STATEMENT BY MINISTER FOR EDUCATION, CULTURE, YOUTH AFFAIRS, FISHERIES AND AGRICULTURE
HONOURABLE NATALIO D. WHEATLEY
VIRGIN ISLANDS CULTURE WEEK 2019
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 10, 2019
THE IMPORTANCE OF CELEBRATING OUR CULTURE
People of the Virgin Islands, I greet you on this our 25th anniversary of Culture Week here in the Virgin Islands. The very fitting theme is “Revitalizing Virgin Islands Culture.” I have a few crucial things to convey to you.
I must announce my intention to expand on Culture Week here in the Virgin Islands, and to involve the community at all levels, inviting all groups to join as we celebrate Virgin Islands culture and heritage. And, outside of the expanded “Culture Weeks” we will be highlighting Virgin Islands culture and heritage all year round.
In fact, efforts to include the Virgin Islands community at large have already begun. This was begun quite intentionally through the vibrant display of Virgin Islands culture at the Honourable Delores Christopher Festival of the Arts that was held all day on Saturday 2 November at QE II Park. This event was organized by the newly formed Association for the Promotion of Arts and Culture. It emerged from the BVI delegation who went to CARIFESTA this past August. I made the decision to take a BVI delegation to CARIFESTA, and it has paid off. The BVI had not sent a delegation to CARIFESTA in a number of years. This group of young artists are so dedicated that they were able to organize this “explosion of the arts” in order to highlight Virgin Islands culture, heritage and identity. I salute them.
And now, I have to say how pleased I am to see that our schools were so inspired by the events on Saturday that they have incorporated aspects of this approach into their events for the upcoming Culture Week. For example, the Elmore Stoutt High School is highlighting our literary, performance, visual, and culinary arts as well as heritage. I have learned that Cedar School, a private school, is indeed incorporating the same approach as they prepare for Culture Week. This is also happening at the tertiary level, ladies and gentlemen, as HLSCC prepares to participate in Culture Week. Of course, our primary schools are participating as they always do. And, our Grand Food Fair takes place on Friday at the Road Town Festival Grounds.
I am aware that we have over 100 nations represented in these Virgin Islands. I invite all nationalities to join into our cultural activities. In particular, I invite all Virgin Islanders and belongers to unite under the umbrella of Virgin Islands culture! Yes, even with all of our diverse backgrounds, let us be filled with pride as we honour our beloved, shared Virgin Islands culture, heritage and identity. I am speaking here of healing rifts that exist between communities by fostering mutual understanding and cohesion through a shared identity.
Allow me to brief those of you who missed the arts festival on Saturday that has been so inspiring. At the event, we had activities which got our young ones outside such as “jump rope”, and we also had storytelling. We had our fungi musicians, our plait pole dancers and, of course, our food competition: fungi and fish and peas soup. Our creativity through craft was on display. I was especially pleased to see “Our Journey: Reenactment of the 1949 Grand March” especially because this is the seventieth anniversary of this most significant March in Virgin Islands history. There was, of course, our absolutely brilliant dance performance depicting the “evolution of BVI culture.” This was followed by the exciting “pan off” which was itself followed by the absolutely riveting cultural interpretation through fashion. Ladies and gentlemen, I took part in the moving “spoken word” portion of the evening. The evening was brought to a close by the fusion of jazz and fungi music which warmed my heart. We had our literary arts tent as well as our visual arts tent which showcased pottery as well as paintings. I saw with gratitude that the family of the late Honourable Delores Christopher, after whom this first arts festival was named, took the stage and spoke to us.
Ladies and gentlemen, there is so much talent in these Virgin Islands. And I want to point out that at this event we brought younger artists together with our older artists. It is my full intention to help develop our younger creatives and artists as they take their place in our society, speaking to us on our modern day Virgin Islands cultural identity and society.
Please take note that the theme of the Honourable Delores Christopher Festival of the Arts was “the evolution of BVI culture.” As we celebrate our traditional culture and document our journey to where we stand today, it is now time to embrace our modern cultural identity as Virgin Islanders here in these Virgin Islands. This is particularly important in the face of globalization but even as we have certainly embraced a modern way of living, our traditional ways had tremendous value and we must bring these forward. I speak here of a simple concept known as sankofa: “Looking backwards to move forward.”
In that vein, at our arts festival, we honoured our “trailblazers” and “culture bearers”. Ladies and gentlemen we have tradition of the arts, and we must know this tradition. And there will be more “trailblazers and “culture bearers” to become acquainted with. We have a literary arts tradition, a performing arts tradition, a visual arts tradition, among others. At this arts festival we honoured Dr. Quincy Lettsome, Mrs. Verna Moll, Mrs. Jennie Wheatley, Dr. Patricia Turnbull and Mr. Hugo Vanterpool in the area of the literary arts. We honoured Mr. Elmore Stoutt, Mr. Quito Rymer, and the Lashing Dogs in the area of performing arts (music). We honoured Mrs. Eileene Parsons in the area of performing arts (dance). And we honoured Mrs. Janice George Harris in the area of performing arts (theatre). We also honoured Mr. Joseph Hodge and Mr. Reuben Vanterpool in the area of visual arts. We honoured Ms. Movine Fahie in the area of agriculture.
I want to take a minute to reflect on our definition of culture. Commonly called a way of life I can say that culture is much more than our cultural expressions, as wonderful as they are. Culture is an outlook on life, the character of a people, a value system, a philosophy. And our cultural heritage is everything we have inherited along these lines. What is the culture of these Virgin Islands based on? Our industry, our spirit of innovation and adaptation, our community mindedness, our spirit of independence, our green heritage, our gardens, our medicinal plants, our entrepreneurial spirit, our law abiding ways, our democratic spirit.
Ladies and gentlemen the conversation has just begun. And we want to be fully informed by or cultural heritage. I am also talking about what I can call our tangible heritage. What we can touch, see, and feel. The evidence of our heritage that is physically all around us that can inspire such pride and collective memories. I am speaking about our landmarks, historical spaces, heritage sites, sacred spaces, monuments and cultural institutions such as our museums. Tangibly, these physical reminders inform us about the very creators of the culture and way of life we celebrate today: our ancestors and forefathers. This is an incredibly important aspect of our culture and heritage and one we will be developing and highlighting. And to this end, I was extremely grateful to see “The Old Main Street Walk” highlighted as a part of the arts festival we just had.
And while I have spoken on the importance of the arts, culture and heritage, I now turn to the subject of education. I fully intend to ensure that Virgin Islands culture, heritage, and history is taught consistently throughout our entire education system, from the primary levels, through the secondary levels, and through to the tertiary levels. These subjects will be taught in the most creative of ways, in the most accurately documented and thorough of ways. We have many, many resources at our hands that we are not aware of them all. There is a significant need to re-discover our culture and heritage, or history! And in some cases discover new knowledge as we engage in new research. And this research must include the voice of our elders – from across these Virgin Islands. This is why I am so excited about the release of the department of cultures documentary on centenarians.
As we set upon this path, our young ones as well as our community must become aware of our national heroes whose invaluable contributions must come alive from the historical documents and records.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have just outlined for you the path that we will take. Please join me on this journey which we must all take together. And with that said, I now declare Culture Week open.