Features

Myth to Mission

Freemasonry in the Turks & Caicos Islands

By Kathy Borsuk

I must admit that I was mighty skeptical when local businessman Antonio Dallamano approached me to write an article about Freemasonry in the Turks & Caicos. Like many others, my opinions were rich in rumor . . . it is a Satanic cult . . . members are murdered if they reveal a secret handshake . . . favor among brethren has drastically affected world political and economic order . . . women are forever banned from meetings. When he invited me to their district banquet, I was almost afraid to attend. And what kind of magazine did he think we were publishing, anyway?
Today, I’m eating crow for breakfast, lunch and dinner. After researching the body of information available about Freemasonry and talking to local members, I am thoroughly convinced that the organization can only be of benefit to Freemasons and the entire island community.

Freemasons Lodge on Front Street in Grand Turk

Freemasons form the oldest fraternal organization in the world, with its earliest origins speculated to evolve from gatherings of medieval stonemasons with the intention of regulating the craft and initiating new apprentices. Theories of its later development in England support groups of men eager to promote tolerance and build a better world in which men of differing opinions could peacefully co-exist. As their central idea was the building of a better society, they borrowed their iconic forms and symbols from the builder’s craft and their central allegory from the King James Bible.
Today, there are over six million Freemasons worldwide. Lists of well-known Freemasons are readily available, and include such notables as Sir Winston Churchill, George Washington, Nat King Cole and Sugar Ray Robinson. Freemasonry was formed on the principles of kindness, honesty and fairness — timeless ideals that remain unchanged today.

Historic photo of Forth Lodge in Grand Turk

In the Turks & Caicos, there are three Masonic lodges that descend from the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE), which was formed in 1717 and spread across the world as the British Empire expanded. TCI’s lodges: two on Grand Turk (Forth Lodge N. 647 and Coral Lodge N. 8888) and one on Providenciales (Caicos Islands Lodge N. 9661), fall under the supervision of the District Grand Lodge of the Bahamas and Turks.
Following the results of a 2012 study by independent research agency the Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC), UK Freemasons looked long and hard about how to best evolve in modern society while retaining their distinctive character and ideals, which seem more important than ever in a fragmented world that often seems at odds with itself. A key was to change the notion of Freemasonry as a “secret society” by dispelling myths, challenging misconceptions and demonstrating openness.

