23rd Annual Folklife Festival Puts the Focus on “Our Culture — Our Future” Feb. 27 and 28

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The historic ruins of the Annaberg Sugar Mill will transform into a living cultural classroom for students from across St. John and St. Thomas next week as the 23rd Annual V.I. Folklife Festival gets underway Thursday and Friday, February 27 and 28, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

This year’s theme, “Our Culture — Our Future” will offer an examination of Afro-Caribbean history in the Virgin Islands with a focus on native arts and crafts, explained Friends of V.I. National Park Development Director Karen Vahling.

“This year’s theme, ‘Our Culture, Our Future,’ was inspired by the planned activities for the festival which will look at the history of the Afro-Caribbean in the Virgin Islands and the similarity to other islands in the West Indies,” said Vahling. “The focus is on learning native arts, crafts, stories and dance that paint a rich cultural history. We hope people will connect this cultural history experience to the importance of preserving our island culture into the future.”

“It also is ingrained in the cultural resources of VI National Park and our island history,” Vahling said.

Friends of VINP partner with V.I. National Park officials to host this event each year during Black History Month as part of the group’s mission to preserve both natural and cultural resources, Vahling explained.

“Friends continues to support the Folklife Festival as part of our mission of protection and preservation of the natural and cultural resources of Virgin Islands National Park, and promoting the responsible enjoyment of this unique national treasure; especially among children, hundreds of which come to the Folklife Festival each year,” she said.

In addition to taking part in interactive demonstrations like dumb bread preparation, students this year will also be giving presentations of their own, Vahling added.

“It is our hope that school children will both learn and pass on cultural heritage to their peers through their presentations during the Folklife Festival,” said the Friends of VINP Development Director.

The two-day fair will transport one back in time with traditional food, drinks, art, music and more. The day will feature traditional music from Quelbe to Calypso, as well as the beloved scratch band Smalls and the Music Makers.

Students will have the chance to learn hands-on from some of the most talented local crafts people at the 23rd Annual Folklife Festival. Avelino Samuel will be giving wood-turning demonstrations while students will learn how to make dumb bread with Olivia Christian. Elmo Rabsatt will explain the finer points of beekeeping while Mario Benjamin will be showing off the traditional skill of seine net making.

Edmond Roberts will be on hand sharing his broom making skills, Elizabeth Aubain will demonstrate traditional weaving techniques and Donald Christopher will be firing up the brick oven for traditional baking presentations. Other presentations include Bamboula drumming by Isborne Fredricks, traditional baking by Grewndolyn Douglas and weaving and traditional food preparation by Jane Johannes.

In addition to the demonstrators, several culture bearers will be making presentations during the festival as well, Vahling explained.

“Other Culture Bearers include but are not limited to, Dr. Gilbert Sprauve, historian and folklorist; Mr. Glen ‘Kwabena’ Davis, folklorist and Mr. Eddie Bruce, History of African Drumming,” she said.

New this year, festival organizers are bringing in two featured basket weavers from St. Croix, Vahling added.

“This year we are flying in two basket weavers from St. Croix, both in their 70s and passing on precious cultural knowledge and history,” she said.

Don’t miss the chance to hear, smell, touch and taste the history of the Virgin Islands at the 23rd Annual Folklife Festival on Thursday and Friday, February 27, and 28, at the Annaberg Sugar Mill ruins. The festival will run each day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is free and open to the public.