A couple of Saturdays ago, the Tarpum Bay community buried Monkey.
Everybody on Eleuthera seems to have a nickname—Kervin is “Belly”, my neighbor is “Carwash”, and Kevin’s grandson Renaldo is “Po”. And so it goes.
Monkey’s birth name was Kimsley, and he was 24 years old when he died. The very ornate 12-page memory book handed out at his funeral explains that “he gain (sic) the nick name Monkey because of how fast he could climb a tree.”
His obituary tells us that “With firm guidance and much love he was groomed into an affectionate, and mannerly child….No matter where he went or who he came in contact with he would talk jokes with people or tease them, but he didn’t mean anything by it.” Monkey never married, but he was a well-loved part of a huge extended family which spread throughout the Bahamas and was centered here in the Tarpum Bay settlement on Eleuthera island.
Monkey was at work on the island of Exuma when the boat on which he was working blew up. He and another man were severely burned and flown to Nassau. Monkey was in the hospital for over a month and then received outpatient treatments. The obituary tells us he was often in pain but “reading his bible and seeking God deep in his heart…he thought he was getting better, he was making plans to come home for Jr. Junkanoo, but the Lord was on the other side making other plans for him….two weeks later his body took a change for the worst and he was readmitted…” Family and friends visited him in the hospital and sang and prayed, and on January 25, 2010 “he went on home to be with his sweet Jesus.”
“Life in the beautiful settlement of Tarpum Bay will never be the same,” the obituary concludes. “Sleep on Monkey take your rest we love you, Jesus loves you best.”
Monkey’s death did indeed shake this community. He had many friends — his funeral book lists over 120 names categorized as Mother, Father, Stepfather Grandfathers, Grandmothers, Brothers, Sisters, Adopted brothers and sisters, Nephews (lots), Godchildren, Mother Like No Others, Father Figures In His Life, and Numerous Other Relatives and Friends including various places where Monkey shopped and hung out.
In addition, Monkey’s family was lacking resources to ship his body home to Tarpum Bay for the funeral. Rumor has it that the undertaker wouldn’t release the body until the family could pay cash, so the community held a fund raiser to help out: Monkey’s portrait was printed on white t-shirts which were sold to everyone. Many men attending the funeral wore these shirts under their dark suits in remembrance of their friend.
I didn’t know Monkey, although he was a very close friend of Kervin’s son Mano. Tarpum Bay takes its funerals seriously, however. Monkey’s passing was announced by a slow and somber tolling of the church bell right next to our house. People gather at the sound which, the slow, hollow toll which seems to go on forever. They stand in quiet groups in the middle of Lord Street, heads bowed, murmuring quietly.
Once the money was collected and the body brought back from Nassau, a Friday night visitation was held, followed by an all night vigil. Since the church is next door to our house, we were able to watch the huge floral arrangement being brought in for the Saturday service, and the church entryway decorated with garlands of plastic flowers.
The service itself was over two hours long. People were dressed in their finest: women in somber church suits and dresses and solemn hats, children in pressed white shirts or blouses, men in dark suits and – often– their memorial t-shirts. A shiny black hearse was parked in the alley between our house at the church, and the overflow crowd leaned against it in the hot sun. Often children and men would escape and run to Berts for the Best for a cool soda, and then return to the singing, preaching, and eulogies. When it was over, the coffin loaded in the waiting vehicle, and the five block processional began.
The settlement cemetery is located down by the sea, right next to the cottage I rented the first time I stayed in Tarpum Bay. Because of the winds and tides and shifting sand, many of the concrete vaults are exposed, and grave tending is a futile task–but for one or two days the huge, garish plastic funeral wreaths will mark Monkey’s final resting place.