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Then & Now – Pleasant Encounter

 

 

This week, I interviewed Mrs. Ellen Skelton – a very beautiful and charming elderly lady. It was a very emotional interview for me as Ms. Ellen reminded me so much of my mother (deceased) – it turned out that Ms. Ellen is a close relative and went to school with my mom and they were good friends – I cannot believe that we now live so close and I am only now meeting her – I guess, everything in its own time.

The interview will be written about later but it was informative and gave much insight into the village in the Virgin Islands where I was born and grew up for the earlier part of my life – I truly give God thanks for this wonderful encounter. No matter how long we live, I am convinced that there will always be things to learn and surprises in store, some pleasant – like this one, and some not so pleasant, but we must be open to receive and embrace those, which are blessings.

Our Virgin Islands have seen many changes over the years; families have moved from place to place and sadly many of our elders have passed on without us having an opportunity to capture their experiences for us and others to learn from – it is now imperative for us to do so!! My parents have passed on and so have my grandparents, both maternal and paternal and I cannot recall anything from any of them about our historical background, but I am on a quest to find some – meeting Ms. Ellen and spending some time, albeit short, with her was like finding a treasure trove.

Then & Now in Virgin Gorda

 

 

In July we spent some time in Virgin Gorda interviewing a few of the people who live there about the past and present (Then and Now), it was a series of very informative interviews, however, we hope to do a few more interviews on that sister island.

Virgin Gorda is the third largest of the Virgin Islands, although Anegada the second largest contains vast salt ponds and with a much lower population than Virgin Gorda. Two of the ladies that were interviewed, Ms. Rose Gardener and Ms. Grace Waters reflected on the days of growing up in Virgin Gorda fondly – even though times were hard their sentiments were that it was rich with family values and community spirit – children had respect for their elders and everyone supported each other in every sense of the word – something that is not so prevalent now-a-days. These ladies spoke frankly about their earlier years, from parents, families, community customs, pregnancy, medical services, first jobs, feeding a family to giving girls a bath in an outdoor tub every Saturday so that she could be inspected for signs of purity. This interview can be seen on local TV Ch51 at 8PM Sunday and Wednesday evening and 8AM Saturday morning.

A BIT ABOUT THE VIRGIN ISLANDS

The Virgin Islands was a presidency of the Leeward Islands from 1872 until 1956 and the Governor resided in Antigua from where governance and education was administered until 1940. Rev. John Haddock was one of the first teachers in Virgin Gorda. A Mr.Semper from St. Kitts is credited with building the first school in the Valley, Virgin Gorda and Mr. Simon, an Antiguan was the first headmaster of that school (Anglican) – During the 1920’s and 1930’s just about all of the headmasters came from one of the Leeward Islands and not much attempt was made to train anyone local (p.13).                (150 Years of Achievement, 1834 – 1984)

Then & Now with Eugenia O’Neal

 

After reading FROM THE FIELD TO THE LEGISLATURE: A History of Women in the Virgin Islands  By Eugenia O’Neal, I had a sense and a better understanding of women in the Virgin Islands and their struggles to make an impact in the future of their lives and that of their beloved Virgin Islands – “during slavery, planters manipulated gender ideology to argue that black women were more like men and not at all like the women of Europe.” (Introduction) No doubt, “slaveowners in the West Indies were familiar with the gender tradition of agriculture in West Africa. They understood at once that black women could be thrown into the deep end of the labour regime, and be productive. This explains in large measure their refusal to shelter these women from the most arduous physical task, as well as the suggestion that productivity differentials did not exist between the sexes.” (Centering Woman: Gender Discourses in Caribbean Slave Society by Hilary McD Beckles, Pg9) In my interview with Ms. O’Neal she spoke of her annoyance when she hears people referring to Virgin Islanders as lazy and unwilling to work – a sentiment I endorse.

Women toiled the soil, took care of their families, and yet found time to contribute to the well-being of their communities – because “even when they have entered into the paid labour force, women have neither structurally nor ideologically been allowed to leave the family” (Citizenship & Identity by Engin F. Isin & Patricia K. Wood).  And when women could not find work at home in the Virgin Islands , “many were able to enter and find work in the USVI” (p92) And in the “Moyne Commission report it was noted that the inhabitants….show a most praiseworthy and attractive spirit of enterprise, independence and resource.” (p93) – it is even more so today – I guess a trait from the ancestors.

Virgin Island women have struggled, and yes, FROM THE FIELD TO THE LEGISLATURE, and though they are not yet free from struggling they understand and appreciate the harshness of plantation life that their ancestors endured and they have reached a place of understanding that as black women they must now work to overcome the socio-economic and political stereotype of competing masculinities and continue to develop their role in society and not be slighted by race or sex.

NOTE from UNDERSTANDING SLAVERY INITIATIVE  ‘The transatlantic slave trade was responsible for the forced migration of between 12 – 15 million people from Africa to the Western Hemisphere from the middle of the 15th century to the end of the 19th century. The trafficking of Africans by the major European countries during this period is sometimes referred to by African scholars as the Maafa (‘great disaster’ in Swahili). It’s now considered a crime against humanity. The slave trade not only led to the violent transportation overseas of millions of Africans but also to the deaths of many millions more. Nobody knows the total number of people who died during slave raiding and wars in Africa, during transportation and imprisonment, or in horrendous conditions during the so-called Middle Passage, the voyage from Africa to the Americas.”

