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Why I Am Passionate About Virgin Islands Culture

Stony the road we trod. (From Lift Every Voice And Sing by James Weldon Johnson)

I consider myself lucky to have been born when the Territory of the Virgin Islands sat at the crossroads, no doubt patiently awaiting divine guidance on how our future development would unfold. It was a time when, having risen out of the economic doldrums, the Territory had just begun to flourish.

Those were the days when our people seldom travelled outside of our island chain, unless, of course, they were migrating to other countries. Education was limited to the Seventh Standard for the average Virgin Islander, and there were several persons who were barely literate; even illiterate. Notwithstanding all this, Virgin Islanders were able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and over the years they overcome the many obstacles they encountered. Their strong Christian values have served them well; and the virtues they have passed on to successive generations, have been priceless. Today, with education to college level being offered free of charge, our people are making inroads into gaining higher education, and claiming their rightful place in our society.

Yes, our fore-parents lived humble lives, but their homes were filled with pure, unadulterated love. It was not openly expressed; it was felt deep within. Many can remember their parents’ words of wisdom: save for a rainy day; don’t hang your hat where your hands can’t reach; never envy people, for you never know what they did to get where they are; cut your clothes according to how much cloth you have; don’t bite the hand that feeds you; who don’t hear does feel. The ‘older heads’, as we called them, were a generous lot, sharing whatever they had with other family members as well as neighbours. Whatever they engaged in was done with obvious pride.

Thus, it is no wonder that our seniors wistfully speak about the ‘good old days,’ while members of the younger generation are anxious to move ahead and leave the past behind. Nevertheless, although we must advance as the Territory progresses, I consider it my civic duty to at least document the past as I remembered it, so that future generations would have a better understanding of our people, of the Territory in its formative years, and of the progress made since that time.

It is most unfortunate that several persons did not realise the intrinsic value of certain old documents, and as a result, many important records were thrashed throughout the years. I can only appeal to my fellow Virgin Islanders to hang on to whatever old literature they may come across, be it deeds, flyers, funeral booklets, newspapers, magazines. I am aware that Hurricanes Irma and Maria did a clean sweep through many homes in September of 2017, destroying valuable, and in many instances, irreplaceable documents. But all is not lost. I urge everyone to think twice before tossing out any record of historical significance. If there are space constraints, donate the items.

There is so much that we can attempt to document: historical events; family genealogy; recipes; customs and traditions, for example. Be sure to always check the old, tattered bibles, for they usually contain records of family milestones.

Thus, it is no wonder that I find myself anxious to relive the past and document the life I recall, and I am forever urging others to do likewise. I am proud that I was able to experience this unforgettable time in our islands first-hand. Indeed, my yesterdays were precious: I would not exchange them for anything!

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