The following is commentary by Dr. Charles Wheatley.
There are many definitions for culture, each reflects the author’s perspective. I am using the following definition in my Wheatakes: “the beliefs, practices and artifacts of a group and the societal structures and organizations through which the people share these beliefs and practices.” With this in mind I am going to share a few ideas about B. V. I culture in the next three Wheatakes. The first No. 65 looks into the geo-culture of the environment.
The natural formation of the B. V. I. has always been a source of inspiration to its inhabitants. Two examples in this formation are as follows:
1. Stand on the top of the hill overlooking the Towers and take a westward gaze and admire the handiwork of God.
2. Take a trip to the Valley, Virgin Gorda and try to understand the configuration of those boulders by the Maker.
The constant sailing and fishing activities which provided a livelihood for the people were more than economic pursuits. Parents taught their children to appreciate and protect the environment which God has placed in their care. They learned through conservation strategies which many generations of the ‘natural inhabitants’ have practiced and taught their children. One effect of this is the legacy of oral tradition. Most of the activities were passed to succeeding generations through this oral tradition. In 1996 when the population of the Territory comprised 49% non- British Virgin Islanders (Census Report 1991) with various cultural heritages, the government was challenged to achieve similar results in conservation through legislation. For many generations, fishermen have returned under-sized fishes, lobsters, and other edible marine animals as well as other sea creatures of all sizes which were not considered edible to the sea, when these animals were caught in traps. It was also habitual to return female creatures during their mating seasons.
Today, the commercial value of sea-foods has increased tremendously over the past three decades or more, and these norms and practices have changed. These marine resources are harvested indiscriminately to satisfy the commercial thirst of the tourist industry, thus threatening the extinction of many species of marine life. This change in attitude towards the environment developed simultaneously with the changes in the population. British Virgin Islanders are quite aware that most of the environmental and ecological destruction has been inflicted by people with different cultural heritages from British Virgin Islanders. Many of these non-British Virgin Islanders are not primarily concerned about the stewardship of the natural inheritance, maintaining the natural beauty of the Territory and an ecological balance in the environment. Their aim is economic advancement at any environmental cost.
On the other hand, there is a number of immigrants living in the Territory because of its natural beauty and the inspiration they derive from the environment. These persons contribute significantly to the conservation drive and are assisting B. V. Islanders in the preservation of the environment.
One of the characteristics of small states is their dependence on resources from outside the country. Sometimes the dependence develops into inter-dependence when small states identify resources that attract outside ventures. The British Virgin Islands has been able to do this in many ways. The flora and fauna are suitable for research and international scientists conduct research in the Territory annually. Several unique species have been discovered, one example being the bo-peep-a small frog which is only found in the Territory. The geography of the Territory has been used in advertising the country as a tourist attraction as well as for other commercial ventures. For instance, the beauty of the islands has attracted film-making companies and movies have been filmed in the Territory with tremendous success.
Thirty years ago the Tourist Board advertised the British Virgin Islands as follows:
“the majestic and relatively untouched panorama of land, sea and sky, and the gentle nurturing quality of the people can work their magic on the soul without interruption.”
(Discover Nature’s Little Secrets, 1993) Have the flowers been blooming? Are they fading? Have they faded and withered?
(To be continued.)