by Larry Smith
He is 93 now and too frail to pilot a boat, but he can still step up to a lecturn and deliver a sprightly speech, peppered with amusing anecdotes.
Listening to Sir Duward Knowles these days is like opening a time capsule planted 64 years ago. That's when he, his new wife Holly, and two other 20-something Bahamians set off on a road trip across the continental USA, with their boat in tow, to win a world championship sailing event in Los Angeles.
For Knowles, that unprecedented event was both the beginning and end of a long and distinguished sailing career. Even winning a gold medal at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, one suspects, did not compare with that glorious victory at sea in 1947.
"You don't know what it was like back then for an island boy to become champion of the world," he told scores of well-wishers during a recent ceremony at Centreville House to turn over his two Olympic medals and the 1947 Star Class trophy to the Antiquities, Monuments & Museums Corporation.
"A-coasting in shallops" has been a longtime pursuit of Bahamian males. In the 17th century it was described as "a lazy course of life" that left "none but old men, women and children to plant." But for Knowles and others, sailing was a labour of love that generated big publicity dividends for the Bahamas.
Designed in 1911, the Star is one of the most popular keelboats in the world. It is the oldest Olympic class, having first been used in competition in 1932, and is still at the heart of that competition today, supported by an association with over 2,200 members with fleets in 38 countries. Sir Durward remains the honourary commodore of the class.
After winning the Star Class world championship in 1947, Knowles went on to compete in the 1952 Olympics in Finland and won a bronze medal in the 1956 US Olympics with the late Sloane Farrington as crew. The kicker came in 1964, when he won the gold medal in Tokyo, with the late Cecil Cooke as crew - another first for the Bahamas.
A couple of weeks ago, after consultation with family and friends, Sir Durward donated these trophies to the Antiquities Corporation. Minister of Youth and Culture, Charles Maynard, said the historic awards would become "a very important part of the collections of the National Museum of the Bahamas."
Unfortunately, the national museum doesn't yet exist, although the AMMC currently manages three small museums on New Providence and Long Island.
When the Antiquities Corporation was created in 1999, one of its main purposes was to set up a national museum "to be the major national and public repository of all artifacts of integral importance to the prehistory, history and cultural development of the Bahamian people."
The 80-year-old former Collins mansion on Shirley Street (now known as Centreville House) is undergoing a painfully slow restoration as the future site of the museum. This building was the home of prominent parliamentarian Ralph Collins, who died in 1946. The property was occupied by St Andrew’s School from 1950 to 1971, when it was acquired by the government. The AMMC has occupied adjacent buildings on the six-acre estate since 2005.
About three years ago the Historic Bahamas Foundation was formed as a public-private partnership to raise funds for the national museum, but it has yet to get off the ground. In recent years the Collins building has been stripped of unwanted accretions, its roof and exterior walls have been repaired and stabilized, and the grounds landscaped under the direction of artist Antonious Roberts.
But experts say another $2 million at least is needed to restore the 30,000-square-foot building for use as a museum. Much of the groundwork for this has already been done, thanks to an exchange programme with the State of Rhode Island facilitated by the US Embassy. Historical architects from the city of Newport. working with the AMMC, produced a conceptual plan for Centreville House in 2006.
In the meantime, historic and archaeological artifacts are being stored by the AMMC. According to chief curator Kim Outten-Stubbs, the collection mostly includes pottery shards, pieces of shell implements, shell beads and tools, and fragments of china that are useful for study but not for display.
"We have limited collections of furniture, fabric, stone and glass objects as well as ceramics. Examples include objects salvaged from the Old Jumbey Village exhibition, artifacts from the Clifton plantation site, three Lucayan duhos (ceremonial stools) found in a Long Island cave in 1988, metal objects such as cannons from the forts, artifacts from shipwrecks such as the freighter that sank off North Eleuthera in 1860 carrying supplies for a general store in Texas, as well as straw work and junkanoo pieces."
Also included are a collection of personal mementos from former governor-general Dame Ivy Dumont, a replica of the Columbus monument at Long Island, and the recent donation of awards from Sir Durward Knowles.
The AMMC uses a computerized documentation system to catalogue objects, which are stored in a repository with museum-standard environmental controls. The database includes ownership, description, condition, material that the object is made from, and a photographic record.
"At this point, our collections are limited in scope and not available for general viewing," Mrs Outten Stubbs said. "We want to expand our collections in order to be more representative of our national heritage."
The Cabinet as Political Satire
I think it is fair to say that while Bahamians may be hugely entertained by politics and politicians, political satire as a form of speech is a rare and wonderful thing here - probably because our society is so small and the distance between us so narrow.
In the recent past - under the 25-year Pindling regime for example - political satire was virtually non-existent. Pindling took himself much too seriously, and his deferential supporters amongst the intelligentsia would not countenance anything that could be considered disrespectful.
The prime example of performance satire in those days was James Catalyn's comedy skits at the Dundas (Dis We Tings). But far from mocking the rich and powerful, Catalyn's humour was aimed mostly at dimwitted or conniving plebians. There was certainly no attempt to shame or blame the political class.
In recent years we have had Ian Strachan's No Seeds in Babylon and Michael Pintard's Politricks, as well as his popular sketch comedies about the 2002 and 2007 general elections. And last month we had Ward Minnis' new political comedy, the Cabinet, which opened appropriately on April Fool's Day.
There is no doubt that the Cabinet makes a mockery of our politicians, including the most powerful one of all - HAI himself, played by masterful Ingraham impersonator Chigozie Ijeoma. This is something that would never have been possible in the old days, and for that we should all be grateful to this same HAI, who cleary has a sense of humour.
Minnis spins out the old conspiracy theory that Hubert Ingraham and Perry Christie rigged history by agreeing to rotate the prime minister's office between themselves. In the process, a carbon-copy Ingraham takes most of the flack while a presumed Tommy Turnquest (played by the very funny Mathew Wildgoose) is portrayed unrelentingly as a hapless fool. Meanwhile, Christie (played by Ward Minnis) and a thinly disguised Fred Mitchell (played by Sophie Smith) get off relatively lightly.
The question I have is: are we simply drawing on politicians as a source of material - like nagging wives or domineering mothers-in-law - or are we using satire as a weapon to expose error, win arguments or advocate change?
According to Antony Jay, co-author of the acclaimed 1980s British political TV comedies Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister (both of which once aired on ZNS), "What distinguishes true satire from ordinary comedy is that it focuses a collective antagonism on political or social issues. There are many ways of participating in the debate on current controversies, mostly by deploying facts and arguments on one side or the other. But there is no argument against laughter."
If we accept that satire's role is to challenge the establishment in an amusing way, then it follows that simply making fun of politicians does not necessarily do the job. In other words, making a mockery of powerful people could be considered challenging if the ridicule serves to make a constructive point. I am not sure whether Minnis managed to achieve that goal.