A Madras Vision for The U.S. Virgin Islands Townhall Meeting

Published: Feb 25, 2020

ST. THOMAS – Members of the Committee on Culture, Historic Preservation and Aging chaired by Sen. Myron Jackson held a Town Hall meeting at the Capitol Building on Tuesday in which the public was invited to discuss Bill No. 33-0226: An Act amending Title 1, chapter 7 of the Virgin Islands Code to establish the official madras of the Virgin Islands of the United States.

“Madras is a cultural cloth that has been used in the Virgin Islands for over 300 years. There are various uses for madras because it is an important component to our culture,” said Sen. Jackson. “It is worn as a headwrap, dress or a costume during cultural events. Madras is also used for décor such as tablecloths and is often the attire of cultural dolls.”

The measure seeks to establish the official madras of the U.S. Virgin Islands. The madras is a lightweight woven patterned plaid that is designed with colors such as yellow, white, red, navy blue, pink, green, and turquoise. The colors represent the natural beauty of the Territory.

The reoccurring theme during the Town Hall meeting was that “Madras is a cloth that binds us together.” Debbie Sun, Owner of Debbie Sun Design Studio was the artist who designed the madras in collaboration with the St. Croix Heritage Dancers along with Mary Dema of the Christiansted Community Alliance. Sun indicated that this is the moment to contribute to the culture and celebration of the identity of the Virgin Islands. “This project reflects our past, present, and future. If this legislation is approved, the official madras of the Virgin Islands will be a part of our culture and history for generations to come,” Sun said.

Similarly, Joseph Bess, Doctoral Student at the University of the Virgin Islands said, “Fashion is a direct indication of your culture. The research that I am doing is because I wanted to dig deeper into our culture and have symbolism that represents us. Culture is not just the food, it’s also fashion. Madras is a way that says although our ancestors suffered, we are their descendants and that is beautiful.”

Other panelists included artist Stephanie Chalana Brown and historian Larry Larsen. At a similar Town Hall meeting on St. Croix the day before, Alvin Milligan, St. Croix Heritage Dancers board member and Shamari Haynes, Division of Festivals assistant director and former troupe leader, also shared their support for the bill.

Sen. Marvin Blyden shared his remarks. “Cultural identity is critical to any society. We need to ensure that when we leave this earth, our culture stays intact. The culture of the Virgin Islands is very rich. The madras representing the Territory is beautiful and impressive.”

He was joined in attendance by Senators Javan James, Stedmann Hodge, Athneil “Bobby” Thomas, Oakland Benta, Steven Payne. Senator Alicia Barnes participated in the meeting on St. Croix. A Town Hall meeting is scheduled for St. John for Monday, March 2, 2020 at 5:30 p.m. at the St. John Legislature.

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