We recall with amusement how our forefathers entered St. Thomas “through the window,” but Alice’s observations of life in the present-day Virgin Islands through the looking glass (as introduced in my Oct. 7 commentary “Gov’t called out over closed libraries”) reflect serious anomalies.
This year’s Culture Week was well-celebrated under the theme “Revitalising Virgin Islands Culture,” but the invisible hearse at the end of the parade was decorated with “VIPL” (for Virgin Islands Public Library) in bright flowers.
Family historians would welcome having the VI’s civil registration records online, but making them available to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will allow Mormons to retrospectively baptise into their faith anyone their researchers identify as an ancestor. Meanwhile, the funeral booklets in the Caribbean Studies Unit voluntarily collected by library staff are not accessible.
One reasons for the Designation of Place Names Act 2001 not yet being in force is the absence of an authoritative source by which to establish the historic validity of one name over another. The National Addressing System might have performed that duty, but the Beacon has exposed obvious faults in its initial phase, launched in September, in the naming of some roads in the capital.
Anyone looking for the re-roofed 1780 Lower Estate Sugar Works Museum might have been told by Government Information Services to study a notice next to “the Sir Walter James Francis Highway” (a stretch of the island-wide Sir Kenneth Blackburn Highway named after James Walter Francis, a well-respected road warden). However, following its directions to turn left before the traffic lights onto Station Avenue (signposted Station Road) would be a wild goose chase, as the museum is closed.
If Alice wanted to visit the latest guise of the two-bedded Tortola Cottage Hospital Commissioner Peebles erected in 1922, she would be told that it was now called the Dr. D. Orlando Smith Hospital, despite the sign on its peak of the new building still calling it “Peebles Hospital” because of the enormous cost of a name change.
Local youth once flourished on a traditional diet of fish and milk, but the commonest fatal disease was tuberculosis, spread by Virgin Islanders customarily shutting doors and windows tight against infection by the night air.
Alice might have assumed in a more prosperous, enlightened day that obesity in our youth leading to life-threatening diabetes was being attributed to fast-food diets laden with sugar. She would have been startled to hear radio advertisements encouraging young people to pester their parents to buy them ice creams and chocolate candies from a gas station.
Furthermore, why is a tourist attraction at the pier park devoted to tobacco products, when smoking, not a VI cultural habit, is banned in other enclosed public places?
While many politicians pay lip service to VI culture, they are not so quick to vote the funds needed for its preservation. Given a pull between culture and profits, money-making becomes their chosen priority, which is why the register of their private interests should be open to the public. For what are the VIPL funds being used?
The premier has stated that he is not convinced of the use of a freedom of information act here, but it would provide Joe Public and the news media with a means of uncovering facts which may have been concealed by those in power. It will be needed even more until every member of the House of Assembly has declared all their private interests.
VI culture has aspects which we share with our neighbours and friends, such as the English language; driving on the left; preserving dances that our ancestors copied from their masters; and others that our history may have made unique to our territory, like our literature and heroes. Culture, however, is not in itself a tangible product that can be sold in the marketplace.
Many local historians have called for the documentation and preservation of our historic land sites for years, particularly for visitors seeking their roots here, who I’ve termed geneatourists. Therefore, Alice was astonished that it took a cruise line representative to convince the government of the value of their exploitation as an attraction for passengers looking for more informative excursions than enjoying our sea and sands.
The government spokesperson should have been able to demonstrate that we were already doing that and then discreetly raised the cruise ships’ responsibility to preserve our pristine waters. Carnival Cruise Lines has been successfully sued elsewhere for a total of many millions of dollars in damages for polluting several other ports of call.
P.S. YouTube carries some videos of the subject of my Nov. 7 commentary “Kenyan author’s VI ties noted,” including “Untold Story: General Daniel Opande; The Unsung Hero.”