For a few days each May, tranquil New Plymouth pulses with activity as the Island Roots Heritage Festival takes over the settlement. Originally created to encourage islanders to renew ties with kin in Key West and beyond, today’s festival offers an authentic and entertaining island experience for locals and tourists alike.
For visitors, Island Roots is a crash course in local culture. Bahamian artisans display native wood carvings, straw and shell work, fine jewelry and vivid paintings of tropical scenes. Traditional lime-in-spoon races, scavenger hunts, Maypole plaiting, conch-cleaning and conch horn-blowing contests and tug-of-war competitions delight kids of all ages.
Noon till night, island music drifts through town. Taking the stage at the 2013 festival were the adorable Tiny Turtles preschoolers, the Amy Roberts Primary School students, the Royal Bahamas Defence Force Band, rake and scrape performers, Green Turtle Cay’s own Gully Roosters, and – a true Bahamian legend – singer and artist, Eddie Minnis.
As the last rays of sun slipped over the horizon, a lively and colourful Junkanoo rush, set to the hypnotic rhythms of goatskin drums and the “kalik” of cowbells, wound its way through the festival grounds.
Naturally, no self-respecting Bahamian gathering would be complete without a wide menu of genuine native fare. Conch – the national food of the Bahamas – is served stewed, steamed, cracked and in chowder, fritters and salad.
Island chefs also offer up grilled lobster, fried fish and chicken, crab & rice, curry, coconut and key lime pies, guava cheesecake and fresh-made ice cream. Locally produced jams and jellies make tasty souvenirs – if you can resist sampling them before you get home. (And if you can’t, try them on the homemade coconut bread from Sid’s Grocery.)
This year’s festival saw the launch of a new photo exhibit at the Albert Lowe Museum, a screening of the film, “Full Circle: A Taino Story,” and a book signing of the newly released book, The Lucayan Taino: First People of the Bahamas with author, Sandra Reilly, and artist, Alton Lowe. A discussion about Bahamian bush medicine was held over afternoon tea at the Captain Roland Roberts Environmental Center, while other venues hosted lectures about the Bahamas National Trust and the Bahamas DNA Project.
Now, if this were the extent of the Island Roots Heritage Festival, it would be tons of fun and well worth the modest admission charge. But there’s a whole other side to the festival. I’ll write about that next time.