Bermuda Traditions & Local Customs
If you look into the Culture of Bermuda
, you will notice there are some deep rooted traditions and local customs followed by the Bermudians. What is the genesis of all these traditions? Well, they have been mostly adapted from other countries. Much of the influences have come from the British as the island has long been a British overseas territory and the first settlers that came to the island were from England.
However, there have also been some influences from North America who have also had military base in the island from 1941 until 1995. The relationship with the US had always been good and there had been healthy trade and cultural exchange between the two countries since long. The same was the case with Caribbean and there had also been Caribbean influences particularly in the field of Dance and Music
Here are some of the typical traditions and local customs followed in Bermuda:
The architecture of the houses has evolved over the past 4 centuries and the typical pattern became prominent towards the second half of the 17th century. This architecture was driven by factors like isolation of the island in the North Atlantic, its environment and the scarce resources.
It also had influences from England, US and the Caribbean. A typical house in Bermuda would be a bright pastel colored cottage with a slanted and stepped white limestone roof. Typically the windows would be small and have wooden shutters. Often you will see stairs reaching up to the front door which is at an elevation. Check out Bermuda Architecture
Drinking Water in Bermuda
The roof is used to filter the rain water. The water that falls onto the roof goes through a series of grooves and over a bleached limestone surface and then gets stored in an underground reservoir serving as drinking water.
There is no fresh water supply in Bermuda and this is the most widely used method. Some hotels and other establishments these days use reverse osmosis method to create pure water from seawater by pumping the water through a membrane at high pressure and removing the salt and other impurities. However the rain water still remains as the largest source of drinking water in Bermuda.
When the roof of a new house or an office building is completed, the first thing that the owners and their companions do is roof wetting. They climb up from the outside usually with the help of a ladder and wearing a helmet. They all gather at the roof top and pour a bottle of black rum on the roof and often share it within themselves.
This is known as roof wetting ritual. It's done with the belief that rain water and moisture would also be captured in the roof which is so vital for them to make drinking water. When a new government building comes up, the minister concerned is usually present during the ritual.
Bermuda Moongate and Good Luck
Centuries ago, Bermudians imported the idea of moongates from China. These are large rings of stones used as garden ornaments. Legend says that walking through a moon gate brings good luck. Almost all the newly married couples in Bermuda walk through the moon gates to bring in good luck in their lives. The wedding cake usually has a cedar sidling on it which the couple plants in their front yard. They believe love and bondage will grow in time along with the tree.
Bermuda Moongate at Somers Garden, St. George
Photo: Clyde Adams III, flickr, cc by 2.0
Bermuda Easter Lilies
The Easter Lilies were first brought in from Japan in 1863. Bermuda went on to grow them so widely that they were exported to many different countries including the USA. While the export trade has stopped now after tourism took over agriculture, the lilies are still grown as a local tradition. In fact every year a bouquet of the flowers are sent to the Queen of England during her Birthday. And she writes back to the Governor thanking Bermuda for the gesture.
Bermuda Easter Lilies
Bermuda Festivals and Celebrations
There are many traditional festivals held in the island through out the year. On Bermuda Day
held on May 24th, Bermudians typically take a dip into the water for the first time in the year while parades and band marches take place all across the island.
On every Wednesday night in the summer, Harbor Night
festival is held at Hamilton City where many vendors put up stalls, dancers dance to music and many activities take place. A street market is held at St. George during summer which is known as Olde Town Market
. Bermuda's Music Festival
is hugely popular in the island that showcases many local and international talents.
The hilarious Non Mariners Race
is another traditional event in Bermuda where the non mariners make their own boats that are not even seaworthy and participate in a race.
Dinghies have been developed by the Bermudians from the British Dinghies or skiffs, and were long used as water transport. Today the Fitted Dinghy Race
is held in the summer with hilarious sights where the crew members jump off the boats to make it lighter and gain speed.
And there are lot more of such traditional festivals and events held in the island. To know about all the festivals, check out Bermuda Events
So is it a dance or music? To understand that, you will need to experience it. It's been a long tradition of Bermudians to perform Gombeys at many festive celebrations including in Hamilton Harbor Nights and St. George Market Nights. Originating from the Afro-Caribbeans, snare drums are used in pairs along with kettle drums and fife. Usually male dancers perform Gombeys in groups of 10-30 in masquerade costumes with bright colors and odd angles. The energetic dance gradually picks up and grows faster with time and becomes a great spectacle. To know all about it, check out Bermuda Gombeys
Bermudians have a long tradition of flying kites on Good Fridays. They make the kites with the help of different colors of paper tissue, wood, metal and string. The kites come in different shapes but typically are hexagonal or octagonal. A kite flying festival takes place in Horseshoe Bay Beach on Good Friday where competitions are held for various categories including biggest kite and the one with best use of technology. Check out Bermuda Kite Festival
British Spelling in Bermuda
Bermuda follows British spelling system and therefore you will see variations in spelling as you read the local books or newspapers. For example 'favorite' would be spelled as 'favourite', and 'color' as 'colour'. The date format is also little different. Instead of mm/dd/yy format as followed in the US, most Bermudians would follow dd/mm/yy format as do the British.
