Going back in time to the Publique Ffaire

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 29, 2007

ISLE OF WIGHT—Despite a blustery wind and cool temperatures, the second annual Publique Ffaire re-enactment was held “at the courthouse” as scheduled recently.

Attendance was not quite as good as last year, said Felice Hancock, who was in charge of the event, but at least, “the weather was fair for the ffaire.”

Held on the grounds of Isle of Wight Academy, which in reality is as close to the site of the original ffaires as possible, the entire football field had been transformed into a 1677 village, where Indians and settlers intermingled as they traded their wares just as they did in Colonial times.

There were Colonial re-enactors, who included a hat-maker, a woodworker, a lace-maker and split-rails merchants, while the Indians demonstrated their cooking skills.

Then there were booths where Indian wares and attire were sold, as well as individual artisans like a sailmaker, a flint knapper, blacksmithing and mountain men displaying and even wearing animal skins they had tanned. The more than 1,000 visitors could see first-hand how life was in the mid-1600s.

Hancock said a special event, and one she was looking forward to, could not be completed, however.

International Paper had donated a cypress log, from which the Nansemond Indian Tribe was to have hollowed out to make a canoe.

The process would have included burning out the center of the log.

“The State Forestry Department had given us special permission for controlled burning of the log, even though there was a statewide burn ban,” she said.

“The wind was just too high, though, and we were afraid to take a chance.”

She said the log will be taken by the Nansemonds and crafted into a canoe later at some of their Powwows.

She added that her committee was extremely grateful to International Paper and David Gardner of the Forestry Division for the donation of the log

In addition to activities for the children, such as a puppet show and Balloon Critters, the IOW County Museum Foundation Booth offered an IOW County Post Office Cache Envelope contest and a Ffaire logo postal cancellation.

Other events scheduled during the day included the American Dance Circle at noon, where the Nansemond Tribe performed several native dances.

The Indian dances were followed by English Country Dances, performed by the IOW Heritage Dancers.

Helen C. Rountree, PHD, professor emerita of anthropology at Old Dominion University, was the featured speaker.

Several of the Nansemonds also performed the closing ceremony , Healing Song.

Participants were the Colorblind Drum and the Creator’s Eye Singers.

Hancock, who initiated the first ffaire last November, said the organizers’ goal was to inspire mutual understanding between the descendants of the Native American people, the English Colonists and other immigrants who came and are still coming to the Tidewater area.

“It has definitely served to bring the two cultures together.”

She noted that the first ffaire in IOW was enacted by the Colonial Government in November 1677.

It created a time and place for trade between Indians and colonists and was held at the courthouse.

The re-enactment, planned to emulate the original one as much as possible, is sponsored by the IOW Museum Foundation in collaboration with the Nansemond Indian Tribal Association and is made possible by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.

Said the VFH in its program to provide more education about the state’s American Indian, “ Despite the fact that Indian ancestors have been living in Virginia for thousands of years, few non-Indian people in Virginia today have ever met a Virginia Indian. “

Hancock plans to continue the events, she says. “Although we had fewer visitors than last year, the ones who were here had quality time with the participants. We learned from each other, traded items and with the physical exchanges, who can guess what ideas were traded back in November 1677, as well as November 2007?”

Although this is just the second event of this type, Hancock is getting more support all the time.

Several months ago she received a letter from Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, which said in part, “ I am writing to recognize the IOW County Museum Foundation’s recent efforts to develop greater appreciation of the many lasting contributions made by IOW and our Commonwealth by members of the Nansemond Tribe and other Native American cultures.

“Last year your re-enactment of the 1670 marts, or ffaires provided valuable insight into early dialogue and interaction between the Native American and European peoples.

This effort helped expand public support and appreciation for the Nansemond Tribe, as well as all the eight tribes recognized by the Commonwealth of Virginia.”