How a Machete in a Rum Shop Preserved Brotherly Tradition

by Adam Aronson (United States of America)

I didn't expect to find Aruba


As a non-violent person dedicated to helping people, one wouldn’t expect my older brother’s Washington D.C. apartment to boast an armory of exotic weapons. During my first trip to Australia, I was ecstatic to find a rare left-handed boomerang for Brett. His collection began with this simple novelty gift. Soon, it evolved into an ironic, running tradition. The next year, I returned from Thailand with a handmade slingshot for hunting small game. A second trip to Australia yielded a nulla nulla—a heavy wooden club for hunting and self-defense. Coastal Peniche produced a carefully-designed Portuguese octopus barb. Currently, a British sword cane is being held somewhere in Moroccan Customs. Every time he unwraps one of these gifts, I giddily watch his face during the big reveal. He scratches his head, we share a laugh, and inevitably segue into a dialog about the origin of these unconventional objects. Apart from their sheer artistry and craftsmanship, each weapon tells a story of cultural innovation and the people behind them. As our plane descends into Queen Beatrix International Airport, my mind fixates upon this tradition, and the unknown weapon waiting to be discovered on Aruba—a place known affectionately as One Happy Island. The people of Aruba have reason to be happy. They reside safely outside of Hurricane Alley. They enjoy the most sun in the Caribbean. Local divi-divi trees offer shady asylum across the island’s endless beaches, and a neglectful sunburn is easily remedied with the soothing gel of the aloe cacti that flourish here. Although, it’s not all smooth sailing. The arid island is among the driest on the planet, averaging less than 20 inches of annual rainfall. To survive these conditions, one must be resourceful. From the indigenous Caquetío tribe that inhabited Aruba over 4000 years ago to the Spanish and Dutch explorers that arrived centuries later, resourcefulness is in their blood. Upon arrival, I channel this resourcefulness and begin the search for something distinctly Caquetío—perhaps a hunting spear or fishing rod. However, after six days on the island, I’ve found nothing worthy of Brett’s collection. As most of the island prepares to close for Christmas, the outlook is grim. Determined to make the most of our final afternoon on the island, my fiancée, Danielle, and I make our way to Orange Plaza—a grungy strip mall on the western part of the island. Our destination is The Arubian Taste—a legendary, local rum shop known for creativity and owners that exude generosity of spirit. Jerome & Marsha have turned their passion for rum into a sanctuary for tourists to beat the heat and sample the finest fermented sugarcane on the island. Jerome greets us warmly and guides us through an exotic sampling of flavored rums: coffee, banana, pistachio, coconut and aloe. We discuss Jerome’s past, including his years at the Palmera Rum Factory, and his career in law enforcement before that. Two hours later, we’ve lost some inhibition. “Jerome, this is a longshot. Do you know where we could purchase an Aruban weapon?” After a long pause and intense eye contact, he responds simply, “come with me.” I follow Jerome down a narrow hallway to a private room. He kneels, reaches to the back of a cabinet, and pulls out a blanket. Then, he turns to me with a telling grin, and carefully unwraps what’s inside. When the treasures are revealed, I’m immediately overcome with a curious mix of excitement and fascination. Jerome unsheathes four enormous, impressive blades, one by one, and tells me their stories. Twenty minutes later, we emerge from the back room. Danielle looks down at the two-foot machete in my hand with disbelief. “I’ll explain later,” my eyes communicate. Driving away from the strip mall, this mission is accomplished, but a new challenge presents itself: transporting six liters of rum—and a used machete—through US Customs. I picture the disbelief on my brother’s face. I envision the machete, mounted on his wall, between the boomerang and the nulla nulla. I see our discussion unfold. This tale of unexpected discovery in the most peaceful of places cannot go untold. Again, it’s time to channel the resourcefulness that defines One Happy Island.