Sharing Florida's Traditional Culture
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Every year the Department of State's Florida Folklife Program researches a special topic on Florida's traditional heritage.
Viva Florida 500 is a statewide initiative to highlight Florida’s varied cultural heritages and communities. The Lower St. Johns River is an appropriate theme for reflecting on the diverse currents that contribute to the social, cultural, and economic development of present-day Florida. Often called “America’s First River,” the St. Johns is one of 14 American Heritage Rivers. People have settled near the river for millennia. Timucuans called it Welaka, or “River of Lakes,” a reference to the many lakes that constitute this slow-moving, north-flowing river. Jacksonville’s skyline and bustling port lie near the river’s mouth today. The region’s major urban center, it has a proud legacy of African American traditional music. Commercial fishing is not a vibrant industry anymore; a handful of river shrimpers, crabbers, and fisherman, however, still drag nets or run crab pots, trotlines, and hoop nets. Ferneries in Putnam and Volusia counties employ immigrant farmworkers from Mexico and Central and South America. These communities perpetuate music, dance, food, and religious traditions, including ritual and festive material arts. Other groups, concerned about overdevelopment, are embracing the region’s naturalist heritage. Motivated by William Bartram’s Travels, they are creating multi-use trails, blueways, and boat tours, all evidence of recent eco-heritage tourism traditions. If “old Florida” echoes in Spanish moss and cypress trees on the banks of Lake George, then those same images suggest options for Florida’s future, as these natural resources recall what first inspired people to settle along a river that is as unique as Florida.
Commercial Fishing and Eco-heritage Tourism
The St. Johns River is a natural and economic resource that residents have utilized differently through time depending on market demands and public tastes. Each use generates traditional arts. For much of the 20th century, commercial fishing was the dominant economic enterprise. Fishermen have used a variety of traditional methods—haul seines, fish traps, trotlines, hoop nets, and “monkey” fishing. Richard Sanders of DeLand moved to the St. Johns River area after marrying into a local fishing family, the Petersons, and has fished for catfish using trotlines and hoop nets for decades. He operates one of DeLand’s last fish houses, Sanders Fish House, and provides fish to area restaurants. Richard will demonstrate fishing with trotlines and hoop nets, and hoop net making.
Saltwater from the Atlantic Ocean enters the St. Johns River at its mouth. This salinity supports blue crabs that locals claim taste better than other crabs. Crabbing now provides a steadier income than other forms of commercial fishing. Like Richard Sanders, Jackie Miller lives in DeLand, and learned to fish from the Petersons. He has fished nearly every method known on the river. Since the mid-1980s, he has mainly crabbed, running hundreds of wire crab traps—known as “crab pots”—throughout Florida. He prefers the lakes in the St. Johns River system, primarily Crescent Lake and Lake George. Jackie will demonstrate fishing with crab pots, and discuss commercial fishing traditions. He will also participate in a narrative session about eco-heritage resources.
The St. Johns River’s naturalist heritage is re-emerging as advocates protect and promote the river, and utilize it as an economic resource for eco-heritage tourism. Perhaps nobody in the modern era has championed the river like William Bartram. Donnie Adams of Palatka and Sam Carr of Satsuma are part of group creating the Bartram Trail in Putnam County to increase awareness of and activity on the St. Johns. The trail includes waterways, bike trails, hiking trails, and more, highlighting more than 20 sites Bartram visited. Both are active in Putnam County Blueways and Trails. Donnie has experience building traditional freshwater and maritime equipment out of fiberglass, such as hoops for hoop nets, surfboards, and kayaks used on nearby blueways. He will demonstrate kayak-making, and Sam will discuss eco-heritage tourism in Putnam County. They will also participate in a narrative session about eco-heritage resources.
The Ocklawaha River is a major tributary of the St. Johns River; it was altered during digging for the Cross Florida Barge Canal in the mid-20th century. Although the canal was abandoned in the 1970s, Captain Erika Ritter of Fort McCoy still sees harmful effects. Her family has lived on the river for several generations. Canal construction passed her childhood home, destroying the shoreline where she played. Ritter gives eco-heritage boat tours, using her family history to increase awareness about the Ocklawaha and the remaining impacts of the canal. Erika will discuss her family heritage and give eco-heritage demonstrations. She will also participate in a narrative session about eco-heritage resources.
Traditional material arts are objects made according to a community’s shared values and aesthetics. They may express communal identity during rituals and festivals, they may be utilitarian or decorative, or they may combine several functions. Margarita Salazar and her daughter, Edith, live in Crescent City. Natives of Guanajuaco, Mexico, they carry on many festive arts. Each December, Margarita transforms her backyard fountain into an altar celebrating the Feast of the Virgin de Guadalupe, with roses, statues, and papel picado (colorful cut paper). Neighbors gather to sing traditional mañanitas (serenades) and eat tamales. The Salazars also make piñatas, a major component of posadas, a Mexican Christmas ritual. Margarita maintains traditional songs performed during posadas as well. Margarita and Edith will demonstrate papel picado, piñatas, and Virgin de Guadalupe altars, and sing traditional mañanitas and posada songs. They will also present a narrative session about immigrant farmworkers’ stories in the ferneries. On Friday afternoon, they will offer a material arts workshop. Bring your children to learn how to make beautiful material arts during the workshop, or throughout the festival in the Demonstration Tent!
