Bambarra Peoples and the Trouvadore – Our Ancestral Beginnings
There are very few Turks and Caicos Islanders who know about their ancestral beginnings, with many of us believing that we are descendants of escaped slaves from neighbouring islands. However, the true story of our past is one of heroism and the triumph of good over evil (A Wreck That Led to Liberty, C.J. Williams 2004).
In 1841, a Spanish vessel set sail from Sao Tome, a Portuguese colony off the coast of Africa, transporting slaves bound for the Western Hemisphere. This ship was called the Trouvadore. Aboard the Trouvadore would have been some 300 African slaves, illegally captured, destined to be put to work in the lucrative sugar cane industry in Cuba. The illegality of this act was not just a moral issue, but as slavery had been abolished in Spain and Britain some years before it was also a bona fide legal issue.
The illegally captured slaves were taken from a Mandé tribe in West Africa consisting of Natives who spoke the Bambarra language. Upon entering the waters of the Turks and Caicos, the Trouvadore may have come upon a coral reef formation which caused it to sink. The details of the sinking is still a matter of speculation, however, given the treacherous and unforgiving nature of these coral reefs, it is a safe assumption that they played a role.
Initial assistance came from the island of Middle Caicos. Residents of Middle Caicos disarmed the Spanish crew of 20 so that when the British authorities arrived there was no need for force (Shipwreck may hold key to Turks and Caicos’ lineage- Reuters, Jane Sutton Nov. 2008). Of the approximately 300 Bambarra people that left Africa, 192 were alive when the passengers came ashore. This reduction in numbers was probably due to the squalid living arrangements of the slaves coupled with the strenuously long voyage.
“Of the 192 Africans, 168 (89 men, 26 women, 39 boys, 11 girls and 3 infants) were distributed amongst salt pond owners on Salt Cay and Grand Turk” (History of the Turks and Caicos Islands, Dr. Carlton Mills et al.). These 168 people were given clothes, taught English and Christian values and put to work for a year on a pittance consisting of some food and shelter in order to cover their added expense on the government.
There are no records of what happened to the 168 Africans after their year of apprenticeship ended. However, at the time, the majority of whites lived in the Turks islands and would have sent the ever growing black population to the Caicos Islands in order to preserve the status quo (Dr. Mills, 2008). The Caicos Islands had better soil and vegetation and was better able to sustain growth.
In 1843, the population of the Turks and Caicos was 2,495 consisting of 449 whites and 2046 blacks. This means that nearly 7% of the population consisted of these Bambarra peoples and by extension means that today, all belongers are related in some way (by blood or by marriage) to these survivors of the Trouvadore (Dr. Mills, 2008).
“Instead of being sold into a lifetime of bondage and being worked to death, our ancestors settled here as free people” (David Bowen, Cultural Director for the Turks and Caicos Islands)