The U.S. Virgin Islands: Culture and History
The Culture and History of the U.S. Virgin Islands:
The U.S. Virgin Islands consist of three islands, St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John, and these three are about 135 square miles, have a population of less than a quarter of a million people, which comprise about 75% African descent, 13% U.S. mainland expatriates, 5% Puerto Ricans, and the rest are Danish, French and mostly other people from the Caribbean. The capital city is Charlotte Amalie, which is on the island of St. Thomas. The prime language is English along with some Creole, Spanish and French. The Baptist religion is the most dominant which comprise about 42%, followed by the Catholic 34%, Episcopalian 17% and Evangelicals about 5%.
Tourism is easily its major industry, followed by oil refining. The U.S. Virgin Islands have a mixed heritage, as the island's inhabitants are mostly descendants of slaves or their former slave masters. The European heritage comes from the Danes who owned the islands for more than two hundred and fifty years. There are also vestiges of English, French and Dutch influences on the islands. The French influence was mainly due to the flight of the French Huguenots who escaped from France during the nineteenth century. Some are there because at one time France owned St. Croix. The dominant culture overlaying all these cultures is distinctly American, which has come about as the result of eighty years of U.S. strategic and commercial interests in the island.
Virgin Islanders are very musical oriented and are very party conscious. The local fungi bands play scratch instruments as gourds and washboards. Their sounds are usually associated with social and political commentaries that are occurring on the islands or in the general area. Virgin Islanders are interested in calypso, reggae, raga-soca, hip-hip and the steel pan is back. The European heritage is also evident in quadrille dances with witty French emphasis, especially in St. Croix.
Virgin Islanders are somewhat superstitious and those of African descent have a strong belief about the spirit world and jumbies.
St. John is the smallest of the United States Virgin Islands and it has about sixty-five percent of the land is reserved for its National Park. This includes the remnants of the Annaberg Sugar Plantations. The majority of the island's beauty can be found on the waters that surround it. It possesses some of the world's most popular and beautiful beaches. Beaches such as Trunk Bay, Hawknest Beach and Cinnamon Bay, just to mention a few have become famous because of their crystalline waters and white sandy beaches.
St. John like its two other sister islands have experienced a number of foreign countries that controlled it. Spain, France, England, Holland, Denmark, the United States and even the Knights of Malta controlled it. When the Danes first controlled it, the slaves rebelled and slaughtered the entire white garrison at Coral Bay and took control of the island. A number of different adverse circumstances devastated the island, things such as introduction of beet sugar in the United States and Europe, made the exportation of sugar cane not really needed.
St. Croix offers exciting underwater adventures, year-round warm weather and duty-free shopping. St. Croix has hillsides and foliage as lush and abundant as the days of old. It has colourful shops and fine restaurants housed in old Danish-built structures line the island's wide streets, and historic churches. There have been seven different flags that have flown over St. Croix namely, Spanish, Dutch, British, French, Knights of Malta, Danish and American. The first church constructed by the Danes after their colonization of the island is now a museum housing artifacts from St. Croix's Carib and Arawak Indian settlements and colonial sugar plantations. Also, the Christiansted Apothecary, was founded by a young Danish pharmacist back in a1828 has now become one of St. Croix's newest cultural attractions.
Any visit to the Virgin Islands would only be complete with a visit to Charlotte Amalie, which has fascinating architecture, beautiful houses of worship and intriguing museums. There are also some beautiful beaches for swimming, boat racing, parasailing, scuba diving, snorkeling, windsurfing, jet skiing and boat racing. Those who are interested in partying would not want to miss the St. Thomas' carnival, which takes place in the month of April.
The earliest groups of settlers in the Virgin Islands dated back to about 500 A.D. The first settlers were the Ciboneys and the Arawaks and finally the Caribs, both of whom originated from the Orinoco Basin, followed them. Columbus came to the island in 1493 and called the islands Las Virgines - The Virgins. Attempts were made by the British, French, Spanish and the Knights of Malta to establish permanent settlements on the islands. The Danish West India Company established a settlement on St. Thomas in 1672 and established itself on St. John in 1694. The Danes purchased St. Croix from the French in 1733 and united the three islands under Danish rule. They changed these three islands into one of the major sugar producers in the area.
The sugar industry flourished in the Caribbean flourished while slavery was in vogue and the largest slave auctions in the world took place in Charlotte Amalie the capital of St. Thomas. A number of factors contributed to the decline of the sugar industry such as the abolition of slavery, the increase of beet sugar supplies in Europe and the United States. Also, drought at some times and hurricanes at other times along with the increase in labour costs caused the decline in the Danish West India Company.
The United States saw the strategic importance of the Virgin Islands and purchased St. Thomas and St. John from Denmark. The United States saw a need to control the Panama Canal and the Caribbean basin. The US Virgin Islands (USVI) remained under the jurisdiction of the United States and were granted home rule in 1970. The United States flag still flies on these islands. There was a great push to make tourism the leading feature in the Virgin Islands especially after the embargo of Cuba. Today, tourism is still the major industry on the Virgin Islands.