The following are points of clarification to the story that was published on the front page of The BVI Beacon’s Feb. 8 issue. It was titled “Irma unearths human bones on remote beach: Remains suspected to be those of slaves” and was written by Amanda Ulrich.
1. The burial grounds of enslaved persons in the Virgin Islands such as those suspected to be so at Cootens Bay are certainly a part of the work of the Virgin Islands Studies Institute at H. Lavity Stoutt Community College. Accordingly, I collaborated on Sunday, Feb. 4, with the African Studies Klub at the tenth wreath-laying ceremony, which commemorates and is a tribute to the ancestors who lost their lives during the trans-Atlantic slave trade. I did this to specifically announce two things. The first is that the Institute is working on a publication based on the “slave” registers which exist for the VI beginning in 1818 and ending in 1834. The registers provide the names, ages and other details of every enslaved person in the territory, beginning in 1818. I emphasised the importance of naming as a way of humanising these ancestors, and shared names and ages on specific plantations throughout the territory — on Jost Van Dyke, Thatch Island, Virgin Gorda, Anegada and Tortola.
The second purpose was to make a public call for a memorial to the enslaved ancestors of the VI. The VI Studies Institute is taking a comprehensive approach to this aspect of cultural heritage, and will ensure that this is done in a way that neither sensationalises this aspect of heritage in this territory nor further dehumanises or objectifies these ancestors. They had certainly already been dehumanised and their bodies objectified as enslaved persons. Care will be exercised concerning these matters. The same care was exercised in my collaborative effort, through a non-profit initiative, with St. George’s Episcopal Church for the African Burial Ground Restoration Project at St. Philip’s Anglican Church at Kingstown.
2. There is a joint, collaborative effort between the VI Studies Institute at HLSCC and government entities such as the National Parks Trust and the Town and Country Planning Department regarding plantations in the territory. In particular, the 1798 map which shows the boundaries of the plantations on Tortola, commissioned by plantation owner and slaver Isaac Pickering at the time, has proven to be very useful in identifying the locations of plantations on the island of Tortola, along with additional information.
3. The path that HLSCC is taking to address this issue is very clear. Communication was held between the college, the director of culture, and the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education and Culture. The matter was also referred to the Premier’s Office as it is a national matter. Appropriate protocols and procedures for such situations are being reviewed and developed.
Dr. Smith is the acting director of the Virgin Islands Studies Institute at H. Lavity Stoutt Community College.