Columbia’s cultural scene lived up to the city’s “Famously Hot” motto in every sense Saturday, with downtown awash in a late-summer scorch and festivals galore.
From the beat of Native American drums on the USC Horseshoe to the trill of Latin horns on Main Street to the smooth notes of African-American jubilee hymns at the historic Mann-Simons site, the sounds of many heritages blended together in multicultural harmony across the city.
“We share who we are,” said Peggy Scott, vice chief of the Santee Indian Tribe, which was represented at the FolkFabulous festival on the USC Horseshoe. “It brings us all together ... where we can share our culture, our history, our traditions, our dances, our food with people that otherwise might not ever see it, hear it, taste it or touch it. We’re sharing.”
With traditional food, dancing, storytelling and artisan displays, FolkFabulous celebrated the opening of McKissick Museum’s year-long exhibit, Traditions, Change and Celebration: Native Artists of the Southeast.
Among the artists on display in the exhibit was bead artist Tammy Leach, representing the Wassamasaw Tribe of Varnertown Indians at the festival. She learned the art nine years ago, she said. With nimble fingers, she strings delicate beads into floral decorations that adorn cuffs, collars and skirts of traditional tribal regalia.
“It’s something that you do to really honor your heritage and honor the elders before you,” Leach said.
While the smells of roast deer, rabbit stew and smoked pork – the Native Americans were the land’s original barbecuers, after all – wafted over the artists, dancers and minglers, just blocks away the heavy scents of fried Latin fares floated among downtown streets at the annual Main Street Latin Festival.
Reagan Burgess and Samantha Blease, both 14 years old, were on the hunt for some sweet churros with Reagan’s mom, Heather, and her friend, Dani Ashbaugh. The ladies came to the festival to sample traditional Latin American treats such as empanadas and chicken skewers – for which there were plenty of vendors to choose from. But they also were there so the girls could earn extra credit in their Spanish class at Dreher High School, where they are in ninth grade.
“There’s lots of energy,” Ashbaugh said.
Five-year-old Kaelyn Williams sported a Puerto Rican flag as a bandana as she rested on a curb with her grandparents, Bill and Lamorris Rademacher, of Columbia. The Rademachers are regular attenders of the festival, which last year drew more than 10,000 people.
“We’re all for festivals,” Lamorris Rademacher said. “Anything in the city of Columbia to support (the city).”
A few blocks farther north, the 36th annual Jubilee: Festival of Heritage was likely to draw a smaller but equally enthusiastic crowd. The yearly event celebrates African-American heritage and the entrepreneurial spirit of formerly enslaved Charlestonians Celia Mann and Ben Delane.
Mann and Delane were the first of many generations of the same family to live for more than 125 years at the corner of Richland and Marion streets, now known as the Mann-Simons site, where they they laid the foundation for a variety of family business and social undertakings.
Embodying that same entrepreneurial spirit, food, jewelry and art vendors lined the streets.
Mary Anderson of Winnsboro, an accountant, has been carving and decorating gourds for about 12 years. She described how native Africans would use the carved-out gourds to carry water or medicine or as bowls for food. And she remembers her father’s aunt using gourds to protect flour and other goods from pests.
The festival brought back family memories for Reba Mullins as well. A sample from a Gullah food vendor reminded her of the pan-fried cornbread her mother used to make, she said.
“It seems like it’s getting lost, but there is a culture. The African Americans ... have a culture and a heritage like no other, really,” said Mullins, of Spartanburg. “We are part of a melting pot in the United States, so that means we’re supposed to encourage every culture.”