Island Roots Heritage Festival, Green Turtle Cay, Abaco – Part 1

I am back from my annual trek to The Island Roots Heritage Festival on Green Turtle Cay, Abaco, Bahamas.

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2016 marked 10 years since my first trip to Green Turtle. That year, I was invited to the Island Roots Heritage Festival to be Mary Read. In years since I have organized groups to go as various historical characters that suited the event theme – Queen Victoria and her Court, Wreckers, Loyalists, etc.


But this year, we were back in my most familiar territory as pirates with a theme of “Adventure, Enterprise, Infamy… Celebrating 300 years of Bahamian history.

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The History

Historically speaking, the islands of the Bahamas were quite the high-traffic area. From Columbus searching for the new world, to pirates looking for hideouts and trade ports, to British Loyalists looking for an escape in the American Revolution, the history of these islands is rich! It was also a popular spot for blockade running in the American Civil War, bootlegging during American prohibition, and has always been a great location for wreckers, who would hope (and sometimes help) ships run aground on the shallow reefs offering an abundance of ‘salvaged goods’.

The Cast

I put together a team of five performers for the event.  I was revisiting my role as Mary Read. Along with me (right to left) were Calico Jack, Charles Vane, Madam Grace and Governor Woodes Rodgers. Rodgers was a two-time governor of the Bahamas, whose job was to crack down on pirates like Calico Jack, Charles Vane, and Mary Read, all of whom spent plenty of time in those waters. Mary and Calico even spent time hiding out in Green Turtle’s Black Sound.

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Back to Class

Thursday, the day before the festival, we stopped by the Every Child Counts School on Marsh Harbour and were taken from class to class discussing pirate history and being inundated with questions about everything related to piracy!

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The students were wonderful and so enamored with the conversation! They had more questions than we had time for answers.  What a great time!

Then we were off – by taxi, then ferry boat,  to our final destination –

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The island is beautiful, and where we were staying, we had a postcard view… More on that in Part 2.

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But Green Turtle was also ready for a festival, as shown by the posters hanging all around town…

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The Festival Site

Once on the grounds, we saw how involved the kids were in the pirate theme . The Amy Roberts Primary school put together an almost billboard-sized presentation on famous pirates,  notes about ships that had sailed in the waters nearby, hand made maps of trade routes, and so much more…

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My favorite part was the drawings the kids did of famous pirates. I particularly loved the drawing of Mary Read!

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Getting to work

During the festival I delivered a Mary Read presentation. There was some sword fighting…

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And we were interactive, strolling characters…

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But much of our time was spent running games….as well as playing a few….

The Governor oversaw musical chairs.

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Here, allow me to impart a sweet story relating to this game. Note the little lad in the picture below. His name was Issac. Issac was by far the youngest of the kids playing the game, and really didn’t have the rules down.

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As the music would stop and kids scrambled for  a seat, he’d often try to sit in the same chair as another child, or just look lost. For quite a few rounds, one of the other players would give up their seat, so he could keep playing.  They were enjoying watching him, and not as worried about whether they won. It was very sweet to watch. And yes, we pulled out some of our best treasure for the kids who had been so generous.

Another game is called Scavenger Hunt. In this game, you have run into the audience and get an item being asked for, then return to the chairs.  One chair is removed each round so the last one back is out of the game.  As the game got down to the final two kids, the MC told them they had to find a pirate hat. It took them a minute to realize that Calico and Vane were standing right behind them. Once the kids realized, the pirates took off  running and made them really work for those hats!

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Oh, did I mention the games are not just for the kids?    We also have an adult version of them and by far the best was musical chairs.  Madam Grace is notorious for playing this game and and skillfully ‘hip checking’ people to knock them out of a seat to claim it for herself.

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This year, was not a year for pirates, though. Grace was knocked out with four rounds remaining.

In the end, it came down to the authorities – Governor Woodes Rodgers Vs. The head of the Bahamas Royal Defense Force Band.  As one person put it “Who will win? 1718 or 2016?”

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Want to know who the winner was???

There were also sack races where Calico seemed a little confused on the rules….

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And Lime and Spoon with the Governor cheering this young lad on to the finish line…

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The festival also holds a traditional plaiting of the maypole. The young ladies on the island showed beautifully how this is done, and I loved this silhouette look with the sun behind them.

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They also let the audience take part and try to do the plaiting. This year, that didn’t go so well.

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My sincerest apologies to Annabelle and the folks who had to undo the mess we made.

Next Blog – some more of the fun moments and memories, a little more Bahamian history and a few unique wildlife encounters…..

**Thank you to Timothy Roberts, Mandy Roberts, DP Patterson and Tuppy Weatherford for the pictures I pirated from them for this blog.

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