Celebrating the heritage of the Cayman Islands is the central tenet to the first book in a special series by Caymanian author Timali Ebanks.
“Christmastime” is to be released via Dog Ear Publishing and is all about a pair of youngsters, Vanessa and Jordan, being visited by their grand uncle who clues the young youngs in on what Christmas is all about, particularly in Cayman: families, community and sharing – not the latest Xbox games. This is the start of a series of themed releases by Ebanks. Weekender grabbed some time with the author to fill in the gaps.
What inspired the series of books?
I was inspired to begin this series for several reasons. I remembered as a youth how much I enjoyed Caribbean literature, and how I wished that there were more Caymanian literary works being produced. Also, while teaching, I saw how much our children enjoyed heritage days and anything about Caymanian culture that was brought into the classroom and integrated into the curriculum. Thirdly, I realized that the older generation were passing on and that we would not always have the opportunity to get firsthand accounts of their way of life and experiences. So I decided to try my hand at documenting and re-presenting some of our traditions through storytelling. Writing such a series has enabled me to record, highlight, preserve and share important aspects of our heritage for present and future generations.
When you talk about Caymanian heritage, what kinds of things do you mean?
Caymanian heritage, to me, has to do with the traditions, values and customs passed down through the years. My books are set in modern times and feature ways of life in the late 1930s, but the heritage reflected spans decades- if not, at least a century prior to that, as I imagine post-emancipation Cayman changed very little during that time.
What is this particular book about?
This particular book, “Christmastime” is about the preparations, traditions and festivities that families and communities participated in during the Christmas season in days past. It also touches on Christmas not being about what we get as much as it is about giving, enjoying the company of loved ones and the birth of Christ- things that children and adults often overlook due to the present day commercialization of the holiday.
Is it based on a true story or a story you were told when you were young?
It is based on a mixture of true stories; stories that I heard at the feet of elder family members, stories told by older folk in the communities, as well as stories recorded in books, memoirs and through various media. Oral storytelling, thankfully, is still alive and well in Cayman, and so it really was more a matter of figuring out how to take all those stories and integrate them into one story with a contemporary setting, to speak to modern children and families without losing the authenticity of the original stories.
Why is it important to keep kids aware of Caymanian culture?
The fact that the question is asked in and of itself is telling. Most people naturally assume the customs, practices and values of their communities without realizing and recognizing them as norms of their “culture.” I find that unless someone studies anthropology and specifically sets out to understand and research cultures, or spends some time in a foreign country and culture, they are not especially “aware of their culture” and that is natural and understandable.
However, due to globalization, advances in technology and now the rapid rise of social media, we are constantly introduced, exposed to and somewhat bombarded with a plethora of cultures. The world is now at our fingertips. Thrown into the mix of all of this is that we’ve moved from a tiny population of mostly Caymanians to a bigger population comprised of over 100 different nationalities in a short space of time. The culture that was predominantly Caymanian and taken for granted in my grandmother’s generation has been widely influenced and in some ways imposed upon without Caymanians even realizing it. Of course, some may argue that many Caymanians not only realized this but quickly embraced this reality.
While it is understandable that cultures evolve, at some point we must be able to identify, appreciate, enjoy and seek to preserve and uphold long-established and uniquely Caymanian customs and values. How else will our children come to know and appreciate who they are? How can they learn to appreciate other people and cultures without first loving and appreciating their own? Our culture is important because it is part of our identity.
What more could be done to increase awareness of the past and to ensure the future of Cayman?
I believe we are heading in a good direction. The Cayman National Cultural Foundation continues to spearhead initiatives to foster an appreciation for the arts, provide educational and training programs for artists and to preserve expressions of Caymanian arts. I am a recipient of one of their grants and thankful for the support that they gave me throughout the process of publishing my book. There are quite a number of organizations who are leading the way in seeking to commemorate and preserve our heritage.
Where I believe we have been falling short is instilling within our people, specifically our youth, a national identity. We are now at a place where people, even Caymanians, are beginning to question what it means to be a Caymanian. I think that we need to implement a “Proud to be Caymanian” initiative, whereby we introduce classes on Caymanian traditions as part of the curriculum in our public schools, we develop programs to go out over media with Caymanian–content showcasing Caymanian innovators, artists and entrepreneurs, we develop a tourism and hospitality school where we educate and train Caymanians so that when tourists visit the islands they will encounter Caymanians and a taste of Caymanian culture. One ought to be able to go out to eat, turn on the TV and radio, and see, hear and encounter things Caymanian. It is difficult for me to understand the cries of xenophobia that shout down anything mildly patriotic in Cayman. We must find a way to embrace others and allow for integration into the Caymanian society without denying ourselves.
What is your next project?
I am finalizing book two, which features the Cayman catboat in an unconventional way. The takeaway is an encouragement more so to young girls to be themselves, take pride in their gifts and talents and excel.
How can people get hold of the book?
The book can be purchased locally at Books & Books, The Book Nook and Christian Enlightenment Center. It can also be bought online through Amazon, Barnes and Noble and several other online bookstores.