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U.S. Virgin Islands

The U.S. Virgin Islands is a U.S. territory and a multicultural American society in the Caribbean Sea. Its culture reflects the continuity of African and European traditions, their creolization, or amalgamation, into new forms in the crucible of intense political and economic interaction, and the influence of more recent immigrants from Puerto Rico and the eastern Caribbean. Yet within this cultural diversity, Virgin Islanders recognize a unity born of intimate island community life. Despite many challenges, folklife is still a creative resource in the lives of many U.S. Virgin Islanders. Virgin Islands' folklife is the legacy of generations who brought cultural traditions from Africa, Europe, and elsewhere; adapted those traditions to meet local needs; and combined them with those of other cultures in vibrant and useful new forms. Although unique, the development of traditional culture in the Virgin Islands has been affected by the same historical movements and social practices that have shaped other Caribbean societies. The styles and traditions distinctive to the Islands are what Virgin Islanders call their native culture. In the context of Caribbean creolization, the concept of native is thereby given a new meaning. Native culture here means an emergent, contmuously evolving, local creole culture that is distinct from similar cultures of other islands. This native culture absorbs and reworks cultural practices that came and are still coming from both outside and within the Caribbean.

The Festival program was researched and designed by scholars and community members of the three islands making up the U.S. Virgin Islands, in collaboration with the curator and Office of Folklife Programs staff. Local researchers suggested an interesting strategy for interpreting traditions of the Virgin Islands to create a public program. This was to identify "cultural touchstones" or historical points of reference that are still useful in understanding the present. The big yard, the marketplace, and public celebration were selected as meaningful cultural touchstones to all three islands. The big yard developed in urban neighborhoods of St. Thomas as shared area behind row houses where workers lived. The big yard was the setting for everyday activity, casual or planned meetings, storytelling under the tamarind tree, laundering, cooking, children's play, and gossiping. While the big yard shapes the private world of the home, the marketplace is at the crossroads of commerce where people sell and trade, throw words, preach, campaign and catch up on events of the day. Its values are public; its gestures and jests may be broad. Socially inclusive and temporarily transforming, celebrations join domestic and public spaces and bring the islands together, whether it is carnival on St. Thomas, the Day of the Kings Festival on St. Croix, or Emancipation Day on St. John. Festival visitors could encounter the diverse traditions of the U.S. Virgin Islands through these three touchstones.

Olivia Cadaval served as Curator, with Flora Boynes-Spencer as U.S. Virgin Islands Supervisor, Anna Mae Brown- Comment as U.S. Virgin Islands Coordinator, Claire Raker as St. Croix Liaison, and Betz Robb as Program Coordinator. From the U.S. Virgin Islands National Park Service, Jacquelyn Clendinen and Denise Georges served as Assistant Coordinators and Gilbert Sprauve as General Advisor and Researcher.

The U.S. Virgin Islands program was made possible by the Honorable Governor Alexander A. Farrelly, the Office of the Governor, the 18th Legislature of the Virgin Islands, the Department of Economic Development and Agriculture, Division of Tourism, Department of Planning and Natural Resources, the Virgin Islands Council on The Arts, Paradise Motors, Inc., Little Switzerland, Virgin Islands AT&T, West Indian Company Ltd., Caribbean Host, Caribbean Safewater Lab., Caribbean Shell Seekers, Sea Breeze Car Rental, Tropex, Inc., and other corporate sponsors.

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