July 2, 2005 St. Croix residents tested their oratorical skills Friday night with speeches laced with humor and reflection at the old-fashioned tea meeting hosted by the Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow Emancipation Committee.
The audience was introduced to a host colorful characters, including Nature's Glory, Professor Disaster Preparedness, Auntie Janice, Tumble Down Me Heart and others. The tea meeting was held Friday night in the courtyard between the Oscar Henry Customs House and the UCA building in Frederiksted.
Tumble Down Me Heart, also known as Richard Schrader, told an outlandish tale of two lovers who went to sea on a johnny cake boat. When the lady got hungry during the trip and asked for a bite of the johnny cake boat, she was cautioned just to take a little bite. Predictably, she ended up eating half the boat, and it began to sink. At that moment the pair spied a circling shark. They got back to shore, but only after a rough-and-tumble encounter with the shark.
"The speeches are supposed to border on the ridiculous," Schrader, who is the author of several books of poetry, said.
"Even the names of the speechmakers are supposed to evoke laughter. Its a way of keeping the culture alive and invoking the spirits of those who lived before us," he added.
All performers have to ask permission of the master of ceremonies in order to address the crowd. Each performer, in a loud voice must ask, "Master Chairman, can I come on stage?" This request was customarily met with more jabs and witty comments from the emcee.
Omar B. Henry, in the guise of Professor Disaster Preparedness came to educate the crowd on how to prepare for a hurricane. One by one he pulled the following out of his backpack: a tin of sardines, a bag of "titi" bread, cheese, mosquito spray and other essentials. Henry said he got his nickname when he was a baby. "I was always causing disasters when I was young, so when I got older I was chosen to prevent disasters. I never met a disaster I could not handle," Henry said.
Auntie Janice, better known as Janice Tutien, told a tale of Anansi the spider going into a "jumbie" house to ease his hungry belly. Anansi stories have their roots in West Africa. When the people of that region were enslaved they brought their stories with them. Anansi stories show how the "hero" gets the better of his opponents by tricking them into what he wants them to do, the stories usually deal with famine or the shortage of food.
Nature's Glory told the audience that they should be thankful for what they have. Delta Dorsch, a St. Croix educator and storyteller, recited the tale, which ended with the famous poem "Trees" by Joyce Kilmer. "People complain all the time. They complain when it rains too much, when the sun shines too much and when the wind blows too hard," Dorsch said. "We need to be thankful for what we have."
The tea meeting of long ago was a form of entertainment, which would be extinct in the Virgin Islands, and maybe even in the Caribbean, if not for occasions such as these. The meeting was always very cultural and dealt with the lifestyle of the people. It was an opportunity for ordinary people to demonstrate the valued Afro-Caribbean cultural tradition of speechmaking to transfer stories, education and news to the public. The meeting always featured a choir singing special hymns reserved for the occasion.
This year the choir was a mix of individuals from various singing groups. Some of its members were part of the Millennium Choir and the Midland Church Choir. The ladies were dressed in white with red accessories, and the men wore white shirts and dark pants. The master of ceremonies for the evening, Dr. Arthur Petersen, kept the audience in stitches with his comments to the choir after every selection. "You coming along, that one was a little better than the last, but you still have a way to go." Petersen quipped.
Here is the remainder of the Emancipation weekend events.
Saturday, July 2; 1 p.m.
Donkey Races, Paul E. Joseph Stadium
Sponsored by American Legion Post 85
Admission $5 for adults $2 for children
Saturday, July 2; 5 p.m. 8 p.m.
Legislative Conference Room, Frederiksted, St. Croix
Sponsored by the Office of Senate President Lorraine L. Berry
Saturday, July 2; 6 p.m. 8 p.m.
Maafa Collective & Beyond Emancipation Drama
St. Croix Educational Complex
Sunday, July 3; 2 p.m.
Emancipation Program at Buddhoe Park
Special Guest Paul Keens-Douglas
Sunday, July 3; 8 p.m.
Paul Keens-Douglas Emancipation Show
Island Center for the Performing Arts
Admission $20 under cover; $15 bleachers
Monday, July 4
Buddhoe Classic Horse Races; 3 p.m.
Randall "Doc" James Race Track
Culture/Fireworks Excursion; 3 p.m.
Sponsored by Rotary West and the St. Croix community
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