Cultural ComparisonsCulture

Is the Turks and Caicos Islands Really ‘Bahamas Jr.’?

If you’re familiar with some of the Caribbean’s most popular destinations, then chances are you’ve travelled to, or heard of The Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands.

A quick google search will reveal that the two chains of islands are only separated by 173 km distance. With only approximately 107.5 miles separating these two destinations, there should be no surprise that both the islands share a vast amount of similarities, the biggest of them all being the water that surrounds us.

We the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands have recently been made to defend our identity, many eager to set us apart from the Bahamian shadow.

So, we’re clearing the air once and for all by answering the question on if we are in fact ‘Bahamas Jr’ by assessing the similarities and differences between the Turks and Caicos and The Bahamas.

Where did the name ‘Bahamas Jr.’ come from?

After a now deleted tweet surfaced in late April/early May 2020 featuring a video of the breath-taking turquoise water surrounding the TCI, it led to Twitter users from both countries debating over who had “bluer waters” and whether or not Turks and Caicos ‘stole’ Bahamian culture.

This resulted in the label ‘Bahamas Jr.’ being branded on the TCI.

In the following months since the twitter feud, Turks and Caicos Islanders continued to defend themselves to disprove the ‘Bahamas Jr.’ theory.

What makes the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos so similar?

Governance

An article by Ferguson and Bounds explains that the Turks and Caicos Islands were governed by the Bahamian Government after Jamaica’s independence in 1962 up until the Bahamas gained their independence in 1973.

This, paired with the geographical connection, is an observable tie to The Bahamas and through migration, common cultural practices have trickled down.

Geographical Location

Geographically, the Turks and Caicos Islands are part of the Bahamian archipelago, hence our waters are the technically the same. But while TCI and The Bahamas are neighbours, the two countries are quite distinct from each other.

Music & Cultural Practices

Here in the TCI, we share a festival with The Bahamas called Junkanoo.

In the TCI, Junkanoo has been a celebration of the salt harvest trade which occurred during the trading of salt. When merchant ships would bring goods to trade for the harvested salt, this was celebrated by natives through the beating of drums, licking of pots and pans, the scraping of saws, and shaking of cow bells as well as the blowing of conch horns and whistles.

Our Junkanoo Band, ‘We Funk Junkanoo Band’ is spearheaded by Kitchener Penn, a well-known islander. Penn was hired to put on the first Junkanoo festival in the Turks and Caicos in the 1980’s and what he brought to the island was a Bahamian-style festival, based on his own roots as a Bahamian. The event was one of excitement and pulsating rhythm created by ripsaws (handsaws scraped by hand), drums and percussion. This may explain how our junkanoo can look or sound like of The Bahamas.

Other cultural practices shared between both countries include Regatta, Fish Fry and festivals such as Crab Fest and Conch Festival. In the TCI, Regatta is the oldest festival and was started on the island of South Caicos in honour of Queen Elizabeth I’s first visit to the TCI. During which they take part in boat races plating of the may pole and donkey racing.

Food

Many of the delicacies found in the Bahamas can also be found in the TCI.

One prime example of this is Conch. Some of the conch dishes we enjoy in TCI include conch fritters, conch chowder and crack conch etc. We even have similarities in our Sunday dinners, like eating peas n’ rice, baked macaroni, cole slaw and potato salad. However, the difference in our dishes lies in the preparation of our food. In the Bahamas they have many variations of conch salad while it is mostly prepared one way in the TCI. Nevertheless, it is these small differences which helps capture the essence of our identity as Turks and Caicos Islands.


What sets us apart?

Local Dishes

Keeping on track with food, there are some dishes that cannot be found anywhere else but in the TCI.

The native dish whelk soup is made using the harvest of whelks locals would pick which were stuck to the rocks along the water.

Locals are known to have a sweet tooth hence the making of Salt Cay candies which resembles peppermint candies and queen cakes which resembles a large biscuits/cookie.

We also locally produce rum and beers at the Turks Head Brewery in Providenciales. These include Bambara Rum, Turks Head Beer, Caicos Cream, Monkey Bag, Bambashay etc.

Enhanced Seclusion & Top Tier Tourism

We belong to a niche market which sets us apart from the larger countries like the Bahamas. In fact, the Turks and Caicos Islands offer a number of significant benefits to visitors and investors that are not available in other popular island destinations. 

Turks and Caicos is renowned for being one of the top scuba diving and snorkeling locations on the planet. That’s not only because its abundance of coral reefs and marine life, but also for its legendary visibility. It’s no wonder that Turks and Caicos has been rated the best diving spot in the Caribbean by Scuba Diving Magazine.

Culture & Heritage 

Growing up we instill the stories of our culture and heritage in the younger generation through folk songs. Songs of the salt raking days and catching crabs, these songs are fun and educational and many times have a funny hook which makes them so easy to remember.

My favourite is about salt raking in the TCI and it goes like this:

Time to go raking in the pond 

Wake up wake up the tea getting cold,

Time to go raking in the TI gold,

Drink all ya coco and eat all ya corn,

Time to go raking in the ponds

when they ring that bell at dawn (ding a ling a ling)

Time to go raking in the ponds’

when they ring that bell at dawn 

Time to go raking in the ponds’.

Another cultural event that both locals and tourists look forward to every Boxing Day is our Maskanoo Festival. Vendors line the Grace Bay Road to sell their food and products as families gather in the street listing to live music and entertainment. The night is highlighted when We Funk Junkanoo rush and the fire show is put on by the Filipino community.

We also cannot speak on culture without mentioning Rake and Scrape music (also known as rip saw or Bush music). Although Rake and Scrape music is made and enjoyed in both countries, TCI is made unique by our very own local Rake and Scrape artists. Rake and Scrape music uses the rip saw as its main instrument and is what makes TCI music unique.

You may know local Rake and Scape artists Keno and Kazz for their song Somebody Got Ya. Singing of a tale of infidelity between a man and his woman, this song is very popular in both the Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas. It says that “somebody got ya girlfriend on layaway” which sadly means that another man is dating your woman on the side. Sorry to that man…

Luxury

Turks and Caicos offers feelings of true exclusivity, privacy, peace and tranquility. That is precisely why  the islands are favoured by so many celebrities as a vacation destination or as a location for second home.

As we know, TCI is not without crime. However, we do have one of the lowest crime rates in all of the Caribbean. Because of the proportion of the population, most of the crime occurs in Providenciales while the sister islands of North and Middle Caicos, South Caicos and Salt Cay see very few crimes against tourists according to The Remax Collection.

Although we are similar, we are unique!

Let’s not forget the strong family ties that come from Turks and Caicos Islanders and Bahamians who started families together. Each culture lends to one another. It’s not about who did it first, it’s about how you make it your own. How I see it, we’re just one big pot of soup, a bit of the ingredients came from Turks and some from the Bahamas but its where the pot is boiling that determines the taste.

We cannot change the past and frankly, we do not want to. It has shaped us into who we are as a people with all of the hardships, experiences and also comrades gained. So, we accept it and embrace it along with the reality of our similarities and differences that we share with The Bahamas as islands a part of one archipelago.

While our history may borrow or imitate some aspects of the Bahamas, it is still our own. It is what allows us to take our name global and we will continue to pride ourselves on it because it is our story and no one else’s. Yes we are different in our own way. Just like sisters, we may share many physical aspects but we know that we, as Turks and Caicos Islanders, have our own identity.

Kayanna Gibson

WAVES Correspondent

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