Minister Wheatley made the statement during the virtual opening ceremony of the 66th Emancipation Festival at the weekend.
“This is an emancipation festival and its primary purpose is to celebrate emancipation. Yes, the celebration involves music, dance, food, parades and other exciting activities, but we must never lose sight of why we are celebrating.”
“COVID-19 has come along to force us to look at ourselves, forced us to reflect on how we celebrate and why we celebrate. COVID-19, therefore, has presented us with an opportunity, even in the midst of this crisis,” he added.
Dr Wheatley also reminded residents that the BVI’s emancipation celebrations did not always have the millions of dollars of spending or the famous regional and international recording artists that it is now known for in recent times.
He described the old-time celebrations as “community-based events with persons volunteering, friends who haven’t seen each other in a while catching up, families coming together in a festive spirit and everyone eating, drinking, dancing and putting our culture on display”.
“The true meaning of emancipation over the years has evolved into a misrepresentation,” Wheatley stated.
“Somewhere along the line we lost our way. Somewhere along the line it became more about money, someway along the line we embraced drunken revelry more than a celebration of our ancestors. Somewhere along the line it became just an outing to enjoy our favourite artist rather than an opportunity to thank God that we are free.”
Premier Andrew Fahie also expressed similar sentiments, adding that residents should join in the celebration of the BVI from the safety of virtual programming that will be offered until August 5.
He said: “Yes, for this year we will miss the colourful banners waving in the streets, having the Festival Village in Road Town, Rise & Shine, local bands and artists, international guest artists, Queen Show, Parade, Prince & Princess — all the things that you usually enjoy huddled together.”
“But this does not erase the fact that we are a free people whose ancestors fought and died to give us the life we have today. It does not change the fact that the culture of our ancestors is alive in our hearts,” he added.
Meanwhile, Saturday’s virtual opening ceremony included several performances and musical renditions depicting the history of the territory.
These included drama performances by Dwian Frett, a music exhibition by the band Razor Blades, along with a visual presentation by Director of the Department of Culture Dr Katherine Smith.
The virtual emancipation service followed on Sunday and further displayed the territory’s history with the guidance of a number of historians in the field.
These included Director of the Virgin Islands Studies Institute at the H Lavity Stoutt Community College Bernadine Louis and retired Educator and Consultant Dr Quincy Lettsome.
The music renditions were executed by the 2019 Gen Y Factor winner Dwight Hutchinson Jr, while Director of Projects in the Ministry of Finance Dr Drexel Glasgow played the saxophone.
The slogan for this year’s emancipation festivities is ‘BVI Festival 2020: Be Fully Free: Emancipate Yourself from Mental Slavery as we Celebrate our Virgin Islands History’.
The theme is “Our Cultural Heritage in the Mix as BVI Celebrates it’s 66”.
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