“Over-The-Hill people built The Bahamas, and we should never forget.” ~ Rosemary Hanna
By Hadassah Deleveaux (née Hall)
Photo by Kevin Turnquest
If ever there was a Bahamian who in recent times deserves recognition for attempting to preserve the history of Over-The-Hill, it is Rosemary Hanna.
Her love for the community is deeply rooted in the fact she spent 32 years living there and does not want people to forget its rich culture and heritage. To ensure this, Rosemary has secured a spot as a preserver of Bahamian history. She is author of “Pictorial History and Memories of Nassau’s Over-The-Hill.” She was also Executive Producer of the documentary film “Nassau’s Over-The-Hill” and Executive Producer and Host of the television series The Bahamas – Then and NOW, which ran for two seasons on Cable TV.
“I just love history. I just love The Bahamas. History needs to be mandatory throughout the school system. There is not enough emphasis on our own history. Today people are getting so caught up in the political back and forth that they have lost sight of their history,” said Rosemary.
“I want people to remember Over-The-Hill as a place where people were loving and shared. I am still close with people I grew up with; they are still my best friends. And everyone had a sense of decency. We were taught to respect each other. We all had the same core values. Today is a different Bahamas,” she said.
Photo by Rosemary Hanna
Rosemary was born on the corner of Gaol Alley and Anderson Street, in a house built in 1934 that is still standing strong today. She and her family refuse to allow it to fall into disrepair. It was there that her love for things Bahamian was instilled by her parents, Percival and Leona Hanna (née Butler). She is a proud Bahamian. She is a proud descendant of Over-The-Hill.
“Back then, neighbours stopped by each other and talked. Everybody kept their environment clean, no matter how poor they were or small the house was; even to play, our clothes had to be clean. And in our family, we went to church (St. Agnes) three times on Sundays; that helped to lay the foundation. Everyone was grounded in their own church,” she recalled.
I had the honour of chatting with Rosemary recently. A very gracious, elegant and articulate lady, this retired veteran banker took me back to a bygone era. But before we officially met with a warm hug and welcome, I walked onto her property in eastern New Providence and was in awe of how beautiful and immaculate the garden is. Without a doubt, Rosemary has a green thumb. The avid gardener, who is Past President of The Horticultural Society of The Bahamas, has in her garden a cornucopia of flora ranging from pomegranate, pear, neem and noni trees to spice, sea grapes, the Yellow Elder and Lignum Vitae trees – all planted with her own hands. The property is a wonder, with the backyard having the aura of a forest.
Photo by Rosemary Hanna
Nevertheless, she still has an affinity to where her naval string is buried. Rosemary moved from Over-The-Hill in 1974, having spent 32 years there.
“Some people have an inferiority complex about where they came from, but for me, it’s home. The Over-The-Hill today, they don’t have that togetherness. We were free and interconnected,” she said fondly.
Rosemary went on to beam, as she listed some of the people who grew up Over-The-Hill and became prominent figures: Father of the labour movement, Sir Randol Fawkes; co-writer of the first Bahamian soap opera, The Ferguson’s of Farm Road, retired Justice Jeanne Thompson; creator of the country’s Coat of Arms and national flag, Hervis Bain; former Parliamentarian and Bahamian history guru Sir Charles Carter (owner of Island FM Radio 102.9); Archbishop Drexel W. Gomez; Parliamentarian Dr. C. R. Walker, who was also a linguist, tailor, musician and newspaper editor, and built the Reinhard Hotel at the corner of Blue Hill Road and Tin Shop Corner to accommodate black visitors to The Bahamas who were not allowed to live in Nassau hotels, and many others.
In fact, “Pictorial history and Memories of Nassau’s Over-The-Hill” was not only produced because of Rosemary’s photography hobby, but her dismay at how the glory days of Over-The-Hill was fading as a result of unkempt houses. She interviewed over 80 people as part of the project, and 15 people for the documentary – the entire process taking about three years.
“Driving through those side streets throughout the neighbourhoods, some of the houses were no longer there, while others, just looking at them makes me want to weep. There are old cars and broken down houses. When I grew up there, everything was so clean. Back in those days, there were street sweepers. Street sweeper, Mr. Archibald Carol even wore a neck tie. He took pride in what he did. It was a different culture, a different generation,” she recalled.
This is why recording the Over-The-Hill story for generations to come and having a record for those who lived there, was very personal for Rosemary.
Photo by Duke Wells (Courtesy of Rosemary Hanna)
A Bygone Era
Further reminiscing about those days, Rosemary spoke of how the idea of fun for the young people was different as well.
“We played hop scotch, rambled through the bushes making chains out of flowers and even used wild grass to make dolls. When we got older, after midnight mass during the Christmas, my cousins and I would walk from St. Agnes on Blue Hill Road to the Cat and Fiddle for a dance before Junkanoo, and no one bothered us. There were live bands; real musicians, playing real music. It was good, clean decent fun” she underscored.
And speaking about music, Rosemary is amazingly talented. Besides being a gardener, photographer and author, she is also a musician. She directed the Senior Choir at St. Agnes for 20 years and was Director of the Anglican Chorale for 10 years.
Photo courtesy of Rosemary Hanna
There is no doubt that Rosemary Hanna has made an indelible mark on several sectors of Bahamian society. Whether she is engaging in music, photography, gardening or writing, she said retirement has been the best time of her life and she loves what she does. She has even found time to read to school children as a volunteer of The Volunteer Reading Project and is a member of the Creative Nassau team that obtained the designation for Nassau as a Creative City of Crafts and Folk Arts on December 1st, 2014 from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Organization’s (UNESCO) Creative Cities Network.
But for me, Rosemary ought to be lauded moreso for being a champion of preserving Bahamian history – something that we all should treasure. She is adamant that there are many more stories to be told. In fact, as we ended our conversation, Rosemary perched forward and sternly stated, “Over-The-Hill people built The Bahamas, and we should never forget.”
Rosemary, you have done your part. Now, it’s time for the rest of us to do ours.