came naturally to me and being friendly because that’s who we are as a people. When you walk into a building for the first time and you see someone, you greet them. When you see your family members, friends, and strangers in the morning, you say “Good Morning”. This was not an act but a way of life.

The Turks and Caicos Islands stand out in the Caribbean as a beacon of exceptional hospitality and this is attributed to our strong sense of community, rooted in Christian values, which creates a genuine and heartfelt approach to serving others. With a rich cultural heritage, the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands consistently provide a hospitality experience that is unparalleled in its warmth, authenticity, and personalized care. Visitors to this idyllic destination can expect not only breathtaking beauty but also the warm embrace of a community that takes pride in sharing its home and creating lasting memories for all who grace its shores.

About the Author

L.T. Bourne, also known as Leonardo Lightbourne, is a multi-talented award-winning filmmaker, writer, speaker, and former Probation and Parole Officer. Currently employed as a Responsible Gaming Coordinator at the Turks & Caicos Gaming Commission, he promotes responsible gaming practices. Bourne is also the Public Relations Officer for the 2022-2023 South Caicos Regatta Committee, where he built relationships with key stakeholders and promotes the event.