My cousins and I were children of the forties but I can identify with Llewellyn Emery,
a child of the late fifties. He states that he and
his company “were not about to become idle
Persons of our generation are also tempted
to identify with McCallan, of the nineteenth
century when he wrote “I am inclined to think
that we youngsters were better informed and
more interested in things in general than are
young people of today.”
Each generation has justifiably believed
this and celebrated their childhood according
to this mantra. The writings of many Bermu-
dian biographies are prefaced by descriptions
of their childhood play, their adaptation of
natural materials, their freedom and their fun.
Regardless of the era, the comparisons bear
One of my contemporaries, Pauulu Kamara-kafego, describes childhood pursuits that share
a commonality with those of Larry Burchall
a decade later. Pauulu writes of going into the
‘bush’ to collect plants and animals: bees, butterflies, singers, lizards, toads and earthworms
and securing them in the infamous mayonnaise bottle with holes pierced in the top. We
all did this, almost without exception.
Oleanders had been introduced into
Bermuda in 1790, so by the nineteenth and
twentieth century they were well-established
throughout the island and available to serve
the purpose of imaginary rides described in
detail by both McCallan and Emery. Until
1946 there were no cars and no buses. Our
“rides” were restricted to oleander trees and
every boy and girl knew how to traverse and
ride the thick, entangled boughs. The well-trimmed, ornamental trees of today which
define our highways bear scarce resemblance
to their predecessors that grew along the byways. Every child knew that the oleander and
Chinese fan palm berries were poisonous and
you did not put your fingers in your mouth!
Pauulu in ME ONE gives a definitive
outline, as only a boy who grew up to be a
scientist could, on how to make bows and arrows from oleander boughs as well as the other
natural plants that would assure the appropriate direction and flight path of his improvised
Wild plants and flowers were abundant.
Many weeds bore a close resemblance to
vegetables like parsley, spinach or beans. These
were harvested and utilized for our playhouse
Much satisfaction could be had from creat-
ing our own jewellery as girls, despite their
tomboy games, were still girls.
Dried acacia seed pods (Pandanus utilis)
were collected during the summer. The softly
boiled seeds were threaded carefully on to a
needle and thread and the pretty brown seeds
made an acceptable bracelet or necklace to
“show off”. In later years I would discover that
this childhood pursuit actually had a history.
McCallan refers to the seeds of the acacia
being made into necklaces, bracelets, small
bags, purses and other objects. I have also seen
the acacia seed used for handcrafted items on
other islands in the Caribbean.
The use of flowers and plants were extensive in our play. The umbrella plant (Cyperus alternifolius) made perfect doll’s hair. A
straight pin divided the leaves and the hair was
duly combed, plaited or curled with the help
of lard, Vaseline and water.
As island children we identified with the exotic islanders of Hawaii. Our leis of frangipani
or blue bell flowers were threaded onto
cane grass stalks. As a child in the 1920s
my mother and her sister strung these
garlands and sold them to the tourists when they passed her Cedar
Avenue home. Her very strict and
proud mother, our no-nonsense
grandmother, probably did not
know of their enterprise as she was
very likely preoccupied with one of
her seven children.
While many of our childhood
games and play were relatively pas-
sive or boisterous, the playing
of tops was a contrary pursuit.
There was an art and beauty to unleashing the store-bought top and watching it
unfurl at the end of a coarse length of string,
controlled by the bottle-top cap held between
two fingers. This was fun to watch. The hum
added to the pleasure until its unimpressive
demise when it wobbled to a clumsy, delirious
In essence, our childhood years were reasonably safe, productive and devoid of lethargy.
It is gratifying to realize now that our play,
games and crafts are validated in and through
the writings of so many Bermudian authors
who obviously value and cherish their childhood on “The Rock”—Bermuda.
In twenty-first century Bermuda it is possible to replicate some small aspects of our
childhood years for the children of today.
It will take a greater effort; but we still have
tops, mayonnaise bottles, cane grass stalks, tubular flowers, caterpillars, milkweed, rib-rods,
acacia seeds and brown paper bags—and now
we have HANDS ON!—a book that reminds
you of when and how. Have fun!
Little fingers were kept busy making
cat tails out of yarn, old thread spools,
nails and a knitting needle.