The Human Ecology, Histories, and Literature Departments have collaborated on a series ongoing personal reflective essays called Eleutheros. Each week students are asked to write a reflective essay that demonstrates their understanding of the themes from their coursework and effectively links these themes to their unique thoughts and experiences. Enjoy reading these two articulate examples of how our students have deeply and personally engage with essential questions, important to their course of study at The Island School… Prompt: Why is the sea valuable? Discuss different individual and cultural perspectives on the sea. Consider how your life experiences, as well as your learning in Histories, Literature, and Human Eco have impacted how you understand the value of the world’s oceans.
My paddle dug into the muddy waters of the Mekong Delta, as I maneuvered amongst the floating homes. The children waved from the doorway of their school. Their school pitched in the ripples made by our canoes. The plastic jugs and Styrofoam, keeping the structure afloat, grumbled and moaned. Behind them I could see the desks, world maps, and chalkboard. Underneath the homes lay a world of sustainability. Giant nets filled with fish created the possibility of all this happening by creating an income for the village. Observing this world and perceiving how they utilize the sea through transport, income, religion, and as a base for their home, completely changed my thoughts on the ocean. I was able to realize how diverse the value of the sea truly is and in how many ways it can be manipulated for use.
The ocean is everything. It provides a livelihood and culture. The sea is a majestic world that yields jobs and a way of life. Nehemiah, a local fisherman and one who lives off the wealth of the sea, states that he enjoys nothing more than fishing in the waters of Eleuthera. Looking to the fiscal side of The Bahamas, the attraction to all tourists is the ocean and “tourism represents more than 50% of the annual gross domestic product, making tourism the largest single contributor to the country’s economy” (Buchan 2000, BEST 2002). Not only does the ocean subsidize fishing opportunities, but it also supports whole communities, including restaurants, local shops, and local guide companies. Like Nehemiah, it provides a way of life as well. In a reading on Bahamian culture, the culture is depicted as “it’s conch, it’s fish-and-grits, it’s Junkanoo…” (Bethel_ On Culture p.17) This quote connects to Omeros, as the characters’ whole way of life is based around the ocean. Walcott states, when defining culture, “Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun” (Clifford Geertz). Considering Omeros, the characters made the ocean a significant part of their life, therefore part of their culture. It provides a way of transport as well as a spiritual connection.
Personally, the value of the ocean is much like it is in the description of Bahamian culture, for Nehemiah, and in Omeros: it’s a way of life for me. The experiences I’ve had on and around the ocean have taught me more about myself then most other experiences I’ve endured. I have grown up sailing all my life on the Atlantic, off the coast of Fire Island. When I was young, I did not think twice about the worth of the ocean, not appreciating anything it had to offer. Last summer one of my best friends and I raced a 420 at a regatta about five miles away from Point O’Woods, the community where I live. We raced for about six hours, but when it came time for the tow back, we were told that it was too rough and windy for a tow and that we would have to sail back. By now it was about3 o’clock and the winds and waves had drastically picked up. It was blowing about 25 knots with waist high white caps. I was skippering and my friend, Will, was crewing, which required him to be out on trapeze holding on for dear life to a tiny metal cable. About one hundred feet offshore, we capsized. Will was thrown under the sail still attached to the trapeze, while I was chucked from the boat’s side. We both came up and were ok. We flipped the boat back up, struggled back in and made eye contact. We were going to conquer the water; we were going to overcome it. As soon as we made that decision, the boat started sinking from the waves crashing over the side. I yanked at the main sheet and pulled with every ounce of strength propelling us forward and the water out of the boat. I yelled at Will through the wind and crashing waves to get back out on trapeze or else we’d flip again. He clipped himself back in, but we hit a wave and he swung around the forestay and cut open his lip and leg. Meanwhile, his weight shift caused us to capsize again. Once again, we shinnied back into the boat and kept going. I had to hold the rudder with two hands as the water tried to rip it out of my hands. After three hours of sailing, capsizing twelve times, and multiple bruised body parts, we finally beached the boat at Point O’ Woods. Multiple times throughout the journey we wanted to give up, but we had conquered the sea. The value of the experience given by the ocean and the challenge provided a feeling that we both will never forget – having the knowledge of being down or behind and knowing that I am able to persevere and push forward.
