[Warning: this is a rant] As a tropical island dweller, a major grumble of mine* is the propensity to slap the label of ‘paradise’ onto such islands. Yes tropical islands often have beaches (but so do other parts of the world!) and pleasant warm climates, but they also have tropical diseases, tropical storms and tropical (read ‘big’) insects. They can be more or less remote, difficult and/or expensive to get from and to, and this can be reflected in consumer prices, as well as indirectly in the level of (un)employment. The creation of a ‘tropical paradise’ for tourists (palm trees, hotels, electricity and running water, etc.) often comes at a high environmental price.
I was therefore interested to come across a recent BBC Radio 4 programme called ‘The Trouble with Paradise‘ in which historian and journalist Carrie Gibson argues that the west needs to re-think what it means by ‘paradise’. Taking the Caribbean as an example she explores its complicated history, and argues that we may need to re-evaluate our understanding of the meaning of paradise. She explores the biblical origins of the concept, and its gradual transformation into the modern-day idea. The belief that tropical islands are paradise is recent – for centuries they were a source of illness, death and fear for Europeans and the slaves who worked there until they dropped.
While we’re on the subject, etymologically the word ‘paradise’ entered English from the French paradis, inherited from the Latin paradisus, from Greek parádeisos (παράδεισος), and ultimately from an Old Iranian root, pairidaeza whose literal meaning is ‘walled enclosure or park’. In the 3rd–1st centuries BCE the Greek word parádeisos was used to translate both Hebrew pardes and gan, ‘garden’, hence the use of ‘paradise’ to refer to the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve’s original home. As well as the spiritual definition the OED also defines paradise as: “An ideal or idyllic place or state”, and the modern opinion is often that it can be purchased as a commodity via a travel brochure. But do you really need to travel to a tropical island to relax, switch off your smartphone and spend more time with your loved ones?
I’ll end with the article’s closing lines:
The idea that we can buy our way into a modern Eden prevents us from looking for a different kind of paradise in our own back gardens, rather than projecting it on to islands half a world away.
* coming second only to the (over)use of the expression “Lost in Translation” ;-)
To find out more:
- The Trouble with Paradise – BBC Radio 4 programme (15 minutes)
- Article: Why do people associate the Caribbean with paradise?