Aug. 10, 2003 – A meeting place, a temporary home for boy, man or beast, a leaning post, an observation post, even a property bound post, a navigational aid, a rain shelter, a directional landmark, a home base for "coop" (Virgin Islands' version of hide-and-seek) and "allee-allee-in-free," support for a rope swing, inspiration for poets and artists … trees are much more than a trunk, branches and leaves. They are indeed "remarkable," and intertwined with human history.
Dr. Robert Nicholls of the University of the Virgin Islands will give a slide/lecture presentation and lead a discussion about remarkable big trees of the U.S. Virgin Islands at 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 14.
The presentation, which will take place at the V.I. Cultural Heritage Institute on St. Thomas, will examine the historical and cultural contributions that trees have made to Virgin Islands communal life.
The presentation will open an exhibition of 29 photographs of remarkable big trees, which will be on view from Aug. 15 through Sept. 12 at the V.I. Cultural Heritage Institute, located at 5-6 Kongens Gade (Education Street) in Charlotte Amalie.
Nicholls' presentation will focus on the results of an ongoing project entitled "Remarkable Big Trees of Cultural Interest in the USVI." The project has initiated a Register of USVI Big Trees. The original compilation from researchers included 78 trees; since the project has become known and especially since the publication of a beautifully illustrated fold-out booklet carrying the name of the project, another 30 have been added.
All of the trees have been measured by Nicholls and Carlos Robles or Janice Simon. Recorded on the Web site are specific location, circumference at 4.5 feet above ground, height in feet, and average crown spread in feet, with the figures combined as well to provide a point system.
Among the biggest: a mahogany tree on Mahogany Road; three locust trees in Caledonia, St. Croix, (off the beaten track, by Mt. Eagle, with researchers guided to the scene by Olasee Davis) added to only one previous locust tree, at Caneel Bay, on St. John; jumbi trees, kapok, ficus, sandbox tree, baobab, tamarind, monkey-don't-climb tree; a kapok tree in St. Croix's rainforest known as the "hermit tree," because back in the '60s or '70s residents recall a man living in the tree; a gri-gri (or gris-gris). Nicholls reels off the trees and their social significance with seemingly no end to his list or his knowledge of each tree.
He has a 1719 map, he said, showing the bay that used to be where Gregerie Channel is now; and there's a picture of a gri-gri tree provided for navigational purposes; hence, the origin of "Gregerie."
He's worried right now about the biggest genip found: a neglected tree which is threatened by proposed development, it's in Tutu, across from Fort Mylner Shopping Center.
The stories are endless, and the bigger the tree, it seems, the longer the memory of its place in culture, many linked back to Africa. Nicholls' interest in this topic goes back, in fact, to research he did among the Igede people of southern Nigeria, a people "who take trees very seriously."
Trees are intertwined throughout cultural life, and the project has been collecting information to show how trees historically have contributed to the cultural life of the Virgin Islands.
The exhibition is sponsored by the University of the Virgin Islands, the Urban and Community Forestry Assistance Program of the V.I. Agriculture Department and the V.I. Cultural Heritage Institute of the V.I. Planning and Natural Resources Department. Funds for the project have come through the Urban and Community Forestry Assistance Program.
Planned outcomes of the continuing project include a book of approximately 100 pages, envisioned as a self-guided tour of Virgin Islands trees. The booklet of colored illustrations, with a text both factual and anecdotal, carrying history and story back to Africa in many cases, is a short sampling of what the book may become, and will be available to persons attending the opening presentation.
Another outcome is a plan to name five of the remarkable big trees on each island as designated historic landmarks in a national register, with descriptive plaques adjacent to each tree. Nicholls hopes this part of the plan will provide local government protection for at least some of the Virgin Islands' remarkable trees.
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