In Omeros, the fishermen hold the ocean to such a high standard that the trees, in which they make the canoes out of, are referring to as gods. “The fisherman shouted…the gods were down at last” (Omeros p.6). Nowadays we hold the ocean to as high of a standard as it was back then, which is why regulations have been enacted. The government feels that the value of the ocean needs to be protected. Much like the conflict of industrial vs. nature in Omeros, there is a conflict amongst the government (industrial) and the fisherman (nature). In a documentary highlighting the point of view of the fisherman, the fisherman believe that the authoritative powers are overwhelming the fishing industry with too many regulations. They believe that “you can’t have every type of fish in the ocean at the same time” (Fisheries Documentary – Histories) and that data is collected in some box somewhere. The fisherman felt as if the regulations were completely unneeded, as they did not see a decline in fish. Talking to Nehemiah, a local fisherman who holds the sea to the utmost honor, believes that these regulations are needed. Nehemiah grew up into a fishing family, and couldn’t stay away from his true calling. He has three boys, and wants them to have the ability to fish the same fish he grown up harvesting. Nehemiah has seen a decline in fish, but since the regulations, he has noticed a steady comeback. Nehemiah has such admiration for the sea because of the value, which is the fact that it does provide for his family, community, culture, and country.
The ocean is everything. It provides a livelihood and culture. The sea supplies communities with a way of life. The value is close to me as it has enlightened to me of learning a life lesson of knowing that I am able to power through anything when pushed down or behind. It provides the people of Omeros with the culture of food, transport, and spiritual meaning. Amongst Bahamians, the ocean represents everything – their income, their sustainability, and their philosophy. Fisherman and government alike hold the sea to the highest esteem, but there is a loss amongst communication of what needs to be done. “We helped ourselves to these green islands like olives from a saucer, munched on the pith, then spat their sucked stones on a plate, like a melon’s black seeds” (Omeros p.25). The green islands are a reference to the sea, and if we keep helping ourselves to the olives, all we could be left with are the piths.
How can a tangible presence that withstands time, geographical changes, millions of cultures and people, and has a personal meaning to every individual be valued? The sea has a relationship with everyone, even if one has never seen the rolling waves or felt the sea breeze, the sea brings breezes, weather, and a new opportunity for a whole new world to be explored. The sea is this presence, and what makes it so valuable for me is that it connects me to the Mayans, Jesus, the Lucayans, Gandhi, Brad Pitt, and my family hundreds of miles away right now; World War II, the Nautical Race Around the World, the Trojan War, and my best friend sailing on the Barnegat Bay without me every Sunday in May. The sea is valuable in many different ways, emotionally, monetarily, metaphorically or physically, but no matter which of the former applies, every living thing on Earth has a relationship with the sea in some way, fostering the need to conserve the sea for future generations.
The sea’s value comes partly from its ability to connect the past to the present, influencing the future. Since time began, the sea has played a huge role in the culture of society. The sea is a reoccurring theme in the New Testament, something especially emphasized in church last Sunday with new Christians being baptized in water on Easter. Especially this week on exploration time, I found a Lucayan artifact of an old conch shell with the top worn down, probably used for opening other conch shells for their meat, on my walk of Boy’s Dorm Beach. Not only did it amaze me that I was touching something that the original Eleutherans had touched hundreds of years ago, but how we were so connected with the sea through our use of it. Our connection to all of these different points in history and cultures helps reinforce for me that we are all equal, something we talked about in Histories this week. If we all call upon the sea and immerse ourselves in it, how can we not help but have an ethnocentric view? Whether I am an Egyptian farmer waiting for the sea to flood my field and produce fruit or aNew Jerseyteenager who finds her only total escape by sailing the sea for hours on end, our cultures are linked and a mutual respect is formed by our understanding of the value of the sea. I have no idea the hardships of an oppressive government or the tension brought by a life completely dependent on nature’s bounty, and he knows nothing about growing up with a high expectation of achieving, experiencing, learning, and being better than everyone else in society like I have grown up with, but we have the common link that otherwise leaves us as strangers. I realized that when I’m just hanging out on the beach and swimming on our run-swims, I’m not alone and I have no ownership over this outlet. The sea is a piece of every person that has interacted with it, connecting all people together through a single medium.
