Why is the rum gone?
Reflections on the popular liquor
Sun City, Calif.
Rum and coke was the most popular drink when I served two years in Panama with the U.S. Navy. I have since learned that rum has a long social history and has been called “the real spirit of 1776.”
The Mt. Gay distillery in northern Barbados claims to be the oldest rum-maker in the world, dating back to 1703. Barbados is the undisputed home of rum, both the drink and the name, because the first reference to rum was on the island, where an anonymous author wrote in 1651 that “the chief fudling they make in the island is Rumbullion, alias Kill-Devil, and this is made of sugar canes distilled, a hot, hellish and terrible liquor.”
There are lots of myths about rum in the world, but most of them have a kernel of truth to them. For example, the English naval hero, Lord Nelson, requested that if he died, his body should be sent home in a barrel of rum. Legend has it that after Nelson’s death at Trafalgar, his body was indeed shipped home in a cask of rum. This may have been the pragmatic thing to do, since rum was a preservative and would have killed any bacteria, even though they did not know about bacteria at the time.
Rum was at the center of life in the modern world. Rum was used by the colonists to clear Native American tribes and to buy slaves. It was traded with the French during the Seven Years’ War, angered the English, led to the Revolution, and kept both armies in the field from Valley Forge to World War I, as soldiers relied on rum to keep up their fighting spirits.Rum traveled the world with the trade routes, and the pirates of the Caribbean were known for their rum running.
Rum and coke invoked the wrath of the gods in the voodoo rites in Haiti and even today in Cuba, the Castro brothers and the Bacardi family are still fighting over the rights for the ingredients of a Cuba Libre.
If you are planning a vacation to the Caribbean, you must be prepared for the global spirit known as rum, a warm liquid sunshine. It is kind to you as long as you are seated, but when you stand, WHAM! A good life needs a good rum, but in moderation; all things need to be done in moderation.
This article originally appeared in the Sept. 18, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.