Blacktip Islanders To Choose, Punish Community Scapegoat Saturday

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Blacktip Island’s annual scapegoat will be buried chest deep on the Eagle Ray Cove beach Saturday to atone for the collective misdeeds of the island’s residents. (photo courtesy Ginger Bass)

Blacktip Island residents will celebrate William Shakespeare’s birthday Saturday with the annual Choosing of the Scapegoat festival on the Eagle Ray Cove beach.

The scapegoat, chosen for offenses against fellow residents during the past year, will be buried up to the chest, recreating the final scene in Shakespeare’s ‘Titus Andronicus,’ where Aaron is partially buried as punishment for his crimes.

“When the island was first populated, the bickering settlers about killed each other,” island historian Smithson Altschul said. “‘Titus’ was a popular play at the time, and locals used the ending as a model for how to maintain social order throughout the year.

“They’d let bygones be bygones until Shakespeare’s birthday, then half-bury the biggest troublemaker and let the land crabs pick at him,” Altschul said. “The rest got a fresh start, transgression-wise. It was barbaric, but it held the community together.”

The contemporary scapegoating is nowhere near as brutal, organizers said.

“Back in the day, they left the scapegoat planted for days,” said the former-Reverend Jerrod Ephesians, festival chair. “Now we just leave them in a few hours, laugh at them and call all our sins absolved. And we cut out the crabs.

“We bury the ‘goat chest deep on the beach and wait for the tide to come in,” Ephesians said. “It’s kind of a time-out corner to think about what we’ve done. The ‘goat’s there for us all.”

The Choosing has become a family event on the island.

“It’s a teaching moment for the kids,” island resident Chrissy Graysby said. “It shows them what happens when you gossip and lie and cheat and steal. Now, those are the traditional island pastimes, but the Choosing gets all that negativity out of the community. It’s catharsis, you know. We’re sipping rum, but we can feel the pain.”

“No one knows who the scapegoat is until the final vote. If there’s a tie, both, or all, get buried,” resident Lee Helm said. “April on Blacktip’s a bit like, Yuletide what with everyone being overly nice to make up for the rest of the year.

“The land crabs still cause problems, but Jerrod has small children there to shoo them away,” Helm said. “For the most part. Dermott Bottoms lost an eyebrow to a crab last year, but he had it coming.”

Island youngsters are also kept busy with multiple rounds of Pin the Moustache on the Scapegoat. Other family-friendly activities include a Shakespearean sonnet contest, a Hamlet soliloquy hip-hop off, crab jugglers and stalls selling codlings, carbonadoes, cakes and ales.

As ever, there is intense unofficial wagering about who the scapegoat will be.

“My money’s on Dermott in a repeat,” Graysby said. “Though, as rough of a year as it’s been, people just might vote Jack Cobia in since he’s the mayor.”

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