Premier Andrew Fahie participates in the 19th annual wreath-laying ceremony to honour the first Chief Minister of the Virgin islands, H. Lavity Stoutt. (Photo: GENEVIEVE GLATSKY)

Residents of the Virgin Islands went “back to basics” at the Cappoons Bay cemetery on Monday, donning territorial dress for the 24th official celebration of the birthday of H. Lavity Stoutt, the VI’s first chief minister.

The government held the event in collaboration with the H. Lavity Stoutt Commemorative Committee.

On display were blankets made of scrap material, calabash bowls and kerosene lamps, while traditional song and dance performances included the National Anthem played on a steelpan and schoolchildren dancing the heel-and-toe polka.

Many members of the new VI Party majority were in attendance to honour the founder of their party, including Premier Andrew Fahie and Education and Culture Minister Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley, who both gave speeches emphasising traditional VI values as a way to bring the territory into the modern era.

The speakers often imitated the distinctive voice of Mr. Stoutt, quoting his trademark opener, “On this auspicious occasion.”

Dr. Wheatley said the qualities that Mr.Stoutt embodied, like hard work and diligence, are essential for residents to develop the “blue, green and orange economies” — meaning ocean resources, sustainable development, and the creative and cultural industries.

‘Guardian angel’ Elroy Turnbull recalled in his speech Mr. Stoutt coming to his home in Road Town to inform him that his test scores had earned him a spot in the first cohort of VI scholars to attend the University of the West Indies.

“He was my guardian angel,” he said. “He was everything to me.”

Mr. Fahie went on to speak about the legacy of Mr. Stoutt, who, in addition to serving as chief minister for 16 years, is credited with launching the cruise ship pier, the Social Security programme, the Central Administration Building and the community college which bears his name.

“He lived in a moment in history when our territory was viewed as small and isolated from the world — and deeply rooted in solely agriculture and fishing as our only livelihood,” the premier said. “Yet Honourable Stoutt saw a new era of prosperity that elevated our people to a new level of social and economic prosperity.”

Looking back

Mr. Stoutt’s niece, Gwendolyn Rubaine, spoke about a time when the people of the VI had limited access to imported goods, and thus made mattresses from grass, indoor ovens from biscuit pans, and graters from aluminium containers.

“I doubt any one of us would want to go back to such a time, but I do believe that we all want to see our culture revived and preserved,” she said. “Before the advent of modernisation we were resourceful, industrious and contented.”