Both virtual and in-person events have largely been cancelled for the 67th August Emancipation Festival, though organisers said they hope that many can be rescheduled before the end of the year. Above, Kamal Lettsome recites a poem during last year’s socially distanced celebration. (File photo: DANA KAMPA)

Last year’s August Emancipation Festival was marked with a mashup of virtual and in-person events featuring live-streamed musical showcases and poetry competitions as well as small traditional markets and food fairs designed to ensure safety five months into the Covid-19 pandemic.

Organisers for this year’s celebration, however, said most events will have to be postponed until later this year.

Though the holiday starts on Monday, public relations officer April Glasgow said the Virgin Islands Festivals and Fairs Committee is still determining the best way forward amid the worst Covid-19 outbreak the territory has seen.

Ms. Glasgow noted the difficulty of finding ways to celebrate the holidays while community members mourn the loss of close friends and family.

“The concern is limited capacity,” she said. “But something will happen before the end of the year.”

Nevertheless, some events are still scheduled, including a virtual emancipation service set to be livestreamed Sunday. The service will include presentations from government ministers, H. Lavity Stoutt Community College President Dr. Richard Georges, VIFFC Chair Khalid Frett, and church leaders.

Resilience

Last year’s observance placed greater focus on the historic significance of Festival, and Mr. Frett said at the time that the smaller-scale events allowed celebrants to embrace the VI’s culture and history.

Though the 2020 programme missed the customary torch-lit procession to the Festival Village to kick off the observance, it included a streamed poetry slam themed on emancipation.

Also absent were the parades and tramps, which are not planned for this year either due to restrictions on mass gatherings.

Ms. Glasgow said artists’ and organisers’ availability is somewhat limited at the moment even for virtual events, but the committee is discussing ways to still feature their talents.

This year’s theme is “Reflection of Heritage and Hope” on the 67th anniversary, and the slogan encourages community members to have the resilience and strength to carry on in the face of adversity.

Neighbours

A few neighbouring countries and territories found ways to celebrate this year.

The United States VI held a one-night outdoor carnival event on St. Thomas in April for vaccinated residents and visitors, though it was limited to 200 attendees.

Trinidadian soca artist Farmer Nappy and USVI groups Cool Sessions Brass, Legacy Band, and Spectrum Band headlined the event. Proceeds went toward relief efforts for St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Earlier this month, “Love Fete Carnival” drew hundreds of attendees to St. John.

Bermuda celebrated its national heroes at a tribute concert in June, with The Royal Gazette reporting that government leaders were determined to hold the festivities despite Covid-19 restrictions.

But other areas cancelled major events, with Jamaica foregoing carnival activities in April.

“We are mindful of the significant economic loss this will have on our country, as this event generates billions annually, with many small- and medium-sized enterprises benefitting from the celebrations,” Jamaica Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett said at the time. “However, despite the ongoing rollout of vaccines, the government of Jamaica must continue to put strong measures in place to prevent unnecessary exposure of our people and visitors to the deadly disease.”


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