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Donkeys Steal the Show

June 30, 2007 – It was a summer-picnic atmosphere at the Paul E. Joseph Stadium Saturday as families came out to watch the hysterical antics of the traditional donkey races held as part of the 159th Emancipation Celebration.
The crowd was anticipating a fun-filled day, and no one was disappointed. Families found a spot under the shade of a tent, lounging on blankets spread on the ground while toddlers ran in circles on unsteady legs. The hot dog and hamburger grill maintained a steady business, and ice cold beverages provided relief from the mid-day heat. Between races the disc jockey pounded out soca and calypso tunes.
Eight races were scheduled for the day. The crowd didn't seem to be keeping track of the winners. They seemed more interested in the antics of the uncooperative donkeys and the efforts of the jockeys just to stay on their mounts. Spectators laughed, jeered and shouted words of encouragement as the jockeys tried mostly unsuccessfully to guide their donkeys around the makeshift track.
Jockey David Acevedo, 15, was all smiles and excited laughter at the finish of his race. "It felt good when we started off but then he kicked me off," he said taking about his steed, "Calabash Boom," who got a little skittish towards the end of the course. "You have to have a lot of power to hold on to the reins," he observed.
Chris Joseph, 20, riding "Rocket," had his own strategy for crossing the finish line. "Get up quick, recover and stay in the middle (of the donkeys back.)"
Most four-legged races have a typical start. There is no such luck in donkey races where the only constant is its unpredictability. As the red flag is lowered, the donkeys usually take off in all different directions, as if they had been silently contemplating their escape while munching grass. Instead of following the promptings of their riders, they turn in leisurely circles or abruptly buck and throw their riders to the ground.
The calls of encouragement from the crowd added even more laughter to the day. Whenever a rider was unceremoniously dismounted from a donkey, someone would shout, "Get up quick! Show him who's in charge! Turn that ass around!"
Children got acquainted with one docile donkey that was hitched to a wagon and offering rides around the stadium. Apparently this donkey, too, had dreams of freedom: once a child dismounted, the donkey bolted toward an open gate sending spectators running in all directions.
Another crowd favorite was "Six-pack." This donkey was all gussied up in a straw hat and green leggings. Its owner tried to cajole spectators to take a ride, but it was obvious that "Six-pack" was more like a bucking bronco. As soon as the mare felt any weight on its back, it would take off. No one could mount it for long.
Master of Ceremonies, Dodson James, kept the crowd entertained as he described every attempt by the jockeys to stay atop their mounts. The races have been organized for the past two years by the Gentlemen of Jones, a fraternal, non-profit organization best known for erecting holiday lights during Christmas in Christiansted. At the end of the day, trophies were given to the winning jockeys.
Activities of the 159th Emancipation Celebration continue until July 3.
Here is the remainder of the schedule:
Sunday, July 1

4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Emancipation photo exhibit hosted by the V.I. Council of the Arts
Fort Frederik Museum
Featuring a visual exhibit of the 2006 celebration of Ghana's emancipation, special entertainment and refreshments.

Monday, July 2

7 p.m.
Emancipation tea meeting hosted by the V.I. Department of Tourism
Custom Square, Frederiksted
A presentation of living history dedicated to Eulalie Rivera, author of “Growing Up On St. Croix” and one of St. Croix's most respected elders and cultural tradition bearers.

Tuesday, July 3

1 p.m.
Emancipation reenactment program featuring Caribbean Dance Company historian Mario Moorhead; One Voice Production, choreographed and synthesized by Caribbean Dance Company; Guardians of Culture Moko Jumbies; Nana Mary Apeadu-Lewis; Per Ankh Neteru Ankhsamble; Dembaya Arts Conservatory; Eddie Russell and the Quelbe Latin Jazz Ensemble; Cedelle Christopher; Okolo Tegremantine Arts Theatre of St. Kitts; the VI Arts Ensemble; Bomba Allick; Lorna Freeman and Doctor Eugene Petersen.

4 p.m.
Cultural performances featuring Caribbean artists celebrating V.I. emancipation: Tony Richards and the V.I. Gifted and Talented Youth Summer Intensive Performers; Nuestas Raices Bomba Dancers and Drummers of Loiza; and many other performers.

4 p.m.
The 38th Anniversary of UCA's commemoration of the historic July 3 holiday hosted by the United Caribbean Association. Program will feature community presentations, cultural storytelling, spoken word, dance and conscious music. Call UCA at 772-5063 for more information or to participate.

8 p.m. to midnight
Emancipation Day street quadrille dance music by Native Rhythm Band with caller Curtis Williams.

All activities on July 3 will take place in Customs Square, UCA Headquarters and adjoining Buddhoe Park in Frederiksted.
For more information call the History, Culture and Tradition Foundation at 277-7485, the Caribbean Dance Company at 778-8824, UCA at 772-5063 or Whim Museum and St. Croix Landmarks Society at 772-0598.
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