Three Local Queens Embodied in Chautauqua Series

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Residents who came out to the St. John School of the Arts on Friday night, June 16, enjoyed powerful performances by three actresses who embodied historical local queens from St. John, St. Thomas and St. Croix as part of the Three Queens Chautauqua Series.

Residents of all ages packed the St. John School of the Arts on Friday evening, June 16, for the Love City production of the Three Queens Chautauqua series.

Sponsored by the V.I. Humanities Council (VIHC), the first-person historical characterizations presented in the chautauqua series were aimed to educate the public and continue dialogue about the territory’s political status, according to VIHC executive director Mabel Maduro.

Continue to Educate Public
“This is our second ‘We the People’ public event,” she said. “In 2005 we had a televised discussion about ‘A People’s Quest for Self-Governance.’ Now, we are presenting ‘A People’s Continued Quest for Self-Governance.’”

“We are trying to continue to educate our citizens about issues that advance the understanding about self-governance,” Maduro continued.

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Jaweh David embodied Queen Beffru of the 1733-34 St. John slave revolt during the Three Queen Chautauqua Series at the St. John School of the Arts.

The chautauqua series related the stories of Queen Breffu of the St. John Revolt of 1733-1734, Queen Mary of St. Croix’s Fireburn of 1878, and Queen Coziah of the St. Thomas Mexican Silver Strike of 1892. The monologues and following discussions were designed to attract all segments of the community, Maduro explained.

“We knew that we had to have a series of events that would allow us to engage all sectors of the community,” she said. “We really encouraged the entire family to come to the productions. If children don’t understand the dialogues, they would understand what was going on by the actions and drama.”

Everyone Will Learn
“Everyone who attends will leave with a better understanding about what we mean when we say ‘self-determination,’” Maduro added.

In addition to the monologues, the actresses involved with this chautauqua are historians in their own right.

“The chautauqua allows the audience to interact with the actress-scholars,” said Maduro. “The actresses are all well-versed about the history and biographical information about each queen. They answer the questions in the voice of the queen they are depicting.”

“This production literally takes you on a journey,” she continued.

Jahweh David, who depicted Queen Breffu, is a humanities scholar who is involved in poetry, dance, theater and was one of the leading actresses in the local production of the Vagina Monologues. Oceana James of St. Croix, who channeled Queen Mary for the production, has a bachelor’s degree in English and “has generations of Crucian heritage,” said Maduro.

Dara Monifa Cooper, who embodied Queen Coziah for the chautauqua series, is involved with both expressive and visual arts and owns a graphic design company.

Self-determination
The three particular queens depicted in this chautauqua were not picked randomly, Maduro explained.

“We chose these queens because each one of these women, in their own right, laid the foundation for self-determination,” she said. “In terms of the labor strike and fire burn, they organized the laborers of the time to demand better treatment and higher pay. These three mothers were part of the struggle.”’

“Their actions at the time laid the foundation for what self-determination is all about,” Maduro continued.

The VIHC is one of 56 such councils throughout the mainland U.S. and the territories, Maduro explained.

“The Chautauqua is a format used to engage the community and enlighten the community; we adopted the model from other councils,” she said. “We thought this medium would be something new and exciting. It allows us to engage more of a cross-section of people and really get them thinking.”