British Virgin Islands
Traditional Life
No Frames

Prior to the development the tourist industry beginning with Lawrence Rockefeller's Little Dix Bay in 1964 (see History of the BVI Tourist Industry), the BVI had a agricultural and maritime economy based on cattle, fishing and similar activities.

Noting that the Little Dix Bay resort was built on "some of the finest cattle pasture land in Virgin Gorda Valley," the Chief Minister recalled at the anniversery celebration, that since "Virgin Gorda was a maritime community" and the bay a safe alternative when ground seas were "raging," then a right-of-way was established from the "beach to the hill" for seafarers (see Little Dix Bay Celebrates 35th Anniversery).

Interview with Carl Parsons.
The traditional way of life started disappearing in the 1970's, according to Carl, who partly owns and runs the Brewer's Bay Campground and Bamboo Beach Bar.

This way of life was based on fish, conch, and whelk from the sea. Interestingly, lobster, a current delicacy, was not eaten (similarly, mussels in the US were not regarded as edible, then were given away, and now are a regular menu item).

To make traditional fish traps, birchberry wood is still used although chicken wire has replaced woven bamboo.

Fish Trap
FishTrap.jpg (5667 bytes)
On the right is more wood and wire.

People used cows, goats, pigs and sheep as well as sweet potatoes, yams, corn, beans, cassava and tomatoes for food.

Calabash was used to fashion dishes, lamp shades, and water bottles, which when put in the shade, keeps the water cool.

In traditional cooking, fish was boiled with celery, onion and herbs like thyme, and some of the water was taken and mixed with cream to make a sauce. Butter and cream was gotten from cows, which was let sit in a calabash bowl and became cream. Cow's milk has been replaced by canned milk.

Carl is very knowledgeable and it's worth a visit to the Bamboo Beach Bar and the magnificent Brewer's Bay campground, where nature and tradition are very much revered.

Other Indications of Traditional Life.

Great Carrot Bay still reflects its charm as a fishing village. The North Shore Shell Museum (and restaurant) has an eclectic collection of items related to the sea.

Local Food. Mrs. Scatliffe's, and many other restaurants and eateries, uses the best of the traditional cooking.

Wooden Houses. Predating modern hurricane-resistant techniques based on reinforced concrete and block, these older wooden houses used other, traditional means of protection.

"Across the street [Main Street from Pusser's Outpost], a small wooden building contains a gallery of photographs and paintings. The West-Indian-style structure was once a private dwelling just steps from the shore. You'll notice large posts buried in the ground and bolted to the house at the corners of the building. These were designed to secure the wooden house and prevent it from floating away during periods of high storm tides." ExperienceBVI.com.

Boatbuilding. See Shapes of the Past about the traditional art of wooden boatbuilding in the BVI. The Valient may be the oldest existing sloop in the Caribbean.

Farming. "Joe opens up a barbed wire gate and we enter into a modern-day Garden of Eden. There are guavas, guavaberries, papayas, some sour sop, sugar apples and bananas, my favourite." See Page from the Past about a modern farmer, with paintings by the artist/author, Tortolan Lutai Durant.

Fishermen. A short generation ago, older BVIslanders were growing up in a far different culture. Still using wooden boats and fish traps, many fish in the old ways, now with modern aids like outboard motors where sail sufficed before. And some fishermen have new careers in the tourist economy. Like fisherman Poui, who enjoys catching fish for his own tables at Da Wedding beach bar in Cane Garden Bay.

The Walls. At The Settlement in Anegada, low, stone walls radiating out to the fields that the animals were trained not to go over, are an still-used artifact from an earlier way of life. Many Anegadans still make a living from the sea.

Rum Distilling. The traditional means of distilling rum is still very much in operation in Cane Garden Bay at Callwood's Rum Distillery. Also, the addition of spices to the rum to make Spiced Rum is still practiced.

Christmas Traditions. Another use of  spiced rum, when combined with the fruit of the guavaberry tree, marks a Christmas tradition--guavaberry spirits. See Reflections on an Island Christmas, by Dean Greenaway.

Folk Museum. The Virgin Island Folk Museum is an interesting place to visit in Road Town near the ferry up Main Street.

From Eulogy to Captain Maxwell Anton Lettsome of East End (1908-2001) who "lived a full life.". . . "When he became a young man, Mr. Lettsome worked on Guana Island for many years raising cattle and cultivating sugar cane, which was transported to Cane Garden Bay to be converted into rum and sugar. . . . His sailing and trading took him to countries such as Antigua, St. Kitts, Anguilla, St. Eustatius, Saba, St. Marten, USVI and Puerto Rico. . . . [He] sailed on the schooner Leda P, which was built at Fat Hog’s Bay. Though frequently on sea, when he was home, he farmed at Old Plantation and Spring Ghut. . . . 'he witnessed the far reaching changes in his native island: from donkey and horse to vehicles, from windjammers to fast sailing motor boats, from kites to airplanes.'

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