I was pleased with the cultural emphasis during the August Emancipation Festival events this year. It is getting closer to what I have been advocating for many years: prayerful thanksgiving, telling the stories of how our ancestors crossed over, enacting the good our ancestors left us, and moving into the future with confidence and hope.
I appreciated and enjoyed all of the virtual presentations. The celebration at The Stickett was a fully blown documentary, and each presenter brought us much needed enlightenment. Last week I asked a neighbour how was she enjoying Festival online this year. She said, “I am a Christian and I don’t follow such!” I was shocked! So we need to continue to educate our people by whatever means at our disposal.
While I am pleased with the change of focus for the better in our Festival celebrations, I cannot say the same about our public library and national archives. Those institutions had advanced to the stage of having architects’ drawings for their purpose-built buildings and were ready for take-off several years ago, with community and international support as well. Why at the most critical stages did the responsible authorities drop the ball?
The public library seems to have become almost extinct long before Covid-19, and we have not heard what is happening with the national archives, other than it has been brought under the Premier’s Office.
These two institutions are basic social and educational infrastructure, fundamental to maintaining all types of literacy; preserving our history, culture and heritage; and adding to our intellectual and economic substance.
It surpasses all logical reasoning that after 77 years, the Virgin Islands, which has been sufficiently prosperous, has not erected its own purpose-built national library. Governments came and governments went, and government is here again, but we are found wanting!
Ten years ago, the archives was ready for take-off. The road map for a national archives repository was in place. Designers of some repute were on hand to assist, but all that effort has gone out the door.
For a long time, we have had the power and the expertise at hand to establish and build both institutions, but we have not. Yet on various platforms we speak of our determination to support our history, culture and heritage.
Does anyone know how much archival material is stored in the basement of the Ralph T. O’Neal Administration Building? In 2010 there were more than one million items of archival value. That was ten years ago. Now anyone could approximate the maths!
Today, we marvel at the wonders of technology, and we are indeed grateful for all its possibilities, including all the online programmes and virtual shows. However, what we will not find online are those government records in the administration building’s basement and storerooms all over the islands. A gold mine for literary products and for adding substance to our culture, history and heritage is left unmanaged and unkept! We are found wanting in a bad way!
If anyone doubts the importance of archives in nation-building, just get hold of a copy of the 2018 book Decolonizing the Caribbean Record: An Archives Reader, by Jeannette Bastian, John Aarons and Stanley Griffin. It is currently being used in the University of the West Indies for teaching and understanding the dynamics of archives and how that resource adds substance to all areas of nation-building. It may even show us some of what should be enshrined in our forthcoming Constitution.