Naked Boy

Last week’s article about street names prompted some comments from readers who shared some of their favorite place names on St. Martin. Naked Boy Hill was a favorite of Melinda Chiu, and a number of residents shared an interest in this name, as well as a few stories about how it came to be.

Google can help us find the answers to many questions, but when it comes to the hills of St. Martin, the results are often lacking. A search for Pigeon Pea Hill, brings up relevant results, but those results don’t tell you much. A search for First Stick Hill is mostly results about how to start a stick-shift vehicle when parked on a hill. Naked Boy? You can probably imagine. Don’t do an image search expecting photos of landscapes.

Fully-clothed hikers climb Naked Boy Hill.

Although it can be amusing to see the mighty Google fail, it underscores a more serious point. Lots of information still isn’t on the web. You can’t find it in Google and it doesn’t have a Wikipedia page. Perhaps some of this missing information is in an obscure or out of print book. In many cases, it probably hasn’t been recorded at all. Over time, the facts and stories handed down in oral traditions are at risk of disappearing.

And our Naked Boy? There are a few different stories floating around. Ilja Botha heard that the name comes from being a small hill set apart from the central hills. In this case, our hill would be a geological and geographical naked boy, naked in its aloneness.

A few sources claim the hill is named after the trees found there. Naked Boy is a local name for a few different trees in different parts of the Caribbean. Sometimes the name is used for the Gumbo-Limbo, which is also called the Tourist Tree because it has peeling red bark like a sunburn. One website mentions a guava-like tree with peeling bark as the Naked Boy. The Blue Ocean Villas website believes the Naked Boy tree is the same species known as Bois Bande. The bark of this tree is used to infuse a rum with alleged aphrodisiac qualities.

In yet another story, the “naked boy” is a man who lived on the hill. When walking home, he would take off his clothes so they wouldn’t get sweaty during the climb. In a variant recounted by Ilja Botha, the man did this specifically during his walk home from church on Sundays, perhaps so he could keep his very best clothing clean.

Whether true or not, each story tells us something. The last one in particular brings us back to a St. Martin far more isolated from the world. One where goods were scarce and people took great care for what they owned. Even if that meant walking home naked.

Do you know a story about Naked Boy Hill? Share it by writing in to The Daily Herald, or to [email protected].

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