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Culture
 
 
 

General

Like much of the English speaking Caribbean, US Virgin Islands' culture is derived chiefly from West African, European and American influences. Though the Danish controlled the present-day US Virgin Islands for many years, the very dominant language has been an English-based Creole since the 19th century, and the islands remain much more receptive to English language popular culture than any other. The Dutch, the French and the Danish also contributed elements to the islands' culture, as have immigrants from the Arab world, India and other Caribbean islands. The single largest influence on modern Virgin Islander culture, however, comes from the Africans enslaved to work in cane fields from the 17th to the mid-19th century. These African slaves brought with them traditions from across a wide swathe of Africa, including what is now Nigeria, Senegal, both Congos, Gambia and Ghana.

Literature

There has been a development of a Virgin Islands literature, although little studied. Literature is written in both standard English and the Virgin Islands dialect. The Caribbean Writer, sponsored by the University of the Virgin Islands, showcases local writers. Lezmore Emanuel, a folk composer and poet; the literary historians Adelbert Anduze and Marvin Williams; and the poets Gerwyn Todman, Cyril Creque, J. P. Gimenez, and J. Antonio Jarvis have all made significant contributions.

Visual Arts

The most famous locally born painter, Camille Pissaro, was born on Saint Thomas but moved to Paris. A number of contemporary artists work outside the country. Tourist preference has influenced the development of visual arts; Caribbean themes predominate in local galleries, such as the Caribbean Museum Center on Saint Croix.

Performance Arts

Mocko Jumbie stilt dancers perform at festivals and celebrations. Mocko Jumbies are masked and wear straw hats with cutouts for the eyes and mouth. This clothing was traditionally a woman's dress, but long trousers have become an acceptable part of the costume. The figure symbolises the spirit world, and so the entire body must be disguised. Small decorative mirrors are worn to indicate invisibility. The stilts give the dancer additional height to frighten away evil spirits and also allow the Mocko Jumbie to chase misbehaving children and to keep crowds back from parade routes.

Fungi bands represent another form of African musical influence on the islands. Fungi is played by a traditional scratch band of guitars, bass instruments, African drums, bamboo flutes, scratch instruments and washboards. You can find Fungi bands playing at carnivals and competitions, where performers sometimes inject provocative commentary about local events.

Quelbe music is the folk music of both the US and British Virgin Islands that relies on Western and African cultures as primary influences for the instrumentals and vocal style. This blended genre of music comes from a mixture of jigs, fife-and-drum music from military bands, quadrille dances that originated from early European settlers, and the call-and-response songs of slaves. These slave songs were a subversive way for slaves to communicate and evolved into cariso melodies of the 19th century. Instruments used in this style of music include bamboo flutes, steel triangles, guitars, banjos, ukuleles, ribbed squash gourds, tambourines, bass drums, and in modern times, saxophones.

The Reichhold Center for the Arts, the Island Center Theater, and the Caribbean Community Theater give dance, music and theatre performances. Groups such as the Saint Croix Heritage Dancers and the Caribbean Dance Company preserve and teach traditional folk dances, many with African roots.

 

 
 

 



 


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