More importantly, on display were the traditions of the past and the culture of the present and how they have been shaped by Crucians interacting with the plethora of plants surrounding them.
“That’s really the connection we’re trying to make with this event; that culture is a result of an interaction between people and plants, anywhere you go,” said St. George’s Executive Director David Hamada. “You can see that influence on the plant life and all aspects of culture.”
“In the colonial period, St. George was a sugar plantation," Hamada continued, "so for almost 200 years one plant ruled the daily lives of everybody here. It was because of that plant that these buildings were built. It was because of that plant that enslaved Africans were brought here from Africa. It’s because of the value of that plant that these islands were bought, traded, sold, and fought over. It’s a really powerful background to have that and talk about how the plants have influenced life. The plants were here first. Culture and civilization developed around them.”
It was the third time the troupe had performed this re-enactment.
The performance then segued into bamboula dances and musical rhythms, which represent communication methods for celebrations, uprisings, rites of passage, sensual expressions, protest actions and more among the African people who were brought to the Caribbean and the Americas.
“Our focus here was to help give a voice from the perspective of those that were enslaved here but in a context that we can give the chronological and sequential developmental information so it’s educationally sound, “said Per Ankh co-founder Dr. Chenzira “Dr. Chen” Kahina. “At the same time it’s creative, and we do our best to pull this from Danish archival record and combine it with oral tradition and history so that it’s not always focusing on pain and the negative component, but to show how these people were resilient, how these people had self-determination, how they had strength and how they maintained their faith.”
Kahina said the bamboula has been in a period of restoration in the V.I. for the last 20 years and that the practice is a form of communicative art.
Some of the stories have been passed down through music and the lyrics in songs. Dimitri Copemann and his Renaissance band played powerfully prior to Per Ankh’s performance and Kahina said some of their insights into the lives of the slaves came from there.
“He’s (Copemann) a phenomenal ethnomusicologist,” she said. “He knows the music and the songs and the lyrics and inside those lyrics are the stories. So we compared that to what is in the archival record and what was translated for us from Danish.”
Kahina said the goal of the performance was to “become” the slaves.
“We wanted to share with the audience who they were, but from their perspective instead of the perspective of the historical record and the ‘planteacracy,’” she said.
As a former educator at the University of the Virgin Islands and a now as an educational consultant for the V.I. Department of Education, Kahina said preserving the history and heritage of St. Croix is paramount to what Per Ankh does.
“This is part of our legacy initiative,” she said. “This is what we are supposed to do. We’re supposed to be stewards and caretakers of St. Croix and we have to leave something behind. We want to be able to have our children preserve it, conserve it and respect it to the highest.”