FELICIA EMMANUEL |
ST.CROIX – Many students attending the university, are unaware of the role the Virgin Islands Caribbean Cultural Center has in the Virgin Islands community. However, the VICCC raised cultural awareness of past Virgin Islands indigenous peoples on Saturday, Feb. 14 at the annual Agricultural and Food Fair.
The VICCC, nestled under the University of the Virgin Island’s College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, is an on-campus museum that hosts a collection of research materials, exhibits and local artwork. Within the center, a collection dedicated to the work of late VI cultural heritage steward, Dr. Gene K. Emanuel is on display.
“We are working on state-of-the-art research and we focus on preserving, nurturing and cultivating Virgin Islands and Caribbean culture,” Director of VICCC, Dr. Chenzira Davis-Kahina said. “I specifically say Virgin Islands and Caribbean culture because [the Virgin Islands] are usually grouped with the mainland.”
At the VICCC exhibit, Davis-Kahina drew attention to the indigenous peoples of the Virgin Islands. One display showed the work of Opi’a Taino International.
Aside from research, Kahina hosts many workshops and seminars on cultural studies. Some workshops are held weekly on-campus, while others are held off-campus at various venues. Some sessions are intensive because they combine five to six seminars together.
Davis-Kahina travels to annual cultural symposiums and her most recent venture led her to Costa Rica, where she presented cultural research.
“What she does at the VICCC, from what I know, [is that] she partners with other people like the National Park, and they collaborate for events,” VICCC student worker Karine Cox said.
Cox cited events such as Maroon Commemoration, tours of Salt River and the bioluminescent bays, and excursions to Buck Island, among initiatives that are done by the VICCC.
“She tries to get people around UVI more involved culturally,” Cox said. “Hence why there is a minor as well.”
Janis Valmond, the Caribbean Exploratory Center research coordinator and Committee Outreach and Engagement Core director, views the VICCC as an “invaluable resource” to the community.
“The VICCC — with its focus on culture and the environment and socio-cultural factors — are critical to our health,” she said.
These socio-cultural environments are what Valmond believes are determinants of health and has reached out to Davis-Kahina so Valmond’s students can take a trip to Salt River.
“We can do the outreach and find out what is happening in the community, what is happening in the culture in the Virgin Islands and how it impacts our health, so it’s a win-win. We are the nucleus right now,” Valmond said.
Despite its community engagement, VICCC’s contributions are largely unknown. For Cox, she believes that students do not come due to the advertising of culture. They think it is boring.
“People think of it as maybe Africans and slaves so if she does something, people wouldn’t come to it. That’s why it’s maybe not known as well,” she said.
Cox also noted that more outside visitors come in to visit the VICCC than actual UVI students do. Referring to Danish visitors, she noticed that they not only want information about the Virgin Islands but they also want to learn about our culture in the process.
She did mention that there are plans for a cultural campaign, intended to spur interest with UVI students.
There are a few students who realize the importance of the VICCC, such as 20-year-old sophomore Yanick Toure’.
“I believe it’s a significant part of the institution because it helps restore African as well as indigenous culture,” Toure’ said.
He mentioned his Caribbean-Malian heritage and felt a renewed sense of pride.
“It’s just roots,” Toure’ said. “It gives us a sense of consciousness on African spirituality.”
Tavia Lang, a part-time student in Kahina’s public speaking class believes that culture should be handed down.
“No matter how many come to the little island, we can’t forget where we come from,” Lang said.
This sentiment is shared by students who accept their African or indigenous history. According to Davis-Kahina, some students are upset because “they didn’t learn sooner.”
“This wasn’t required in other classes,” Kahina said. “You can’t be taught what [teachers] don’t know.”