NPS Holds First of Two Meetings on Enslavement in V.I.

Zandy Hillis-Starr and Akee, McIntosh lead a breakout group at the National Park Service's ''Slavery to Freedom' meeting. (Elisa McKay photo)
Zandy Hillis-Starr and Akee, McIntosh lead a breakout group at the National Park Service’s ”Slavery to Freedom’ meeting. (Elisa McKay photo)

The National Park Service drew a small crowd Monday night in the Great Hall at the University of the Virgin Islands St. Croix campus to discuss, question and comment on the development of an exhibit, tentatively titled “Slavery to Freedom.”

A second talking session is planned from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesday in the first floor of the Guinea Company Warehouse (old post office) in Christiansted.. Parking will be available at the Fort parking lot until 7 p.m.

Chenzira Kahina, director of the V.I. Caribbean Cultural Center at UVI, opened the meeting with mention that the group appears to be small in number, but each one represents 100 people.

“It’s not six degrees of separation. It’s two,” she said. “We want you to ask questions, to comment, to give input to this conversation of the narrative of St. Croix. We will be talking about the people of African ancestry, of the European and the indigenous people of this territory.”

The conversation is about the exhibit, the culmination of five years of archaeological research, fieldwork, and community engagement as part of the Slave Wrecks Project.

NPS archeologist Meredith Hardy gave the group an overview of the SWP and the importance of having the community’s input at the Monday and Tuesday night talking sessions.

Harvey said the Slave Wrecks Project has fostered public and scholarly understanding of the role of the African slave trade. The archaeological investigation of slave shipwrecks and the terrestrial sites promises to provide a new perspective on the understanding of the Trans-Atlantic trades of enslaved people, he said.

The NPS launched the first SWP research efforts in U.S. territorial waters and the Western Hemisphere in 2015. The Mary and the General Abercrombie are two documented slave ships that wrecked off the reefs at Buck Island National Monument, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands.

The information from this research will be used in the collaborative efforts of the National Park Service – Christiansted National Historic Site and UVI-VICCC in the development of the exhibit, which will explore the histories, cultures, and legacies of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and slavery and freedom from enslavement in the Danish West Indies to, today, the V.I. of the United States.

Questions for discussion were handed out and the participants broke out into three groups to talk about the exhibit planning; 13 questions were explored and discussed and an NPS or a UVI person led each group.

– What concepts and ideas best represent Crucian identity and culture brought answer about various foods, such as kallaloo, fish, fungi and johnny cake. Quelbe, Cariso, Bamboula and carnival were almost unanimous from the groups.

Most agreed the population is exposed to many aspects of the Crucian culture, including the St. Croix Labor riots, Emancipation Day, Fireburn and Liberty Day. Some decided the contribution of free and enslaved black workers in the building of local architecture was not readily available knowledge.

– The question, “Outside of cultural institutions, where and when do you feel most connected to your past, your history your ancestry,” was another that evoked answers of the natural sites on the island. The waterfall at Creque Dam, Point Udall, Maroon Ridge, Free gut and a myriad of other places brought feelings of nostalgia to the groups.

– One group felt the Crucian language was not respected and was marginalized and minimized, as was the connection to pre-enslavement royalty.

“Queen Mary should be highlighted with the dozens of queens who were doing the work during the Fireburn. We don’t talk about the men who died during that time,” Kahina said. “It’s important to have he technology with a screen so that people can see it, feel it, touch it, and taste it when they look at the exhibit. There should be a timeline for the St. Croix development. We want to go back before slavery. Slavery is a very short period and we tend to make it very long.”

Kahina added, “It must be accurate,” as she read from her group’s answers.

The influence of the indigenous peoples who came from other places and became a part of Crucian identity is important knowledge, the groups agreed.

The planned exhibit will be housed in the Guinea Company Warehouse. The hurricanes of 2017 and the government shutdown of 2019 have delayed the progress. NPS and UVI look forward to the summer of 2020 for the opening.