Community Remembers Lawmaker, Cultural Icon Alvin ‘Alli’ Paul

Alvin 'Alli' Paul performs in a parade.
Alvin ‘Alli’ Paul performs in a parade.

A former V.I. lawmaker who first made his name in the entertainment world is being remembered as the territory mourns his passing. Alvin “Alli” Paul, died in Miami on Jan. 11 at the end of a lengthy illness, according to relatives. He was 70 years old.

As a member of the 13th Legislature, Paul served a portion of his single two-year term, from 1979 to 1980. Later on, he headed the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs.

Paul became known worldwide as a mocko jumbie dancer and a fixture in Virgin Islands cultural celebrations. He also founded the Alli Paul Original Mocko Jumbie Dancers on St. Thomas in the 1960s, later forming a troupe on St. Croix.

On the way to world-wide acclamation, he also tried his hand at martial arts and Golden Gloves boxing while attending high school on the U.S. mainland.

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Performing what was once considered a rare art form gave Paul and his dancers opportunities to travel to the Eastern Caribbean, Africa, to New York and to the Super Bowl in 1979. Senate President Kenneth Gittens praised Paul for his work with St. Croix’s youth through the Department of Housing, Parks and Recreation.

At the time, Gittens was a member of the Virgin Islands Police Department.

“I got to know Mr. Paul quite well while I worked with the youths of our community under the Police Athletic League program,” Gittens said. “Mr. Paul, too, was working with many of our youths at that time. I was much impressed by both his passion for his craft and his all-encompassing love for the Virgin Islands.”

St. Thomas-St. Croix lawmaker Janelle Sarauw also reflected on Paul’s contributions to the festival arts. Like Paul and former Senate President Gerard Luz James II, Sarauw also performed as a stilt dancer.

“He was one of the first mocko jumbies we had. He had a huge role in the establishment of the art form. He traveled the world with it,” the lawmaker said. “He proclaimed it was uniquely Caribbean.”

He later found out stilt dancing originated in Ghana, relatives said. By the early 1970s, Paul took his talent to the Homo Wa War Festival in Accra and returned to appear in other West African festivals and events.

While attending college at City University of New York, Hunter College, Paul got the youth of the Big Apple to try their hand at stilt dancing through the NYC Department of Recreation and Cultural Affairs.

At Hunter, his studies in anthropology led to adventure on the seas with a program called World Campus Afloat.

Upon returning to his St. Thomas home, Paul capitalized on his popularity with a successful political campaign with the campaign slogan, “Stand Tall with Alli Paul.”

But life also brought Paul to moments of struggle. Family members credit a relationship with St. Croix broadcaster Maria Heywood for helping through those times.

In 2008 the Virgin Islands Carnival Committee honored Paul’s lifetime of cultural contributions by naming him grand marshal of the annual Adult’s Parade.

Funeral services are scheduled for Friday, Feb. 22. A brief ceremony is planned on the grounds of the Legislature before internment at Western Cemetery.

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