Thursday, October 10, 2013

Revising History

We recently visited Hilton Head Island (see previous post) and, while we enjoyed the beauty of the place, the sights we saw and the delightful weather we had, I was struck by how the telling of history can change.

One day, we went on a trip to the Sea Pines Preserve area, and took a boat ride to see alligators and various birds.  It was a dreary day with overcast skies--not conducive to bringing out lots of animals, but great for tolerability.  Our tour guide and boat captain--a transplanted Brit--kept up a running patter, pointing out flora and fauna.  At one point, we asked--was the lake on which we were sailing "natural or man-made."  Well, he said, it was where dirt was scooped up to create some of the golf courses on the island.  (There are more than a dozen.) The lakes are what was left behind.  So, they turned it into a wildlife sanctuary.

He went on to describe how in the 1970s, the island was a sorry place to be.  There was land here, but of no value.  Only a few people were living here, eking out a miserable existence.  (These aren't his precise words, but very nearly.) So, someone got the bright idea--build golf courses and give people a reason to come here.

I must say--that explanation struck me.  We had briefly visited Hilton Head in the mid-1980s.  At that time, I came away with the primary impression of lots of gated communities.  But, I had also read about the people who lived here, and how with real estate prices rising, and along with that property taxes, the original residents were being priced out of their native area.  And who were these people?

Two primary groups of people inhabited it--of course, originally native Americans did for centuries before European settlers arrived.  During the Civil War, Union troops occupied it and used it as part of their blockade of Southern ports.  As a consequence of the Union presence, ex-slaves moved to Hilton Head--hence the Gullah traditions in Hilton Head.  No doubt, some of the descendants of those ex-slaves were the ones "eking out a miserable existence" when Charles Fraser, and eventually others, began developing Hilton Head Island.

The full-time population of the island grew from 300 in 1950, to 2,500 in 1969, to 6,500 in 1975, to 12,500 in 1982, to the current population of 28,000.  Add to that the tourist population of over one and a half million each year.  

And the more recent "original" residents, the Gullah?  Well, their numbers are not precisely known, but their way of life continues to be threatened.  

Yes, we very much enjoyed our stay and my overall impression is most positive--a beautiful place, well designed, well maintained.  But, I always keep in mind the people who are dispossessed as others move in.  Perhaps, thus it ever was--it is just hard for me to reckon with.

OK--herewith a few photos of nature.

Fallen tree and birds

Hilton Head sunset

Sea Pines Preserve with alligator

Sea Pines Preserve--Heron in flight

Sea Pines Preserve with Great Heron


Leslie Patterson said...

Our thoughts are running along the same current. I just finished reading Kate Grenville's heartbreaking "Secret River" trilogy about Australia's early colonial period and the relentless displacement of the native people. As you say, "it was ever thus," but that certainly doesn't make it any less melancholy.

Climenheise said...

Both good and bad, mixed together. Even First Nations pushed each other out of one place or another--such actions are part of the human condition. The way that the current narrative makes the earlier inhabitants invisible to history is as bad as the actual displacement. Yet good things as well as bad can be done in such situations.

KGMom said...

Oh, Leslie--some years ago I read various non-fiction accounts of how the aboriginals were treated. Just heart-breaking.
Daryl--I know. And I am not so naive to think that native inhabitants didn't fight and abuse each other. It is more the invisibility that bothers me. Give due where it is merited--don't just slide over them as though they never existed.

NCmountainwoman said...

So sad. That is what happened along most of the coastal areas of SC and GA. The rich developers moved in and a way of life was lost forever.

There are no large lakes in SC that are natural. Same is true of NC.

Anvilcloud said...

It's a rather famous place, but I had no idea of the background. Very interesting but weird in a way.

Ginnie said...

I wish I'd seen the Sea Pines Preserve. The one and only time I went to Hilton Head was with 4 girls who did nothing but SHOP at the outlets. We were staying in one of the girl's Condo and, besides the shopping, the next thimg of importance was where to eat !!
Your pictures are lovely.