This Wheatake continues the theme of the Geo-culture of the B. V. I.
The importance of the sea in the survival of the
'natural' inhabitants since emancipation is another geo-cultural theme.
The sea was more than the connecting link between the island communities. It enabled B. V. Islanders to maintain a livihood during the post emancipation interregnum (O'Neal 1983)the period between the era of the plantation and the industrial development which began in the early nineteen sixties. These marine activities were more than survival undertakings. The sea was a marine laboratory where each voyage, short or long, was an experiment which enhanced the experiences and knowledge of the sailors. They learned how to sail by the stars as well as the compass. This knowledge represents a merging of scientific knowledge and folklore. Learning to sail by the stars as it was called, was passed on orally from one generation of sailors to the next. Associated with this oral instruction were many stories to illustrate the accuracy of their knowledge and perhaps to capture the interest of apprentices, and so strengthened their confidence in the method. These stories include episodes where the helmsman fell asleep and the vessel sailed off course, or he followed the wrong star and changed course. Other stories tell of bad stormy weather when the stars were not visible and in the absence of the compass, the sailors continued for several hours without straying off course.
They learned about the physical geography of the archipelago from these experiences. They understood the flow of the waters through the channels between the islands. The knowledge of the marine environment was maintained over a century and a half since emancipation in 1834 with few casualties and tragedies. These activities were ingredients in the survival of B. V. Islanders even though in the last four or five decades one discerns a waning of these explorations. The long established BVI families are gradually losing control of BVI waters and retiring to the land. The marine control is being taken over by newer families, who have settled recently in most cases, and not of African descent , the largest racial group in the Territory. This racial and ethnic imbalance, a cultural factor, invades the managed intimacy of the people. The personnel relationships which influenced decision- making in public and private insttutions are modified by new influences brought in by personnel with different cultural and educational backgrounds. The transformative diversity mentioned is responsible for such changes. It separates old friends and relatives, break up families and modifies the older societal order and values. These are some of the changes in BVI culture.(To be continued.)
- Dr. Charles H. Wheatley