Cat Island, Bahamas is the birthplace of imagination. Ancient Lucayan sites from the 1500s mingle with the huts of enslaved Africans from the 1700s; cotton shrubs sprout up where plantations used to stand, and old stone churches - some in ruins - dot the hillsides, all telling their own versions of the compelling story that is Cat Island.
World famous Bahamian musician Tony McKay wrote songs inspired by Cat Island legends, such as “Damn Fool” and “Obeah Man”; local literary icon Patricia Glinton Meicholas based her book An Evening in Guanima on folk tales culled from Cat Island elders, and Academy Award winning actor Sidney Poitier lived the first fifteen years of his life in Cat Island before moving to America.
Although born in Andros, Joseph Spence, the idiosyncratic guitarist, was married into Cat Island, an island seemingly born to breed creative genius. He built a house there with his wife Louise Wilson. Other folk recording artists like Bahamian American Andrew Jones also adopted Cat Island as their second home. Every year in June, the Cat Island Rake ‘n Scrape Festival celebrates the island’s legacy of indigenous music.
Like Acklins and Crooked Island in the south, Cat Island, 130 miles southeast of Nassau, was settled by Loyalists fleeing the newly independent United States of America in 1783, bringing with them enslaved Africans; but when cotton plantations failed, and Britain abolished the slave trade in 1834, Cat Islanders turned to slash and burn farming, fishing and welcoming tourists to their shores.
From Arthur’s Town in the north to Port Howe in the south, Cat Island is a diverse landscape of beaches and coves, inland blue holes and sulphur ponds, and wide expanses of pine and coppice in between lush green hills. The highest point in the Bahamas at 206 feet is Cat Island’s Mount Alvernia, where the Catholic priest Fr. Jerome Hawes built the Hermitage, a chapel and sanctuary for the faithful.
For the adventurous traveller, a walk up the stone steps carved into this miniature mountain before sunset will reveal Cat Island as the sun rises, glittering forests stretching for miles below, and the sea gleaming blue on every side.
You’ll want to take your time here, meandering through settlements, seeing for yourself why Cat Islanders are famed for our story and song, as well as our signature craft of basket weaving. On land and on sea, Cat Island will stir your imagination; what stories will you take with you? What songs will you leave singing?