The British Virgin Islands’ Emancipation Festival Celebrates 60th Anniversary This Summer

A local dancer participates in last year's Emancipation Festival. Credit: BVI Tourism.

The BVI Emancipation Festival is a celebration of both rich cultural history and the local ancestors’ freedom from colonialism. It is a time when BVIslanders return home from around the globe to be greeted with a multifaceted celebration. The August festival has aspects of the Caribbean Carnival, such as the dancing troupes, fantastic costumes and the mako jumbies on stilts. Behind the revelry is a more serious purpose – the celebration of its emancipation from slavery in 1834.

To begin this half-month long event, a festival village is constructed in late July in Road Town. Events include an international Calypso Show and the Miss BVI Pageant (who goes on to compete for Miss Universe) as well as a host of lesser activities. Local food and drink is featured as well as entertainment by local musicians. Things get moving late at night generally and “rise and shine” tramps featuring local bands are held before sunrise.

On the Friday morning before the first Monday in August food booths are set up near the waterfront. The festival of tastes is worth the trip itself.

The cooks, among the island’s best, serve traditional dishes like goat water (goat soup), goat head soup, corned pork, dove pork stewed pork with brown sauce), crab and rice, pigtail or stewed mutton. The main courses are usually accompanied by ground root vegetables (called “provisions”), salad or peas and rice.

The festival culminates with the Grand Parade in August, symbolizing the BVIslander’s unquenchable love of life. The BVI Festival celebration happens on all of the islands, and will be celebrating its 60th anniversary this year when it is held July 28 – August 9.

British Virgin Islands Tourism Board,