TRADITIONS IN TRANSITION: THE EROSION OF CUSTOMS ON TANGIER ISLAND

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1996

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Abstract

Tangier Island, a tiny crabbing community off the coast of Virginia, is in the midst of a transition. Over the past several decades, Tangier has experienced profound changes that have significantly impacted its culture, from introduction of television to growth of tourism. While positive in some respects, these developments also have eaten away at many aspects of Island Iife. This cultural erosion is seen clearly in the transition of three Island customs - New Year's Giving, the Halloween carnival and Homecoming. Using oral narratives from residents of the community as a primary source, I explore islanders' memories of these customs and how they view the changes that have occurred. New Year's Giving, which is still practiced today, involves young boys going from home to home New Year's morning asking for money. The Mardi Gras-style carnival on the Island's main street, a custom long associated with Halloween on Tangier, died off in the 1960s and has since been replaced with more structured Halloween celebrations. Homecoming, a three-day reunion held on Tangier each year since the early 1800s, has failed to make the transition to present day. The erosion of these customs highlights a much deeper dilemma facing Tangier - namely, survival of the community in the 21st century. Islanders are facing many challenges that will determine their future, from erosion of the Island itself to commercialization of the qualities that make Tangier unique. If the community - and its customs - are to survive, residents must confront and resolve these challenges.

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