Defining moments are moments such as Saul of Tarsus had on the road to Damascus; or the USA on “9/11”; or the UBP and the PLP on “11/9”. In our Bermuda, there was another such moment on October 3rd 2002, the day that David Allen was buried. Since that day, the still bubbling reaction from Bermuda’s minority has veered between the mild consternation shown by this paper’s Tom Vesey to the almost venal responses of Tim Hodgson at the Mid Ocean News and of that writer in the offshore newsletter whose comments Tim Hodgson chose to reprint in his Mid Ocean News. These continued rumblings highlight the gaping gulf that continues to separate the two dominant cultures that co-exist on these Isles of Rest.
This gulf had been uncovered before. On several occasions, emotions generated by the social and cultural history of Bermuda’s majority were fully and expressively voiced at the public forums during the public discussion phase of the Long Term Residents issue. On one evening, in April 2001, angry squadrons of Bermuda’s minority ‘white brigade’ charged into the salons of Government House where they vented the emotions generated as a result of their – different – Bermudian cultural and social history. On these occasions, each side waved its own different coloured rag of history. The same thing is happening in the aftermath of David Allen’s death and burial. It’s clear that David Allen meant different things to different people. To me, and thousands like me, he was a man who lived by a set of principles that I understood and accepted as right and good. It seems that to others – Tim Hodgson, that writer in the offshore newsletter, and to Tom Vesey – David Allen might have been no more than a loudmouthed renegade. That writer in the offshore newsletter wrote of a Bermudian non-observance of the death of another Bermudian man. But each of our two Bermuda communities places a value on a person that is likely to be proportionate to the value that person was seen to give within and to that community. Thus ‘Jack’ Tucker [was he a Saint or a Sinner?] might have been viewed differently than ‘Freddy’ Wade [was he a Saint or a Sinner?]. David Allen and his life meant more to some of us than to others of us. David’s value was determined by the realities of our Bermudian cultural and social history. I saw David as a brave and special man who had made some personal sacrifices that benefited me and thousands like me. I felt that the style of his burial was appropriate and that it reasonably represented my feelings and my values. The general colour of the crowds who gathered, the little knots who watched, the packed-out church, all showed how black Bermudians valued and respected the man being buried.
I accept differences in opinion. I accept differences in values. I accept that some may think that Saul of Tarsus should really have converted to Islam or Buddhism – and not to Christianity. But I do not accept that David Allen’s death and style of burial were unimportant irrelevancies or overblown tributes. The particular style of burial was that of black Bermuda. Black Bermuda’s burying style is now different – with far more public ceremonial – from white Bermuda’s more private burial style. In black Bermuda, the family [however temporarily] buries all hatchets, ensures that everyone’s name is listed in the funeral notice, gathers in or outside the church, and then walks, in procession, into the church, where they all sit together ranked in order of family closeness to the deceased. But before that stage there will have been a ‘viewing’ – a custom common in black funerals. Some Bermudians may see ‘viewing’ as a black Bermudian custom. But it isn’t. It’s customary in black and some white American funerals. It was once customary throughout the UK. It’s still common in much of Europe. It’s still the norm in much of Africa and Asia. Long ago, viewing was the norm in white Bermuda. But here, in our Bermuda, as a consequence of population changes, some subtle shifts in some of our cultural and social behaviours have managed to re-define funeral ‘viewing’ as a ‘black’ custom. David Allen’s death and burial meant more to black Bermudians than it did to white Bermudians. Since his burial, there has been significant comment – mostly from white Bermudians – on the manner and style of his burial. These comments, still bubbling up, show that, in many ways, the two major communities on our 13,000 acre atoll are as separate and distinct – but still as joined and blended – as Saul who became Paul.
Two Bermudas. One black. One white. On October 3rd 2002, for that one occasion, our two faces and our two cultures and two histories were plainly visible. And in the funeral’s aftermath and in this noisy shouting match between Burgess/Scott/Webb and Dennis/Zuill/Barritt – our differences are again highlighted. People on the periphery of this latest public slanging match call for an end to the noise and a return to the peaceful Bermuda of old. But that peaceful Bermuda of old was a Saulian Bermuda. A Bermuda in which one – and only one – set of values dominated. Our 9/11 in 1998 was a defining moment. That day saw the incarnation of a new, Paulian, Bermuda. It’s the nature of every democracy that it is a society in which the values of Saul and Paul exist within the same national human community. This results in a national schizophrenia. The controlling mechanism for this national schizophrenia is the style of government. Our Bermuda style is closely modeled on the UK Westminster style. The Americans have their different, sometimes less partisan style. The Russians have their unique mix of styles. The French? One really never knows.
In this new Bermuda, those calling for one community living in peace and harmony are calling for the impossible and the undesirable. The best, the very best, that we’ll ever do is create a society in which the inherently schizophrenic relationship between Saul and Paul is always under control. In our Bermuda, that controlling mechanism is that messy, noisy, confrontational, “Churchillian”, thing called Westminster style democracy. And it consists of rule by a majority. Yesterday, Saul. Today, Paul. Tomorrow, ???.