Members of Caicos Islands Lodge N. 966

According to Lester Forman, Worshipful Master (a.k.a. leader) of Caicos Islands Lodge 9661, his reason for joining the Freemasons mirrors that of many others. “First of all, I was intrigued by the concept of a gathering of men whose primary reason was to support each other’s personal growth, helping one another to become better human beings. As I moved through the various offices in the Lodge, learning the age-old rituals and dramas that are part of each meeting, I felt it was forming my character, helping me learn truths and philosophies that have improved my life tremendously.”
Indeed, the SIRC study found that the potential for strong affiliations and lasting friendships, built on a foundation of trust, was the principal attraction to UK Freemasons surveyed. The rituals of association and meeting enhance social bonding and, because discussion of politics, religion and even business networking is prohibited in meetings, members are less likely to feel taken advantage of or judged by others. Freemasons take a vow of fidelity, as well, learning to keep a confidence in a world where integrity is rare.
Closed meetings include rituals — symbolic tales and exchanges that characterize each step in the rite of passage to Master Mason — along with plays and parables that are theatrical versions of initiation rites. Many Freemasons enjoy the pomp and ceremony, and confide that reflection on the underlying meaning of each part of the Craft helps transmit a positive moral code. Others note that having to speak and perform in front of a group helps build self-confidence.
Caicos Islands Lodge Senior Warden Antonio Dallamano speaks of the leveling effect of Freemasonry. “Depending on your Degree in the Lodge, your boss or a high ranking politician might be the one serving you at dinner. This forms humility, the feeling that other people are more important than you.” Freemasons worldwide note that the organization helps build their tolerance and patience for others, all positive ideals that spill over into their interaction with family, friends and the community.
Especially apparent in TCI Freemasonry is the harmonious mingling of people of different nationalities, cultures, social status and levels of wealth. With modern-day Providenciales and Grand Turk quite cosmopolitan and socially stratified communities, Freemasons are a model of equality, encompassing at least 10 different nationalities at last count, and professions from fisherman to corporate CEO. In fact, Forth Lodge No. 647 was one of the first secular institutions in the Turks & Caicos Islands to accept black men among its ranks. It was a significant occurrence since Forth Lodge was established in 1855, five years before the American Civil War and only 19 years after the UK abolition of slavery in the colonies. Considering the times, it was a particularly broad-minded decision by President Forth.
Alessio Girotti, past master of Forth Lodge on Grand Turk, of Italian descent, became a Freemason in 2001 when he moved to Grand Turk from the United States. He saw it as a way of meeting local people rather than the expats he tended to socialize with. Other Freemasons that showed up for a recent interview included Hayrettin Kilic, a nuclear physicist who is originally from Turkey, local businessman Ossie Simons, a Salt Cay native who has been a Freemason for 40 years and Belgian Kristof Lingier, who is 20 years younger than his 60-something friends, causing the group to note that “some youngsters” have been joining lately. (The average age of members is 45, with Oswald “King Oz” Francis the oldest at age 96.) Antonio Dallamano spoke to me of his long-time friendship with Islander and fellow Freemason Felix Grant (now deceased). He said the pair would spend long evenings talking about their vastly different life experiences, uncovering much common ground. Antonio admits he probably never would have made this friendship if it weren’t for Freemasonry.
One thing you’re not likely to find are Freemasons selling tickets to fund-raisers or asking for money for charity. Although the UGLE is among the UK’s top-ranked charitable benefactors (after the National Lottery), few people know because Freemasons tend to underplay their charitable role. Instead, “alms” are collected from members at the end of each meeting and distributed first for the needs of local Freemasons and their families, then, usually in private, to needs of the community at large. Concurrently, because Freemasons typically become more sensitive to the needs of others, their altruism naturally increases.
While Freemasonry is not affiliated to any specific religion, members are expected to believe in a “Supreme Being” and the Volume of Sacred Law is based on the King James Bible. Each Lodge maintains a Chaplain, and meetings always start with a prayer.
But what about the exclusion of women, a notion that has probably led to suspicion in many a wife or girlfriend? Freemasons call to mind the need for male bonding that likely developed in prehistoric times, but also have open meetings and events to which women family members and interested others are invited to attend. (There are women’s chapters in the Bahamas, called the Eastern Star, within the Prince Hall Grand Lodges.) They also reminded me that members obligate themselves, inter alia, “to respect the chastity of brethren’s wives, sisters and children.”
Freemasons do no proactive recruitment, so if you are interested in joining, Bro. Antonio Dallamano suggests that “to be one, ask one.” Prospective members’ names are informally passed around among brethren and, if there are no objections, their application form is vetted by committee and they are introduced informally to the group. However, if even one person says no, inclusion will be denied. (Voting for lodge leadership follows the same rule.) Bro. Dallamano notes that the Freemasons are designed to “make good men, better men,” and those with bad intent are generally weeded out early in the process.
The Caicos Islands Lodge meets on the first Thursday of every month (except for November) at the Regent Village Conference Centre in Providenciales. Meetings of Forth Lodge N. 647 (first Wednesday of every month) and Coral Lodge N. 8888 (third Thursday in February, May and August) in Grand Turk are held at the 163 year old Masonic Temple on Front Street. Because the TCI Lodges are under the direction of UGLE, visiting Freemasons from another country who are members of a recognized Constitution are able to attend local meetings.
Bro. Lester Forman reminded me that Freemasonry reinforces age-old values — integrity, honesty, benevolence — that were held by many of the older generation, but are being lost in today’s fragmented, fast-paced, materialistic society. Following UGLE’s lead, the TCI Freemasons are strengthening their mentor program, in which fledgling new and younger members are bolstered as they ascend the Degrees of Freemasons, which have formed the moral character of hundreds of people in the TCI.
In closing, the future of Freemasonry’s “quiet revolution,” both worldwide and locally, is declared to help people interact in harmony and equality, provide an open forum for honest discussion and debate, encourage a sense of duty to help others, and provide a solid, trustworthy base of affiliation and belonging, while placing family, work and community first. I can see only benefits ahead as the group grows.

For more information, visit www.cil9661.com.



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Marta Morton, owner/operator of Harbour Club Villas (www.harbourclubvillas.com) took this photo of the native Turks & Caicos rock iguana on Bay Cay. This endemic animal is being threatened by the invasive green iguana. See article on page 36.

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