Historian Betty Bruce and Artist Alton Lowe, founder of the Island Roots Heritage Festival
Forty years ago this week, the inaugural Island Roots Heritage Festival took place in Key West and then in Green Turtle Cay .
During the planning for the first Island Roots Festival, Key West historian Betty Bruce – whose ancestors were among those Abaco families who settled Key West – began gathering the names of other Floridians whose roots stretched across the Gulf Stream to the Bahama islands.
She posted a sign-up sheet in the Monroe County Public Library in Key West and put the word out.
Within just a few months, she had gathered several hundred names on a scroll, which now resides in the archives of the Albert Lowe Museum.
Reading through the scroll, you recognize many common Bahamian surnames, such as Pinder, Knowles, Kemp, Symonette and Moss, from the various Bahamian islands including Eleuthera, Spanish Wells, Harbour Island, Long Island, Nassau and Grand Bahama.
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We Bahamians think we know a lot about conch.
Most of us learned to dive conchs before we were tall enough to go on carnival rides. We’ve sat in the warm, shallow water and eaten “scorched” conch — raw and doused in lime juice — fresh from the sea. And we’ve watched as our parents and grandmothers taught us how to fritter, steam and stew our country’s native dish.
Earlier this year, I wrote an article about the Queen Conch — the most common Bahamian conch species — for the current issue of Abaco Life magazine.
While researching this piece, however, I realized just how much I didn’t know. I learned, for example, that a Queen Conch can live up to 30 years! And that in 1883, an event halfway around the globe thrust the Bahamian Queen Conch onto the world stage.
I also discovered something that should disturb us all — Bahamians and visitors alike.
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