Mrs. Olivia Christian, above, demonstrates dumb bread making at Annaberg Plantation. Afro-Caribbean Dominican Dancers entertain event-goers during last year’s festival. Photos by Eliza Magro and courtesy of St. John Magazine
The 21st annual St. John Folklife Festival has a clear message this year — Wake Up and Plant a Seed!
While the annual festival — which runs from Thursday, February 23, through Saturday, February 25, at the Annaberg Plantation Ruins in V.I. National Park — will focus on agriculture, the theme stands for even more, explained St. John Folklife Festival founder Denise Georges.
“Every Saturday on his radio program, Gene Emmanuel would end the show by saying, ‘Wake up and plant a seed,’” said Georges, a V.I. National Park interpretive ranger.
“He meant it literally, go out and plant a seed. But he also meant how it’s important to define yourself and what makes you happy and then to go out and cultivate that.”
The University of the Virgin Islands professor Gene Emmanuel, who passed away last year, had played an integral role in each folklife festival, Georges explained.
“Gene contributed so much to the festival each year,” she said. “We worked together right from the very first one, Gene and I and Dr. Gilbert Sprauve. So this year’s festival is really a tribute to both of them in helping to put the festival together and to educate the youth and adults and park service.”
The first two days of the festival, Thursday and Friday, kick off at 10 a.m. and wrap up at 3 p.m. Students from across St. Thomas and St. John will attend these days, with younger students enjoying the educational festival the first day and older students taking part the second day. All three days of the festival, however, are free and open to the public.
UVI Extension Services officials Carlos Robles, Mario Francis, Elridge Thomas and Chico will be on hand to discuss local agriculture practices, crafting and more, explained Georges.
“We’ll learn about agriculture, planting and grafting,” she said. “We’ll learn about soil and what crops grow here and how to be successful at growing food crops and more.”
Josephine and Hugo Roller of Coral Bay Organic Garden Center will be on hand with an array of cuttings and Elmo Rabsatt will demonstrate his bee keeping savvy.
Raymond Thomas from the Department of Agriculture Station on St. John will also be on hand discussing local growing methods and crops, Georges added.
Tregenza Roach, Sprauve and other local tradition bearers will also discuss local literature, verse and language while live music will be provided by Smalls and the Merry Makers.
Volunteers will also be on hand both days to lead tours of the extensive Annaberg ruins while Kala will take guests around the provision garden at the site. Local crafts people will also be present, selling their wares along with local fruit drinks and food.
“The big old oven will be lit up and we’ll be making and handing out dumb bread and I’m looking forward to frying up some fish too,” said Georges.
On Saturday, the St. John Folklife Festival takes on an entirely different vibe. Gone are the crowds of students and in their place is an inviting calm while guests sit among the ruins under the stars. The festival runs Saturday night from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. and will feature two impressive Carnival Troupes from St. Thomas, according to Georges.
“This year we are doing dancing only on Saturday night,” she said. “We’re going to have the St. Thomas Tropical Masqueraders and the Traditional Indians. The crowd is in for a treat this year.”
Saturday night festival attendees should bring along a chair and bug spray and be ready for a great time.
While soaking up the sights and sounds of the St. John Folklife Festival, festival goers should also walk away with a better understanding of the days of old on St. John, Georges added.
“We’re doing this to keep the culture alive and keep the past alive,” she said. “We do this to bring the past back to the present so that we all can have a better understanding of where we come from. You have to look back first before you can move forward.”
“Only once you know your own resources can you go out and embrace other culture and environments,” said Georges. “But you must know where you come from in order to be open to the wider world.”
Georges thanked all community sponsors, Friends of V.I. National Park, VINP staff and V.I. Council on the Arts for support in ensuring the success of the 21st Annual Folklife Festival.
Keep an eye out for the St. John Folklife Festival poster, designed by Les Anderson, which should be popping up across the island this week. For more information on the festival call the VINP Visitors Center at 776-6201.