The Caribbean Columbus found was populated by the Taíno, a peaceable people, and the Carib, who were not. The lure of riches from sugar was great for many, and those from Europe with an adventurous or avaricious bent were keen to exploit the potential offered by fertile soil ready for the taking. Racketeers, privateers and buccaneers came too. The first waves of indentured labour came from Europe but most were not able to withstand the rigours of the climate and perished. And then came the slaves for which every nation involved, including those doing the initial selling or stealing in Africa, can hang their heads in shame.
Wearing the lens of the day, I would like to think there were a few relatively honorable men in the mix. Men who at least tried to treat those whose lives they owned with an element of care and dignity. That being said I don’t believe reparation can ever be fully made but neither do I believe future generations should be made to carry the burden of past wrongs.
Caribbean plantations were formed and managed predominantly by French, Danes, Dutch, Spanish and British, but worked by the aforementioned slaves. Some of the islands are still French, Spanish, Dutch or English-speaking, and so one can understand certain cultural traditions clinging on or being absorbed into modern-day Caribbean customs.
Within the British we of course have English, Scots, Welsh and Irish. From my cursory study of the breakdown of plantation ownership on a few of the British-owned islands of the day, the Irish do not seem to have been any more predominant than the other three.
So why I wondered was St Patrick’s Day such a major deal on St Croix, an island which has been under seven flags – Spanish, British, French, Dutch, Knights of Malta, Danish and American.
March 17th happened to be Art Thursday, a regular feature of the Christiansted calendar, wherein the many art galleries and jewelry stores are open in the evening. It is a convivial event. People wander from gallery to gallery topping up their rum or wine, generously poured in each venue, chatting to artists and fellows strollers alike. I had not though expected green to be the foremost colour of the evening. I had not received the memo. “Wait until the parade on Saturday,” I was told, when I commented to one green-clad woman, who on inquiry had no affiliation with the Emerald Isle.
And so on Saturday, forewarned, we ambled down the hill to see what all the fuss was about. Crucians, those who share their island, and those just passing through staked their claim on any and every available curb, step or balcony along King and Company streets. Green of every hue imaginable was on display. Orange hair and beards were also popular. Beads of green and gold glittered around necks regardless of sex, and reminiscent of Mardi Gras. Tutus and tees teased the throng. Some proclaiming with pride ‘The 47th Annual St Croix St Patrick’s Day Parade’, others with the year’s theme emblazoned across their bosoms, ‘The Luck of the Irie’. And each year monies raised are donated to charity.
Why, I kept wondering? Why here? To any question asked often enough, an answer is usually forthcoming. I learned St Patrick’s Day in St Croix was celebrated first in 1969 when, and this may surprise you, a group of men who might have had a Guinness or two were sitting at Harry’s Bar. I imagine the conversation went along the lines of, “Let’s put a piano on a truck and drive around singing!” Shopkeepers curious about the ruckus outside their establishments came out, shoppers already wearing green followed the truck and became revellers and so a tradition was born.
Now we live on island time here, and so an eleven o’clock start is not a given. Imagine my surprise when only about fifteen minutes after the stated hour the wheels started rolling, with the St Croix motor cycle club leading off with US and Virgin Island flags proudly fluttering.
And then they came. Marching bands and majorettes. A leprechaun, aka Gregory Worrell, followed a jeep filled with green-collared pups, collecting for the animal sanctuary. Another, this time a leprechaun-in-training, was pulled around the parade route atop a trailer rife with rainbows and pots of gold. Shamrocks and sparkles covered every form strutting the streets. The University of the Virgin Islands home-coming queen, Angelique Flemming, waved regally from her perch on an open-top coupe, followed not long after by a banner-bedecked man in glittering trunks flexing his muscles whilst balancing on a similar vehicle. And not to be left out, a politician! Senator Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, who was also the grand marshall, sat atop a green and white Austin Healey.
Beads were flung from floats, candies were tossed, and green visors with built-in fans handed to sweating, cheering, laughing crowds intent on celebrating the patron saint of a green island across the Atlantic and, just to ensure good fortune held, Moko Jumbies were also present.
But the oddest thing was the music. A chorus of that perennial, The Wild Rover, was heard, once. A lone bagpipe wailed a Scottish air, briefly, and that before the parade even started. The rest was reggae and rap, with not a hint of a green jig. There was no rain on this parade, just the Luck of the Irie!