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Charlotte Amalie
Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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Folktales Brighten Museum Crowd at Sunset

Queen Asheeba's Anansi stories were entertaining and educational.Once upon a time…

That’s how stories start, right? Or perhaps:

A long, long time ago…

Or a personal favorite:

This is how I heard it, and I believe it…

Once upon a time in Frederiksted — Saturday night to be precise — a group of Crucian storytellers from across the generations gathered at the Caribbean Museum Center for the Arts to celebrate Crucian culture, and a larger-than-expected crowd of more than 70 crammed into the museum’s upstairs gallery to take part.

Saturday’s “Virgin Islands Folktales at Sunset” was the first of what organizer Semaj Johnson hopes will be an annual event. If the audience reaction was any measuring stick, his hopes are assured.

The storyrellers recreated a time before television and the Internet when a community created its own entertainment, gathering and sharing their own stories and song, and passing on traditions, lessons and important information at the same time.

The evening opened with a striking cariso performance by Lynn Maria Chiang. Cariso is story told in song, and Chiang sang “Clear the Road,” a song about how emancipation came to the slaves of the Virgin Islands in 1848.

Chiang is the granddaughter of longtime cultural standard-bearer Leona Watson. She said she learned the stories and style from her grandmother and performed them in her honor.

Later in the evening, Cedelle Christopher provided a punctuation to that story by singing “Queen Mary,” a story about the Fireburn of 1878.

Queen Asheeba, a well-known storyteller on the island, shared Anansi stories. Anansi is a sly trickster, similar to coyote in Native American tales or Loki in Scandanvian mythology, and the stories carry important lessons for the community. In one of her Anansi stories, the division of four bananas among five people both entertained and taught youngsters counting skills. And a story about a mango tree, which had the audience in stitches, was aimed at teaching folks how to prepare for a hurricane.

“Auntie Janice” Tutein mixed traditional stories with contemporary tales, telling “the real true” story of the three little pigs; only in this version the three characters were brothers who fought constantly over the remote control.

At the other end of the generational spectrum was Shequilla Robinson, a 16-year-old student at St. Croix Education Complex who began storytelling when she was 5. In her stories, which also contained lessons, she showed herself a master of tone and inflection, facial expressions and outsized gestures as she kept the audience laughing. And young performers N’qwanda Williams and Shalisma Williams offered a “Sarah and Addie” skit.

“Folklore at Sunset” was co-sponsored by the museum and Stop The Bleeding, a community group organized to oppose community violence. The group’s founder, Cheryl Francis, said events like Saturday’s can help bring families together. Candia Atwater, the CMCA’s founder, said violence in the community is spinning out of control

“It’s our home,” Atwater said. “In order to keep it our home, please support Stop the Bleeding, the Boys & Girls Club, the Whim Museum, the Botanical Gardens” and other organizations that bring the community together.

In looking for a fitting way to end this story about storytelling, it seems only proper to borrow the closing line heard repeatedly during the evening. So:

The wheel bends

And the story ends.

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