Many Bajans whom I asked over the past few days cannot tell me why the nickname for Barbados is "Bim". A quick search around the Internet indicates that it's a left over from the long connection with England, where Barbados was named "Bimshire" or Bim for short. I don't know if that is quaint or is really an insult. I can understand the shortening of this conjured English county name, by why the original name? The next best explanation I found refers to the fact that in 1942, Frank Collymore founded the literary magazine, Bim, which gave generations of writers an outlet for their poetry, short stories and literary criticism. In that context, it was argued that Bim was the nickname given to the planters by their slaves.
As happens with Internet searches go, the connections keep rolling on. A further search pulled up a reason why the name Bimshire has gained more recent prominence, being the not so fictional setting for a book written by Austin Clarke, The Polished Hoe (see one very good review and interview in January magazine). Born on Barbados in 1934, Clarke has lived in Canada for most of the last 46 years. Interestingly, with the assistance of the Central Bank of Barbados and the Canadian High Commission in Barbados, the play had a short tour in Barbados recently at the Frank Collymore Hall and was one of the most moving productions I have ever seen.
The Polished Hoe is set in the 1940s and is about the unfolding confession of Mary-Mathilda, one long night. She unburdens herself to the local police, and eventually explains how the polished hoe allows her to expunge her bitter memories. She was a young black girl when her mother (who had grown up in slavery) had given her to a powerful white man, Mr. Bellfeels, to be his mistress. Mary-Mathilda later became the mother of his only son, named Wilberforce. I won't spoil the rest of the story. The story brings back fully some of the mental and physical burdens that were part of the slave tradition, and many of which still have a powerful hold. So evocative that one of the actors said after the permiere performance in Barbados that he was left shaken for several hours after each performance.
I'll press on with my searching as I'm still unclear about the real origins of Bimshire, and which part of its origins are still alive and kicking.
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