David Bowen wears his heart on his sleeve. His right sleeve, in fact, as well as his hat brim. When the former director of culture for Turks and Caicos dons the national costume, which he designed, he is proud to point out the red band representing his home island of Grand Turk among the eight colorful ribbons encircling the sleeves of his crisp white shirt.
A professional dancer and choreographer—he appeared in Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” video—Bowen spent a decade with dance and theater companies in Japan before returning home. His time abroad informed his work as director of culture. “You go anywhere in the eastern Caribbean and they have these generic cultural shows,” he says. “I wanted to be truthful to my own culture.”
Now the director of wellness, culture and entertainment at Grace Bay Resorts, Bowen still gives talks on Turks and Caicos culture, to which he has contributed much. He launched the Maskanoo Festival on Boxing Day in Grace Bay. He created the organization TUCA (Turks and Caicos) to promote traditional dance and folk music. And he wove the island’s heritage, culture and history into the national costume. “It’s a unifying symbol,” Bowen says.
What do the colors of the costume represent? The white garment represents salt and cotton (the island’s formative crops). Pink is for our flamingos and conch shell. Yellow is for our sunshine. The other colors are island-specific. For example, green is for fertile North Caicos, our emerald isle. And red represents Grand Turk and our national flower, the Turk’s head cactus.
What distinguishes Turks and Caicos culture? Because we’re an island nation, we have several subcultures. But so much connects us: our dialect, our family names, our food, our ocean lifestyle. That’s why it’s so important to harness all of that together and have a unifying voice.
David Bowen’s Turks and Caicos
Turks and Caicos National Museum (Cockburn Town, Grand Turk): You’ll see our history and culture and how we’re connected to the wider world.
Bugaloo’s Conch Crawl (Five Cays, Providenciales): They serve authentic Turks and Caicos food in one of our original settlements.
Taylor Bay (Providenciales): Go there for spectacular sunsets and clear, knee-deep water for hundreds of yards out.