Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Kalik, kalik

When we first came to Exuma many years ago, we were awakened at 3AM on the morning after Christmas by an extraordinary noise. We stepped onto the balcony of our tiny hotel to see a tangle of barefoot island boys making a music such as we had never heard before with cowbells, whistles, and goatskin-covered drums. It was just the sort of spontaneous color that won our hearts for the island.

It was, of course, the ragtag local equivalent of the elaborate Junkanoo parades on the far more populous island of New Providence, with its capital city of Nassau. Junkanoo is to the Bahamas as Carnival is to Rio -- a great outpouring of national creativity and tradition. And, in must be said, a great social leveler, embracing in one exuberant scene rich and poor alike.

If one wanted to write a treatise on globalization, one could do no better than trace the evolution of this island in the twenty years since our first visit. Not all of the changes have been felicitous, and I have written about some of them before. Environmental degradation. Americanization, with all of its cable-TV tackiness and crass commercialism. The usurpation of much of the choicest landscape by outsiders. And so on.

But those who worry that globalization will homogenize world cultures may be overly fretting. With the relative affluence that has come with development, young Exumians need no longer go to Nassau or to the US to find work. When we first came here, the island consisted mainly of children and old people. Now an intermediate generation has returned, youthful and energetic, with a few extra bucks in their pockets. And -- wow! -- just look what has happened to Junkanoo.

For half the year, three fiercely competing groups prepare costumes and floats of ever more elaborate crepe-paper splendor. Suddenly it seems that everyone on the island is a dancer or musician. In the pitch dark hours of Boxing Day morning the island's one little town with its one street explodes with what can only be called "true-true" Bahamian culture thumbing its nose at every economic and cultural force that would reduce these islands to an indistinguishable adjunct of the US mainland.

Yes, there's globalization, but with its own sweet face of Bahamian pride.