Eleuthera and Jensen – Building Bridges of Friendship

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Jensen Beach Pineapple Festival patrons join in the rush of Junkanoo during last weekend’s Pineapple Festival. (Photo by Gladstone Thurston)

By: Gladstone Thurston 

FT. LAUDERDALE, Florida – The Ministry of Tourism’s Eleuthera Office manager Jackie Gibson was about the have the surprise of her life. When she organized the pineapple festival in Gregory Town, Eleuthera she was convinced it was the only of its kind.

But two years later her colleague Bridget Pierre King, who at that time had Tourism responsibilities for the Treasure Coast area of Florida, told her of a pineapple festival in Jensen Beach.

“I was shocked,” Ms Gibson recalled. “I felt we were the only people on planet Earth who had a pineapple festival.

“I said ‘Bridget you have to get me the contact because I need to know what they are doing so we can share ideas and come up with something that is unique.’”

A few days later she connected with Jensen Beach Chamber of Commerce executive director, the affable Ron Rose, and the rest is history in the making.

“We found that there were so many similarities between our little community and that of Jensen Beach,” said Ms Gibson.

Former Prime Minister Sir Lynden Pindling sanctioned an exchange of proclamations declaring Gregory Town and Jensen Beach sister cities.

Last weekend, in celebration of twenty years of sisterhood, a large contingent from Eleuthera including the Brilanders, the Junkanoo Allstars, and the Ministry of Tourism seasoned the Jensen Beach Pineapple Festival with that spicy Bahamian flavour.

One outcome of the relationship has been the establishment of the Authentic Bahamian Marketplace at the Jensen Festival featuring a wide variety of products made in the Bahamas. This year it was a hit

“The Bahamian Marketplace defines this event,” said Rose. “It gives the festival a theme; it gives it a feeling; and it gives it some authenticity.

“When you think about it, there have been a lot of promotions about Junkanoo, but how many festivals here (in the US) can boast that they have had the real thing?”

Students of Jensen Beach High School got a first hand taste of ‘the real thing’.

Several members of the Eleuthera Junkanoo Allstars are themselves high schoolers. Some were visiting America for the first time.

“They went into Jensen High and gave a lesson on Junkanoo,” said Ms Gibson. “They took in some drums, whistles and horns and the children got to know what Junkanoo is.

“Only two in the class had ever heard about Junkanoo and they still did not have a good definition for it. Now they know about Junkanoo and Eleuthera and The Bahamas.”

The connection between Eleuthera and Jensen Beach goes back to the 1880s. Research shows that farmers from Eleuthera helped establish the pineapple industry in Jensen Beach.

“What makes this event grand have been the great friendships and a lot of teamwork,” said Mr. Rose. “Jackie Gibson has been an outstanding friend and a great part of the team that makes this event a great event.

“You can tell by the festival goers’ reaction that the contribution of The Bahamas is cherished. They were all dancing in the streets behind the Junkanoo band and when the Brilanders were performing. The people are really happy with everything.

“We wanted to have a culturally oriented, family friendly atmosphere. The Bahamian Marketplace contributed to that. You saw the families flocking to get their hair braided. The festival was a huge success,” said Mr. Rose.

The sister city relationship has gone beyond pineapple festivals, noted Ms Gibson. She recalled the devastation to Eleuthera caused by Hurricane Andrew.

“Jensen Beach came to our aid,” she said. “They sent over plain loads of relief items.

“They have been fabulous to us. They know us by our names. They told us they actually missed us from last time.”

A popular feature of the Bahamian Marketplace was the worldwide promotion of Bahamian music.

“We love of The Bahamas; we love the people; and we love the culture,” said Janis Camis who, along with her husband, ‘Bahama’ Bob operate Bahamian Music Distributors from Fort Pierce, Florida.

“If it’s not Bahamian it’s not happening,” she said. “If you could open my husband’s chest you would see inscribed on his heart: ‘made in The Bahamas’.

“I rarely listen to the music from here (in the US). Our radio is always on ZNS which is the only station from Nassau we can receive, and it’s Bahamian.”

Already patrons are looking forward to the four-day Gregory Town Pineapple Festival held during the first weekend of June.