Cultural History Gallery
The Cultural History Gallery offers exhibits on a variety of cultural themes including political and judicial systems, social movements, seafaring history, trade, and medicine. Video re-enactments capture historic events such as the “Wreck of the Ten Sail,” and the 1820 court hearing of enslaved person, Long Celia. Dynamic cultural vignettes examine three aspects of Caymanian life – church, home and industry, while dioramas and wall panels tell the story of Cayman’s historic turtling and fishing industry.
Religion in Cayman
In 1831 with Rev. Thomas Sharpe from the Church of England arrive in Grand Cayman to preach Christianity. He preached here for about three years. Then, a Presbyterian Minister Reverend James Elmslie came to the island in 1846. Reverend Elmslie visited each district for over ten years. He travelled by foot, horse, and canoe.
In the late 1880s, missionary, Rev. H.W. Rutty visited the Sister Islands. He taught the Baptist faith.
Religion and Family Life
The church became an important part of our daily lives. Many families prayed together each Sunday. This was common in East End. Mrs. Phoebe Watler Spence of Gun Bay said, “In the morning we’d get up, have our family prayers and sing a hymn and get ready for Sunday School.”
Here’s what Mr. Arthur Bodden of George Town said, “The main thing we did as a family was to have family prayers at night and in the morning before anyone could go outside. We usually sang a hymn or two and my father would read the Bible, then each child would read a verse.”
Men did not work on Sunday’s and children could not go out to play.
The church became the life of the community. They were also the only place for entertainment. Ministers became community leaders and teachers. The first schools were organised by churches like Triple ‘C’ School.
Today, other schools based on religion exist such as Truth for Youth, Wesleyan Christian Academy and Grace Christian Academy.
Stories of the Sea
Caymanians going to sea developed an enduring faith and strength of character. Inherent sailing skills, and ingenius aptitude for navigation, combined to earn them respect as renowned seamen. Each can share a story of the perils of the sea. By trekking miles of razor sharp reef and swimming through shark-infested waters Andrew saved the lives of his shipmates.
26th October, 1932 just days before Cayman’s worst storm the yawl Managuan headed from West Bay to Nicaragua’s Coxcombs and Serrana Banks to “turtle and nurse”. She ran aground. This left one sailor, 20 year old Andrew Powery, with an unsettling premonition.
The weather was looking bad, it looked like heaven and earth was coming together… So [we] anchored up there, up the Triangle Cay [Serrana Banks]. She was leaking like a sieve… She went down… And when we knowed anything again was when we hear krrr... back on the reef. So we stayed aboard…”
The crew managed to swim to a nearby cay but found no food or water. After hours of walking the reef they sighted a cay across nearly 1 mile of open water. This is where Andrew’s odyssey begins; reluctantly he set out alone. Fatigued, battered and hungry, Andrew swims for 4-5 hours.
“ … I swim and my legs felt like they were cramping …sometimes I felt like I could give up. But the Lord wouldn’t make me give up. He say, “Hold on Andrew!… I got a good ways down from where I was…I could see it was somebody on it [a cay]”.
Andrew was back where he started! In spite of his fear of sharks, Andrew sets off again. Andrew reaches Southwest Cay and walks and swims 9 miles before being swept out to sea.
“I swum and I swum and I swum.” Andrew reaches Little Long Cay and rests on salvaged lumber. He walks and swims looking for the lighthouse on Big Cay.
“I walked …the sea hatchet, pan shoals, sea-eggs; cuts bleeding, I was numb.… I didn’t know anything till I felt my chest, stomach …on the beach (Serrana Big Cay)... I just returned thanks to the Lord and laid myself there, and I caught a little wind.” Barely recognisable to two Cayman Brac survivors, Andrew directs them in their catboat to his stranded shipmates.
In 2003 we paid tribute to Andrew’s selfless actions during the 1932 storm. His name is engraved on our Wall of Honour in Heroes Square.
Women of Cayman
Mary Campbell is documented as the first female to arrive in Cayman in 1734. In the early 1800s a few women were documented as slave owners.
By the 1900s most Caymanian women were homemakers caring for family, extended family and community. Some sought a higher education in teaching and nursing. Miss Francis Bodden served as Secretary to many early Commissioners and in 1921, Miss Ercell Connor became headmistress at the Spotts School.
