The Writer's Circle group members ventured out during April 2011 on individual field trips to attend a photo exhibit at the National Gallery comprised of 24 photos taken by David Douglas Duncan, of Caymanian turtlers along the Mosquito Cays off of Nicaragua and Honduras in 1939. The task was to view the displays and then to engage in some form of writing based on the photographs and the feelings they evoked.
The results took different forms, but struck similar poignant chords in several of the group writers' pieces.
Islands Time Forgot.
Old photographs bring men back to life again, reclaiming the vigour of their lives some seventy plus years ago.
These were hardy men, accustomed to long hours of back-breaking work, bronzed by the sun and steam cleaned by the humidity of the Mosquito Cays. They knew their life and their work well. You can see it in their eyes, that steady confidence, the self-assured way they hold themselves in the depths of the probing camera stills.
You can also see the loneliness of their way of life in the creases of their weathered brows. Far from home and family for weeks at a time, they braved the stormy waters around isolated Cays along a sparsely populated foreign coastline. Their eyes betray a simple life of relative solitude, secluded harbours, the open waters of the voyage, the tight manoeuvrings of the chaotic catboat chase of those lumbering marine creatures, the green sea turtles, the hawksbill, and the Ridley Kempts.
Your mind’s eye widens, bringing in overlapping horizons. You picture those left at home. The wife struggling to make ends meet and to keep the children under watchful eye. The approaching hurricane season, and the repairs from the previous season, put off until the end of the turtling season, when manpower returned and a few dollars needed for the materials that could not be harvested locally, or traded for and brought back aboard the schooner on the homeward voyage.
And you can see something of the slower pace of life, the time aboard ship for song and dance, an accordion or violin, a quick nap among the rope coils on deck, catching the welcome breeze. You can catch fleeting glimpses of men at rest under coconut trees enjoying a refreshing drink cut from the tree, or collected from the ground nearby.
You can see living history in action. You notice the working man attire in every photograph. You see the truth of the statement that Caymanians did not have much, but they shared what they had willingly. And you think of what we have become today. You smile at past glory, the craftsmanship of the boat builders, the knowledge of the master seamen, the dedication and comradeship of the simple sailors. These men went in search of turtles to feed their families, to keep alive a way of life. They were rough and tough, and now they are gone.
By: H.M. Peter Westin
Photo Exhibit of Cayman’s Courageous Turtle Fishermen
A life, -and under some circumstances,
barely survival - in times of hurricanes
I do not know how many
men were lost, no radios, no
way of weather information, except by
their experience and inner knowing.
The photographs on display at
the Cayman National Gallery, are
exceptionally outstanding, depicting
the tough life of these Caymanian
Looking at the photographs I
am struck by the strength and
determination of these men –
This was their livelihood, their
families (wives, children &
elderly parents). Left
Grand Cayman, anxious,
yes, praying for good weather,
and successful catches, a time
of plenty on their longed for return.
The boats they sailed on were
made here in
Grand Cayman, of
local woods, of which there were
many species, they knew
the best ones for the job.
By: Brenda Quin