The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson




My friend James Elridge Maduro of St. Eustatius


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James Maduro behind Max Nicholson on Saba for the opening of the Leo Chance pier on November 8th, 1972.

He used to like the Elridge part of his name and would often put much emphasis on it when asked for his full name. He told me that his father was from St. Thomas. The name Maduro is a typical Sephardic Jewish name from the Iberian Peninsula and they moved around the world with the Dutch. Many of them were settlers of the first order in Pernambuco, Curacao and yes also on St. Eustatius where Maduro was born. Many went to St. Thomas as well after the ruination of the economy of Sint Eustatius at the end of the eighteenth century. I used to tease him that he should do some DNA testing to see if he was descended from one of those Sephardic Jews.

I first met James in 1955 in the Boys Town on Curacao on the shores of that beautiful lagoon called the Spanish Water. He was joined later on by his brother Henry.

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Part of the Boys Town Brakkeput. When we were there the whole area was empty except for the facilities of the Boys Town. Now it is all built up.

From early on James acquired a nickname after a local skinny bird named “Chuchubi” and that name became stuck on him with his friends for the rest of his life. His character was such that the brothers who ran the boys town, and who were normally strict with us, were enthralled with James. I can hear them now with their Dutch pronunciation asking “”But where is Shushubi”? Later, many years later, when the Brothers came around the islands to visit with the boys who had been in Brakkeput I remember when on Statia they had an interview on radio with their much beloved pupil whom they called “Shushubi”. I remember listening to that interview and laughing my head off listening to the interaction between him and the Brothers. James loved to throw around his Dutch and in every conversation he would bring in words of advice in the Dutch language. It brought me back to the days of my boyhood when I would hear him and the brothers interacting in the Boys Town.

He had a special personality and was so busy with so many of his own projects around the place that I cannot remember exactly what he studied for. It may have been a plumber at the Trade School, but we all remember him best for his projects around the Boys Town.

I remember once he found, somewhere along the lagoon, the frame of an old boat. He decided to make that into a project. He had no lumber so when he found some discarded canvas, he begged the Brother at the carpenter shop to loan him some glue and in less than no time we had a boat to fish in around the lagoon. It leaked like a basket so we would pull up to a rock and fish from there. We would catch a number of small fish which served as a substitute for our meals in the boy’s town.

In these latter days when there is so much emphasis on racism, I remember the “Sinterklaas” celebration probably in the year 1958. To be fair the Brothers were ahead of their time. One of the Dutch Brothers was the “Sinterklaas” with several boys as his helpers. He had not well got himself in position on his throne when we heard a ruckus out in the Court Yard of the large pavilion where twenty five of us boys lodged. Suddenly a black “Sinterklaas” made his appearance with his helpers being some of the white boys from St. Martin and Saba. When the debate started as to who should be the real “Sinterklaas” for these tropical isles we realized it was our “Chuchubi” who was playing the role. The whole thing was hilarious and the Brother from Holland ceded his throne to “Shushubi” and James carried on with the rest of the evenings program and even though he was just a teenager he did a wonderful job in his new role.This had been arranged in advance by the Brothers.

In Brakkeput with a couple of hundred teenagers to deal with small scuffles which we called fights would break out. He and I were involved in two and he won both times and we remained friends for life without having to fight about anything.

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Here visiting Saba are some of the Brothers who loved Maduro as their own son “Shushubi” as they called him.

After Curacao we went our separate ways but not very far. We both ended up on St. Maarten and I saw him infrequently. I remember once when I was supporting the D.P. all the way back in 1966 I was travelling with a young lady from a very important Curacao family. We had a public meeting at the Lopes home on Statia and I ended up at Flanders little snack bar. There James joined me. I sat in the corner and the young lady sat opposite me and they were visible to anyone passing in the street. All of a sudden I heard an uproar out in the street. My friend James was “a courtin” back then and Mina his wife to be ,while passing by, thought it was he escorting that white girl from Curacao. Anyway the problem was solved when I got up to see what was taking place. There was no electricity back then and everything was oil lamps, but those are the days I remember most fondly. However in 1969 I decided to run for Senator of the three Dutch Windward Islands against the then all powerful Senator Claude Wathey. I found James, then living in a house on the main road of Cul-de-Sac in order to get advice from him. I had occasionally been in the harbor of St. Eustatius from the early nineteen fifties and spent two months in 1961 working in the Post Office there and staying in the Government Guesthouse. Though I met a number of people at that time it was James who lined me up with people like Christine and her husband William Flanders, the Suarez brothers, Benjie and his sister Miriam Schmidt, Mrs. Laura Rouse, Clifton Berkel and a number of others.

