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Growing up I knew that my great grandmother, Maggie, at the age of fourteen, came to America from the Bahamas. While interviewing my grandmother, Violet, for a school project my sister first heard about Maggie. Later when my sister and I would talk about this history, we created a mythical picture of what growing up on an island would be like. I often imagined Maggie standing in the ocean with the water up to her knees. I imagined when I went to the beach, that her father’s ship rode on the same waves that I saw swirling around my ankles. However as a child, I never imagined the people of the islands she left behind. I never imagined that most of her family was still there quietly living a life long given up by the rest of the world.
I stumbled upon the people of Man-O-War Cay by accident while researching family history last year. The people of Man-O-War are descendants of British Loyalists who fled following the American Revolution. The founders of the island, affectionately known as “Mammy Nellie” and “Pappy Ben,” are my fifth generation grandparents. Although the people of Man-O-War do not marry close relatives, most of the three hundred inhabitants are descended from Mammy Nellie and Pappy Ben in some way. They have sustained their community through boat building. They live simply, but are generous and have treated me like family.
Man-O-War and its people created a much-needed link from my imagination to a reality. However, I was happy to discover that the island was still in many ways as mythical as I envisioned. Although subject to the same struggles as all humans, the people of Man-O-War live in the midst of whimsical natural beauty and a sustained oral history. These elements made the community open to me as a visitor, but also elusive as people have retained good natured manners and polite customs which can make personalities difficult to disentangle. As I talked more to people I collected the stories of the people of Man-O-War and continued to add them to my own narrative. Through this collection I have become increasingly aware that history is never simple. While we can seek to learn more about ourselves by looking at the past, the vast web of narratives within human history is difficult to translate into something anecdotal or linear. This collection of images is representative of my personal understanding Man-O-War as a place, a constructed memory, a history, and my past.
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Weston, Alice Glen, "Man-O-War" (2014). Senior Projects Spring 2014. 397.