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St David’s: Then And Now

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Cultural richness: Then And Now, an exhibit at Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art about the St David’s Islanders and Native Community (Photograph by Blair Masters)

Then and Now, the Masterworks Museum exhibition in the Rick Faries Gallery is unusual in that it's not your typical art exhibition.

It’s an exhibition about the St David’s Islanders and Native Community. The exhibition showcases artefacts relating to that organisation.

Depending on the source, some define artefact as any man-made object, typically that which is of cultural or historical interest. Others exclude objects considered fine art – paintings, sculpture etc. In this show, the items on exhibit include wooden weapons, wood containers and Indian regalia; also drums and banners.

On the opening evening, July 28, in addition to the artefacts exhibit there was also a performance of a Native American Blanket Dance.

A Native Blanket Dance was performed at the opening of Then And Now, an exhibit at Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art (Photograph by Blair Masters)

The St David’s Native American community dates back as early as 1636, when the first contingent of enslaved Pequot persons arrived in Bermuda after the Pequot War. It is remarkable that this community has been able to maintain at least some of its ethnic memory – the fact that they are native Americans.

Although now mixed with other ethnicities, many have retained their native American physical characteristics, such as high cheek bones, straight black hair, olive complexion etc. Think about it: they arrived here almost 400 years ago, yet these characteristics linger on.

A second wave of Native Americans arrived in Bermuda after the defeat of an Indian attack that took place in New England between 1675 and 1676. It is known as King Philip’s War. Some of these arrivals also settled in St David’s.

Then And Now, an exhibit at Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art about the St David’s Islanders and Native Community (Photograph by Blair Masters)

For most of its 400-year history, St David’s was the most isolated of all our island communities. This is a factor in retaining those qualities that are characteristically St. David’s – such as the way they once spoke and their unique cuisine.

Back before the building of the US base, St David’s Islanders were often known as “Mohawks”, although there is no evidence that any of the Native Americans that settled in St David’s were ever from the Mohawk nation.

St David’s Islanders were, back then, also the butt of numerous jokes that often made them out as backward. The truth is that the folk of this unique community were notably enterprising as farmers, fishermen, boat builders and as ship’s pilots.

It’s no accident that the pilot station was then located on St David’s. They knew well the sea and shoals around Bermuda and thus were able to bring ships safely to harbour. St David’s Islanders are also great storytellers and are known to have a delightful sense of humour.

Then And Now, an exhibit at Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art about the St David’s Islanders and Native Community (Photograph by Blair Masters)

With the building of the US military base in the early 1940s, St David’s was irrevocably changed. This change, however, opened St David’s to the wider world resulting, in recent years, in the renewal of relationships with their North American tribal cousins.

In recent years there has been the frequent getting together in Native American festivals in St David’s.

Bermuda, small as it is, is a community within which there are smaller communal units. There is much that we as Bermudians all share, but a number of different ethnic or national groups, such as St David’s, contribute to the larger community, which is also in a constant state of flux. St David’s is not what it used to be and yet there are still pockets of old St David’s.

The current Masterworks exhibition highlights the uniqueness of this particular community which is now officially organised into what is known as the St David’s Islanders and Native Community.

Then And Now continues at Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art through August 22. I urge all to see it.

For more information visit masterworksbermuda.org/

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Published August 12, 2023 at 7:56 am (Updated August 12, 2023 at 7:24 am)

St David’s: Then And Now

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