REMARKS BY HIS EXCELLENCY THE GOVERNOR MR. JOHN S. DUNCAN, OBE
AT THE SALT BREAKING AND GIFTING CEREMONY
Thursday, 24th March, 2016
It gives me a very great pleasure to be able to make some very brief introductory remarks for our ceremony today.
The story of Salt Island, the people who lived here over many years, their response to the tragedy of the sinking of the Royal Mail Ship Rhone nearly 150 years ago, is to my mind a symbol of the values of the indigenous Virgin Islands community:
- Resourcefulness and Self-Reliance
- A Spirit of Community
- Entrepreneurship and Hard Work
- Hospitality and Care for Others in Need
- Integrity and Common Decency
In the space of two generations, the community of the Virgin Islands has seen the population increase fourfold. You have enjoyed unparalleled economic development and moved from being governed by an Administrator to full blown ministerial government under an elected Premier, Cabinet and Governor. Given the pace of these huge changes, it is particularly important to remember the heritage that shaped those core values, because that helps understand what it means to be a Virgin Islander, both for the community itself and for those who want to be part of this community; those who have chosen to make the BVI their home, to live and work here.
It has been a particular pleasure for me as your Governor and the representative of Her Majesty Queen Elisabeth in the Virgin Islands to be part of the effort to revive this unique ceremony, rooted in your oral history. It tells the story of the BVI’s unique link with the British Monarchy and how the compassion and integrity of your fore fathers and mothers in their response to the poor souls who were the victims of the RMS Rhone tragedy so moved Her Majesty Queen Victoria that she transferred the ownership of Salt Island to its inhabitants.
Last year, I presented Her Majesty with the symbolic annual rent of one pound of Salt Island salt (together with my apologies for being a little behind in our rent payments!). Her Majesty was gracious enough to confirm that we might renew this gift on an annual basis.
You will recall that last year we asked Calvin Smith, a descendent of the original Salt Island community, to harvest the salt. We asked one of our talented local artists, Lethelma Thomas, to produce the splendid silk screen printed bag in which the salt was contained.
This year, Calvin was kind enough to harvest the salt again and it will shortly be formally handed over to the Hon Premier by Ms Elcine Durante, another descendant of a Salt Island family. This year, we have asked another renowned artist from the Virgin Islands, Mr Aragorn Dick-Reid, to manufacture the pouch to contain the salt.
This year the colour is purple in recognition of the fact that 2016 is the 90th Birthday of our queen Her Majesty Queen Elisabeth. The screen print that forms the fore piece is taken from a photograph of the late Clementine Smith, BEM harvesting salt. You will also see other signs of the Virgin Islands heritage, including the traditional Virgin Islands sloop in which the Premier and I have our annual sailing race and where so far the Premier is well ahead of the Governor in terms of the number of winning races secured. You will also see in the print local houses, our pristine beaches and our wonderful birdlife.
A heritage ceremony such as this should be inclusive and allow different members of the community to contribute. While I think it is fitting that the descendants of the families of Salt Island should decided among themselves who should have the honour of harvesting and handing over the salt for this symbolic gift, I would like to take this opportunity, given that next year, will be the 150th anniversary of the RMS Rhone sinking, to invite the Honourable Premier and the Minister for Culture Honourable Myron V. Walwyn to consider organising a competition among our many talented local artists for the design of the pouch.
While Her Majesty Queen Victoria may have shown considerable generosity over Crown land, it has to be mentioned that the Government of the time, never at a loss to find ways of increasing government revenue, kept the title to the salt ponds themselves and according to documents I have seen, under the 1904 Government Salt Pond Ordinance the government charged a 30% tax, or one bag in three, to those who harvested the salt, which seems a bit severe. I will bow to advice from the Attorney General and the Financial Secretary as to whether the 1904 Ordinance is still in force!
Tax issues aside, I was very pleased a few weeks ago to join the Premier in welcoming the innovation and entrepreneurship of the descendants of the original Salt Islanders, namely Alex Durante, who as you all know was voted BVI Businesswoman of the year for a range of products including many that make use of the exceptionally fine quality salt that is produced in the ponds before us.
That brings us to today’s ceremony. It was the tradition over many years that the Administrator and subsequently the Governor would officiate over the formal opening of the ponds, known as “The Salt Breaking ceremony”, including the “Starting Gun” volley by the Royal Virgin Islands Police.
I would like to express my particular thanks to Mr Vincent Wheatley, the Sister Islands Coordinator for organising today’s event. From our records, it appears that this ceremony has not been performed since Governor Wallace’s time, in other words, some 40 plus years ago.
As I have said, the Virgin Islands people have travelled a huge distance during those 40 years, socially, economically and politically. There is much to be proud of in your accomplishments. In today’s ceremony the Premier as the elected leader of the Virgin Islands people will be the first to formally receive the gift to Her Majesty from the descendants of the Salt Island families—a symbolic gesture and a reflection of the long road you have travelled.
As the Virgin Islands continues to move forward, it will be important to remember the heritage of these Islands and to protect the unique environment that has created such special places as the one we are celebrating today.
I am particularly pleased that we have been able to revive this ceremony as the beginning to the events in this special year when we will celebrate Her Majesty Queen Elisabeth’s 90th Birthday and the 50th anniversary of her first visit to the Virgin Islands.
Ladies and Gentleman, Thank you