Friday, March 26, 2010

Yaba Ding Dings

I am beyond excited to finally be able to take decent pictures of my sea glass collection. For years, whenever I've gone to a beach, I've looked for weathered bits of colored glass and worn pottery shards which I affectionately refer to as "yabas".

Why yabas?

Because that's what the locals on Roatan call found objects...

And where's Roatan?

It's a small island off the coast of Honduras known for fabulous scuba diving. I went there about 15 years ago and have been hooked on diving and collecting yabas ever since. Only the official name is "yaba ding ding".

Yaba ding dings? YABA DING DINGS? You're kidding me, right? That sounds like something Fred Flintstone would yodel.

No, Gentle Readers, I would not mislead you about something with such a rich history.

I first heard that term when my dive buddies and I went off on a wild jungle adventure, getting sunburned in the back of an old pickup truck, bumping over unpaved Honduran backroads, on our way to an obscure field where supposedly a little digging in the dirt often unearthed pottery shards he told us were called yaba ding dings.

Our group spoke no Spanish and our guide spoke very little English, but surely we'd return with a pocketful of yabas, a grand story to tell and nothing a little aloe vera or Pepto-Bismol couldn't fix. But I confess to a little consternation when he stopped the truck in front of a small hut and emerged with an armful of machetes. We glanced at each other wordlessly, our "adventure" suddenly seeming more reckless than recreational.

But he smiled hugely and continued driving us deeper into the island's interior. We lurched and slid into each other when he turned corners or hit potholes; what's an adventure without a few bruises? The weather was glorious, the company grand...but there was still that little matter of the machetes...

Then our driver stopped at yet another small cluster of homes and had a conversation with a gentleman that went a little something like this:

Our Driver: Really-really-really-fast-Spanish-we-didn't-understand.

Man #2, pointing to the machetes: Equally-fast-Spanish-that-went-right-over-our-heads-as-well-since-all-we-understood-was-cervesa-and-bano-and-gracias.

Uh-oh...why oh why hadn't I signed up for Spanish in high school? Or at least paid more attention when Sesame Street tried to teach me the basics. If only we had SOME clue what they were saying. What were those machetes for anyway?

Our Driver: Yet-another-verbal-paragraph-of-high-velocity-foreign-words...and then...yaba-ding-dings!

Man #2, apparently pointing out directions: Something-something-something-yaba-ding-dings-something-something.

We grinned and prodded each other, "Did you hear that? They said yaba ding dings? I don't think they mean to kill us with those machetes after all!"

And sure enough, we were eventually delivered to our first yaba excavation site. According to the Humanities Department of Midlands Technical College "'Yaba Ding Ding' is a colorful term which may be unique to the Bay Islands. Some islanders use it to signify any pre-Columbian artifact, but the term is usually reserved for the great quantity of detached supports or adornments which have broken off the ceramic vessels."

I don't believe any of these yabas are actually from Roatan. More likely they're from the Caribbean island of St. Eustatius (Stacia for short) discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493.

Back in 17th and 18th centuries, Stacia was a common stopping place for ships delivering goods (namely arms and ammunition) from Europe to the fledgling American colonies. Remnants of stone warehouses still line the beaches and all manner of broken pottery, glass bottles and beads can still be readily found around the crumbling walls. I'm sure these ceramic shards are over a hundred years old; just look at the detail of of this transferware, so called because of the laborious process of transferring the intricate pattern to the porcelain.

Some of my most prized yabas include the glass stopper at the bottom of this picture and the glass handle near the middle. And the tumbled marbles are cool, too. I actually found them on a beach near my house in Seattle. Not exotic, but darned convenient.

It's always a treat to find cobalt colored bits, especially the old marbles and glass button. I always wish that I could listen to the stories these pieces could tell...


Mermaid's Purse said...

Cindy, fantastic article! I have been researching Roatan for about 3 years thinking we would buy someday. Would you buy there? The yabas are a dream for us collectors of Sea Treasures. The adventure through the Honduran jungle sounds a bit over the top for me...and I know a little more Spanish than you. Still.....pretty crazy..Great fun reading your adventure.
Fair Winds and Calm Seas,
Deborah Leon

debsea said...

beautiful yabas! great photos! in all my beachcombing years i have found only 1 glass stopper - it's my prized glass possesion.

Cindy Pestka said...

I am so obsessed with finding yabas, my eyes so glued onto the ground, that if an entire pod of whales started breakdancing on the water right off shore, I would probably miss them. Perhaps it's time for a support group?

Deborah, how exciting to be thinking about buying a home in a tropical paradise. It's been so many years since I was in Roatan that I couldn't say what it's like now. I would say to definitely go visit in person, though, and try to talk to other expats who have purchased there in the last few years to see what their experience was like. If you are really into collecting sea treasures, absolutely schedule a trip to Stacia...but be prepared for your luggage to weight LOTS more coming home than going!

Keep me posted on your adventures!

Beverly Ash Gilbert said...

You took my breath away with the photos and left me giggling - these treasures (and the stories behind them) are priceless!