The water is turquoise, shifting into green and blue. The sand is soft, yellow and in some spots even pink. When slowly in perfect diving buoyance, gliding through the magic sea, a world of wonder opens up. A sergeant major, a doctor fish, a parrot fish and wrasse welcome you into their wrecks of so many ships, shattered along the protective reef of this gorgeous place.
Whilst you contemplate this wonder, you almost stop breathing when you suddenly notice a dental clinic for rock fishes. Slowly the big rock fishes open their jaws, and quickly small yellow fishes starts cleaning their teeths. Not once does the big fish harm or kill the small cleaners. When its almost over, the rock fish slowly move his jaws and the cleaners are gone. What an incredible sight of biological symbiosis.
Bermuda was, can I say, rediscovered by Juan de Bermúdez, 1505. Somehow the noise from seabirds, the reef and wild hogs made the Spanish and Portugese call it 'the Isle of Devils'. 1607 James I of England sent a flotilla of ships to America, but the Sea Venture was damaged by a storm, and Admiral George Somers drove the damaged ship up on the Bermudian reef. All the passengers survived.
Despite it's tactic of rule and conquer, slavery, cruelty and colonisation, England kept it's control over Bermuda, and it is today Englands oldest colony. During a referendum 1995, 73,6 % voted against independence. Much because England could guarantee a British passport, education and protection. US kept both an Air Force base and a military base in Bermuda until 1995. Today they still keep a surveillance and spy facility on the island. Little is known about it's capacity.
Photo M Westerlund
I am sitting on the ferry from Hamilton over to the main prison at the King's Wharf. The old prison built by British convicts between 1839 - 1843, is still an impressive building, now housing shops and restaurants. But there were other prisoners, some long forgotten and buried on the small islands.
During another sad story of the British Empire's constant war waging madness, more than 4 600 Boers were taken prisoners and housed in Bermuda. The youngest was only 6 and the oldest 78. Those who refused to pledge allegiance to the British Crown, were interned on Darrell's Island and closely guarded. 35 died and most of them were buried on Long Island.
Prisoners from the Boer war in South-Africa 1899 - 1902 who ended up in Bermuda
Bermuda also became a major trading post for ships delivering guns and supplies to the Confederqte troops in the south during the US civil war. Some of the ships went down on the dangerous reefs surrounding these small beautiful islands. Mary Celestia and Montana were but two of those ships that sunk. From early 1500 it is estimated that around 300 wrecks scatter the reefs around Bermuda, truly making this the ship wreck capital of the world.
In late 1775, the British Parliament passed the Prohibitory Act to prohibit trade with the American rebelling colonies, and sent HMS Scorpion to keep watch over the island. The island's forts were stripped of cannon, such that by the end of 1775, all of Bermuda's forts were without cannon, shot and powder. The British at that time were truly Masters of divide and conquer. Yet Bermuda remained defiant. She was proud, hard to watch and rule.
During WW II an amazing event unfolded. A German submarine approached Bermuda, and decided to show the Frech flag in order to hopefully secure supplies. An officer who spoke fluent French convinced the Bermudians to arrange for supplies and oil, and too late the Bermudians discovered that they had been fooled. The German submarine had already vanished into the Atlantic ocean, never to return.
The population in Bermuda is dominated by the blacks, but there are also Portuguese people from mainly the Azores, and a number of other nationalities. Some of the Portuguese people still doesn't speak any English, and it did happen at times that we had to use an iPhone translator to make us understood when treating patients in the Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute. That is the old Mental Hospital where I partly worked for more than 3 years. The other part of my work was made up of being the Governments Forensic Psychiatrist, covering the three prisons and providing a successful Mental Health Court Clinic in central Hamilton. This collaboration with the legal system, reduced the number of prisoners by 20 %. A true success by all the participants.
A darker chapter of Bermuda's history is of course all the slaves that were brought there from West Africa. Although Bermuda never supported more than 6000 slaves, it developed one of the more unusual slave societies in the history of the Americas, and slaves were more humanly treated in Bermuda than elsewhere. As a twist of fate, it wasn't bullets and cannons that released the blacks from slavery. It was instead their Christian faith brought to them by white missionaries, that paradoxiacally meant that the white slave owners couldn't fight their own God and belief. In 1834 slavery was finally abandoned.
Bermuda 150 years ago.
Unfortunately Bermuda has been plagued by high numbers of drug addicts. Heroine, cocaine and cannabis are widely used. This also affects the general health, and often young males die either a violent death by crime or in traffic, or a few years later due to a number of complications following drug use. During my time on the island, and following many discussions with both drug dealers, criminals, politicians, and Police, it became obvious how deeply rooted drugs had become. Around 2015 it was estimated that illicit drugs accounted for no less than $ 1 billion annually. This was based on money spent by users, and having a good picture of the numbers of users and their drugs of choice. This is of course heavliy disputed by the Government, but a well established knowledge among all the people I served. Despite their suffering, punishment and social alientation, many of these black men would respect, protect and honour my work among them. After all, it is only respect and love that can touch every soul.
Until recently Bermuda has been a paradise for visitors and divers from around the world. Cruise ships would dock and flights arrive at L.F. Wade International Airport. Due to devastating political decisions often based on far too much reliance on self-proclaimed experts, tourism is now dead and Bermuda is struggling to find a way to survive without any domestic production. On top they are not allowed to fish commercially, but instead buy expensive frozen fish from US. That is the sinister truth behind modern politics.
Most supplies comes weekly from US, and this astonishing island is vulnerable due to its geographical location with long distances from other countries. US being the closest point, around 1 000 km West, in North Carolina. A flight from London takes around 6 hours.
Bermuda is an absolutely gem in the Atlantic, and I would never hesitate to support, serve and help it's wonderful people. Why not visit?
Video by M Westerlund