October 4, 2007

Family legacy honored at festival

This year's West Point Crab Carnival features a Mattaponi Indian's exhibit of American Indian culture.


Shirley Little Dove Custalow-McGowan will share her culture at the West Point Crab Carnival with an American Indian exhibit. (COURTESY OF MARY MONTAGUE SIKES)


October 4, 2007 When Shirley Little Dove Custalow-McGowan was 4 years old, her grandfather, Chief George Forrest Custalow, gave her a mission.

"Travel in all directions as the four winds blow with the mission of our people," he told her.

"He had been sick and knew he wouldn't be here long," she says.

At that time, since women and children were not allowed to leave the Mattaponi Indian Reservation, her grandfather's mission sounded impossible. But her father told her that "God would open the doors for me."

And the doors did open, including the opportunity to set up an American Indian village during this year's 25th anniversary West Point Crab Carnival to be held Friday and Saturday. The Powhatan Living History Village and Native American Hunting and Fishing Encampment will be set up on Ninth Street on town-owned lots between Main and Kirby.

Little Dove will tell the history of her people and demonstrate native crafts, including using the inner bark from trees, root fibers, marsh grass and corn husks to create rope. She and her sons will show how tools are made from bones, stones and shells.

"Come, see and hear about Pocahontas' people, past and present, from her descendants," Terri Pyne, carnival co-chairman, says. "Learn about Indian cooking, how they made canoes and much, much more."

Because this is the 400th anniversary of the settlement at Jamestown, Pyne says she is excited to have the American Indian display.

For 44 years, Little Dove has traveled wherever she could to present programs about the American Indian life. Because she married outside her race, Little Dove was not permitted to live on the Indian reservation. "A man can marry outside his race and still live on the reservation," she explains. "A woman cannot."

Because of her mission, she wanted to be with her people. Her parents gave her land next to the reservation where she and her husband built their home.

It is on that wooded parcel of land and on land owned by relatives that Little Dove often sets up the village for school children to visit. When she goes by invitation to school sites, she tries to find places with trees so that the village will be more authentic.

Family is very important to Little Dove. "When my children were in school, I would travel during school hours."

She would be home when they returned, and she always had dinner on the table ready for her husband and family. In those days, she did not charge a set fee, but asked for a donation.

Little Dove talks about the history handed down from the wisdom-keepers. "With each generation you lose some of that history," she says.

Little Dove and her son, James Falling Water McGowan, set up a village that shows how the American Indians lived at the time of the Jamestown settlement. Falling Water demonstrates how stones are turned into useful tools. He also talks about the way American Indians created canoes of various sizes by gradually burning out the centers of logs. To prevent the log from burning all the way through and ruining it, wet clay was pressed against the interior sides to protect them.

He explains that the canoe sizes varied from small one-person boats to ones that would carry as many as 50 people. The largest canoes could travel up Chesapeake Bay and from there into rivers. These canoes carried local tribesmen to where the Iroquois Indians lived so they could trade for copper.

For the Crab Carnival, Little Dove plans to "talk about our people prior to 1607, how their lives changed, and about our lives today."

"Shirley is a wonderful story teller," Terri Pyne says. "Her villages and artifacts are fascinating and you can learn so much about the Powhatan tribes from her. Her village will do much to make our Crab Carnival's 25th anniversary very special."

Pyne urges Crab Carnival visitors to look for Lynda Smith (Saturday, 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.) and The Rhondels (Saturday, 3 to 6 p.m.).

"The Fireman's Parade Friday night, 7 to 8 p.m., has become a huge attraction with their fire trucks and rescue vehicles coming from all over the state. Wayne Greer plays Friday night, and he really puts on a wonderful show," Pyne said, also promising a big fireworks show on Friday and Saturday. "The Department of Corrections will return this year with their specially trained dogs," she said. "It is fascinating to watch the skill of the handlers and dogs as they run different aggression control drills, or drills to search and find illegal drugs. NWA World Wide Wrestling, which is a professional wrestling group, will be performing at the corner of Main and 6th Street, and is a real treat to watch."

Other events include One Caribbean Steel Drum Band, The Jukebox Brothers, Hearts Afire and Church Yard Grass that will be performing on the 11th Street Stage throughout the day. "Plus there'll be plenty of crabs and other great foods, fireworks, lots of arts and crafts' booths and children's activities, including pony rides. And new this year, we'll even have a climbing wall and a professional artist to turn you into a Hollywood Horror Monster," she says.

Sue Kurfees, West Point High School art teacher, who has created the T-shirt designs for most of the Crab Carnival's 25 years, will serve as grand marshal for the parade at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday.

Another attraction will be a historically accurate reproduction of Capt. John Smith's Shallop. He built this boat after landing at Jamestown in 1607 and used it to explore the Chesapeake Bay and surrounding rivers.

The Deltaville Maritime Museum will have volunteers handing out literature and answering questions about his voyages and his capture by the Powhatan Indians. The boat will be on display at the corner of Kirby and 9th Street.

"Capt. John Smith's boat and Powhatan's village will give visitors the opportunity to experience firsthand a little history from our own backyard," Pyne said.

Copyright � 2007, Newport News, Va., Daily Press


Visit us at West Point eVillage