Various events this month have been helping to nurture and preserve Virgin Islands culture, but in-depth dialogue and sustained effort need to continue over the long term if this community is to reclaim its traditions and cultural history from hundreds of years of colonialism.
The BVI Food Fete, a successful annual event that appears to be growing increasingly popular, has a strong cultural component. Recent events highlighted local food ranging from traditional rice and peas to gourmet offerings with VI touches.
Last week’s Culture Week also brought food, art, literature, costumes, dance, storytelling and other activities to schools and public spaces around the territory.
All of these events are invaluable, and organisers and participants alike deserve kudos.
And yet, much more needs to be done. It is difficult, for example, to talk about culture on an island that currently has no public library.
Longer term efforts, then, are badly needed.
The promised library and national archive is a good place to start, along with the restoration of other branches on the sister islands.
Education is also key. Besides the annual cultural celebrations, government has in recent years launched various efforts to include VI studies in the curriculum in schools, but many students are still graduating with a very limited knowledge in this area.
This needs to change, with extensive VI studies courses required for students each year of school.
The necessary reform will not be easy. For hundreds of years, the education system in the VI and much of the rest of the Caribbean prioritised the culture and history of the colonisers at the expense of the African-descended majority. This problem has been acknowledged often here, but change has been slow to materialise.
Still, progress has been made. In this respect, the Virgin Islands Studies Progamme at H. Lavity Stoutt Community College has been a guiding light in recent years, contributing research and learning opportunities that didn’t exist before.
We would like to see the programme expanded greatly into a regional research centre that would highlight local and regional history, literature, art, craft and performance; draft a VI curriculum for all grade levels; host activities such as writers’ and artists’ conferences; facilitate related lectures and discussions; and welcome scholars from around the world.
Such efforts will not always be straightforward: One need only consider the perennial debates about August Emancipation Festival costumes to understand that the very definition of “culture” can be extremely controversial. But such dialogue is healthy, and it is part of coming to terms with the territory’s colonial past.
We applaud the increasing number of residents who have been working hard to help nurture VI culture — both through events like this month’s celebrations and through other activities — and we call on the government, businesses, churches, non-profit organisations and individuals to do all they can to lend support.
The territory’s culture is rich and fascinating, and it should be studied, discussed and taught widely. But perhaps above all, it should be lived.