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Bonfire, Drumming, Dance End African Liberation Day

May 31, 2004 – A bonfire flaming upward more than 12 feet sent sparks leaping into the cool night air bringing a fiery close to the African Liberation Day celebration hosted by St. Croix Farmers in Action on Sunday.
The triangular stack of harvested tan-tan tree logs was lit at dusk following the daylong program that included speeches, music, dance and children's activities. As the flames intensified, more than 10 drummers sent the rhythmic sounds of a giant heartbeat into the night. Some were seated, their instruments held tight between their legs, their hands moving rapidly; others stood, pounding out beats using rubber-tipped sticks.
Entranced by the drumbeats, dancers began to emerge from the crowd, their bodies swaying slowly at first and then accelerating in their movements. The sparks from the bonfire seemed to match the movement of the dancers' feet. Then out of the darkness, seemingly out of nowhere, a moko jumbie appeared. Dressed in traditional garb, standing taller than the bonfire, the "protector of the village" twirled and pranced with the ground-level dancers.
The Bethlehem Sugar Factory is steeped in tradition and history. The estate once was one of St. Croix' 250 sugar plantations. The central factory in Estate Lower Bethlehem that processed cane into raw brown sugar was the territory's largest sugar works and the last to close its doors – in 1966, ironically the year that Hess Oil Virgin Islands Corp., the precursor of Hovensa, was formed.
The Bethlehem Middle Works was designated a Historic District in the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. (See "Students Key to Starting Sugar Factory Tours".) Farmers in Action leased the property from the government in 1998.
In celebration of African Liberation Day, the old sugar factory grounds played host to a variety of vendors selling natural products, food, jewelry and ornaments on Sunday. More than 250 people were on hand to check out their wares and take in the poetry, drumming, dance and other presentations. The local reggae band Gravity entertained.
Diane Hampton showed children how to make traditional African headdresses and "spirit dolls" from fabric, feathers, dried tree pods, coconut seeds, seashells and sea glass. Hampton says she traveled all over Africa learning to make the headdresses and the spirit dolls.
"Women made special dolls for protection," she explained. "They are also used to manifest dreams, especially in children."
Anumaat Kahina, 10, said she made a "wishing doll." She explained how she wrote down nine wishes, wrapped them in silk fabric and placed them inside the doll. "If the wishes are nice wishes and you believe in them, they will come true," she said.
Ras Shalom of the Ancient Order of the Nyabinghi delivered the main message of the day, focusing on the successes of African resistance. The Nyabinghi, Shalom explained, is the divine theocracy government of the Rastafari. "Marcus Garvey said that this generation must complete the work that previous generations have begun," Shalom said. "We have more work to do; the mission is still not complete."
The event was sponsored by the Ancient Order of the Nyabinghi, Ethiopian World Federation, Garden of Peace and Love, Per Ankh (House of Life) Inc., RWYS – V.I. Youth and Culture, St. Croix Farmers in Action, and the United Caribbean Association.

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