Oral History Project

Two Watermen with a crab pot, Guinea Heritage Association

The Water

There exists something in Guinea, not something that you can see, but you can feel, connection to the water. It does not matter who is asked in Guinea on how they feel about the water, they will all say that they have a deep connection to it. This is born of daily interaction with the water in work and life. For possible centuries the people of Guinea have lived off the water.

 The traditional roles of men and women work on the water were divided between harvesting and processing with some exceptions.[1] Hard work is the common trait of those who work with the water. The men of Guinea or Guinea men are the ones who go out on the water and harvest. Oysters, blue crab, fish, clams, and other sea creatures are harvested most days of their appropriate seasons. This difficult work requires an early start and a late end with a whole lot of hard work in between with each worker getting their share at the end of the day.

Lou Sammons

 Once the creatures are harvested, then begans the equally important job of processing them for sale. Traditionally this job would be done by women spending hours of the day efficiently processing oysters and crabs, among other products. The sea creatures need to be processed into a sellable state. This means the picking of crabs, or the removal of meat, the shucking of oysters among many other tasks. Like all tasks on the water, this job was hard. [2]

Catherin Smith

The water is a fickle beast, it gives the lifeblood of the community, but it can take it away as well. Disasters are a well-known event in Guinea. Hurricanes, nor’easters, tornados, fire, and floods are fairly common in Guinea. Hurricane Isabell tore through the community destroying homes and businesses. Whenever a disaster hits Guinea the Guinea men and women do not just let it happen they band together and fix what the water gave them. [3]

Community Gatherings

The Guinea community is one that sticks together through thick and thin. Since the people of Guinea share a common heritage, occupation and family they stick together. Community gathers like the Guinea Jubilee and BBQ at Buck Rowe store are staples.[4] The simple morning gatherings at Buck Rowe or Marvins (Achilles shopping center) is a common sight in Guinea. While the community gathers for celebrations and holidays they gather for disasters and help just the same.

Watermen Demonstration the construction of crab pots, Guinea Heritage Association

Once a year Guinea celebrates itself. The Guinea Jubilee is an annual gathering where Guinea tradition is celebrated with food and music. A time where elders can tell the stories of the past and share in the fellowship of the community. A common sight at the Jubilee is a sea of binders of family history. This with hertiage skills like crab pot making and crab pot throwing contest. Holidays also act as a catalyst for family gatherings in Guinea just like any family. It is common for people to go to main holiday parties in a day. The communal feeling of gatherings is what fosters the idea of Guinea.

Catherine Smith

Buck Rowe at his store, Guinea Heritage Association

If anyone is around Guinea in the morning you will see trucks gathered around Buck Rowe store and the Marvins (Achilles Shopping center) talking and visiting. Now even though not everybody works on the water people still gather in the mornings to have a cup of coffee at these common meeting places. [5] A common fellowship of coffee or fried bologna sandwiches makes a community with daily interactions. 

The gathering places in Guinea make the community. In a short time, either a year or each month most people see each other. A constant community of meetings creates the fellowship that exists now in Guinea. These community meetings spread the story of Guinea and share their common values and history.

Disasters

A common story most people of Guinea have is about the devastation of Hurricane Isabell. A category 5 hurricane hit the east coast in 2003 and caused billions of dollars of damage. [6] For the locals of Guinea, people’s homes were gone. Some homes were ruined and needed help. Bring up a FEMA trailer to anyone in Guinea and it invokes memories of a time of displacement and helplessness. What Isabell did more than any family gathering could make people come together and work to rebuild their homes. 

Virginia Institute of Marine Science Pier, VIMS

Lou Sammons

Men would be fighting each other one day and the next they were rebuilding each other’s homes and picking up the pieces. When people needed supplies or to recover their lives the community asked around what people had and what people could spare, to help. Clothing, furniture, and many other items were given to people who needed it without ever having to ask. [7] When rebuilding started the same people were helping people rebuild their homes. 

Lou Sammons

Guinea is no stranger to disasters. Hurricanes like Isabell are always a threat during hurricane season. When a tropical storm is reported people wait with bated breath on where it is going. Other disasters strike Guinea as well. Tornadoes occasionally touch down, just like any other disaster people help those affected and protect another. Marsh fires during the summer happen as well. If a fire is raging in someone’s backyard it is the neighbors who come over to your house with shovels to stop your home from burning down. No matter the disaster the people of Guinea will weather any storm and rebuild because they love their community. 

Catherin Smith

The trials and tribulations of Guinea with disasters do not destroy the community. Though homes were destroyed and lives uprooted, they were rebuilt. Even if marshes are burned and trees ripped from the ground the people of Guinea help each other. When worst comes to worst the community is there to help. Even with COVID-19 Guinea endures. In the end what binds the people of Guinea together is struggle, community, and family that keeps people together.

Lou Sammons

Legacy

A group of watermen in the past, Guinea Heritage Association

When asked about where Guinea has been and where it is going it seems the people have high hopes. A community such as Guinea will survive. As for the past 20 years, people have stopped working on just the water. [9] That now it is common for people to live in Guinea and to work somewhere else. This was not the case only one generation ago. New people have moved to Guinea who was not born there. These newcomers have been welcomed with open arms as they work just the same as the rest.

People’s work moving out of Guinea did not remove the simple love for their home. People still meet outside of Buck Rowe store every morning, instead of going out on the water they go to work somewhere else. The elders of the community still remember the fish houses had to change professionals when the economy of seafood went on the downturn. When they talk they still have time honored traditions and skills, nothing is lost.

Marsha Haywood

Catherine Smith

Still what can never leave Guinea is the idea of home. There is a desire for the next generation of Guinea men and women to know the water just as their ancestors have. That sentiment of “you got to know where you have been to know where you’re going” [10] exist in trying to keep the tradition alive. The solem connection with the water is needed to be forever understood by all inhabitants of Guinea, new and old. The sacred community gatherings, Guinea Jubilee, or the fellowship of a fried bologna sandwich are traditions that live on. No matter what the community gets hit with hurricanes, tornados, or fires nothing will make people leave. That Guinea is not just a place to live or a lifestyle that this place is at its heart a home.

Lou Sammons

Marsha Haywood

Catherine Smith

Interviews in full

Marsha Haywood, Interview by Nathan Schultz on April 24, 2021

Catherine Smith, Interview by Nathan Schultz on April 24, 2021

Lou Sammons, Interview by Nathan Schultz on April 24, 2021

Citations

1 Schultz, Nathan. Catherine Smith. Personal, April 25, 2021.

2 Schultz, Nathan. Lou Sammons. Personal, April 25, 2021.

3 Schultz, Nathan. Lou Sammons. Personal, April 25, 2021.

4 Schultz, Nathan. Catherine Smith. Personal, April 25, 2021.

5 Schultz, Nathan. Catherine Smith. Personal, April 25, 2021.

6 Ambrose, Kevin. “Remembering Hurricane Isabel, 10 Years Later .” Washington Post, September 18, 2013.

7 Schultz, Nathan. Lou Sammons. Personal, April 25, 2021.

8 Schultz, Nathan. Catherine Smith. Personal, April 25, 2021. , Schultz, Nathan. Marsha Haywood . Personal, April 25, 2021.

9 Schultz, Nathan. Lou Sammons. Personal, April 25, 2021.