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5 Bahamian Phrases You Need to Know

By Artlyn Mali'o


While everyone has their own set of criteria about where they will travel, we all inevitably choose a vacation based on our knowledge (whatever capacity) of the language or the lingua franca. Now I know where you think I’m going with this, yes, a lot of us are well versed in French, Spanish, Dutch, German,Portuguese, even Japanese. But, how well do we know English?

Yes, you think you know English until you get off dem plane, axe for one taxi an’ soon realize you mussy don’t know what dat custom lady she say… Every island has it’s own patois, creole or pidgin English that is spoken by natives, locals and residents alike. We will take a peek into the rich language of the Bahamas, while exploring the sights and sounds of the largest island chain in the Caribbean. Get ready to learn some often-used Bahamian phrases:

CHIRREN : Children If you spend any time on the West side of New Providence between The Fish Fry, AKA Arawak Cay, and the local beaches around Prospect Road, you will witness many of these. Running about, making noise, yelling on jitneys, and overall having a good time is what they do best. I suggest Goldie’s for feasting on the Cay, it is a great place to people watch and eat a conch (a tropical sea snail) fritter or two. Any trip to Nassau is incomplete if you don’t go Under The Bridge (Potter’s Cay) for some fresh conch. This mainstay though is not for the faint-hearted. Delivered to you is conch, straight-out-da-shell; I’m talking pulled from its’ habitat, beat up, chopped up and served with onions, tomatoes, and lime juice. You can also sample exotic fruit and vegetables, like starfruit or soursop on the docks.

MUSSY : Must In order to hear the rich vocabulary this particular island has to offer you mussy visit spots like the Twisted Lime to encounter locals in their natural habitat. This sports bar and grill is a favorite of the Ministry of Works crowd and boasts TWO happy hours! Located in the Sandyport Marina Village, this happening joint offers great views of the marina and boat docks from almost every seat. Happy Hour is from 3:00-7:30, and if you miss it don’t worry because there is an After Happy Hour that goes from 10:00 – 2:00 AM! Order the Rum Punch, Sky Juice or Switcha (limeade) for an authentic Bahamian experience. While you’re out this way, checkout The Caves for Lucayan tales and pirate lore.

CONCHY JOE : A white Bahamian Everybody on this island is familiar with the term conchy joe. Whenever I was visiting my grandparents, we would always see conchy joes out near the docks or east of Bay Street looking like they just stepped off the plane from Great Britain. I could never tell if they were British or Bahamian, until they opened their mouths. The label was reserved for Bahamians of European extraction, who are descendants of the original Loyalists as well as those who jumped ship from Key West to make a living fishing the waters. Nowadays I hear that it’s slowly becoming more like the Hawaiian word haole, which differentiates between natives (with no white ancestry) and foreigners (with white ancestry). Finding conchy joes these days may be hard, but I can guarantee you can catch a glimpse of a few if you head over to the  Cricket Club. Yes, Cricket is big here. After all, the Bahamas is still a commonwealth. If you really need to kill some hours, go by to see a game.

JAM UP – Crowded Let’s switch gears to shopping and prospecting. Even if you are not an art aficionado you will find that a trip to Doongalik Studios will certainly inspire you to bring something back home. This gallery is a cultural institution. The name is actually an onomatopoeia meant to describe the sound of the cowbell being rung during Junkanoo. Founded in 1976 by the late-great Jackson Burnside, artist, architect and cultural advocate, the studio is a go-to when it comes to viewing astounding work from local artists.

Doongalik actually has two locations, one on Paradise Island, and the original building at 20 Village Road. I suggest the latter because Paradise Island is always jam up with conchy joes. In addition to the gallery, you can wander down to the Craft Cottage on site to pick up a straw handbag, lithograph print or Junkanoo masks. I for one, am a nut when it comes to antiques and Victorian ephemera; I go crazy over lace, crochet and shell encrusted jewelry. Balmain Art & Antiques  is a magical shop to wander if you are looking for that perfect treasure, keepsake or piece of old Nassau.

Gun’ – Going to I gun’ tell you, there is so much more of New Providence that many people don’t see because they are advised not to go over the hill. Trust me, you want to experience the true Bahamas, otherwise why go? Not going outside Bay Street means you miss out on places like Mario’s where you can spend many air-conditioned hours bowling and lounging. However try to visit on a weekday because it be jam up on the weekends. Carey’s Dept and Commonwealth Fabrics are great to browse if you enjoy sewing, quilting or just love fabrics. You will get a greater bargain on Bahamian-made Androsia prints at Commonwealth because you can buy in bulk.

These same fabrics on Bay Street or Paradise Island are sold in standard sizes for double the price. Here you encounter Bahamian people in their most unadulterated state; no one is bombarded with the tourist scene around here. If you haven’t  visited too many restaurants, I will suggest one more: The Shoals is a my family’s favorite to visit whenever we are on the island. Do not let the interior or even the exterior fool you. This food here is good! From the boiled fish & grits or stewed conch to the guava duff, you gun’ like it. I gun’ guarantee.

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Artlyn Mali'o

My first travel experience was aboard an Eastern Airline flight from Miami to Nassau, a mere 35 minutes. For a 6 year-old though it felt much longer. Although these flights would become routine ( my family is from here) they were nonetheless the impetus for my quest to experience the world beyond. My mother's brother worked for Eastern Airlines. This gave my aunt and uncle access to far way places I had only heard of in books. Because they had no children they traveled extensively to places like Japan, Indonesia and Istanbul to name a few. I waited patiently for them to return from every trip with a story and token for my travel box. They never disappointed. I still keep a travel box today. It is filled with some pretty amazing and crazy things. Unpacking them once every couple of years is a ritual I uphold and treasure.

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