Tradition and Innovation Share Focus at Islands In Between Conference

Dr. George A. Franklin delivers the keynote address for the Islands In Between Conference while Dr. Chnzira Davis reacts. (Source photo by Denise Lenhardt-Benoit)
Dr. George A. Franklin delivers the keynote address for the Islands In Between Conference while Dr. Chnzira Davis reacts. (Source photo by Denise Lenhardt-Benoit)

While preserving the languages, and cultures of the eastern and greater Caribbean was the main focus of the “Islands in Between Conference” at the University of the Virgin Islands St. Croix Campus, there was room for a look ahead at how new means of communication – texting and emojis – are changing those traditions

The 22nd Annual Eastern Caribbean Conference was held Oct. 31 through Nov. 2. It was a collaboration organized by the University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras, the University of the West Indies at Cave Hill, Barbados, and the University of the Virgin Islands-Virgin Islands Caribbean Cultural Center, St. Croix.

Keynote speaker Dr. George Franklin, a “Crucian griot,” opened the conference with a high-spirited interactive message, “Why is Understanding our African Caribbean Traditions Context and Orality Important in Scripting our Text.” The mixture of lecture, song and, dance carried the message – We Are Family.

Franklin sang and cajoled the audience into participating in a rousing rendition of two of his original songs, “I’m a Cultural Man” and the “The Naked Truth”. He spoke about the importance of maintaining a spiritual connection to, and reverence for, the ancestors. He told the story of his great, great, great, great grandmother, Venus Johannes, an African woman from Senegal who arrived in Frederiksted in 1800 as a free woman, only to become enslaved upon her arrival. (

“For 25 years, every chance she got, Venus declared herself free. ‘I am not a slave.’ Our history is very important; your voice is very important. What comes out of your mouth is recorded for all eternity. Don’t let anyone take away your voice,” Franklin said.

In closing, Franklin reminded the audience “to set the right example for the children and acknowledge our kinship; because any man is a good man and we must treat one another as such. Everything made in the universe is beautiful.”

The program for the opening and successive days consisted of parallel sessions that discussed education, linguistics, music and literature in the Eastern Caribbean.

Other sessions discussed the preservation of a nation’s heritage in dialects and the socioeconomic impact of educating students in a language other than their mother tongue, a language they speak and understand, and how this often results in low scoring on standardized tests.

Student attitudes towards the use of Creole language in education on the island of St. Croix, language barriers in math education and the impact of emojis, text messaging and social media on classroom language was also discussed.

“The use of emojis is influencing the way students write academically, formally and informally,” said Gomatee Ramnarine of the University of Trinidad and Tobago. “It’s easier than using formal language and has already become a new form of shorthand in the classroom. It’s time to recognize the effect these social trends have on education.”

Other session presentations included the Dictionary of the Caribbean English Usage; D. Hamilton Jackson meets the Virgin Islands Diaspora in Harlem on the Brink of Political Activism in 1915; Culture and Resistance in the Afro-Caribbean and panel discussions on Poetry Across the Afro-Atlantic; and How the Recent Revolution in Puerto Rico impacted the Musical Culture of the Island.

Book launches and a moment of reflection on the life and work of the Dr. Arnold Highfield, Dr. Gloria Ida Joseph, and Dr. Elizabeth Arbuckle Sanders was also observed.

In his message to the conference, Dr. David Hall, president of the University of the Virgin Islands, shared his thoughts about the Islands In Between Conference.

“Preservation, exploration, research, teaching, dissemination and respect of literatures, languages and culture are our most powerful tools in our quest to inspire the mind, strengthen the body and lift the spirit.”

Dr. Chenzira Davis Kahina, Director of the University of the Virgin Islands Caribbean Cultural Center and faculty member, also expressed her gratitude for the successful conference.

“Thanks,” she said, “extended to everyone who donated, worked, volunteered, presented, prayed for, supported and engaged in one of the most successful conferences ever hosted at the University of the Virgin Islands Saint Croix campus.”