Surrounded by a small crowd dressed all in white, Mrs. BVI Rhonda Victor-Pinnock stood on the shoreline near Crafts Alive Village shortly before sunset on Sunday and tossed a bouquet of flowers into the ocean.
Others followed her lead, wrapping up the 16th annual African Remembrance Wreath-Laying Ceremony.
The event is held each year in the Virgin Islands at the start of Black History Month, a February observance that originated in the United States to recognise the ancestors of people of African descent.
Here, the African Studies Klub uses its annual seaside ceremony to honour the millions of Africans who perished during the trans-Atlantic slave trade, which the United Nations has described as “the largest forced migration in history and undeniably one of the most inhumane.”
On Sunday, attendees came together behind Crafts Alive at around 3 p.m. for an event that included libations, stories, poetry and songs.
“We also seek to memorialise our ancestors — those who came before us — and our family members who made extreme sacrifices during their lives so that we could live a more comfortable life; so that we could be here today,” said restaurateur Art Christopher, who helped lead the event.
Later in the ceremony, Mr. Christopher also joined the small group of men who poured libations in honour of the territory’s ancestors.
“Libations is a key and central part of our tradition,” Mr. Christopher said. “Libations is a key part of African tradition, and wherever we go in Africa we find a tradition that represents what we call libations. And the symbolism of it is about pouring water onto the earth. And so essentially you’re connecting those elements. So there’s a deep symbolism of that action and event.”
He added that the ritual’s origins are unknown.
“The tradition is so old,” he said. “But what we do know is that in almost every area on the continent that we go there’s a tradition that represents libations.”
‘This is who I am’
As another form of historical and cultural healing, Mr. Christopher said the event serves as an opportunity for the people of the VI to ask themselves who they are as a nation and people.
“Nobody is going to tell me who I am,” he told the audience. “And we have that responsibility to say, ‘This is who I am.’”
He urged attendees to use events like the ceremony to help define their own ancestors.
“If somebody comes and says that your mum or dad was ‘this’ or ‘that,’ you have the responsibility to say, ‘No, this is who our ancestors were,’” he said.
Guest speaker Enya Douglas, a humanities lecturer at the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College, spoke about decolonising education — a process that she said is necessary for overcoming the negative legacies of colonialism.
“Colonialism is connected to all our social and economic systems,” she explained. “It’s an integral part of truly understanding the world we live in. If we don’t learn to understand it, then we don’t understand the world we live in.”
The ceremony ended with songs and prayers, followed by djembe drum performances, organic foods and juices, and a procession to the coastline to send off flowers and wreaths.
The observance didn’t end until sundown.