Where did alligator wrestling really come from?

HOLLYWOOD, FL (WFLX) - The 42nd annual Seminole Tribal Fair kicked off Friday at Seminole Hard Rock and Casino.

Tribes from Mexico, the U.S. and Canada participated in the three-day fair hosted by the Seminoles, and kids by the bus load came to learn more about the native culture.

Virginia Osceola, this year's chairperson, wants folks to know the Florida State Seminoles aren't the only Seminoles living here. "I'm very proud to be a Seminole, and I want to spread the word and also explain the culture, and I want them to understand what the Seminole Tribe of Florida is."

She's also proud to watch the fair grow every year. "I remember when it was out at Okalee Indian Village, when we were in chickees, and it was weather permitting if we got to do any festivities that weekend."

Now, come rain or shine, they can participate in all events including dancing. "The dance circle is all the families that take place in the festivities, the ceremonies, the families that feed us during our feast," explained one of the women participating in the fair."The dance circle is a family. We have special dances for our children to our elders, women, warriors, and that's the structure of our family; therefore, that's the structure of our society."

The hand-stitched dresses worn during the special dances are rich in tradition and culture, as well. "We're wearing according to the date we are born, family, community that we belong to, so everything is not just for decoration, it is more of a traditional and cultural symbolism behind it all."

The kids also had a chance to learn more about the wildlife living amongst us. "To get the kids to learn is to get the kids to care. And the importance of conservation, that is something I'd like to get across to the kids," said Seminole Okalee Indian Village Wildlife Manager Otter Joe.

The Seminole Okalee Indian Village is actually located right on the Seminole Hard Rock Property and open to the public.

Otter Joe explains the alligator wrestling, put on during the weekend, isn't really wrestling. "It's a hunting technique that turned into a show. This was a way to provide food for the families. If you think about, before the use of electricity in the Everglades, if you hunted an animal, you would have to take care of that animal right away or it would rot. There were no refrigerators to keep the meat fresh. So what the Seminole people would do is catch a live alligator, keep them alive, catch them with their bare hands. Then, bring them back to camp, put them in a pit. A week later, they wanted to provide for their family, then, they would take care of their animal by harvesting it.

"What had happen was people in the late 40s early 50s would be driving down the road through the Everglades. See one of these young Seminoles doing something like what you just witness with the alligator. Of course, they pulled over, took pictures, asked questions, maybe throw some money to show their gratitude, and that's where the concept was born."

It's weekends like this that gives non-Seminoles an inside look at a culture that's oftentimes misunderstood. "We aren't only about the Seminole Casino," Osceola concluded. "We do still speak our language, and that's what we are trying to future educate our young children to maintain our customs, our culture and help maintain the language."

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