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Storytellers Provide Vivid Accounts of Transfer Day Era

March 20, 2007 – Schoolchildren from around the island came to Buddhoe Park to hear storytellers tell their tales and for some to tell their own stories or read historical documents at the "Passing of the Torch" storytelling event Tuesday morning.
The park was draped with madras, and students gathered in small groups under the vendor shanties listening to presentations. Public television and Channel 2 cameras were there recording everything.
It was one of a series of events commemorating both the 90th anniversary of the first Transfer Day, when the Virgin Islands was transferred from Denmark to the United States, and USVI-Denmark month.
The original Transfer Day occurred on March 31, 1917, at 4 p.m.
Along with historians, teachers and others with stories to tell, veteran Crucian educators and cultural icons Eulalie Rivera and Delta Dorsch were there, talking about life in the days around the 1917 transfer and telling old traditional stories.
“If you want true history, talk to these two beautiful ladies. They can tell you about way back,” said St. Croix Administrator Pedro Encarnacion, who helped to announce and to organize the event.
“We knew back then it takes a village to raise a child — and we knew that long before there was a saying,” said Dorsch before telling the schoolchildren a traditional Caribbean Bernansi tale. Bernansi is another name for the West African folk character Anansi.
“I came up in the Bernansi era, so let me tell it,” said Dorsch.
“There was no radio, no television, none of these computers and computer games then. In the evening under a beautiful moon the community would come together by a tree and tell stories. And some of the stories went on forever. This is how it is with the story of Bernansi,” said Dorsch.
“Bernansi could be a human or a spider. He could be anything at all by just altering how he looked. Whatever his form, he would always try to stir up trouble among people. There are many stories about Bernansi. This one is about Bernansi and the hurricane,” said Dorsch as she began her instructive fable about being ready when a hurricane comes.
After Dorsch's tale, Rivera, pointing between the Buddhoe Park bandstand and Fort Frederik, said, “On Transfer Day I was standing somewhere over there.”
“People were lined up here, with groups up and down the sides and there were flags out everywhere. A man came by singing and waving his arms around and I saw another man come and knock him down,” said Rivera, who was nine years old in March of 1917.
Later, Tahirah Abubakr led the children singing an old Caribbean song called "Afou Yeke." The song is in an old African creole. Abubakr sang the chorus for the children to imitate, then once she had them repeating the chorus, she sang the lead or solo with the children’s singing as backup or rhythm. The harmonious sounds pulled to mind songs one might here in some ancient West African village.
Local author Edgar Lake said this year’s commemoration is on a grander scale. “Because this is the 90th Transfer Day, it is much bigger than most in the past. This the largest you’ll see until the 100th anniversary,” said Lake.
Teachers and historians recounted the political history of the transfer and quizzed students about notable Virgin Islanders in history. At the end of the event, madras-clad Pearl B. Larsen students demonstrated a fine quadrille. Then the complex process of gathering all the children and getting them fed and back to school began.
There are still a number of cultural and historical events occurring in the lead-up to Transfer Day. Here is the remaining schedule of commemorative events.
March 21 — Lunch in the Garden: Leonard Dober, Ulla Muller and Gladys Abraham elementary schools, noon, Emancipation Garden.
March 23 — Quadrille Dance, 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., Custom House, Frederiksted.
March 24 — Sunset Cultural Showcase: Superior Court Rising Stars Youth Steel Orchestra, 5 to 7 p.m., Emancipation Garden.
March 26 — The Vaedderen Galathea 3 arrives at Ann Abramson Pier, 8 a.m., Frederiksted.
March 27 — Public Concert, 7 to 9 p.m., Cruz Bay, St. John, bandstand.
March 28 — Lunch in the Garden: Ivanna Eudora Kean High, noon to 1 p.m., Emancipation Garden.
March 29 — Society of Caribbean Artists (SOCA) organizational launch, 5 to 8 p.m., Fort Frederik Museum.
March 30 — Quelbe-Quadrille Evening with: St. Croix Educational Complex Quelbe Band, Native Rhythm Band, Lockhart Elementary Quadrille Dancers, Mungo Niles Cultural Dancers and the St. Thomas Heritage Dancers, 5 to 9 p.m., Emancipation Garden.
March 31 — Transfer Day Ceremonies: 10 a.m. Lawaetz Museum, St. Croix; 3 p.m. V.I. Capitol grounds, St. Thomas. Jungle Band and Milo's Kings will play at 5:30 p.m. at Emancipation Garden.
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