Traditional Quelbe dancers kept the crowd entertained during last year’s festival at Annaberg.

Traditional Quelbe dancers kept the crowd entertained during last year’s festival at Annaberg.

Despite nursing a broken tibia for the past three months, V.I. National Park ranger Denise Georges has been finalizing plans for the 17th Annual Folk Life Festival, scheduled for February 21 through 23 at the Annaberg Sugar Plantation Ruins.

This year’s theme, “Celebrating Our Ancestors,” will focus on the many contributions of V.I. native Edward Wilmot Blyden, who played an important role in the early pan-African movement.

A lawyer, diplomat, author, professor and Liberian Secretary of State, Blyden was way ahead of his time when advocating universal civil rights in the 1800s.

Thursday, February 21, and Friday, February 22, will feature traditional local food and crafts for sale, Quelbe music and dancing and free guided tours of the Annaberg ruins. School children from across St. Thomas and St. John will watch customary coal pot cooking demonstrations and learn about colonial and post-colonial history.

In an exciting addition this year, an evening of activities has been added to the Folk Life Festival schedule. A roster of lectures and dancing is set for Saturday evening, February 23, between 5:30 and 9:30 p.m.

Morgan State University History and Philosophy  Professor Homer Fleetwood will speak about geography and the cultural similarities between West Africa and the Virgin Islands.

University of the Virgin Islands Professor Tregenza Roach, will give a lecture about the life and accomplishments of Edward Wilmot Blyden, and Dr. Robert Nichols will talk about the importance of libation and the art of Bamboula dancing and masquerading in correlation between West Africa and the Virgin Islands.

Mele Kulu
Wrapping up the 2008 festival, the Philadelphia-based 12-member Kulu Mele ensemble will perform after the lectures.
 Georges found out about Kulu Mele in a moment of serendipity, the park ranger explained.

“It was so funny because I came up with the theme ‘Celebrating Our Ancestors’ and I went on the internet to see who I could get to participate and there is this dance troupe and their name, Kulu Mele, means celebrating our ancestors,” said Georges. “It was perfect.”

While the entire festival is free and open to the  public, Georges is hoping to draw more community members to the evening portion of the three-day celebration.

“The night-time activities are going to be exciting and different,” she said. “It’s going to be exciting just to be at Annaberg at night. And with the great lectures and dance troupe — it’s going to be really great.”

“I was also thinking the night-time will give the general public more time to finish their daily chores and come out and join us,” Georges continued.

Attendees are asked to bring a flashlight and even a picnic and join the final evening of the St. John Folk Life Festival on February 23.

The event is sponsored in part by a grant from the V.I. Humanities Council, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Other sponsors for the 2008 Folk Life Festival include the VINP, V.I. Council on the Arts, St. John Community Foundation, the V.I. Government and the Friends of the VINP.