Like Mexican piñatas and altars, nativities anchor traditional Christmas festivities in Venezuela. Families build nativities in early December, and place them in a central location indoors. As Christmas approaches, neighbors visit each other, and sing traditional songs in front of the nativity. Gilberto Del Castillo-Espana of Georgetown was born in Caracas, Venezuela, and began helping his parents build nativities at a young age. He continues to build traditional nativities, using figures his father bought from Spain, that he displays during the Christmas season at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Crescent City. Gilberto will demonstrate and discuss nativities, and perform traditional songs associated with the nativity celebration.
Baskets are a traditional material art that was once utilitarian but now functions primarily for decoration, and to express shared heritage and identity. Florida’s basket-making traditions include white oak baskets, sweetgrass baskets, and pine needle baskets. For Dorothea Kent of Jacksonville, pine needle basket making is both decorative and an expression of family heritage. She learned basket making from her mother, Pauline Hodges, and together they participated in the Florida Folklife Apprentice Program in 1987-88. Dorothea will offer pine needle basket making workshops. Come learn how to make your own pine needle baskets!
Music and Dance
Music and dance traditions in the survey area are as varied as the region, featuring longstanding and recent traditions. Both enliven social and ritual events, when communities celebrate cultural identity through expressive traditions rooted in the past but that adapt to remain relevant to present contexts.
Hiphop consists of four interrelated expressive forms that emerged in response to African American urban experiences in the 1970s: b-boying (aka, breakdancing), deejaying/turntablism, emceeing/rapping, and graffiti. Hiphop reflects a specific context. Yet, its fundamental characteristics—sampling, syncopation, rhythm, skillful improvisation and verbal artistry, recycled sounds or materials, and vibrant colors and irregular patterns—have long typified African American expressive culture.
Jacksonville has a dynamic grassroots Hiphop community, called “Duval” (for Duval County). Mal Jones hosts The Lyricist Hour, a Hiphop showcase held monthly during Artwalk downtown. He recently received Duval HipHip.com’s Preservation Award. Paten Locke, a founding member of the crew Asamov, tours internationally, and is one of Duval Hiphop’s most established artists. They will demonstrate emceeing and deejaying, respectively. Michael “Kes” Faulk is a veteran urban artist, and a highly regarded member of the Duval Hiphop community. He will demonstrate graffiti (“writing”). All three will participate in a Hiphop narrative session.
Clawgrass is a term Dunnellon’s Mark Johnson coined to describe his hybrid banjo style, which combines two techniques—clawhammer, common in Appalachian and old-time music, and the three-finger style of bluegrass popularized by Earl Scruggs as a member of Bill Monroe and His Bluegrass Boys. Originally from New York State, Mark began playing at 15. He relocated to Crystal River, Florida, in the early 1980s, and his sound matured when he began playing with the Rice brothers, including acclaimed bluegrass guitarist Tony. In 2012, Mark became the third winner of the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass. He will perform his distinct clawgrass banjo style this weekend.
Each Mexican region or state is known for its own folklore, including traditional dance. Jalisco is known for the “jarabe tapatio,” the Mexican hat dance. In Michoacán, a state well represented in area ferneries, one of the most popular dances is "La Danza de Los Viejitos," the Dance of the Old Men. Mexico En La Piel (“Mexican Soul”) is a Jacksonville-based ensemble that demonstrates regional dance traditions from Mexico. The group performs throughout Jacksonville, and is especially in demand for Virgin de Guadalupe festivities as far away as Williston, because they perform Aztec dancing. This dance is associated with Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec empire, where the Virgin de Guadalupe first appeared in 1531. Mexico En La Piel will perform regional dance traditions each evening—from 4:30 to 5:00 p.m. on Friday and Sunday, and from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. on Saturday. Come watch one of northeast Florida’s best traditional dance ensembles perform the annual Folklife Area Saturday night dance!
Since 1984, the Florida Folklife Apprenticeship Program has provided support for master artist-apprentice teams to pass on traditional folk arts and culture. This year’s three teams will share their art forms in the Folklife Area. Haiqiong Deng and Crystal Zhang of Tallahassee will perform Chinese zheng music; apprentice Mario Pino of Orlando will demonstrate Puerto Rican bobbin lace [master Aida Rodriguez (Winter Garden) could not attend]; and 1995 Florida Folk Heritage Award winner Margaret Horvath (Port Orange) will demonstrate Hungarian embroidery and costume-making with five apprentices—Emese Asztalos (Daytona Beach), Klara D’Andrea (Palm Coast), Zita Horvath (New Smyrna Beach), Judit Szente (Altamonte Springs), and Zsuzsanna Szikora (Altamonte Springs). For more information on the Apprenticeship Program, call 1-800-847-7278 or visit www.flheritage.com/preservation/folklife/apprenticeship.
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