Arthur’s Town, Cat Island — In honour of legendary rake and scrape artist, the late Tony ‘The Obeah Man’ McKay, Bahamians from Grand Bahama through Acklins thronged this town last weekend the seventh annual Cat Island Rake and Scrape Festival. It brought together some of the country’s finest artists, musicians, performers, and culinary connoisseurs in a dynamic expression of things Bahamian.

From the religious to the secular, from the humorous to the serious, from toddlers to seniors, all found room for expression and appreciation here at one the nation’s foremost cultural events. “Culture is very important but, more important is heritage,” said Cat Islander Winston Saunders, chairman of the National Cultural Development Commission. “If you preserve your heritage, you’re in good standing because culture changes almost daily. “When you have the heritage, you have the grounding which allows all the various cultures to flow over you but you’re still grounded in your rake and scrape…in your old story telling…even in the old rock oven here. You will never forget it even though you have a microwave.”

Cat Island natives are unique. Genetically they are a mixture of the English loyalists, African, Spanish and French peoples. The predominantly racial feature is African. The influence of these cultures is evident in the music, dance, stories, games and foods. The original rake an’ scrape band consists mainly of persons playing the accordion of concertina (European in origin), the drum (African) and the carpenter’s saw (a European surrogate for the outlawed African gambee or grooved wood), history shows. Many native musicians created music from whatever indigenous materials that were available – coconut shells, bottles, wash board, tubs, and animal skins.

Rake and scrape band is traditionally used to accompany the Bahamian quadrille and the heel-and-toe polka all relics of the initial mixture of Africa and Europe. Although mainly secular, rake an’ scrape music is fast making its way into religious expression as was evident during the religious night. And all this has caught the eye of the Ministry of Tourism whose senior director for Family Islands affairs, Mrs Angela Cleare, lauded the work of the festival committee headed by Allworth Nigel Rolle, assisted by Yvonne Woods, manager of Heritage Tourism. […]

Master musician, producer and director Fred Ferguson, entertainment consultant at the Ministry of Tourism, hailed Cat Island as “the hub of the rake and scrape music. There is no better place than here to hold such a festival. “Cat Island has laid claim to the birth place of rake an’ scrape music. It is the only place that you can get the true sound of rake and scrape – Boar Hog and the Rooters, Offie and the Web Sites. They play it with the most passion.” The preponderance of foreign cultural expressions in the Bahamian society “is of major concern to me,” said Ferguson, leader of the Tingum Dem band. “That’s why I work so hard with anyone who is interested in preserving our culture.

[Comment: The problem is not the source of the ‘cultural expression’, i.e., whether they are from a foreign source or a domestic one; but, whether that ‘expression’ is good or bad in regards to human life.]

“But, we need the leaders to take charge and understand what it is and how important it is to the country and the people. Until we recognize that then we are on a spiraling path to cultural hell.” Among the features at the festival this year was Bush Doctor Emily Rolle of Arthur’s Town, now living in the Lot. Her specialty is the 21-gun salute, the efficacy of which she swears by. “This medicine is good for people with various complaints,” she said. “If you have pain around your waist…if you’re tired…if you can’t have babies…”

In former days when natives did not have access to modern medicine, they relied on various potions drawn from special leaves, roots and barks. Bush medicine as it came to be known was passed on to succeeding generations. Mrs Rolle learned it from her grand father Sam Web of Arthur’s Town, farmer Rupert Stubbs in Dumfrey’s and Ernest Black, a friend in San Salvador. They are all deceased. “Some of the people I gave this bush medicine to produced twins on the first go,” she beamed. Her 21 gun salute includes lignum vitae, man root, Madeira bark, love wine, strong back and five fingers.

“We call it the 21 gun salute because it is so good, the men say when they use it, they salute,” she said. “It increases their energy. It gives you a little bit more pep in your step at bed time.” [Bahamas Information Services]