Seniors share stories of Cayman’s past with students

For the second time around, Cayman International School students have embarked on an interview-based project to document experiences and life stories with Cayman’s older generations.

Some 45 Grade 8 students paired up with individual seniors for the free-flowing discussion in the school’s multipurpose room last Thursday.

Facilitated by social studies teacher Kevin Hamlin, the oral history project encouraged the students to interview the seniors about significant memories.

“From their perspective, it was interesting, and I learned a lot about what they did when they were younger and what they think about Cayman now and how it affected them and their families. It was very interesting,” student Riley Doyle said during a break from the discussions.

“Most seniors said that the tourists first came here for the beaches, but now Cayman is more of a city with big buildings and lots of traffic and they are not really a fan of it,” Doyle said, adding that they liked it better when they were her age.

Felicity Hughes, another Grade 8 student, said she learned how people kept the mosquitoes away in earlier days.

“One senior who lived on Cayman Brac told me he would bring food from the Bluff in thatch baskets and water from the well in containers. He also said they played cricket, soccer and hopscotch. To get rid of the mosquitoes, they would get a big pot, fill it with coconut husks, burn it to get a ton of smoke coming out to drive them away,” Hughes said.

Victor Chavez-Ferreira wanted to know what education was like for the seniors. He heard it was very limited and most had to stop being educated at a very young age.

He heard from seniors there were not many opportunities for jobs either, and they worked for very little money at a very young age.

“They talked about how life for them when they were young was very challenging because there was no electricity … they barely had any clothes, yet they still enjoyed it because when they were young. Everybody looked out for each other and everything was shared. Now it’s like everybody is for themselves and not as generous,” Chavez-Ferreira said.

Darvin Ebanks talks with Lenny Ebanks.

He added, “I heard how they biked or walked from one end of the island for basic things. Basically, they said everything has changed … the houses, the way we act, the way we travel, no exercise, the use of fast foods and so forth.”

Teacher Hamlin said that some of the students were learning some fascinating things that they might not find in a textbook or online.

“I would like the students to transcribe one of their interviews,” he said, “and, ultimately, the goal would be for them to submit that to the Cayman National Archives as an oral history record.”

Mary Lawrence, a historian and former Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, showed students a book which she claimed was the first book written about the Cayman Islands in 1908, and an early ABC book used in local schools.

She also showed students the late Ed Oliver’s artistic renditions of scenes of Cayman and Will Jackson’s historical and cultural book ‘Up from The Deep.’

Lawrence talked about the changes in local legislation, the country and the population.

“In 1970, we were 10,000 people; we are now 67,000 with 130 nationalities,” she told the students.

Seniors discuss Cayman history with Cayman International School students. – Photos: Alvaro Serey

Tourism pioneer Darvin Ebanks, who has become synonymous with the Cayman Islands’ Pirates Week festival, said students asked some very good questions.

“They wanted to find out how was life when I was growing up and how Cayman has changed over the years. I explained the simplicity of growing up in Cayman with just basic things,” Ebanks said.

“People today want the old Cayman back, but they don’t want to give up new things,” he said.

Even as times change though, he still partakes in some of the activities and traditions he grew up with. “I still climb mango trees, hunt for crabs, and fish. I try to pass along as much as I can to the younger generation,” he said.

Ebanks said he feels the children are getting an idea of what Cayman was like and some of these children will pass on the tradition to others.

“I enjoy fishing, playing around in the bushes and walking … I think I am carrying on the traditions,” said Grade 8 student Lenny Ebanks.

Support local journalism. Subscribe to the all-access pass for the Cayman Compass.

Subscribe now