An eager crowd of 3,000 gathered when the St. George Village Botanical Garden opened its gates Sunday to celebrate the 22nd annual Mango Melee and marking the garden’s comeback.
Hurricanes Irma and Maria, although daunting, were a memory Sunday. Beryl, whatever it turns out to be, was yet to come.
Surrounded by volunteers and dancers, Executive Director Dewey Hollister gave the call to cut the ribbon and Junie Bomba answered the call with the sound of the conch shell. The event had begun.
The We Deh Yah Quadrille dancers twirled to the music of the Khadijo & Kwabena Collective. Traffic was halted and the rhythm of the music and the dancing resonated throughout Palm Drive.
Two days earlier, Director of Administration and Development Amy Parker DeSorbo encouraged all island residents to attend Mango Melee despite the approach of what was then Hurricane Beryl. (The storm has since fallen apart and entered the Caribbean Sunday as a remnant.)
“Do not let fear of storm take away our community healing,” Parker DeSorbo said. “Even if you can only stay for a few hours, please come out.”
They did. The count was 3,000 folks who heeded the call.
“The 2018 Mango Melee will outdo previous melees, “ promised Parker DeSorbo. “It will be the juiciest event on the island.”
Caribbean Dance Company and Thelma Williams Dance Academy shared their cultural dances with the audiences at the Bodine Center and the East Lawn.
The Great Hall center boasted a live fruit tree display and auction of avocado, mango, guava, jackfruit, sugar apple, sapodilla and many more.
A regular for the garden was the Mango Dis, Mango Dat cooking competition.
DJ Carl mixed musical genres, and later Rebel & Friends Karaoke serenaded in the Bodine Center. DJ Swain entertained most of the afternoon in the Great Hall, East Gallery.
Vendors sold local food and drinks, fabric, home made soaps, jams and honey. Cakes, tarts and breads were also sold.
Full Botanical Bar and Leatherback Brewery were stocked and available in several areas of the garden.
Mahogany trays, clocks and other items were on sale at the Crucian Heritage and Nature Tourism tent. Armed with grants from the Building Arts Institute, Art Place America, Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands and the National Endowment for the Arts, CHANT Executive Director Frandelle Gerard has made it possible for young men in the community to learn the craft of woodworking while making a living wage.
Diane’s Roti Master has cooked and sold her conch, shrimp, chicken, beef, veggie and fish roti’s at cultural events for more than 22 years. Roti lovers were standing in line for her fare.
The Miss Mango Melee Competition was new to the event this year. Contests vied in three categories, and contestants were asked to wear and model a cultural outfit and participate in a short question and answer session. The winners will represent Mango Melee on the garden’s float in parades and other garden events.
First prize for Miss Mini Mango Melee went to 3-year old Estelle Hendrington from St. Croix. Visiting from New York, 8-year old Ayana Nicholas came in first for Miss Mango Melee. Oyoko Loving of St. Croix was crowned Miss Mature Mango Melee.
In the children’s category, 9-year old Peyton Schindler downed four mangoes before any of her competitors to capture first place in the children’s category. Erik Lawaetz Doane finished off eight mangoes to claim his victory as the adult champ in the contest.
Plaza East donated mangoes for the Mango Eating Contest.
“I am happy today that so many people are here and they are happy. I care about people experiencing what we have in this amazing program. This is a culturally significant place,” Hollister said.