As “de facto” heads of families, women were obliged to participate in business and financial transactions. The confidence they acquired led them to assume more responsibility in politics and other male dominated occupations.
In 1948 a milestone was achieved – 24 Caymanian women signed a petition declaring their intent to vote. In 1962, we elected our first female to the Legislative Assembly. Much of our Island’s well-being can be attributed to the efforts of women.
Women Pioneers: Strength and Determination
Sybil McLaughlin, MBE, Clerk of the Legislative Assembly 1959, Speaker of the House 1990 National Hero 1996
Mary Evelyn Wood, Cert. Hon. Elected Member of the Legislative Assembly 1962
Annie Huldah Bodden, OBE, Nominated Member of the Legislative Assembly, 1962
Jenny Manderson, MBE, Principal Secretary 1987, District Commissioner for the Sister Islands 1995-1999
Dr. Margaret Brown Hefla, M.D. Doctor, 1971
Adrianne Webb, Lawyer, 1975
Julianna O’Connor –Connolly, JP, Head of Government Ministry 1997, Sister Islands Member of the Legislative Assembly 1996
Jennifer Dilbert, MBE, 1993 Inspector of Financial Services, 2000 United Kingdom Representative.
Industries - 1950s
A socio-economic metamorphosis began in 1946 with the first sporadic air service.” MEC Giglioli
Welcoming the Outside World
For almost 100 years, ship-building, turtling and rope-making were our principal industries. Less profitable today, we still build boats and make rope in our yards. The invention of nylon rope has led to a decrease in demand for thatch rope. Our seamen are our main export now, though, new industries are budding. Airplanes arrive regularly, Barclays’ Bank began operations, stamp sales have increased Government revenues, tourists are arriving more frequently and the construction of homes and hotels is increasing.
Our rope is still a favourite of fishermen and sailors because of its strength, resilience and resistance to salt water. We harvest tops from the Silver Thatch Palm on full moon night, then dry, cut and twist the strands before “we lay our ropes”. A hand operated cart and wench twists strands into rope. The production of rope, and negotiating its fair trade, is primarily the work of women and children.
“My mother made rope. . . .Each of us had our little lot of strings, and we would twist a strand and she would tell us of the old stories. . ." Phoebe Watler Spence, Gun Bay (Cayman Yesterdays)
In the 1920s we traded a 25 fathom coil of rope for:
• 1 lb. of flour
• 1 lb. of sugar
• a tin of syrup
• a pint of kerosene
• a large bar of soap
—about sixpence (3 cents) worth of goods.
We cultivate a variety of agricultural products in our provision grounds. Our rocky terrain produces shallow pockets of soil where banana, pear, coconut, sugarcane, yams, cassava, breadfruit, and other crops flourished. Farmers raised pigs, chickens, goats and cattle. Some produce is abundant enough to be exported or traded with passing ships.
“Most people then had their own provision ground. My father had his on the Bluff. He grew plenty food up there, cassava, yams, pumpkins, plantains, bottler, all of that. That’s how I learned how to work.” J. Ballanger Christian, Cayman Brac
WUH WE SAY
thatch walks – areas where silver thatch palms grew in concentrations
provision ground – a small area planted with crops
bottler – a cross between a plantain and a banana
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What are the hours of operation at the National Museum?
The National Museum is open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm and on Saturdays from 10am to 2pm.
Is there available parking at the Museum?
There is limited street parking or paid parking at Bayshore Mall.
How much does it cost to enter the Museum?
Please see our Visiting page for more information.
How long does it take to go through the Museum?
It takes about 45 minutes- 1 hour to go through the Museum - this includes a 20 minute introductory video.
How long will this exhibition be on for?
This exhibition is permanent.
Can I walk to the Museum from the Cruise Port?
The National Museum is located within walking distance of the Port.
Are there guided tours?
Guided tours are available by appointment. Please see our Visiting page for more information.
Are audio headsets with different translations available?
There are no available audio headsets, but we are working on getting those very soon.
Is the Museum accessible by wheelchair?
The National Museum is housed within a historic building with limited accessibility; however, our ground floor and bathrooms are accessible.