Also, a really reassuring thing for me, being so far away from my family and best friend for an entire month during difficult times at home, is that the ocean feels like a second home to me. When I am feeling overwhelmed by constant socialization that is The Island School or the freak-outs of feeling so disgusting and salty all of the time after morning exercise, my solo spot is the bench right behind the dining hall, giving me an uninterrupted horizon as far around as my peripheral vision, just the ocean. I can’t remember a time when the sea wasn’t there for me; I am pretty sure it is the only thing that has listened to me sing Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me” the whole way through with the world’s worst singing voice and the only one that will sit with me for hours in complete silence when I just get too tired of the burdens of life.
After reading about Achille’s personal reflection and realization that maybe Helen is not worth free diving to the sunken ship for treasure, I felt like Achille and I had a similar relationship with the sea. Achille is explained in the midst of his epiphany when Walcott says, “their coral eyes entered by minnows, as he hauled the lobster-pot, bearded with moss, in the cold shade of the redoubt,” showing that Achille takes a step back from his relationships to understand them, coming to the conclusion that his intentions for Helen are not as definite as he thought they were. Sometimes my enthusiasm and fast-pace clouds me from really reflecting on my personal feelings and thinking through decisions I am making, but being surrounded by the sea allows me to calm myself down in devastating situations and look at the big picture of my life. For example, this summer I became really overwhelmed about colleges and what I wanted to do in the future, and it literally enveloped my mind constantly. My personal therapy was to get away from my family and friends for an hour a day and float in the ocean. For some reason, I was able to calm the triggers of anxiety in my mind and start to believe myself when I said that I was secure and I didn’t have to worry. Looking back, this was a really important journey for me to go through before The Island School because it allowed me to open my more negative emotions that I don’t like to talk about. Before that, the worst emotions I had experienced in my entire life originated from a sad Taylor Swift song after a boy I liked started dating a freshman in the fall, so my emotional state had changed from oblivious to engulfing in a matter of months. Now I can continue to push myself in dealing with that other part of my mind, accepting that a person cannot be happy all of the time, and learning how to embrace hardships. Hopefully after Achille consistently keeps reflecting on his true emotions with the sea, his character will develop and become more level headed when it comes to fighting over Helen’s love with Hector, reflecting aspects of my emotional IslandSchoolexperience in Omeros. With that part of me opened up to the world now, I am excited to see how much more I can learn about myself and see how my therapeutic relationship with the sea grows with my discoveries of not only myself, but also of different perspectives of the sea.
Growing up summering on the Jersey Shore, the ocean has always been a coveted part of my summer that I missed the most when I left for school in the urbanized Princeton community. On theJerseyShore, everyone’s perspective of the sea is similar, mostly entertainment, relaxation, and sport, but in my first month in TheBahamasI have been exposed to so many different kinds of Bahamians and their view of the sea. Meeting Nehemiah and learning about his story, he encompassed many different perspectives of the sea. As a child, the sea was a family tree for him, tracing his father and his father’s father back to fishing in the sea, but as he got older he saw the opportunities the sea brought for a family. After going to Nassau as a young adult, he found his passion for fishing as a sport and then having a family he saw how fishing provided flexibility and a good living to sustain his family. When talking with Nehemiah on the Cobia out to the spearfishing spot, I could see how fishing and the sea has become a part of his life that he does not appreciate as much as an outsider, but the gleam in his eyes when he told me about the 564 pound grouper he caught showed undoubtedly that this man encompassed so many parts of the sea in his own soul. His value to the sea was like liquid gold, but the vision of him fishing as a small child in The Bahamas with his father brought his romanticized view of the sea that I was creating in my mind back to reality; back to a man with a spear in a bucket ready to hunt down a spiny lobster for a boat full of students anxiously awaiting his almost magical sea instinct.
The sea is so valuable because it relates people to people, place to place, and culture to culture. The reason the sea is so valuable is because it cannot be valued in one currency. The sea is worth 10,000 hugs to me, $200 a barracuda for Nehemiah, 300 conchs a season for the Lucayans, and 3 months of reassurance for my parents that when they look at the rolling, cobalt blue waves of the Jersey Shore, I am looking back at them from the turquois surf of The Bahamas and saying through my grin, “I’m right here!”