October 2018 Newsletter

The next meeting of the St. John Historical Society will take place on November 13, 2018 at 7PM at the National Park Headquarters. Ken Wild will talk on the status and restoration of cultural resources in the Park after Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Ken has worked here in the Virgin Islands National Park for 35 years. He has worked in almost all the parks in the southeastern United States which prepared him for the wide diversity of archaeological sites here which range from historic fortifications, plantations, ship wrecks, hospitals, and of course our fascinating prehistoric sites.

Come on out to the National Park Headquarters to hear about our island’s treasures. Everyone is welcome!

We will begin collecting dues at this meeting by cash or check. You can pay with a credit card by going here. Membership fees are: single $30 Family $50 Preservationist $100 Business $250 Patron $500 Student $ free with student id.

Checks can also be sent to our address: P.O. Box 1256 Cruz Bay, St. John, VI 00831.

Newsletter for October 2018

Dear Members and Friends,

It’s been a tough year for all. In spite of this, our organization is plowing through to accomplish a ton of projects in the coming months. As we continue the process of creating our museum and archive at Estate Bellevue, I want to explore the concepts of Culture and Heritage which will certainly color our notion of what we want to display in our building. People often talk about these two concepts as if they were the same; but they are not.

Culture comprises all the habits, customs, beliefs, and traditions which exist in our society. Culture changes over time and especially with strong outside influences of changes in political rulers, immigration, tourism, and even modernity. When Denmark and other countries stole African people to work for them, they tried to wipe out the cultures these people brought with them to this region. Slavery, a cultural norm, was universally accepted at the time, but after many years and fierce resistance, it was abolished. After the prevailing Danish culture sold us to the United States, there was a huge shift in the culture, especially with the emergence of American racial prejudice toward the population. With the beginning of the advent of a tourist culture in the 1950’s, there were more (and different) jobs created and filled by an influx of people from other islands of the Caribbean. In addition, huge areas of land on St. John were acquired by the National Park. Culture constitutes our changing way of life.

So many changes in the culture is sometimes hard for people to embrace. We often yearn for the days of old. While some of us are pleased to see the passing of norms which allowed the subjugation of females with impunity, we may be sad to see the passing of the tradition of closing one’s business doors when a funeral procession passes by. The idea of rejecting the brutalization of some animals (dogs and roosters) may be heralded by many; but for those who enjoy the “sport” of fighting these animals, it is a loss.

The one thing that doesn’t change over time is heritage. Now you may ask, how is the heritage of the island of St. John “my” heritage? While I came here over 44 years ago, I brought with me some of my family’s heritage and traditions. My family also embraced the island’s culture. Our first Christmas tree on the island was an inkberry. Our children quickly learned the local language and answered the phone in the evening (to the confusion of statesiders) with the traditional “good night” as a greeting. It seemed important to us even then to try to preserve the Virgin Islands’ heritage of music, crafts, storytelling, dress, dance, language, history, architecture, historical structures, and the earth itself. With every year that we experience, these tangible and intangible items are lost. Our baskets makers are mostly gone; our children are not interested in carrying on these skills. The music has changed, and our scratch bands are dying off without new ones being formed. There is a wholesale bulldozing of archeological sites because the owners of the properties understandably want to capitalize on their land. But when our heritage is gone, we can’t get it back.

We hope that the St. John Historical Society will be able to continue to preserve our culture and heritage so that the community can visit and enjoy the proposed Museum and Archive building we are planning (see renditions above). We hope you will support us in this endeavor.

Other good news is there are people in our community striving every day to preserve the heritage of these islands. Our organization along with the Virgin Islands National Park and the Friends of the Park are working to keep the archeological areas of importance alive and to share the information that is to be found there. Many organizations and individuals strive every day to preserve this legacy. I am printing a few of them here (in no apparent order) along with their web sites or Facebook pages that you can visit.

People who have helped to preserve our heritage and culture

  • Ital Anthony- who teaches young children how to make some of the old crafts and can be found selling his crafts at most of our cultural activities.
  • David Knight, Sr. – An historian who has written a great deal about the islands stemming from his research in the islands and in Denmark and who was instrumental in getting Cruz Bay made a National Historical District. Read Cruz Bay from Conquest to Exploitation: A Forgotten History to learn about the beginnings of the town of Cruz Bay (available at Bajo El Sol at Mongoose Junction St. John).
  • Valerie Sims – who works from her home in Grand Cayman to research and make available the historical record of the Virgin Islands at https://www.facebook.com/vintagevirginislands/
  • Dr. Gilbert Sprauve – who has been instrumental in preserving the language and customs through storytelling in addition to highlighting local cultural events and heroes. Among his books is Dutch and English Creoles of the Virgin Islands.
  • Guy Benjamin – who through his books and personality taught so many people about St. John. Read Me and my Beloved Virgin for a description of living on St. John in the old days.
  • Rafael “Lito” Valls – was a local historian, storyteller, and documenter of local proverbs and sayings. Lito left a legacy of books which tell the wonderful story of the people’s heritage and culture. His book, St. John Backtime, written with Ruth Low, is available in St. John bookstores and on Amazon.com
  • Doris Jadan – teacher of environmental studies and history for many generations of St. John children. Her books, including A Guide to the Natural History of St. John, can be found on Amazon.com and videos of her can be found on YouTube.
  • Elroy Sprauve – Mr. Elroy has been a long-time member, advisor and former director of the SJHS, and has presented numerous historical programs to the membership. His knowledge and perception of the history of St. John is priceless.

Some of the organizations that are helping to preserve our heritage

The St. John Historical Society hopes that we all will do our part to preserve the heritage of the Virgin Islands for generations to come. We welcome your participation. E-mail us at contactus@stjohnhistoicalsociety.org

Lonnie Willis

St. John Historical Society

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *