As the moon rises over Road Harbour, paper lanterns are lit and released into the night sky while a bonfire fuelled by wood pallets roars in the background. (Photo: Rushton Skinner)

Three wreaths of remembrance floated in the water behind the Crafts Alive Village in Road Town on Monday night as three paper lanterns were lit and released one by one into the dark sky.

Seventy-four years earlier, three men who were recently named national heroes organised the protest now known as the Great March of 1949, which led to the restoration of the territory’s Legislative Council in 1950. Anegadian Theodolph Faulkner led the 1949 demonstration, which some 1,500 people joined, assisted by Isaac “Glanny” Fonseca and Carlton de Castro.

During the Monday event to commemorate the march, VI Communal Association President Melissa Potter served as emcee, presiding over activities that started at 3 p.m. and lasted long after the sun set. Some 45 people stayed five hours or longer for the varied proceedings. At one point, more than 80 people were in attendance.

New songs

At the microphone, Ms. Potter was assisted by Miss H. Lavity Stoutt Community College C’Novia Toussaint and Chikae Stoutt-Igwe. All three took turns asking the audience historical trivia questions.

“Name the three locals who were elected after the Virgin Islands Legislative Council was restored in 1950,” Ms. Potter said.

The answer, which came from voices shouting out of the crowd, was Messrs. De Castro and Fonseca and Howard Penn.

Also unveiled during the ceremony were two songs released in honour of the occasion: “Change” by Ima Rose Smith and “MARCH” by Raul “Jugo” Sprauve. Ms. Smith was in attendance on Monday and gave the crowd a taste of her vocal talents when Ms. Potter extended her the microphone.

“Change; we want change, ”Ms. Smith sang. “These islands will never be the same, oh Lord. …Change, we want change.”

Many attendees sang along with the chorus, even after the song ended.

‘Why the March’

Later, Janice Stoutt read a story titled “Why the March,” describing Mr. Faulkner’s experiences supporting his wife during childbirth, which caused him to be absent for his mother’s death. Ms. Stoutt then compared the modern VI to the territory of yesteryear.

“Comrades, people of the Virgin Islands, we have to keep on marching,” Ms. Stoutt said. “The BVI needs another Theodolph Faulkner, another Isaac Glanville Fonseca, and another Carlton deCastro until we attain full self-determination. Who will answer the clarion call to lead the Virgin Islands into the next big march before 2030?”

Behind the Crafts Alive Village in Road Town, residents take part in the “cotta bundle race.” The cotta bundle was used by ancestors to carry heavy loads on their heads, according to Virgin Islands Communal Association President Melissa Potter. (Photo: Rushton Skinner)
‘Wind of change’

Ms. Stoutt ended her time at the podium with a series of rhetorical questions.

“A wind of change is blowing from Africa,” she said. “It is picking up a blade in Europe, the Americas and the Caribbean, all over where the children of diaspora can be found. Haven’t you seen it? Haven’t you heard it? Haven’t you felt it?”

March reenactment

As the afternoon hours waned, sharply dressed men and women left their seats in the crowd and hid themselves behind one of the multi-coloured buildings in the Crafts Alive Village.

At 6:10 p.m., they emerged to reenact the Great March of 1949 and present a petition to a man playing then-VI Commissioner J.A.C. Cruikshank.

As night fell, the audience became a congregation, honouring the three national heroes with three wreaths tossed into the ocean, while two pastors read passages from the Bible in the background. Then three paper lanterns were released, each filled with hot air from a small fire lit underneath.

As several sparklers were lit on the ground, the lanterns joined the sparks and headed towards the heavens.

Public holiday

The public holiday celebrating the Great March and the restoration of the Legislative Council was first observed in 2021.

That year, the protest was reenacted with community members walking down Main Street and presenting a petition at the Sir Olva Georges Plaza.