Monday, November 2, 2015

AMMC researchers visit Cat Island to capture oral history


Last month, Dr. Michael Pateman, senior archeologist at the Antiquities, Monuments and Museum Corporation (AMMC) and researcher Christopher Davis set out on a mission to document the history and heritage of Cat Island. The pair took a three-day tour of the island known for its rich storytelling tradition and spoke with local residents on events from independence to slavery, major hurricanes to cultural traditions passed down through generations.

The exercise is a part of the corporation’s goal of accurately documenting and preserving Bahamian history. “Through oral history we are able to add layers to our research. By interview persons directly, we can ask specific questions and fill gaps that are not in our written heritage,” Dr. Pateman explained. “During this initial trip to Cat Island, we focused primarily on the southern part of the island, traveling to New Bight, Old Bight and Port Howe to collect data. This allows us to lay the groundwork for future projects on the island.”

Cat Island locals Carlton Rolle, Alfred "Pompey" Johnson and Eleazar Rolle shared lively accounts of the history of the island, recounting stories told to them by their parents and grandparents on what life was like on the island in the early 20th century, the impact of slavery and emancipation and the importance of Cat Island traditions like Rake ‘n Scrape to the overall Bahamian culture. While in Cat Island, the team also visited six plantations – Golden Groves, Bourbon, Deveaux, Henry Hawkins, Newfield and Richmond Hill – noting the conditions of each site. They reported that at least two of the sites are currently being used by local residents for subsistence farming.

The researchers also found that many of the historic churches seen on the visit are abandoned. “In addition to conducting interviews and assessing the historic sites, we visited two potential locations for a museum/heritage center on the island,” Dr. Pateman said. “These are projects down the pipeline for us, but we know that once developed, the spaces will be maintained by AMMC in conjunction with the local community and will serve as a way to properly document the history of the island and to draw visitors and Bahamians who are interested in learning more about Cat Island.”

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