The first inhabitants were the Siboney. No-one knows where they came from, or where they went to.
Then came the Arawaks, from South America. A peace loving people who fished, grew crops and built villages.
They were attacked, and on many occasions eaten, by the Calibi (called Caribs by the Spanish – hence “Caribbean”), also from S. America.
The Caribs built some bases, but only as staging posts for attacks on neighbouring islands.
Christopher Columbus narrowly missed discovering Banania in 1490, when he looked the other direction to watch the sun going down. One of his men did notice it though. The ship’s cook saw the island as he threw the dish water over the side of the ship. He called the information to his captain, who refused to believe that anyone other than himself could discover an island. Indignantly, Columbus shouted back “Bananas!”, which was a popular insult at the time. So, with a little modification Banania was christened. Columbus still refused to believe in its existence, so it remained uncharted on many of the best selling maps of the time.
The first wreck ever recorded on the island was that of a small ship sent out by Columbus himself to prove that Banania did not exist.
The Spanish and French both attempted to colonise the island but were either driven off by the Caribs, each other, or the British. In 1630 the British founded a small colony at what is now St. Hilda’s.
During the late 17th and early 18th century the island changed hands many times, until eventually becoming once more a firm stronghold for the British.
More Recent History
Initially a trading settlement, changing hands between the British, French and Dutch. In 1754 the French built Fort Saint Sebastian nearby, which gave protection to the town and natural harbour at which it was located, but restricted the activities of some of the island’s more “colourful” residents.
The design of the fort was entrusted to Mário Alberto Esmeriz, a Portuguese architect whom they had captured and forced into service for France. The language barrier, and a significant level of misunderstanding, meant that Mário Alberto had a significant level of autonomy in the design of the fort, which also functioned as barracks for the French forces stationed on the island.
In 1757 the British attacked, and quickly captured, the newly built Fort Saint Sebastian. This was due primarily to the fact that the bulk of the French army failed to extricate themselves from their living quarters deep within the fort. It seems that Mário Alberto was in fact a quite brilliant architect, who had designed a complex labyrinth of passageways and dead ends, which cunningly trapped the French soldiery in the bowels of the building.
After taking easy possession of the Fort, the British were somewhat surprised, two weeks later, at the constant flow of exhausted French soldiers which trickled out of the building’s interior.
They renamed it Fort Faversham and quickly employed the willing services of Mário Alberto Esmeriz to rebuild the interior to a somewhat more ‘accessible’ design.
During the late 1600s and 1700s the settlement, then called Port Providence, became the harbour and centre of commerce for the island.
In spite of 2 major hurricanes, Port Providence continued to grow slowly, until the “Big Fire” of 1876 devastated much of the old town. It was then rebuilt as we see it today, though a few of the old buildings still remain.
Sugar cane was first planted at Dobbin’s Hobby, which was quickly followed by many other plantations. To provide the great amount of labourers for the sugar cane fields, slaves were imported from West Africa.
As the sugar cane industry began to run into trouble and slavery was abolished, many of the plantation owners merely packed up and left the island. A couple of them began to harvest bananas (which until then had not been seriously cultivated).
The other Sugar plantations, especially Dobbin’s Hobby, continued, though there were many economic hardships for everybody.
When Queen Hilda temporarily ascended the throne in 1925, it was decided to change the town’s name. The new name became one of the issues of contention during a very stormy 15 months of monarchy. The problem was resolved though when Queen Hilda graciously agreed to step down as monarch in exchange for a “Saintdom”, at which point New Providence was renamed “Saint Hilda’s”.
Ascendance to the Throne
Banania struggled on as an administrative dependancy of neighbouring Euphonia, until 1920, when the ruling British government attempted to sell the island, or even give it away! But because of Banania’s economic condition, nobody was interested in taking over responsibility – at any price!
There are slight variations on the story, but it is generally assumed that in 1925, the prepared bill of ownership for Banania, which was not filled out, but was fully signed and sealed by the visiting British Govenor, was left lying about on his desk. Somehow the deed was inadvertently mixed up with a stack of old newspapers and taken away as packaging by the local fishmonger.
This was one of the first recorded examples of efficient waste recycling in the area.
Hilda Johnson, owner of a local cheap eating house, bought three flying fish and a suspiciously motionless (“it’s probably asleep”) lobster from the fishmonger, wrapped in the deed of ownership.
When she realised what the paper was, Hilda filled out the rest of the form with her name and address, signed it, and set sail, with several members of her “royal entourage”, to lay claim to her very own island.
No-one on Banania was very interested in having a new queen, until, after a few discrete words with Fat Nellie, owner of the Grog House, Hilda ordered free drinks for everyone on the island. The near riot that ensued swept Hilda to the throne with great speed and enthusiasm.
Hilda lost no time in installing her brother-in-law, Bert, as archbishop, and renaming the small Anglican church as cathedral.
The British were quite happy with the arrangement, having got rid of a weighty liability.
The Bananians were at first amused at having their very own queen.
The junior civil servants on Euphonia were very unhappy though at having their routine disrupted, and imagined someone else shuffling, stamping and filing the papers they had for so long jealously shuffled, stamped and filed. Though this caused much discontent in the civil service, most Euphonians were more concerned at losing a cheap eating house and a place to dump their rubbish, than at losing an island.
After a very short time, it was fairly evident to everyone on Banania that Queen Hilda lacked both experience and skill at being a monarch, especially when dealing with foreign dignitaries, and her habit of demanding that everyone, including her own family, call her by her full royal title became irritating.
She did however have a good grasp of solving domestic problems and was particularly good at cooking flying fish.
After 15 months of rather chaotic monarchy, Hilda graciously agreed to step down as queen in exchange for being given the status of “Saint”, by her brother in law Bert, the Archbishop.
Hilda felt that she would probably be more successful and popular as a saint, than as a queen. “Anyway”, as Hilda said, “it was a bit of a change, wasn’t it?!”