Left Hand Drive
Vehicles in Bermuda move along the left side of the road rather than on right as in the US. So the right side here is the wrong side. This is adapted from the British system of driving. Another confusing thing for the Americans is the signs on the board which are given in Meters rather than in Miles. The fuel price at the gas station is per liter of gasoline rather than 1 US gallon (which is 3.8 liters).
It has been a long tradition to have afternoon tea in Bermuda. At around 4pm, almost all Bermudians would be craving for a cup of tea even if they would need to stall their work for a while. This is adapted from an old British tradition. Check out Bermuda Afternoon Tea
to know about this custom and where to get the best Bermuda Afternoon tea in case you too are planning to have it.
Do you know that Bermudians are often called Onions and they proudly accept that. Way back in the early 1600s, onions were introduced to Bermuda by the British for farming. By mid 1800s, Bermuda onions became so famous worldwide that Bermuda started to export large quantities of onions to USA and other countries by ship. This is when Bermudians got termed as Onions and Bermuda as the Onion Patch. However subsequently Bermudians faced competition from Texas based farmers who also developed similar onions and called them Bermuda onions. Eventually the Bermuda's onion export died off. check out Bermuda Onion
to know the full story.
Shark Oil Barometers
Shark oil extracted from the liver of a shark has been serving the Bermudians since long as the weather change indicator. Yes that's true. Although there are now sophisticated instruments available to predict the weather, many old timers would rely more on the shark oil before they head for the sea.
The molten shark oil is put into transparent soda water and kept in a bottle which is usually hung from the ceiling. The color of the shark oil changes from golden brown to completely white depending on how the weather is behaving. While the actual theory of how it works is not known, it is said that the electrical changes in the weather affects the shark's liver giving an alert and the shark moves to a deeper water before a storm or a gale strikes.
Etiquette and Dress Code
While Bermuda is a relaxed and laid back island, it does follow certain day to day etiquette that are so important in the lives of Bermudians. After all the traditional British culture is quite conservative. They honor and practice wishing others like "Good Morning/Afternoon" etc.
You may not find a good response unless you greet them and show your friendliness to people of the island who boast of being from one of the friendliest countries in the world. You may often see Pop by flags at the beaches or other places that indicate that you are encouraged to talk to the locals and get to know more about Bermuda while sharing your own experience.
Another thing which is important is following the right Dress Code in Bermuda
, for example bathing suits, short tops and mini shorts are not acceptable except at beaches and pools. But an apparent exception is the Bermuda Shorts
which is part of their national dress and is allowed even in formal occasions.
Bermuda has a large base of Portuguese descendants and therefore the Portuguese influence in their day to day life is understandable. You will get grocery stores that sell Portuguese items like sausages, other cold cuts, cookies, wine and even Portuguese beers like Sagres. Some of the ATMs would give a choice of English or Portuguese. However, I haven't seen any Portuguese restaurant in the island though (Update August 2016: Cafe Acoreano?).
Your exposure to Bermuda's tradition is not complete unless you have experienced some of the Bermuda's own exclusive cuisine. Bermuda chowder is a thick broth prepared from ground fish head and served with rum-sherry-pepper sauce. It's a unique preparation of the island and is available in most of the restaurants. Wahoo steaks, pawpaw casserole, Hoppin' John peas and rice are also some of our favorites. Check out Local Food and Drinks
to know about Bermuda's food preparations and the best places to try them out.
Visitors' Reviews and Comments...
Ann Ross (April 2014)
Why do Bermudians hold on to now extinct British etiquette; have they not watched any British TV recently? I plan on visiting next week, but am a jeans and walking shoes type but would like to eat out for dinner and feel comfortable. I really am at a loss to understand the situation when it seems that most of their visitors are from the U.S.A. Having visited before, I want to see this beautiful island again.
Raj (bermuda-attractions.com) April 2014
Most restaurants today accept smart casual dress. So jeans is okay. There are only handful of exceptions which are typically upscale and formal restaurants.