Community mourns loss of Brac artist

Vinola Ebanks will be remembered for her efforts to preserve Caymanian heritage.

As a thatch artisan who participated in various cultural events in Cayman Brac, Vinola Ebanks will be remembered for her spirit of dancing and the preservation of Caymanian cultural heritage.

Ms. Ebanks, 86 passed away under tragic circumstances on the morning of Wednesday, Jan. 27 after losing control of her car on Stake Bay Road.

Vinola Ebanks with thatch works outside the Heritage House.
Vinola Ebanks with thatch works outside the Heritage House.

Well known as one of the few remaining people in the Brac making various items from the leaves of thatch palms, Ms. Ebanks created her magic for many years and took every opportunity time could afford her to showcase her works of art.

Ms. Ebanks learned the art of thatch work as a child, as well as making rope for sale overseas.

On Heritage Days on the Brac geared at preserving the past and protecting the future, Ms. Ebanks could be seen plaiting, thatching and displaying her works.

In 1994, Ms. Ebanks received an Ambassador of Tourism award from the Cayman Islands Government in recognition for her work in the tourism industry, having worked for many years in hotels on the Brac and Little Cayman.

For the preservation of Caymanian cultural heritage in keeping the thatch tradition alive, Ms. Ebanks was awarded the Cayman National Cultural Foundation 2013 Certificate of Creativity.

Daughter Betty Devere, 63, said, “Mama loved to dance. She was the first one to get on the dance floor and the last one to get off – all her children are just like her with that,” adding that her mother loved calypso and soca music.

Born as Ethel Vinola Ebanks in West Bay in 1929, Ms. Ebanks moved to Cayman Brac in 1946 and married Brac resident Charles Alson Ebanks in 1947. He passed away in October 2008.

In the 1960’s, Ms. Ebanks worked at the Buccaneer Inn, the Brac Reef Hotel and in Little Cayman. She gave that up to become a full-time housewife and mother to nine children – Barbara, Bonnie, Betty, Brent, Blarey, Brenda, Bridget, Beverly and Belinda.

Ms. Ebanks picked her children’s names from an encounter with a swarm of bees.

“Mama told me the story of when she was small and they would make thatch rope. One day in the bush she stepped in a bee patch and that was why she gave all of us the letter ‘B’ as our first name,” said Ms. Devere.

“When I asked mama if that was really true, she would simply say ‘That’s my story and I am sticking with it.’”

In her spare time Ms. Ebanks loved working on her straw baskets.

“Just last Saturday we went hunting whelks on the ironshore,” said Ms. Devere. “Mama loved to go whelk hunting and she also loved her plants, and would spend hours puttering away in the garden.”

Left to mourn are Ms. Ebanks’ nine children, 28 grandchildren, 23 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild, sister Patsy Ebanks and brother Claude Ebanks.