Heritage: Some of the black Bermudians who served in the BMA Caribbean Regiment in the Second World War. *Photo courtesy of the collection of the National Museum of Bermuda
Heritage: Some of the black Bermudians who served in the BMA Caribbean Regiment in the Second World War. *Photo courtesy of the collection of the National Museum of Bermuda
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If you have ever wondered where your name originates or what the life of a slave was like, then step inside the National Museum of Bermuda this month.

Throughout February the museum is offering free admission to residents, on production of ID such as a driving licence.

The museum, at Royal Naval Dockyard, gives a fascinating glimpse into the lives of black Bermudians through the centuries, from slavery through to fighting in two World Wars.

This month being Black History Month, why not step back in time to discover the legacy and contributions of your ancestors?

Elena Strong, curator, said: “The museum is a bit of a hidden gem. You don’t have to be a history buff to come here.

“There are many things which will appeal to everyone, particularly Graham Foster’s amazing mural in The Hall of History.”

The exhibits relating to black history are: The Slave Trade & Slavery in Bermuda; Bermuda & The West Indies; Defence Heritage; and The Hall of History Mural.

The Slave Trade & Slavery in Bermuda

This tells the story of the New World Slave Trade — the transportation of people from Africa to the Americas via the notorious Middle Passage.

First-person narratives, images, objects and shipwreck artefacts detail the evolution of the slave trade and its links to Bermuda.

The artefacts include manilla bracelets, cowrie and glass beads, which were used as currency in the trading of slaves in West Africa.

Other grim reminders of the trade in human cargo are the collars and shackles used to restrain slaves during the Middle Passage.

The exhibit also tells the story of the slaves in Bermuda and their struggle for freedom. It covers 200 years of slavery, from early settlement in 1612 to Emancipation in 1834.

Although Ms Strong said paperwork and artefacts related to slavery are “very limited”, Bermudians have been “very generous” in bringing items forward.

“If it’s something they don’t want to part with we will scan it in high-resolution so we have a copy of the object,” she said.

Bermuda & The West Indies

This exhibit explores the maritime, economic and cultural links between Bermuda and the Caribbean.

While geographical isolation sets Bermuda apart, its people share the bond of maritime exploits, interwoven families and a mutual legacy of trade, piracy, slavery, hurricanes and shipwrecks with those in the Caribbean.

In this exhibit you can also learn where many Bermudian surnames originate from. For example, Leverock comes from Saba Island and Basden comes from St Kitts.

Many migrants arrived in Bermuda from the Caribbean in order to build Royal Naval Dockyard and Bermuda’s railway, and they ended up staying.

Defence Heritage

This exhibit features Bermudian men and women who served in local forces and who enlisted for overseas service in the two World Wars.

Ms Strong said: “There are so many amazing stories from some of the Bermudians who served, such as becoming prisoners of war or landing in enemy territory and then trying to make their way back.”

The Hall of History

This mural by Graham Foster spans 500 years of our island history and offers fascinating glimpses into black Bermudian culture and folklore.

Ms Strong said: “It is a realistic view of Bermuda’s history in all its aspects, and appeals to both the young and old.

“Every Bermudian can relate to some part of this exhibit, it features many aspects of everyday life.

“History has traditionally been the preserve of the dominant class in power, so black history, women’s history and also that of the poor has in the past been marginalized.

“But in this mural we even see the everyday lives of slaves, such as a marriage in which the bride and groom both jump over the broom.

“The mural is so detailed, I come here every day and each time I notice something which I haven’t seen before.”

The National Museum of Bermuda is on the African Diaspora Heritage Trail. This summer it will open a new exhibit, entitled Shipwreck Island.

This will feature artefacts and accounts of shipwrecks in the 16th and 17th centuries, covering 1505-1684.

A second exhibit, Bermuda Maritime Revolution, will follow, to cover the period 1684 to the 1800s. It will feature tales of black merchant seamen.

Ms Strong said that the current exhibits originally opened in 2000, following the renovation of Commissioner’s House.

Marginalized

She said: “When these exhibits opened, it was really important to have them at the time, because apart from the St George’s Heritage Museum, there had been no dedicated museum space to discuss slavery.

“It was important to have these permanent exhibits, to show where we have come from and to give a sense of identity, place and being.

“Black history was marginalized in the past, but in the late sixties and seventies you had wonderful people like Kenneth Robinson, Ira Philips, Cyril Packwood, Eva Hodgson, Clarence Maxwell, Dale Butler, Jolene Bean and Clifford Smith paving the way.

“Black history is becoming more interwoven and the schools have also made great strides in including black history in the curriculum. The Tucker’s Town Historical Society and St David’s Historical Society are also doing great work.

“There has been a groundswell of interest in genealogy, and there is a lot of modern scholarship.

“People are doing their own research now, and more stories can only come from that.”

For more information on the National Museum of Bermuda see www.bmm.bm or call 234-1418 or 234-1333.