The Virgin Islands Caribbean Cultural Center (VICCC) began as a vision of University of the Virgin Islands' (UVI) faculty and administration and was officially launched in 2012. The mission of the Center is to preserve, cultivate, research, and nurture Virgin Islands and Caribbean culture and heritage through interactive education, arts, sciences, and technology.
Dr. Chenzira Davis Kahina, the organization's new and first director, brings a rich and varied background to her position. She describes herself as "a mother, visionary, cultural heritage preservationist, educator, ordained minister, inspirational community activist, published author, psychotherapist, holistic health practitioner, folkloric and traditional performing artist, and natural earth scholar who shares her eclectic skills, talents, and expertise professionally locally and internationally."
Under Kahina's direction VICCC gathers cultural knowledge through extensive research and interviews of culture and tradition bearers. The VICCC intends to digitally archive cultural documents and publications in collaboration with the UVI library for easy access to all who are interested. A primary goal is to tap into the arts and "edutainment" aspects of the culture to allow people from varying walks of life and backgrounds to share experiences.
Here Kahina shares her observations about the Caribbean islands and about the importance of bringing diverse perspectives to the preservation story, engaging youth, and weaving together the stories of many cultures and traditions.
A family is like the forest, If you are outside it is dense, If you are inside you see that each tree has its own position.African Proverb [End Page 47]
Many communities grow stronger from within, and the U.S. Virgin Islands continues on a perpetual interdisciplinary quest for identity, culture, heritage, and accurate interpretation of her traditional legacy. As the above proverb implies, communities are composed of families, with individuals having respective positions that may appear "dense" from the outside. The American-owned Caribbean islands possess a forest-like community of natives, multicultural visitors, and transplant residents. Historic preservation and heritage restoration initiatives must delicately link to the diversity of descendants of African, indigenous, European, and other heritages.
Most preservation efforts in the Virgin Islands customarily highlight the narratives, folklore, customs, and traditions as interpreted by non-indigenous residents who depend on conventional research strategies, extrinsic databases, and case studies. These often overlook the oral colloquialisms that exist within the unique richness and intriguing heritage of the Virgin Islands and neighboring Caribbean.
Our Stories, Our Narratives
Sharing our stories, visions, and journeys in our own voice is imperative for an accurate accounting of the cultural heritage of the Virgin Islands. Sharing ancestral voices and experiences—especially from the island of St. Croix with a history of governance by several colonial and non-indigenous sovereign nations, including France, Spain, the Netherlands, Malta, Britain, Denmark, and America—requires weaving the preservation narratives with respect, integrity, and honor.
For more than 25 years, I have observed, witnessed, researched, experienced, and worked with an extremely diverse group of people, from naturalists to filmmakers, craftspersons to novelists, and linguists to historians, who share stories, narratives, and perspectives that often neglect to include the indigenous and ancestral voices of these regions. These multi-talented, community stakeholders have crafted, studied, and published a series of narratives, folklore, stories, and research documentations in an attempt to interpret the historic preservation and heritage restoration experiences of the Virgin Islands and the Caribbean. Going forward, [End Page 48] restoring respect for the diversity and multiculturalism among natives, residents, and visitors to the Virgin Islands is essential for increasing engagement, interaction, enrichment, and empowerment in the preservation movement.
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We hope to do this through the Keeping VI & Caribbean Culture Alive! These "edutainment" and re-enactment productions share cultural narratives in a creative way that supports community-wide engagement long after the productions are over. The historical archives of the primarily European mercantilists and plutocracy of the 18th and 19th centuries fail to accurately interpret the experiences of non-Europeans during...