As evening fell on the St. Philip’s Anglican Church ruins in Kingstown, a woman wearing a stark white apron and azure dress walked along the path in front of the stone building, carrying a basket on her hip and clutching her chest.
She began, “210 years ago, I was ripped from my mother’s cradling arms, and I was placed on a ship with others like me and brought to this new land.”
Words poured from her, telling the story of Moquo Kitty Maclean and how she was forced aboard the Spanish slave ship Atrevido, forced into apprenticeship on Tortola after Britain abolished the slave trade but before emancipation, and later became one of the liberated Africans who lived in Kingstown.
The dramatic monologue by Janice George-Harris was part of the opening ceremony of Culture and Tourism Month on Nov. 1.
Attendees also viewed artist Christine Taylor’s depiction of Ms. Maclean supporting a child on her back in a painting displayed in front of the church.
Culture Director Dr. Katherine Smith said organisers of this month’s activities hope to highlight stories of lesserknown figures in Virgin Islands history who nonetheless are integral to the territory’s story.
“We hope to be having more and more of these types of activities, especially around our heritage sites,” she said of the historical re-enactment.
Other artists who contributed to the evening included dancers from the Adagio Dance School, instrumentalists from Sounds of Steel, and musician Reynell Frazer with his medley of sankeys.
The celebration of VI art continued yesterday with a virtual panel on “Cultural Education through the Lens of the Literary Arts and Literature in the Virgin Islands.” For a full list of events, see the sidebar.
The location of the opening ceremony held special meaning as well.
The church, built around 1840, holds a unique place in history as the centre of the Kingstown free settlement, a home to Africans like Ms. Maclean who were liberated from slavery before emancipation in 1834. Dr. Smith explained how the history of the church began with four Spanish slave ships that arrived in British waters after Britain abolished the slave trade in 1807.
The ships were intercepted by the British navy, which brought them to the closest island — Tortola.
“As soon as their feet hit the soil, they were free,” she said of the first inhabitants of Kingstown, most of whom were from the area that is now Nigeria.
Dr. Smith encouraged visitors to learn more about the people buried at the church, including through recent research carried out by Ron Potter.
An application is currently in the works to have the church designated as a heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), she said. It would be the first in the territory, joining the 1,199 properties currently on the list.
Dr. Smith said she also looks forward to celebrating the history of Long Look’s free village this month.
St. George’s Episcopal Church Rector John George added that St. Philip’s played an important role in the community, offering a place for people to be baptised who couldn’t be baptised elsewhere.
He also shared his vision for making the church a place of pilgrimage for people throughout the region.
He added that he is pleased with works that already have been carried out to enhance the church, including the clearing of space around the structure and the addition of lighting. Among his future development plans is a pole that would list the names of the town’s early inhabitants, he said.
Earlier in the day, Dr. Smith held a press conference at the RJT Edifice previewing the month of activities. Among other events, she highlighted a virtual element of the celebration: “The Capsule Project,” which launched on Monday.
Through the project, she said, Kyra James hopes to preserve cultural stories from the VI and enable access via an online informational directory.
She added the project is “in essence, using the photos that we have of our past and telling a story.”
More details are available at kickinitvi.com/capsule.
Also at the opening ceremony, Junior Minister for Tourism Luce Hodge-Smith and Tourism Director Clive McCoy encouraged residents to get involved with the culture month activities and “tell your story.”
Ms. Hodge-Smith also acknowledged past unsuccessful attempts to protect certain historic sites located on private land but said she aims to renew efforts to do so.
Rushton Skinner contributed reporting to this story