Piracy in the Caribbean is romanticized for good reason, or so it would seem in the Cayman Islands. Cayman’s most popular festival is “Pirates Week”. In what is in fact a 10 daylong celebration, Pirates Week is perhaps Cayman’s biggest tourist and local attraction. Set in the month of November (hey, it’s warm here all year round!) Pirates Week kicks off on a Thursday with a series of happy hour parties at the down town bars, captivated by the sound of skipping notes and thumping rhythms in the air as local steel bands battle it out in a competition. A Miss Festival Queen competition is held representing the most beautiful ladies of Cayman and a few early pirates can be seen roaming around town among the locals. Something is in the air; the pirates are coming.
Then comes Friday night: a collage of different activities merging into a huge street dance in the capital of George Town. At sundown fireworks pierce the sky as the population of the Cayman Islands looks on. Huge cheers always accompany the finale, and after the fireworks, major roads in George Town are closed, and crowds gather in the streets attracted to the various live music stages littered across town. The music is lively and the atmosphere is great. The pirates are out in masses now, and they trail the streets in good cheer and confidence, intimidating at times, yet always positive. The local populate meet, greet, and joyous rabble rises into the night sky.
The following day, Saturday, kicks off with a festive and colourful parade of floats. Variously themed floats drive through town, loaded with people who entertain the crowd with their wardrobes, dancing and miming, as the crowds watch on. The floats represent various Caymanian cultural and corporate themes. This parade is a wonderful feast for the eyes and ears, with different music playing on each float, and people throwing various baubles to the eager crowds. Pirates roam the street swashing their swords at each other, whilst other kind-hearted pirates can even be seen playing with babies.
Immediately following this, the explosion of cannons begins to ring out across Hog Sty Bay, the port of George Town, Grand Cayman. As these cannons rivet across the air, wild anticipation begins to rise in the crowds. All of a sudden, ships can be observed sailing into the harbor, and from their masts fly the dreaded skull and bones of the Jolly Roger! The pirates are invading!! The ships make birth and masses of pirates pour into the streets in wild cheer and glamour. They rush the local government and seize the Cayman governor!!
And thus starts the beginning of Pirates Week in the Cayman Islands. Each day of the following week (Monday thru Friday) “heritage days” are held in each of the 5 districts in the Cayman Islands: George Town, Bodden Town, East End, North Side and West Bay. These days are filled with music, fun and games for the kids, and of course the best of local food: shrimp, fish, conch chowder, turtle, and stew beef. These are consumed with heavy doses of tasty carbs such as yam, cassava, and breadfruit. And of course there is always the tasty plantain (pronounced like ‘mountain!’) Throughout the week, pirates are found across Cayman appearing in local drug stores, work places, and even churches.
On the subsequent Saturday (9 days into Pirates Week) the day kicks off with various games and activities in Hog Sty Bay harbour. There’s a Paddle Board race and a Cardboard Boat race (these don’t last long before sinking!) At night the residents of the Cayman Islands fight back! They overthrow the pirates order and seize back their governor! The pirate captains are subdued and quickly held in a public Pirates trial. A humorous debacle of drunk witnesses, lawyer poets and incompetent judges finally see to it that the pirates are found guilty of kidnap and treason. The pirates in the audience boo as the residents cheer! The pirates are banished from the Cayman Islands! Fireworks splash the sky in victory, streets are closed once more and bands begin to play across the streets again, and music, dancing and revelry rise from the streets of George Town.
The Pirates enjoy one last night of revelry before leaving the island for another year. The residents of the Cayman Islands are safe and sound, the governor sleeps tightly, and life begins again for these lucky people of the Caribbean.
Author Badir Awe