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Mourning For 'Plait Lady'

By AVA TURNQUEST

Tribune Staff Reporter

aturnquest@tribunemedia.net

ANDROSIANS mourned the loss of their beloved matriarch, Omelia Marshall, this weekend.

The recipient of numerous tourism honours, including a Cacique award, for her vast contributions to tourism and cultural heritage, Ms Marshall died shortly after 8am on Saturday at the age of 94.

Known affectionately as "the Plait Lady" or "Mama", Ms Marshall was the oldest woman in the Red Bays settlement, and a descendant of the "Black Seminoles", a mixed group of Seminole Indians and runaway slaves who fled from Florida in the early 1900s.

Over the decades, she has served as a mid-wife, farmer, bush doctor and mentor to her relatives and the wider Andros community.

Lavenia Colebrooke, a 34-year-old grandchild, said: "She was a great person in my life. She was the one who taught me to make this straw work. She also delivered babies and she was a medicine woman.

"She's the only grammy I know because my mommy was living with her from she was one-year-old," Ms Colebrooke added. "I don't know my mommy mother but I know her to be my grandmother because that's the only mother, my mother knew."

Ms Marshall is credited with introducing a basket weaving technique that is unique to Red Bays and has brought international acclaim to the tiny settlement and the country. The style, which was passed down to Ms Marshall from her father, is said to fuse Seminole and Congolese weaving styles.

According to family members, Ms Marshall passed on the noted technique openly and was still fully engaged in her work until she became ill last week.

Ms Marshall had 14 children, five of whom are still living and a "host" of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

A 44-year-old grandchild said: "When she bring me from Nassau, I couldn't walk, neither talk, that's all I remember. She raise me from nothing to where I am now. She had a lot of grandchildren, great-gran, everything, the whole of Red Bays is her family, the whole."

The grandchild added: "It gon' be a big missing because she taught me how to do everything, straw work everything. Plus she is my grammy and she delivered me, so she gon' be a big missing. It's so hard, but she's with God."

Ms Marshall's body was prayed over by Rev E John Newton, before it was removed for transport to New Providence for medical examination. Rev Newton, the pastor of New Mount Freedom Baptist Church, Lowe Sound, is the brother of Ms Marshall's son-in-law.

"I knew her from a small child," Rev Newton said.

"She was the mother for all, everybody. She just do things that sometimes unheard of. All her life she did the baskets, straw work. She taught the younger people how to do this work and this is why Red Bay now is famous with the straw work, because of people like her that taught the young ones how to do it."

Rev Newton said Ms Marshall was also very active in the church during her earlier years, assisting with fundraisers, singing and mentoring young girls.

"She has been a person that you can sit down and talk with. She loved everybody, she loved to talk and talk about the good old days."

According to residents, Ms Marshall's daughter, Rose Newton, is now the oldest woman in Red Bays. Born in 1935, Mrs Newton will be 77 on May 24.

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