The Virgin Islands-based Friends of Denmark and the Denmark-based Danish West Indian Society gathered at the Cruz Bay Battery on Tuesday evening, March 27, in honor of the 90th anniversary of the transfer of the islands from Denmark to the United States.
Koko and the Sunshine Band provided entertainment, and food and drinks were served to the 70 Danes who were visiting the islands as part of their exchange program with the Friends of Denmark.
Every two years, the groups take turns visiting each other in their home countries, staying in one another’s homes in an effort to learn more about each other’s cultures and ways of life.
“We come and stay in private homes on each island, because you meet people and see how life is,” said Danish West Indian Society Vice President Walther Damgaard.
The group’s trip was cut short when they were stuck in New York for two days due to heavy snowstorms in the northeast.
“We came into New York on a Saturday, but we were there until Monday because the airport was closed due to snow,” said Damgaard. “We stay one week on St. Croix and one week on St. Thomas. We only have one day on St. John, although we would like to have more days here.”
Damgaard, who has traveled to the Virgin Islands five times, loves the islands so much, he brought his family two years ago, he explained.
“I’ve never met so many friendly people,” said Damgaard. “They are so warm and welcoming to us. Two years ago, I brought my kids and grandkids; we really love these islands.”
Danish West Indian Society member Edieth Christiansen enjoys visiting St. Croix for personal reasons, she explained through her husband, Niels Jørn Christiansen.
“Her grandfather was Niels Olesen, the last director of the hospital in the state penitentiary,” said Niels Jørn Christiansen. “Every time we come to St. Croix, we visit the ruins on Strand Street where her mother was born.”
The Christiansens also enjoyed the friendliness of Virgin Islanders, they explained.
“People are so open and very welcoming everywhere,” said Edieth Christiansen. “The world has something to learn from the Virgin Islands.”
Maintaining a relationship with the Virgin Islands is important for Niels Jørn Christiansen because of the shared history, he explained.
“We have a common history,” said Niels Jørn Christiansen. “We share memories from the past. It’s important to know your roots.”
Danish West Indian Society President Anne Walbom is very familiar with her roots.
Walbom’s great-great-grandmother was a slave girl born to an enslaved mother and Danish father near Bordeaux on St. John.
“There are very little ruins left of the house where my mother was born, and they are in the middle of the bush,” said Walbom. “(St. John Historical Society President) David Knight took me to see them. It’s very, very fantastic to stand in the place where she was born.”
The slave girl’s Danish father freed her and her brother and took the children back to Denmark, Walbom explained.
Love of Music
Walbom, who estimates she has been to the Virgin Islands more than 20 times, loves the Caribbean culture, especially the music, she explained.
“I love the music from here,” said Walbom. “It’s in my blood. It’s in my heart.”
The Danish West Indian Society president is not the only Dane with strong ties to the Virgin Islands, Walbom explained.
“We have to realize it’s part of our history,” she said. “You have to face it, and the best way to do that is in person.”
Walbom sees the Danish connections in more than just the Virgin Islands street names, she explained.
“There are so many ties here, and not just in the street names,” said Walbom. “Look in the phone book and you’ll realize how many people here have a Danish connection.”
The Danish West Indian Society president enjoys the cultural experience she gains by staying with Virgin Islands families, Walbom explained.
“We don’t stay in a hotel and just go to the beach,” she said. “We get to know people and find out what life is like. Quite often, we become friends.”
“Whatever I can do to promote the connection between Denmark and the Virgin Islands, I’ll gladly do,” Walbom added.