The Fireburn Reenactment was performed by grassroots community activists in Frederiksted for “donkey years” on Oct. 1.
This year, Sayeeda Carter’s St.Croix Educational Complex High School drama students are the performers. Carter’s use of local author Richard Schrader’s play, “1878: Queen Mary and Dem,” was a class assignment that began in late August of this school year.
Grassroots community activists Asheba Samuel, Val Tucker Rawlins and Queen Valeria “Wala” Henricks spoke to Carter about passing the torch to the youth and giving them a chance to perform. Carter said yes to the proposal.
SCECHS Art Department Chairperson Danica David and the art department’s students contributed to the artwork for the Fireburn Reenactment.
Carter’s students read the play and were moving along in their grasp and study of it. They performed some monologues that were recorded by local photographer Chalana Brown. They researched the time period and had taken many tests and quizzes about the material. They were really deep in the play, Carter said.
“I was gifted with an opportunity to travel to Brazil at no cost to myself, and that doesn’t come along every day.”
“I would have liked to be here to work with and be of help to my students in their performance and rehearsal of the production, but I also would have liked to go to Brazil. I chose Brazil.”
Samuel, Rawlins and Hendricks decided they would attend the drama class in Carter’s absence, give instructions and help the students with their performance. The three had the experience of performing the Fireburn many times, so it was a “win-win” situation, they said.
Carter said, “I think it was particularly beautiful that the youth could get the message that not only their teacher but community members would invest in their artistic gifts and abilities and would want to see them pick up the torch of telling this story and keeping Schrader’s work alive.”
Although she didn’t have the ability to be supportive of the process, Samuel, Rawlins and Hendricks implored Carter to supply a schedule so that they could intervene and see that the students’ work was supported by their community effort.
Carter said, “Oftentimes as an educator, I feel alone. This further proves that no one is an island…that things can happen. You don’t have to feel the burden of being the only one out there.”
“It’s so nice for the students to say, ‘You mean, Ms. Carter, people are going to volunteer to come work with us and rehearse with us and they don’t get a paycheck from the Department of Education.’”
“That was a nice experience for them to see that people are invested in them.”
“I’m so excited for them! We’ll do a rehearsal Saturday. We’ll be on for Sunday at 5 p.m.”
Over a dozen of Carter’s students sat in the “breezeway” outside their SCECHS drama classroom and spoke to the Source about their upcoming performance of the 1878 Fireburn. Several of them opted to share excerpts from their lines or feelings they experienced from those lines.
Faythe Stroman – Queen Mary
“The play brings out Queen Mary’s character as someone who wasn’t going to be taken advantage of. She was a young Black woman who was fierce and brave. She didn’t take anything from anyone. She knew what she wanted and she stuck to it. Queen Mary wanted conditions to change. She didn’t want to work as a cane laborer if she didn’t benefit from it, with good pay, something to eat, etc.”
Terry Forde – Antoine and Gustus ( Gustus is Terry’s favorite)
“Bu’ de t’ing wha bother meh, dem kin tief from ahwe and gon free. Bu’ if ahwe tief from dem,dem lock ahwe behind ina jail.”
Sanai Mathurin – Introduction, background story, Info on Schrader
“On July 3, 1848, Crucian slaves literally took their freedom in their own hands when they threatened that if they were not freed by sundown, they would burn Frederiksted to the ground…Governor-General Peter Von Scholten issued the now famous proclamation:
“All Unfree In The Danish West Indies…Are From Today Free”
“Thirty years later, in 1878, much had not changed. The sugarcane plantation managers still cracked the whip, and it cut deep into the souls of the sugarcane laborers. The burden of injustice was too great. There was no relief in sight. They couldn’t bear it anymore. The word went underground from estate to estate.”
“Never again must we be treated in this way! Fire next time!”
Alicia Flood – Mistress of Ceremonies, Narrator
“There was a celebration for Henry and Rebecca, who just gave birth to the first set of twins to be born in 20 years in Estate La Grange. All of the folks from Frederiksted will be attending the celebration. Twelve men and women will walk away from the party to have a conversation about the Fireburn.”
Alicia said, “It reminds me of a family reunion. I like to think that everyone on the island is from the same family. It gives me a kinda’ family vibe.”
Rehanna Griffiths – Mathilda
Mathilda plays a major role in helping Queen Mary in accomplishing her plan:
“Mary, gel, ahwe ha’ foh carry out de plan ahwe been ah talk ‘bout foh months now. Agnes done gah two big kerosene pan ah oil and de other t’ing dem hide. And all de man dem and de woman dem and de picknee dem, from Prosperity toh Peter’s Rest, goh up done know wha foh doh wen deh hear de signal and wen deh see de cloud dem ah rise. And dem know de day, de time, and ebryt’ing.”
Rehanna Griffiths was also one of the students who took part in the school protests.
“Actually, very recently, I was part of the protests about the conditions we are living within our schools. They are hazardous. I felt scared to do it, but we had to stand by our decision to protest,” Rehanna said.
Sanai Mathurin said, “I see the same connection with the Fireburn and the school protests. We students protested for the past couple of days because the government doesn’t care about us. Basically, they have us attending schools that are not good and it’s inhumane. We students felt like we had to take it in our own hands, because the government is not doing anything. They have the money. I can see it. They’re greedy people. They want the money for themselves. They’re being selfish. The conditions in the schools we are attending are not really safe. We’re not supposed to be going to school in such bad conditions. I can see it all with my own eyes. I don’t think there will be a change right away. I know the government is embarrassed because we can see they’re not doing a good job.”
Asheba Samuel said, “This was a group effort and we realized it was time to pass it on. Sister Wala and Sister Val spoke to Ms. Carter and this was the result. It’s amazing to pass it on and have the young people feel the feelings the ancestors had. The students will be ready Sunday. The ancestors will be present to keep them motivated.”
“I would like to thank the youth for being brave enough to take part in this reenactment. We didn’t do it just one time and got it. It took years of rehearsals and drills.”
“Yes, conditions need to change. It can’t stay the same.”
Val Tucker Rawlins said, “My role is in helping to put everything together. Working with these beautiful students and the art department is what I feel good about. I did my best to help them with what they needed. I’m the legs. I go out and do the extra while everyone is doing their job. I have the quality time left over from my day. I’m a field person. I love doing it because I’m a people person. We’re in the Age of Aquarius. Now is the time the elders must pass the torch to the younger ones. We must give them the knowledge and the wisdom that we have. The ancestors gave it to me, so I must give it to them.”
Queen Valeria “Wala” Hendricks said, “I am honored and privileged to pass the torch of Mental Emancipation on to our future. We will stand in power with them and remove the yoke of slavery from our minds.”
Musical Sounds by Alkebulan Sounds
Opening Remarks/Conch Shell Blowing: U.C.A.
Drumming and Libation: Dembaya
Keynote Speaker: Mario Moorhead
Theatrical Reenactments: SCEC Drama Class
Fire Circle: Community
The Fireburn Reenactment will be performed in the UCA parking lot adjacent to Buddhoe Park in Frederiksted on Sunday at 5 p.m.
This is a family affair. Please bring your own chairs.
For more information:
UCA – 340-772-5063