National Geographic : 1941 Jan
The National Geographic Magazine hills slope up panorama fashion from the curv ing shoreline. The spacious harbor of St. John's, capital of this island, is lined with coral reefs and is too shallow to admit larger ships. We took a small launch from the Lady Drake. White terns flew out to meet us. Island traders waved a friendly greeting from small sailing sloops. On the white sands of Fort James beach we saw a gay group of swimmers sharing the meager shade of Spanish needle trees. There is a sparkle about Antigua, seat of government of the Leeward Islands. It is evident in the freshly painted white frame houses, the clean streets, and the happy people. No sooner had we landed than we were sur rounded by pretty creole girls selling strings of sea shells. "A penny, please," one called. "Take mine, mistress, it is yellow like the moon." And another, "Take me, my lady, a penny for a pink pretty." She held up a string of sea shells, pink as shrimp under the water. We were entertained at a tea party at Clarence House, present residence of the Gov ernor. The house was originally built by English stonemasons for Prince William Henry (afterward Duke of Clarence and King Wil liam IV) when he was on the Leeward Islands station in command of H.M.S. Pegasus in 1787. We followed the narrow footpath that leads from Clarence House down to Nelson's dock yard in English Harbour, carefully avoiding the poisonous leaves and berries of the man chineel trees. Here the great English admiral Lord Nelson passed much time in his earlier career, when he commanded H.M.S. Boreas on the Leeward Islands station-1784-1787. Then the harbor was infested with a plague of yellow fever, which took its toll of as many as a dozen deaths a day. Antigua's Blue English Harbour Today, Antigua, with a population of 34, 000, is free of fever and acclaimed among islanders as a health resort. The main build ings in the dockyard are built on a flat stone spit with sheer sides running down into the blue waters of English Harbour (page 21). We were fascinated with the sea anemones living attached to the sides of the quays. They look like ordinary field daisies until, at the slightest movement in the waters around them, they instantly draw in their petal-like tendrils and remain cautiously closed. Adjoining a saw-pit in the dockyard is the Admiral's House. Although it has been re stored in recent years, it still lacks any sem blance of charm. The frugal furnishings are sadly in need of cleaning. The old pineapple poster bed, in which Nelson is said to have slept, looks lonely and somewhat irrelevant. Across the harbor we could see the first navy yard, and to the south the mirror-smooth waters of Freeman Bay-a ship's haven in hurricane months. As we drove home from the dockyard along William IV Road, Sugar Loaf Mountain etched its long green shadow against a saffron-swept evening sky. The little weather-beaten shacks along the road seemed to be sprinkled with gold dust. Black Satyrs Caper to Calypsos At the village of All Saints a dozen diminu tive satyrs pranced across the road. With hibiscus in their shiny black hair and an ex quisite rhythm in their wiry black bodies, they capered about to a calypso of their own mak ing. Calypso songs recall old ballads with a recital of modern news events in rhyme, such as a popular one entitled "Roosevelt Visits Trinidad." We stopped the car to toss pennies to the singers, and one not more than five years old sprang to the running board, chanting a song about "the mistress-she is wise with her pen nies." At Devil's Landing we passed a procession of wrinkled old women who rode their donkeys and balanced as many as six "monkeys" (water jars) upon their heads. The natives of Antigua know no aid of a potter's wheel. With their thumb and fore finger, a small stick, and a piece of string-to level off the bottom-they work wonders with the crude clay which they dig from the earth. All along the William IV Road we met men, women, and children carrying squat little jugs and tall, graceful vases which they were tak ing to market. The market in St. John's is interesting (Plate IX). In one stall we saw hundreds of bright yellow pumpkins, ready to be shipped to the States for Thanksgiving pies. Although Antigua is subject to severe droughts, fruits and vegetables thrive well, because the soil is very retentive of water. Sugar is the principal industry, however, in this island of 108 square miles, and there are two modern sugar factories. Workers in the cane fields receive 20 cents an acre. When I asked how much this would amount to a day, I was told by one of them: "Tomorrow, please God, I does de whole acre, as de rent up Saturday." Incidentally, the rent in question was 48 cents for one week. There you have the West Indian native's philosophy.