By the time the elections were over I had 236 votes on Statia and the Democratic Party had 267. Bets were being placed by D.P. supporters on St. Martin that I would get less than 10 votes on Statia. My personal vote was 232 and the Statia strong man on the ticket Brother Stanley Rogers only had 159. I remember about two weeks after the elections when I walked down from the Sea View Hotel where I was living at the time I saw a distinguished looking man with a tie on. He spoke to me as soon as I reached the sidewalk. He told me that he could not go back to Curacao before meeting the little white boy who had defeated him on his native island. He later became Minister and we remained lifelong friends. Many are the times I would visit his home on Curacao and even slept there once when Commissioner Vincent Lopes and I could not find a hotel room.

From then on I was known to all of Statia as the Suarez brothers took me house to house twice during the campaign of 1969 and then once again after to thank even those who had not voted for me.

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Just after the September 1969 elections James and I decided to start a newspaper for Statia and I was the Editor for the first edition and then turned it over to James and he carried it on for several years.

In later years I had enough influence to have my friend James appointed as Act. Lt. Governor and he was also canton judge at one point. Together James and I started the newspaper the “Emporium Review” and he carried it on for a number of years.

We were both raising families back in the seventies and so we did not get together very often. He was here for the opening of the Leo Chance pier and he served as the Tourism Director on Statia, so I cannot say that I did not see him often. He also served on the board of Windward Islands Airways N.V. with my brother Thomas Eric and they became friends as well.

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James Maduro to the left when he was Director of Tourism for his native island.

He moved back to St. Maarten and started running his own bus service. He was a bit of a capitalist in his own way. When I would try my radical socialist ideas on him he would give me a tolerant look and would say:” I hope you are joking and don’t believe all of that communist stuff.” We never got mad with each other.

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Here he is together with Clifton Berkel, and Mr. Coffie and some other friends at a reception at the old Governors House on Front street Philipsburg. The reception was for the new incoming Prime Minister Mr. Ernesto Petronia.

Once when my son Teddy was living at the home of Senator Millicent de Weever on St. Maarten, my other son Chris went over for a visit. He had instructions from Teddy how much the bus fare was. One day when he took a bus from town back home to Millicent’s place he noticed the driver gave him a look of recognition. After he paid his fls. 1.50, and started to walk off, the driver called him back. Chris thought perhaps the driver wanted more money of which he had none. The driver asked him “Tell me something, are you Will Johnson’s son?” Chris confirmed that, and the driver gave him back his money and told him:” You look just like your father when he was your age. I cannot charge a child of my friend Will Johnson for a ride in my bus.” Chris told me the story but since he did not ask for a name it remained a mystery to us for a number of years. One night James called me for advice on some matter or the other he brought up the story of Chris riding on his bus. We both had a good laugh when I told him how it was a mystery to us all this time who the bus driver was. I have so many friends on St. Martin that many times favors were extended to my children on the same basis and it was nice to know that it was my friend James who had befriended Chris.

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I am not absolutely certain, but this might even be the boat which James restored with canvas and glue. Here on the shores of the Spanish Water with some of the boys posing for the picture.

The last time I spoke to him he could hardly speak. He had such a bad sore throat that I told him to better keep quiet and I would do the talking. It was a week before he made the journey to Columbia where he passed away. Life throws many fast balls at us and one which he had was diabetes. His last years were troubling ones with his legs having to be amputated and so he lost the ability to make an independent living. His children did well and he was very proud of their achievements when we would speak on the telephone.

My friend ‘Chuchubi” is gone now to that great beyond and we are certain that he will rest softly. To his family and the people of St. Eustatius we say: “You have lost a great son. He held his beloved island St. Eustatius close to his heart and in his own way he did what he could to bring attention to and to be involved in issues of importance to Statia and her people. May his memory live on fondly in the hearts of his family and the people of Statia and the other Dutch islands who knew him.

Farewell James and rest softly.

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