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Tales from Tortola, VI Pt 1

Conch Stew from Gene’s Bar and Grill located in Sea Cows Bay. Photo: Provided
The Virgin Islands (VI) was first inhabited by indigenous tribes such as the Arawak, Ciboney, Carib and Taino Indians. The territory was later colonized in the mid-1600s by the Dutch and then the British. Photo: Skyview Inc.
The Virgin Islands (VI) was first inhabited by indigenous tribes such as the Arawak, Ciboney, Carib and Taino Indians. The territory was later colonized in the mid-1600s by the Dutch and then the British. Photo: Skyview Inc.
With sailing or yachting accounting for the clear majority of VI tourism numbers, it can be easily argued that the territory lives up to its moniker 'the sailing capital of the world'. Photo: Nannycay.com
With sailing or yachting accounting for the clear majority of VI tourism numbers, it can be easily argued that the territory lives up to its moniker 'the sailing capital of the world'. Photo: Nannycay.com
The island is divided into 9 electoral districts with provision allowing for 4 At-large representatives. This gives a total of 13 seats in parliament. Photo: Provided
The island is divided into 9 electoral districts with provision allowing for 4 At-large representatives. This gives a total of 13 seats in parliament. Photo: Provided
Thomas C. Famous

As I sat on my porch looking out towards Guana Island, I contemplated on my time surrounded by fresh mountain air, fresh Caribbean dishes, friends and tons of family.

Perhaps it was the mixture of sea and mountain air that had me somewhat intoxicated.

Perhaps it was the Conch Stew from Gene’s Bar and Grill in my family village of Sea Cows Bay.

Perhaps it was the perfectly chilled and perfectly filled glass of Puncha Kuba at Maria’s by the Sea that had me channelling Earnest Hemingway for a few moments.

Whatever the contributing factors may have been, I was at the crossroads of both wanderlust and bewilderment.

Should I go? Should I stay?

Such was the addiction of my trip back to the island home of some of my ancestors.

With mountains that kiss the heavens and seas that are fifty shades of blue, this island grouping has shown the world what the words “resilient” and “vigilant” truly mean.

It will be near impossible for me to encapsulate what I saw, heard, tasted and felt in one column so my aim is to do a multi-part series that can do justice to that great land.

By the end of the series, you, too, will be captivated to learn more about the place often referred to as “Nature’s Little Secrets,” the ]British] Virgin Islands (BVI).

Located exactly 1,000 miles south of Bermuda lies the VI, a group of islands consisting of Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Jost van Dyke, Anegada and several other smaller islands, or “cays”, as they are called locally.

History

First inhabited by indigenous tribes such as the Arawak, Ciboney, Carib and Taino Indians, the Virgin Islands were later colonized in the mid-1600s by the Dutch and then the British, both of whom imported Africans to work the land as slaves in order to deepen the pockets of the European elites via sugar cane and cotton plantations.

Interesting to note, in 1665, the British pirate John Wentworth attacked the Dutch settlers in Tortola and took nearly 70 slaves to Bermuda. It would be safe to say that many Bermudians and VIslanders are related by blood.

The decedents of those enslaved Africans now make up the clear majority of the native population or ‘Belongers’ in the VI. The total population is around 30,000 persons, with many being workers from other Caribbean islands, such as, but not limited to, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Guyana and St Vincent.

Economy

The present-day economy of the VI is driven by a diverse tourism product. Visitors arrive via these avenues:

  • Day trips on cruise liners
  • Air trips via Puerto Rico or St Maarten
  • Ferry rides via St Thomas, [US] Virgin Islands
  • Sailboats

With sailing or yachting accounting for the clear majority of VI tourism numbers, it can be easily argued that the territory lives up to its moniker "the sailing capital of the world".

Such is the gravity of the tourist industry that the only currency used in the VI is the US Dollar.

Not surprisingly, the cost of food, clothing, fuel, housing and telecommunications is extremely high. As a prime example, a two-bedroom apartment in a decent area can run around $2,000.

This hike in the cost of living may be due to the influence of the other driving force of the economy, financial services.

These services include:

  • trust companies
  • international law firms, such as Conyers, Dill and Pearman

With many of the workers in this sector earning six-figure salaries, it is bound to have an influence on the social, economic and political fabric of the VI.

Politics

Politics is based on the British Westminster system. However, there is a unique twist in the VI.

The island is divided into 9 electoral districts, with approximately 1,500 voters each. Additionally, there is a provision allowing for 4 At-large representatives.  This means persons from across each district can vote for local and At-large candidates.

This gives a total of 13 seats in parliament.

The two main political parties are the Virgin Islands Party (VIP) and the National Democratic Party (NDP).

Communications and utilities

The VI currently has a modern communications system comprised of:

  • 3 cellular providers: Lime, Digicel and CCT
  • 2 internet providers

Electricity and water are provided by government-run entities.

Resilient

Most of the above-mentioned items have existed and functioned under the best of times. However, as we all know, the VI sustained a direct and vastly destructive hit from two Category 5 Hurricanes—Irma and Maria—within a two-week time period during the month of September 2017.

Many survivor stories have been chronicled in the book The Irma Dairies

Some six months later, what has taken place can only be described as a testimony to the persistence of the people of the territory. In the face of a natural borne series of Armageddon—or rather “Irmageddon”—events caused by climate change, there has been a daily rebuilding effort spurned by the resilience of the people.

If for no other reason than historical purposes, anyone who wants to see first-hand why urgent action is needed against global warming, they should take a trip to the VI.

In coming weeks, this series will show the true beauty of Nature’s Little Secrets.

4 Responses to “Tales from Tortola, VI Pt 1”

  • Fam (12/04/2018, 10:15) Like (9) Dislike (2) Reply
    good read again young man you should have stayed in the BVI
  • Yes good read (12/04/2018, 13:28) Like (7) Dislike (0) Reply
    Continue to sell the country no matter what happens. Nature Secrets for sure and we shall rise again. I sure enjoy these articles and awaiting more.Always come back not only for funerals weddings etc but for relaxation touring rememberance reflecting and more.God bless you.
  • The TRUTH (12/04/2018, 21:19) Like (4) Dislike (0) Reply
    Surely we shall rise again....but Virgin Islanders lets cut the crap...politics and all....according to Bob there's work to be done so let's do it little by little.....the world is watching you now....seize the time.
  • overseas (14/04/2018, 17:40) Like (0) Dislike (0) Reply
    You good bouy


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