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The Rich Culture of the Virgin Islands

Mention the word “Bamboula” and few Virgin Islanders today will know what you’re talking about. We once did. The Bamboula was an African-derived dance, music and drumming tradition that flourished in the Virgin Islands prior to the 20th century; it is cousin to the “Bomba”, an African-inspired folkloric tradition that still thrives in Puerto Rico.

This tradition “can be traced” to the Congo River region of Africa writes Margot Lieth-Phillip, Ph.D, in the preface of Zoop, Zoop, Zoop: Traditional Music and folklore of St. CroixSt. Thomas and St. John. Some researchers speculate the Bamboula might have also made its way to New Orleans.
But the Bamboula was not merely a form of entertainment. In the book Old Time Masquerading in the Virgin Islands by Robert Nichols, a local Virgin Islander named Chas Emmanuel says: “the bamboula functioned as the eyes and the ears of the society and served both as a local tabloid and scandal sheet rolled into one.”
What became of this art form? Nichols says “strong social pressure” from the colonial establishment led to the decline of the Bamboula as a folkloric expression.
In the following video listen and watch the dance, as these women talk about the history of Bamboula and its role in the struggle for freedom and equality throughout Caribbean. Learn how they keep the Bamboula tradition going, proud to be not only an American but an American Virgin-Islander.
[from Colors, November 2013]

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