by Arthur Taylor
It's Saturday night, and as usual on the last weekend in August, Belize's Civic Center plays host to an arena-filling capacity crowd. The red carpet rolls out for a number of lovely young ladies, each vying for the title of Miss Queen of the Bay. The stage is set in more ways than one.
Amidst banners and bobbing balloons bearing Belize's national colors, a grand play originally written by Quentin Augustus Pitts will be performed. Its resolution will have a lasting effect on each of the contestants in waiting; but, for the one chosen to be queen, life will never be the same. The queen's coronation will occur on the morning of the tenth day of September (known as the "Tenth"), a day in which we celebrate the Battle of St. George's Caye. From there her agenda is filled with guest appearances at cultural performances, concerts, athletic events, and other September festivities, like the flag raising ceremony and fireworks display on the eve of September 21st, Belize's Independence Day. But at this moment, the extravagantly decorated costumes in bright oranges, reds and greens yet to saturate Belize City Streets are nothing more than far flung thoughts in the minds of these potential queens.
The competition has been modified somewhat from its modest beginnings in the year 1946, when Ms. Rita Lewis won the prestige of forever being remembered as Belize's first Miss Queen of the Bay. At that time the pageant was an event exclusive to Belize City that was itself sectioned off into Royal Houses named after valiant men of earlier times, like Young Fairweather who had fought bravely in war. The contestants had to adhere to strict criteria. Prerequisites such as being young, unmarried, not involved in a common-law relationship, inexperienced in pregnancy, and a born Belizean or having parents originally from Belize are still enforced today. Back then, the best curtsy and march won the crown. The perks for fulfilling these requirements were well worth it. The queen not only gained respect from her peers, but also was automatically put on the guest list of all the balls, banquets and other major events.
Belizeans love a good show and for most municipal events a competition among beautiful young women such as Ms. Belize, Ms. Tourism, Ms. Garifuna is usually the main attraction. In addition we send a representative to all major international and regional competitions - Ms. Costa Maya, Ms World, Ms. Universe. The Queen of the Bay contest, however, is not quite along the same lines as these international beauty contests but more a theatrical production whose yearly performance has made it into a socio-historical piece.
The Queen of the Bay as we know it today has evolved. About two decades after the initial opening curtain, the unexpected occurred. Due to political influence, the pageant was split into two separate competitions. One was called Miss Independence, and was supported by the People's United Party (PUP). The other retained the previous title of Miss Queen of the Bay and was backed by the opposition party, the National Independence Party (NIP), now the United Democratic Party (UDP). In 1985, due to public influence, the two contests merged under the original heading of Miss Queen of the Bay. As a result of this union, new segments such as questions and answers and a talent competition were introduced to the program. According to Mrs. Dusel Taylor, the 1962 Miss Queen of the Bay Stann Creek, the sixties opened the door to the other five districts, enabling them to send a queen to represent her district in the final contest. The popular swimsuit segment was introduced in the seventies. As you can imagine, showing off that much skin was not the norm in Belize's more conservative past, only formal gowns were worn throughout the course of the play/pageant. These changes are testimony to the ever-evolving tides of ideology that have integrated into our traditions over the years. The ladies scheduled to perform a short time from now, have journeyed along a similar path to that of their predecessors in preparation for this night.
I should mention that despite the plays present variation from the original script, the family of Quentin Augustus Pitts continues to be closely associated with it. Later tonight, when the stage is cleared for the grand entrance of the reigning "Queen", two jesters (the great grand children of the renowned author) will escort her to her throne. Then, following in her wake, each contestant, elegantly dressed in her evening wear, will in like manner be escorted to the stage, where she will then proceed to curtsy to the Queen and company and finally to the audience before taking a seat.
I will judge heavily upon this cornerstone aspect of the play that remains the highlight of the evening. Of all the demonstrations of skill an aspiring Queen of the Bay trains to execute flawlessly, the curtsy continues to be the equivalent of a triple summersault into an icy pool, as nerves will be tested with every move. One by one they will show their respect for the Queen and her counselors through this act of humility. The winner of tonight's contest will join a lineage of queens and will go down in history as the 57th to take hold of the crown.
The Heralder has just entered the stage; listen as he proclaims the Queen's intent,
"The Queen has decided to lay down her crown and scepter and has chosen counselors (since the 70's called the Judges), outstanding citizens of the land, having keen intellect and knowledge of female beauty to help her make her decision."
Well that's my cue, it was nice talking to you, and I'm sure you'll enjoy this event. As for me, someone's destiny is in my hands.
Congratulations to Ms. Shahira Sajiah, Queen of the Bay 2003.
Special Thanks to:
Mrs. Dusel Taylor
Ms. Emma Boiton
Queen of the Bay 2003 Contestants
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