Bahamians - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Three realms of the supernatural can be identified. Most Bahamians belong to a Christian church and frequently attend their own church as well as others. Most people believe God helps the faithful and punishes the wicked. The spirit of a person who dies "in Christ" goes to rest and can help the living; if an ungodly person dies, the spirit wanders about frightening and hurting people. Obeah is practiced to harm rivals, to protect one's property and person, and to raise the spirits of the dead.

Religious Practitioners. Ministers and priests head the Christian churches. In the out islands local men, and sometimes women, serve part-time as preachers. Specialists in the practice of obeah are called obeah men; although never common, obeah practitioners are becoming even less numerous as young people turn away from old practices and embrace the modern world.

Ceremonies. Junkanoo, once widespread in the Caribbean, is a cultural event similar to New Orleans's Mardi Gras. Its roots lie in pre-Emancipation days, when slaves were allowed a special Christmas holiday. The culmination of Junkanoo is a costumed parade with floats and bands, which takes place along Nassau's Bay Street on Boxing Day (26 December) and New Year's Day.

Arts. Goombay is the calypso-style music of the Bahamas. In the out islands, local bands using guitars, goatskin-headed drums, and saws entertain at dances and weddings. The major decorative art is straw work. Women in the out islands plait "straw" from palm fronds into long strips, which are then sewn together to form hats, baskets, and purses. Raffia paper and seashells are typically sewn to the straw work in decorative patterns.

Medicine. Modern medicine is provided at the Princess Margaret Hospital in Nassau. In 1992 the out islands were served by 107 clinics; the seriously ill are flown to Princess Margaret Hospital. Many Bahamians, particularly those in the out islands, often rely on "bush" medicine; parts of selected plants are commonly boiled in liquid, and the resulting "bush tea" is then drunk. Love-vine ( Cuscuta americana ), for example, is said to produce a tea that gives a man "courage."

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