Carnival season kicks off in the US Virgin Islands

by | May 22, 2019 | United States Virgin Islands | Comments

Carnival season is officially underway in the United States Virgin Islands.

The St. Thomas Carnival, the first of three occuring on the territories three main islands, began back in early April and concluded with a jam-packed week of events, games, and music in early May.

Carnival celebrations within the Caribbean date back several hundred years. The Europeans who colonized territories like the US Virgin Islands, brought with them their own kinds of Carnival celebrations and traditions.

As the plantation industry began to take root on the US Virgin Islands, the slaves shipped over from Africa brought with them their own forms of Carnival and celebrations.

These two very distinct cultures, European and African, coexisted and carried on through the centuries, all the while continuing to pass on from generation to generation.

Two of the most prominent dances during the Carnival Season originated from these complicated times. The (European) quadrille is an older dance, that is still performed by dance groups. Some plantations owners would have their enslaved (the good musicians) entertain at parties, perhaps this is how this dance continues to live on.

On the other hand, the (African) bamboula is also still performed on the territory. During their enslavement, most Africans were not allowed to play their drums, for which this dance is performed with. However, in some cases, plantations owners would allow some of their slaves to perform the dance at parties, perhaps allowing this tradition to carry on.

What began unofficially as Carnival on St. Thomas Carnival back in 1912 and officially in 1954 continues to live on, enchanting all of the territories habits that take part.

This year, the festivities are plentiful. What began back on April 20 with the historic Queens show, officially kicked off on April 26 with the Carnival Village grand opening. Here, Governor Albert Bryan (D) wished everyone a happy and safe Carnival.

“I’m one of those people who don’t feel the Christmas spirit until Christmas Eve day. But tonight I feel the carnival spirit.” He continued, “Seriously, such a wave of nostalgia has hit me while sitting here because it just brought back all the memories of carnival for me.” Governor Bryan then spoke about his experience at Carnival, as his grandmother would sew his outfits and his dad would operate booths with his friends.

He emphasized how everyone should take part in Carnival, and to that end he gave leave for all non-essential government workers the day off on May 1 and May 2 to enjoy the events with their friends and families.

Lieutenant Governor Tregenza Roach followed Bryan and echoed his sentiments. “Carnival is a time to be your personal best, to love yourself and love one another,” he continued, “We celebrate the best of who we are and in doing so, we do a great job in building community.”

All the speakers at the Village opening paid homage to the this year’s honored Virgin Islander, Michael A. Coggins, a prominent native trumpeter and musician, for whom the Village was named after this year.

“Michael Coggins unleashed his inner-most musical passion to thousands of Virgin Islanders, dance-goers and students. He set the standard in trombone dance band music performance. He became the model, the standard, a true ambassador, bringing from Trinidad the flavor, customs, and traditions of dance band trombone performance to the territory,” said the Carnival organizers.

For the territory, Carnival is an opportunity to recreate their fascinating and unique cultural history. While also reminding everyone just how determined and passionate Virgin Islanders are to celebrate and pass down these traditions to future generations.

“When our ancestors first celebrated the mas, a part of what they celebrated was that we were now in possession of our bodies. That the drums, the music, the culture that had been denied us, we were embracing it and celebrating,” concluded Lieutenant Governor Roach.