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From Oriente to Oriental
Unexpected Cuban roots
January 23, 2023

he Lunar New Year officially started Sunday Jan 22 this year… it’s the beginning of a new year on the lunisolar calendar, whose months are moon cycles. It is the biggest celebration of the year in China and other Asian nations.

It gets celebrated in Oriental due to our town’s name, which has embraced Asian themed events starting in the 1960s.

But that’s not what Oriental’s name came from. Not even close.

Oriental, the town, is named for an 1862 shipwreck just off the northern Outer Banks, when the steamship Oriental was carrying supplies for Union troops. Fast forward to 1899, a town was being developed at what had been known as Smith’s Creek. The wife of the town’s founder recalled the shipwreck near her childhood home and Smith’s Creek was renamed Oriental.

While Oriental has since embraced an Asian theme — e.g. dragon runs, Duck Pond dragon, dragon eggs — the roots of the town name are actually Spanish.

Before being pressed in to work for the North in the Civil War, the Steamship Oriental had been built for the rum trade in Cuba. She took her name from one of the Cuban ports… the vessel was designed to trade with the Cuban province of Oriente.

The Sailing Steamer Oriental.
An old map of Cuba (circa 1917), showing the then province of Oriente.

Oriental’s Dragon themed events are very much a part of town. But perhaps a new festival could be conjured up that would more accurately reflect the town name’s heritage.

Up for a Rum Festival?

Posted Monday January 23, 2023 by Allison DeWeese

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