British Virgin Islands: Culture & History
Culture and History of Tortola:
Tortola is one of the islands that comprise the British Virgin Islands. It has Road Town as its capital on the southern shore of the island. The other islands that are associated with the British Virgin Islands are Anegada, Guana Island, Mosquito Island, Peter Island, Jost Van Dyke and Virgin Gorda. It has constructed a large yacht chartering business, which is able to take people to these islands.
Rugged mountain peaks characterize the entire southern coast while the northern coastline contains white sandy beaches. Banana trees, mangos and clusters of palm help adorn the scenery. The inhabitants are mostly descendents from slaves and/or slave owners. There is a mixture of British and West Indian influence in their culture. The hybrid Caribbean culture can be seen in their music, food and the sloops that are made for fishing. Calypso is very much alive there as the sounds are social commentary of the local political and social issues. Fungi bands play scratch instruments such as gourds and washboards. Carnival began in the British Virgin Islands as a celebration of the slave emancipation.
Jumbie stories, which are basically African folklore, have been passed on for many generations. Storytelling traditions still persist today, even though it is in a more structured setting such as community halls and festival gatherings.
Christopher Columbus on his second voyage in 1493 named the second largest Virgin Island, Virgin Gorda or "Fat Virgin" because he perceived to view the mountain on the island like a protruding stomach. Virgin Gorda is a quiet, peaceful place where privacy and solitude are very evident.
Arawak Indians who originated on the northern coast of South America in the Orinoco basin settled in the British Virgin Islands around 100 B.C. Over a thousand years later, some other Indians overran them from the Arawak's original home. The Carib Indians were much more aggressive and warlike. Columbus came to the islands on his second voyage and named the places, Las Virgenes - The Virgins.
The Spanish did not pay much attention to the Virgin Islands as they settled for a brief period of time at Virgin Gorda to mine copper. These islands were visited by many infamous people such as Henry Morgan, Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Hawkins whose occupation was to plunder the Spanish galleons on their way back to Spain, kill the sailors and take the gold back to England for Queen Elizabeth I.
The Dutch established a permanent settlement in Tortola in 1648. The English in turn ousted the Dutch from Tortola and Virgin Gorda, and introduced sugar cane and slaves to the Virgin Islands. The first Quaker John Pickering settled in Tortola and later became the first Governor. It was during this time that the people here changed from pirating to establishing the agricultural industry. Between the mid-18th and early nineteenth century, the islands were successful in producing sugar, cotton, rum, indigo and spices. This collapsed there after due to a number of different reasons. The slaves revolted and slave auctions ended in the early nineteenth century. The emancipation was granted in the 1830's, most places had to work a four-year apprenticeship program. Former slaves were able to buy and hold property legally. Sugar beet was introduced in Europe in Europe and the U.S.A. and the settlers along with their capital left for bigger and better markets.
The United States purchased the Danish West Indies (St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix) as a strategic outpost in the Caribbean. The British encouraged farming, livestock, vegetables and fishing in the 1930 and 940s. In the 1960s Laurence Rockefeller leased some land. This was followed by the opening of the airport at Beef Island in 1968 and the opening of the first charter yacht company in 1969. Meanwhile, the islanders were finally given the right to administer their own local affairs in 1967. The first bareboat charter company was established in the early nineteen seventies and the British Virgin Islands became a major sailing destination in the Caribbean. The International Business Companies Act was passed in the nineteen eighties and this brought about the advent of the offshore banking industry. This also enabled many wealthy tourists to visit the British Virgin Islands.