But the true charm of our islands does not only lie between our massive boulders nor our colorful coral reefs. It also lies within the rich heritage, history, and culture of the Virgin Islands that offer an immense bounty of one-of-a-kind experiences in dance, music, literature, and visual and culinary arts and delights.
But all too often, this part is overlooked or taken for granted. Too often, the growing relationship between tourism and culture and the way in which they can together become major drivers of destination attractiveness and another economic pillar of the tourism industry. This is why cultural tourism is becoming more important than ever before. Through the collaboration between the Department of Culture and the BVI Tourist Board & Film Commission, we can ensure that our culture’s true potential for cultural tourism can be fully realised. Through the fusion of culture and tourism, we can see a more diverse, nuanced, artistic version of our culture extended for our tourists and visitors to see. This will also showcase the vibrant talent and culture that exist in the Virgin Islands.
Over the years chronicling our development, our ancestors have left legacies bearing their incredible mark on our history. On the plantation, our ancestors underwent brutal initiation processes and punishments in an attempt to discourage their expressive cultural forms such as dance, music, and even their native language. Despite this inhumane treatment, our ancestors created a culture that defied their oppressors, preserving their cultural memory and traditions. This period saw the birth and beginnings of a unique Virgin Islands culture that sprung up right here on these very plantations. In the years after, this culture was deepened and solidified, alongside an enduring value system.
Our culture is truly beautiful, and our story is truly captivating and worthy of exhibition for the world to see. These legacies that showcase their spirit of resilience and strength are reflected in our arts – our paintings, poems, dramatisations, foods, and our dynamic music. Our culinary, visual, performance, and literary cultural art forms tell our story.
Through the promotion of cultural activities and traditional knowledge and skills, traditional cultural practices will be preserved and passed on to both the local population and the tourists who visit. It will also revive and emphasize local cultural values and instill a heightened sense of pride and patriotism.
Culture and Tourism Month is a celebration of all things Virgin Islands culture and heritage. It is an annual month filled with activities that commemorate our rich heritage and history, providing a unique opportunity for locals and tourists alike to explore and experience our culture in depth.
In November 2020, the first annual Culture and Tourism Month was established. The month is an evolution of the previously established Culture Week, which started in 1994. From this partnership, the community will now see a thirty-day-long celebration which will include specific emphasis on schools’ activities, a series of workshops, highlights of musical and visual artists, museum events, and other exhibitions, to name a few.
One of the more prominent events planned is a Literary Arts Festival which may be the first of its kind in the Territory. A stunning number of international, regional, and local artists will participate in this Festival. The Department of Culture is extremely excited to introduce this “lit fest” to the Territory. We will also have a formal address from the Territory’s first Virgin Islands Poet Laureate – Dr. Richard Georges. The Virgin Islands Poet Laureate programme was established during Culture and Tourism Month 2020. Since then, the Department of Culture has facilitated Dr. Georges’ poetry masterclass “An Exploration of Ecstacy.” Dr. Georges has also participated in national events such as the H. Lavity Stoutt Commemorative Celebration and the Emancipation Service as Poet Laureate. Dr. Georges has visited the Territory’s schools, among other activities.
The Department of Culture is also making Culture and Tourism Month possible through the support of our parent ministry as well as our working relationship with our partners: The BVI Tourist Board & Film Commission, H. Lavity Stoutt Community College, among others.
This month will be full of scheduled activities and events, which have increased since the first one was held in 2020. There will be activities for all members of the family and, by
extension, the community. Some of these events will be virtual or semi-virtual. It is important to note that due to the COVID 19 Pandemic, all government-established protocols will be in effect.
November too is the time of the year many will be preparing for our season of merriment where the indulgence of black cake, ham, sugar cakes, and tarts, all washed down with age-old favourites like guavaberry and Miss Blyden liqueurs. The Virgin Islands boasts of its indigenous music called Fungi, and traditional songs are sung. Last November’s Culture and Tourism Month saw the strong resurgence of the “Sankey singout” – the singing of Sankey hymns – during a recreation of the traditional bonfire night.
We note here the words of the Minister for Culture, Dr. the Honourable Natalio Wheatley,
“We must also focus on the development of our cultural artists who played a role in any society of telling the story of a people, their attitude, desires, beauty, aspirations, problems, traditions and entire way of life.”
Dr. Wheatley has further noted,
“We must create platforms for our cultural artisans. We must provide workshops for our young artists to grow and develop. We must have events that expose our talent. We must help artists secure financing to expand our production. We must expose our cultural artisans to what is happening in the region in hopes of exporting our art.”
And, in the spirit of our Virgin Islands’ cultural heritage, we warmly welcome you and all your family to Culture and Tourism Month 2021.
Anika M. Christopher is the Cultural Officer in the area of the literary arts. Anne Lennard is the Deputy Director of Culture. Dr. Katherine Smith is the Director of Culture.
By: Anika M. Christopher, Anne Lennard, and Katherine Smith