Nuna Chepi Shellfoot - Nuna is a Runapewak, a dwindling tribe, splintered long ago from the Algonquins and melding into a mix of natives, Quakers, and Bims (people of Barbados). Nuna still speaks with the rhythms of her Barbadian mother. In her words:
"My faduh say we be Ruanpewak. My faduh say our Spirit story be ta watch dis place wit' de Makiaweesug - de Spirit peoples. My faduh say de Runapewak be de pure ones. We be spirit-tellers, alla-wanna, don't ya know?"
Nuna is in her 50s in 1928 when the novel opens. Her salty grey hair circles her head in a braid which highlights her oval face, a rich, cherry brown. Her full lips deliver every word with meaning. Nuna's frame is small, but her face is drawn with a presence that towers above all who engage with her dark brown eyes. Nuna's daughter is Bay, born in 1895.
The Main Characters of Don't Ya Know
The Lawsons- The Bakkers neighbors have lived on Corycian Island since the early 19th century. Tommy Lawson is the sole heir to their farm who manages to hold ontothe Lawsons' land when The Strand Hotel is built in 1895 and he is hired as its General Manager. Tommy has never left Corycian Island for more than a a few days. Burston Bakker is like a brother to Tommy, but they are worlds apart. Tommy marries J. Burston Bakker's sister-in-law, Sissy McElroy. They have two children: Sam and Nate.
The Bakkers -The family first came to Corycian Island in 1655 when John Burston Bakker, a Dutch sugar merchant, bought land from the Indians The natives had no concept of land ownership. They thought the white man was offering to help them in their stewardship and were gratified; and then quickly horrified when scores of black people were whipped into working the fields.
This is the legacy of the 20th century heir, J. Burston Bakker V. Burston enjoys the life of a country gentleman and runs the local newspaper, The Corycian Island Reader. He was born on the Island, but was educated in New England schools. He is 35 when he meets Pamela McElroy, of NYC. Their marriage produces two children: "Babs" and JB.
Eula Morely- Eula's family has lived across the shell road from the Shellfoots since the Morelys came to Ke'was End as Quaker refugees in the early years. The families had passed throuogh generations side by side while working, loving, and caring for their rugged land - from crops, catches, concerns, and conditions to beliefs, griefs, chores, and wonders. Eula and Nuna know all there is to know about each other.
Nuna's musings in the Preface of the novel, flash back to 1900 when Eula and she are 24 years old. They are mothers and also widows and the sole heirs to their ancestors' property. Eula marvels at Nuna's strength and faith because Eula struggles with unbelief.
Eula is blonde, fair-skinned, and three inches taller than Nuna. Despite their differences in appearance, they have been friends for so long that they bear an inner resemblance to one another. Eula's son is Judah born in 1893.
It is a new age on Corycian, (Core-seen) Island, the early 1900s on the Eye-Land of the Gods. The putrid-smelling, fish oil factories of the 1800s are gone. Now The Strand Hotel, the Believers Campgrounds, St. Anthony s Convent, and The Captain s Guest House are destinations for shoreless refugees who seek a connection beyond themselves to an ether sifting through the island atmosphere. When the world-weary newcomers meet the unworldly islanders, a storm of spirit be wit in you and wit out you, don't ya know, according to Corycian native Nuna Shellfoot who speaks in the soft dialect of her mixed ancestry. Nuna tucks a gray hair into a crown of black braids and turns her caramel-colored face toward the sun. Nuna s hope is in the Runapewak who wander in spirit. All together, all-a-wanna, they will help her care for the sacred land of this place which is being threatened by real estate developers, the northeast's Keyclose Clan, and a rash of unbelief.
It is the early 20th century when Nuna Shellfoot, a native of the Island's Runapewak people, learns from a lawyer that real estate developers are challenging her right to four, seaside acres deeded to the tribe's last Sachem by the U. S. government under the Indian Land Grants Act in 1882.
Nuna knows, but she doesn't tell. She sees, but she doesn't surmise. Runapewak are Spirit-tellers, her father told her. Nuna knows his stories, their stories, and her stories.
Nuna knows that her hope is not in the lawyer, but in the Runapewak who wander in spirit. The Runapewak will recognize the truth revealed to Nuna by Mother Earth. Others will see it, but only Nuna will know.
Therein lies the tale of Corycian Island where lovelorn secretaries, sharp-eyed spiritualists, breathless bachelors, wealth-seeking developers, idiot klan members, disgraced priests, naive nuns, and muscular Christians disembark from the Westside Ferry, seeking a connection to the ether sifting through the universe.