The re-enactment of the Fireburn of 1878 in the town of Frederiksted was performed on October 1, 2006 to commemorate what is known as Contract Day. Contract Day, October 1 of each year, was the day, post-slavery, that a laborer could move from one Estate to the other, thereby signing on with another plantation owner.
In the year 1878, some who wanted to emigrate back to the islands they originally came from were barred from doing so. Dissatisfaction with the contracted payment price for field labor created an action by the field laborers which resulted in the burning down a good portion of Frederiksted Town. The conflagration which resulted was begun by, as we now know, four Queens of the Fire Burn. Fourteen other laborers were hanged for the action. Queen Mary was the lead Queen. There was also Queen Agnes and Queen Matilda and Bottom Belly. As it was illegal to hang women, the Queens were incarcerated in Denmark and after many years were released back to St. Croix where they lived out the rest of their lives. This event re-enacts the trouble leading up to the fire and the lit torches symbolize the fire itself.
Night fell and the re-enactment was to begin, cars began to crowd around the United Caribbean Association's (UCA's)headquarters. With Reggae music filling the air, the crowd began to form and take their seats before the stage area for the play given by the United Caribbean Association's Playhouse Players. After the chairs were full, people were still arriving and standing near, so as not to miss the action.
Small groups of attendees were engaged in conversation about the politics of the day. Politics being a staple of Crucian society.
And then, the conchshell was blown to announce the beginning of the re-enactment.
First, there was a narrative given by Mario Moorhead on the historical persective of the event on Contract Day 1878. This background was provided to educate the crowd as to what they were witnessing and to elucidate facts about the history of the island that have remained in the shadows for far too long.
And then with another blast on the conchshell, the play was started.
The narrator (Sister Rita) opened the re-telling before the set designed by Rameses Bruce. We begin with a market scene. Mary Thomas (Sister Wala) and Mathilda (Sister Ashiba) are selling their ground provisions. Their discussion is about the unfair wages being received and being anticipated at the next Contract Day.
After the conchshell is blown again, we witness another scene. This time in a Cane Piece (canefield) two women tell Queenie's story of lost sleep due to the sickness of a child. The doctor attending and the high cost of care.
The conchshell announces the change of scene, and we are whisked away to Estate La Grange where Jacqueline's (Sister Natakie)twins are celebrating their Christening. The invited ladies present are Agnes (Sister Rita), Comsie (Sister Becky), Gustina (Sister Sunshine), Boniface (Sister Bridgette), Maya, (Sister Iris), Katrina (Sister Shalima), Mary (Sister Wala), and Matilda (Sister Ashiba).
At the celebration, the ladies got to talking about conditions in the fields and wages. Some talked about wanting to go home to their own island but being kept on St. Croix because of no boats leaving, others talked about the unwanted advances of the 'Manja' (Manager)and his unfair field work practices. Many talked about not being free even though they had been freed.
And the talks went on into the early evening.
After another call on the conchshell, we are on the Good Hope Bayside on a Saturday morning. Durant (Brother Kiju) and Meyers (Senator Terrence 'Positive' Nelson) are fishing in their pussa (boat). They talk about the conditions of work and their upcoming expectations for the coming year. They also talk about the plans in place for the near future.
The conchshell blows once more. It is daybreak on October 1, 1878. Mary Thomas is rising and preparing her meal of roast saltfish and sweet potato on the coalpot.
She gets an unexpected visit from Katrina who tells her that the revolt is set. That it would happen that day. Mary and Katrina mull over the reasons and timetable.
They discuss the pros and cons.
It is decided and now the action begins....Mary finds that she has been so engrossed in the discussion that she has burned her precious breakfast!
The conch shell blows, once more, for a long blast, calling the people to action.
And the people arm themselves with torches. Traditionally, this torch was made of carita wood stuck onto a stick which was then called a flambo. Another torch was made of cane trash, which burned very well, bound to a stick with old cloth or green vines.
A community united and liberated by fire.
The torchlight march through town was lead by a cariso type band, comprised of drums and conch shells. This would have been similar to the type of band around in 1878.
And so the march is organized and proceeds through the town. The crowd moves from Customs House Square crossing King Street and turning onto Queen Street. They follow the street to its end at Fisher Street and turn West on Fisher Street and then North on King Street and walk the length of the street back to the UCA headquarters.
The march concludes with final blasts of the conchshell. Even the youth are willing to get into the spirit of blowing the shell.
At the end, all were invited to share in the burning of the ills of the society. Casting one's anxieties, fears, concerns and troubles on the fire cleanses one's mind for a new beginning, a clear path and a bright future.
At the end, all were invited to share in the burning of the ills of the society. Casting one's anxieties, fears, concerns and troubles on the fire cleanses one's mind for a new beginning, a clear path and a bright future.
At the end, all were invited to share in the burning of the ills of the society. Casting one's anxieties, fears, concerns and troubles on the fire cleanses one's mind for a new beginning, a clear path and a bright future.
The Best of St. Croix
Fireburn Re-Enactment 2006