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The mutiny on the Royal Navy vessel HMS BOUNTY occurred in the South Pacific on 28 April 1789. Disaffected crewmen, led by Acting Lieutenant Fletcher Christian, seized control of the ship from their captain, Lieutenant William Bligh, and set him and 18 loyalists adrift in the ship’s open launch. The mutineers variously settled on Tahiti or on Pitcairn Island. Bligh meanwhile completed a voyage of more than 3,500 nautical miles (6,500 km; 4000 mi) in the launch to reach safety, and began the process of bringing the mutineers to justice.

BOUNTY had left England in 1787 on a mission to collect and transport breadfruit plants from Tahiti to the West Indies. A five-month layover in Tahiti during which many of the men lived ashore and formed relationships with native Polynesians, proved harmful to discipline. Relations between Bligh and his crew deteriorated after he began handing out increasingly harsh punishments, criticism and abuse, Christian being a particular target. After three weeks back at sea, Christian and others forced Bligh from the ship. Twenty-five men remained on board afterwards, including loyalists held against their will and others for whom there was no room on the launch.

After Bligh reached England in April 1790, the Admiralty dispatched HMS PANDORA to apprehend the mutineers. Fourteen were captured in Tahiti and imprisoned on board PANDORA, which then searched without success for Christian’s party that had hidden on Pitcairn Island. After turning back towards England, PANDORA ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef, with the loss of 31 crew and four prisoners from BOUNTY. The 10 surviving detainees reached England in June 1792 and were court martialed; four were acquitted, three were pardoned, and three were hanged.

– from WIKIPEDIA, the free encyclopedia

After Napoleon Bonaparte and the French army wreaked havoc on Europe in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the English dominated Europe and ruled most of the world for the rest of the nineteenth and much of the twentieth centuries.

The key to English hegemony was their navy: English seamen were the finest in the world.  And, their maritime code was brutal. Once a sailing ship left an English port, the captain’s authority was absolute: unilaterally, he could have a member of his crew cruelly flogged, keelhauled, or even hanged.

In Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, the movie director gives his audience an idea of how rough military drill sergeants are on the young men they are seeking to get into fighting shape. Yes, the Marine drill sergeant in Jacket was crazy rough, but at least the recruits were assured of daily food and drink. English seamen in the days of sailing routinely endured significantly worse than what you saw in Full Metal Jacket.

Since the 1930s, Hollywood has made at least three different full-length movies about an incident called “The Mutiny on the Bounty.” HMS Bounty set out for the South Pacific in late 1787 to gather breadfruit trees to take to the West Indies to grow food for the African slaves the British had shackled in the Caribbean. The trip was going for two years old, in April of 1789, when there was a historic mutiny on the ship.

The captain against whom the ship’s crew rebelled was a paranoid tyrant by the name of William Bligh. Bligh, however, was a great, great seaman. Set adrift with a few loyalists in a lifeboat in the South Pacific, he reached “civilization” 3,500 nautical miles later, an incredible feat of sailing.

The column today is about leadership, specifically maritime leadership, and the salient fact that there is no democracy on the sea. At the age of 21, I became the leader of a cultural, revolutionary organization which was only a few weeks old.  All my officers were older than I, and the leadership culture I knew about most intimately was the maritime leadership I had grown up observing and experiencing in the Hyde and Belisle families, both of whom were seafaring families.

My father is 95, and basically bedridden, but his mind is very sharp.  Recently, he has told me about a small port in Louisiana, near New Orleans, by the name of Westwego. All the principals from both the Belize and the Washington ends must have passed, but Westwego was where bootleggers from Belize made many alcohol drops during the years of Prohibition (1919-1933) in the United States.  This was so much the case that my father told me that his father used to call the old Hyde machine shop, on the northern bank of the Haulover Creek (off North Front Street between Mapp and Douglas Jones Streets), “Westwego.” My father’s father, you see, was one of Bob Turton’s bootleggers.  And Bob Turton was our first Prime Minister’s employer, but it was what it was…

Over the years I’ve told you many stories about myself, mostly because I was trying to get you to understand why I think the way I do, and what were my formative experiences. But, I don’t believe I’ve ever told you that my father’s father and I were never on the best of terms, although he was the one who taught me how to drive a car in 1964.

After all the years, I think that my Hyde grandfather was probably not on good terms with my Belisle grandfather, and when I met my Hyde grandfather in 1954 on West Canal Street, I had been raised from birth (1947) with my  mother’s side of the family, Lindos and Belisles, on Church Street. I was very close to my Belisle grandfather, who died tragicallyin 1957.

Anyway, the Belisles were more sailing boat people, and fishermen, whereas the Hydes were also seamen, but more machinists and mechanics.  One of the aspects of life in the colony that has not been researched is how many of our Belizean men joined the so-called Merchant Marine, and how that whole process worked. I know for sure that my maternal granduncle, Gilbert Belisle, and his nephew, Jerry Belisle, served many years in the Merchant Marine, whereas my Hyde grandfather’s nephew, Wallace Hyde, was also a Merchant Marine stalwart. In any case, the long and short of it is that I came from maritime people in both my father’s and mother’s families.

My father and his two younger brothers did not pursue the machinery tradition of the Hydes because my grandmother, Eunice Locke Hyde, hated washing all the clothes heavy with grease and oil, so she got her sons into high schools and the  civil service.

So now, let’s return to maritime culture and how leadership operates on the sea. You cannot challenge authority on the sea, because survival sometimes depends on urgent, unquestioning obedience to the captain’s orders. It can get rough on the sea, and in those days of old when there was no meteorological office and weather reports, it could get nasty suddenly, unexpectedly.

I became a captain at Spanish Caye when I was just 14, because it was believed that I could take care of boats and passengers in the waters between Spanish Caye and Belize City. I have not been legally a captain for decades, because now there is bureaucracy in charge of the sea, and you have to pass a written examination to become a captain. I have been disenfranchised. Things have changed. It’s no longer about sleek sailboats and functional auxiliaries. Now it’s powerboats, and from here to there in the relative twinkling of an eye. Money has become a big deal in the new maritime culture in Belize, as in everything else, I guess.

Anyway, Belize’s power structure will have no interest in the anniversary of our organization which comes up next month. But there may be one or two people who are interested in recalling some aspects of the phenomenon. Personally, I have written enough on the matter over the decades, so if any of you wish to recall or record the moment, I recommend that you get the perspectives of the other Belizeans who were involved in the process. For the record, University of Belize Professor Joe Iyo did do some important interviews with some organization principals about fourteen or so years ago.  I believe Yasser Musa was working closely with Professor Iyo at the time, so Yasser may also be able to assist.

Power to the people.

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