In The Last Turtlemen of the Caribbean: Waterscapes of Labor, Conservation, and Boundary Makin (University of North Carolina Press 2020), Dr. Sharika Crawford tells the story of Caymanian turtle hunters, men that plied the sea in search of the green and the hawksbill turtles. Using the personal stories of turtlemen collected by the Oral History Programme at the Cayman Islands National Archive, and governmental and diplomatic documents collected in archives of Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Colombia, and the United States, Crawford presents the circum-Caribbean as a waterscape, a region where imperial polities (mostly the British but increasingly the United States) and national governments (Colombia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua) sought to control maritime frontiers.
By focusing on turtle hunting, this book challenges the monolithic portrait of the Caribbean as rural and plantation-based and argues that turtlemen helped to redraw the boundaries of the region. By the late 19th century, these maritime harvesters had depleted local supplies of turtles and turned to hunt them across national waters. In doing so, they drew the ire of nation-builders in Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Colombia, for they endangered the limits of sovereignty and outright refused to comply with the increasing legal restrictions imposed by these Latin American nations. This book resonates with broader stories about labor, conservation, kinship, and processes of nation-building. A transnational story in which local actors are at the center and that the NBN listeners will surely love to hear more about!
Lisette Varón-Carvajal is a PhD Candidate at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. You can tweet her and suggest books at @LisetteVaron