Then & Now – “Good Old Days”

“On Monday morning, bright and early
Not tired, vexed or even surly,
One rose to tread the path “over the hill”
Without a whimper, but with a will,
To arrive in time for school
For this was the best and safest rule.”
(Taken from: 150 Years of Achievement 1834-1984, By: Pearl Smith)

Then & Now – Legislative Proces

The first Assembly or House of Representatives in the Virgin Islands, which had been asked for since 1747, became a reality by proclamation on November 30th 1773, and the Assembly met for the first time on January 27, 1774 and had eleven (11) members who represented the planters and freeholders. (Early History of the British Virgin Islands, From Columbus to Emancipation, p.75-76: By Vernon W. Pickering)

Despite that representation, the abolition of slavery in 1834 and the collapse of the planation economy saw the Virgin Islands dwindling in population making it difficult to form the rudiments of a government and as a result they were ruled from Antigua – needless to say, the subsequent process to self government was a lengthy and complex one.

The following information is taken from my interview with Mr. Elton Georges, CMG, OBE.

1943 Secondary Education was introduced in the Virgin Islands; 1956 the Federation of the Leeward Islands was broken up and became individual colonies – head of State was changed from Commissioner to Administrator who still reported to a Governor based in Antigua; 1959-60 the Administrator reported directly to London and the Virgin Islands became a Colony with direct link to Her Majesty;  1967 Ministerial Government came into being with Administrative Secretaries who were later changed to Permanent Secretaries – the Speaker was introduced and  presided over the Council rather than the Administrator and the Speaker was elected from outside the Council (2000 Constitutional change provided that the Speaker could be elected from the elected members of the house but they continued to elect from outside); 1971 – Administrator was changed to a Governor partly driven by our close proximity to the USVI and PR; 1976 the definition of a belonger was put in the Constitution and the voting process changed – to qualify to vote you now had to be a belonger. It also increased the number of seats in Council from 7 to 9; 1994 before the 1995 election Britain increased the number of seats by amendment to include 4 at large – the entire country was equal to one constituency for these at large members – this was opposed by the then government, however this is how the council is constituted today.

From 1967 until 2007 the head of Government was designated Chief Minister at which time amendments to the Constitution changed the designation to Premier. Five Virgin Islanders held the position of Chief Minister and to date two have held the position of Premier.

Chief Ministers:  1967 – 1971 Hon. H.Lavity Stoutt; 1971 – 1979 Hon. Willard Wheatley; 1979 – 1983 Hon. H. Lavity Stoutt; 1983 – 1986 Cyril B. Romney; 1986 -1995 H. Lavity Stoutt; 1995- 2003 Hon. Ralph T. O’Neal and 2003 – 2007 Dr. The Hon. D. Orlando Smith.

Premiers: 2007 -2011 Hon. Ralph T. O’Neal and 2011 to date Dr. The Hon. D. Orlando Smith.

 

 

Then & Now Historical Information

“In 1823 a Commission of Enquiry was appointed to research into the state of captured Negroes in the West Indies. These were not ostensibly slaves, although in effect they must have been much the same; instead they were called ‘African Apprentices’ but, even so, many of them appear to get little or no wages..The enquiry which was recorded was titled ‘Tortola Schedules,’ and gives dozens of stories of individuals, including their African names, their tribes, and the history of what happened to them since they arrived in Tortola.

One case study from the ‘Tortola Schedules’ reads: One case was that of George and William, cartwhipped by their master J.P. Doan….the doctor who examined them stated ‘I examined the Apprentices the day they were punished; I saw that the flesh was torn from their posteriors in many places, and bore evident marks of the Cartwhip — the blood on their dinner was fresh.'” (Early History of the British Virgin Islands, From Columbus to Emancipation – By: Vernon W. Pickering) 

Evidently, life was not easy for those who came before, even when they were not referred to as slaves, but their treatment at the hands of those whom they called “Masters” left little to the imagination of their true position in that society.

Then & Now historical info

In “1922 – a two room hospital was opened in Road Town, Tortola, and was named the Cottage Hospital but after its severe damage in 1924 by a ferocious hurricane, which was followed by a tidal wave, the hospital was remodeled and renamed ‘Peebles Hospital’ in honour of it founder….Major H. W. Peebles who was appointed Commissioner of the Virgin Islands in 1919. ” (Vernon Pickering)

Then & Now with Mrs. Crabbe

Don’t miss the interview with Mrs. Leona Crabbe tonight, May 20, 2012 on CBN Ch51 at 8p. It was a delight to spend time with Mrs. Crabbe reminiscing about her early days growing up in the Virgin Islands. You can also see this on live stream on www.cbnbvi.com. If you miss tonight’s episode be sure to catch it on Wednesday night at 8p.m or on Saturday morning at 8a.m

Then & Now Information

RMS Rhone – a British Mail ship made her last voyage to the Virgin Islands on October 1, 1867. On the 29th October 1867 the Rhone was wrecked off Salt Island (one of the Virgin Islands) as she was getting ready for her return trip to the UK – “of the 145 persons on board only 21 seamen and an Italian passenger survived the ordeal.” That storm was so powerful that it sank “all but two of the 60 vessels anchored around St. Thomas” in the USVI. (Specialised Stamp Catalogue of The British Virgin Islands 1787-2001- Edited By: Giorgio Migliavacca)

Then & Now interview with Mr. Shirley

This Sunday, May 13, 2012, my interview with Mr. A. O. Shirley, MBE airs on CBN Ch 51 at 8:00p.m and rebroadcast on Wednesday also at 8:00p.m and on Saturday at 8:00a.m. This is a very interesting conversation as Mr. Shirley gives an insight into his early years in government and his life in the Virgin Islands where he has lived all of his life.

You can also view this on livestream on www.cbnbvi.com –

Your comments and feedback are    always appreciated

 

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