Caleel Benjamin of the BVI Elite Skydancers at a recent BVI Festival.


Special to The Daily News

TORTOLA — The British Virgin Islands Festival is on.

Activities, however, will be scaled back and delayed by a week as Tropical Storm Isaias forced organizers to postpone the food fair planned for today at the Cyril B. Romney Pier Park and the farmer’s market on Saturday in Carrot Bay.

This year’s theme, “BVI Festival 2020: Be Fully Free: Emancipate Yourself from Mental Slavery as we Celebrate our Virgin Islands History” with the sub-theme “Our Cultural Heritage in the Mix as BVI Festival Celebrates its 66” will focus on the island’s culture.

“COVID-19 has provided us with the opportunity to be more creative, to have more focus on our local arts and culture and to make sure our heritage is properly recognized,” Education and Culture Minister Natalio Wheatley said in announcing the six-day event in the House of Assembly. “As a result of the economic impact of COVID-19, we cannot spend the hundreds of thousands of dollars that we usually spend ‘feting.’ We will not be prancing in the street on August Monday, but we now have the opportunity to reflect on how and why we celebrate our Festival.”

Wheatley said festival activities will consist of both virtual and physical events observing all COVID-19 social distancing and sanitization protocols.

While the Cultural Food Fair has been moved to Aug 7, there will be a virtual opening ceremony at 6 tonight on the V.I. Festival and Fairs’ Facebook page. Tonight will also feature a Virtual Poetry Slam at the Eileene Parsons Auditorium, beginning at 7. So far organizers have 15 entries.

Event coordinator Sharia DeCastro said she wanted to give poets a chance to artistically express themselves about the theme.

As part of the event, all churches territorywide have been asked to hold emancipation services on Sunday. The service at the Long Look Methodist Church will tell the story of the Nottingham Estate free people, who were manumitted in 1776. A Virtual Gospel Explosion with Kendra, Onekye, Jovan Cline, Dwight Hutchinson, Brent Hoyte and others will close out Sunday evening.

A virtual VI Soca Showcase is planned for Monday and a virtual Calypso Review on Tuesday.

East End Long Look Festival Committee Chairperson Sandra Potter Warrican said Wednesday’s Festival of Culture and Praise is a celebration of the rich and diverse history of the Seventh and Eight Districts, which encompasses East End and Long Look.

“While other districts have activities they’ll celebrate, we focus on what happened in Long Look at the Nottingham Estate, being the first free plantation — some say in the Western Hemisphere — but we can claim it as the first free plantation in the Virgin Islands,” she said. “We do that through a program of songs, skits, dance —anything cultural that speaks to the rich heritage and legacy.”

According to Warrican, there will also be a reading of the manumission letter, “which told the slaves that they were indeed free and the estate letter, which told them the estate had been given to them.”

Wheatley praised the planned activities, expressing his excitement that the festival will go on.

“We cannot allow COVID-19 to rob us of our pride as a people,” he said. “We must lift our hands and voices and give thanks to God for his many blessings. We have so much to be thankful for.”