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Avid outdoorsman and underwater photographer, Barry Brown has spent the last 12 years documenting life above and below water in Curacao, Netherlands Antilles. He is currently working with the Smithsonian Institution documenting new Caribbean deep-water species and building a one of a kind database. His underwater images can regularly be seen in Sport Diver, Scuba Diver and on the Ikelite website. His image of a "Collage of Corals" seen under blue-light at night recently placed in the TOP 10 images for the 2014 NANPA (North American Nature Photographers Association) photo contest.

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Jul 13, 17     Comments Off on The Rare Blue Beads of St. Eustatius, Slave Beads, Rare Beads

Hi friends, while in St. Eustatius a while back shooting photos for the Smithsonian Institution I discovered a story of the islands history that few know involving these elusive five-sided, very hard to find blue beads once worn by slaves. My little adventure began onboard the Chapman research vessel with the arrival of some local divers all having at least one big blue bead hanging proudly from their necks. We immediately asked “what’s the story with your beads”? They then told us a story similar to the below article I found in Sport Diver that went something like this…

St. Eustatius or Statia once known as the trading center of the world, used to attract thousands of merchant ships to it’s shores each year. In the 17th and 18th centuries Dutch merchants brought unique pentagonal blue glass beads from Amsterdam to Statia’s marketplace. These blue beads were used to acquire slaves from western Africa who then later used the blue beads as currency on the island, and even sometimes to buy their freedom.

Strangely enough, these same blue beads now beckon divers, not to Statia’s markets but to its surrounding waters. Legend has it that after emancipation slaves threw their blue beads into the sea to celebrate their freedom. Another theory says a ship carrying beads sank or was sunk by the slaves sending the precious blue beads to their watery grave. Divers say that at the blue bead dive site (hole), one doesn’t find a bead but instead it finds or chooses you and once found you belong to Statia and are destined to return again and again.

Over the next few weeks I ended up getting off the ship and going to shore in hopes of finding one of these precious blue beads washed ashore, as we were told this is how many are found. I walked and walked the volcanic sandy beaches and even did some snorkeling in the shallows but never found one, most likely because most of them are found after a storm with big waves, and all we had was calm water the whole time. There is a dive spot called the “blue bead hole”, but I never got out there; they claim this was where a ship went down and many beads were lost. As I walked around town I started noticing many of the locals had a blue bead around their necks that they had found, and I managed to get some of the above shots on my walk. The last photo shows a collection of ancient glass beads that can be seen in the local museum but are different than the ever sought after five-sided blue-beads that everyone is hunting for. For those of you treasure hunters, if you thought hunting for gold was addictive spend a few days looking for these amazing beads, it will drive you crazy!

I do have a four page article that really explains these beads even more. If anyone is interested, just let me know, and I will send it to you.

Have a great day…

Barry

 

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