Hermitage Blog

We speak our own dialect in Nevis, it is a version of English that is filled with its own rhythm and cadence, and rife with its own sublimated context. We speak with vagary and ambiguity because in a community of 11,000 it is easy to follow subtle references.

But our dialect also has its own contradictions, just as our language can be loose it can also be very literal. I have all my life on Nevis been referred to as ‘white man’ which is not meant to be racist just descriptive. White people are white, black people are black and fat people are fat, with no derogatory association. Nicknames are very common, and might not actually have anything to do with what seems to be implied. There is a man called Belly, but it is not because he is fat.

One might struggle with this without some cultural understanding, as my father did when he first came to the island. He employed a young man who had lost his leg to childhood cancer. His name was Dwight, which my father insisted on calling him until he saw the confusion it was causing at the young man’s home. Dad found this out when he went to collect Dwight for his first day of work.

“I am here to pick up Dwight,” he said to the old lady sitting on the stoop.
“Who?” She replied.
“Eh? Who you say you want?”
“Dwight! I’ve come to pick up Dwight. He’s starting work today.”
“Oh!, You mean, my grandson? One Foot! The white man come for you!”

So, in some instance there is nothing in a name, in other cases a nickname is just spot on.

Similarly, a school counselor told me about her efforts to confront what she thought was an incident of bullying at high school. Ironically, it was another young boy named Dwight (perhaps nicknames are so common because there are so many people called Dwight). The school counselor called the entire class together to insist that Dwight be referred to only by his proper name, saying that one’s identity should not be decided by one event. She spent 45 minutes discussing the matter but the class became more and more perplexed until finally poor Dwight cried out in tears.

“But, Miss, that’s my name, I am Panty-head!”