We finally found the Heritage Museum of the Bahamas, after asking directions just one more time. It’s the pea green and salmon building below. Pea green and salmon are colors that I would have put together only when I wanted to convey visual dissonance, but as you can see from the photo below, in the Bahamas, it works.
The museum takes up the second floor of the circa 1850 Mountbatten House. They plan to make the first floor into retail space, eventually, but it’s empty for the moment.
We walked up the stairs and into a gift shop, where we bought our tickets. The cashier didn’t have change. “I’ll have it for you by the time you get through the museum,” he said, in casual island style. “It’ll take you about 45 minutes.” He then took about 10 minutes to fiddle with the recorder for the audio tour that is included with the price of the admission. I was just about to tell him to forget it when he got it going.
The museum starts with slice of a 4.5 billion year old meteor and moves its way through Bahamian history. That’s 17th century Spanish armor. The face was made to look like that, the recording informed us, to be scary. It worked on me.
You definitely could tell that the building was once a house. A sea life exhibit was housed in the shower.
Where the museum really excelled was on the history of slavery: they had the most interesting and unusual collection of slave objects. I’ve seem thousands upon thousands of sites and objects associated with the enslavement of Africans in the US and the Caribbean and I’ve never had the reaction to any of it as I did to this collection. And I think Patricia felt the same way. Most of the objects were so upsetting that we couldn’t bring ourselves to photograph it.
Here’s one, though, that was photograph-able and unusual.
It’s a slave bench, as you can tell by the manacles attached to it, from the 19th century. The unusual part about it isn’t the object itself, but the fact that visitors are encouraged to sit on it and reflect. Can you imagine an American museum encouraging folks to sit on one of their museum objects?
I was glad we didn’t forgo the audio tour, because there weren’t many labels on the objects. And even the audio was a little confusing — there were exhibits and objects that it described that we just couldn’t find. Still, we both thought that it was a very worthwhile visit and we’d definitely go back if given the chance. And the cashier did have our change ready when we got back.
The museum is part of the Graycliff complex, which also includes a mansion-turned-luxury-hotel, a cigar factory and a chocolate factory and shop. We’d stopped to ask directions in the hotel and gotten a glimpse of its 18th century opulance. The receptionist, who gave us the final directions to the museum, gave us two options. One was the direct route down the road. The other was a longer route through the hotel and their gardens. Myopic me chose to take the direct route but now I wish we’d taken a few minutes to look around. Next time.
After the museum, we crossed the street to the Graycliff Chocolate Shop and each had one piece of chocolate. For $8 a piece, we couldn’t afford any more. Then we wandered back to the ship via the tourist shopping area of town. By then, it was almost 4:30 and the whoever told us that everything closed at 4:30 was right — vendors were covering their wares and packing up.
The shops in the tourist area are either high end luxury products or schlock and I was just about to give up on buying something made in the Bahamas when we came across a shop called My Ocean. It’s owned by a Bahamian artist and sells small handmade Bahamian products. We bought soaps and ceramic coasters in ocean colors and etched with sea motifs and called it a day.