Attending the Annaberg Folk Life Festival had me thinking about local culture and the importance of its preservation. That led me to remember a conversation I had some years ago with Ivan Chinnery of Jost Van Dyke.
Ivan and I were working on a book about Jost Van Dyke, which Foxy and Tessa’s daughter, Justine, jokingly said would be the world’s shortest book. I got the joke, but really that wouldn’t have been the case. Although it has not yet been published, we had collected quite a bit of information, including history, backtime culture and interviews.
At one point, concerned about who would be the potential audience for the book, I turned to Ivan and asked, “why are we writing this book?”
Ivan though for a few moments, pointed to a papaya tree full of ripe and ripening papayas and replied, “we’re writing it so that one day, when your son and my son are walking down this path and come to this tree and your son asks mine, ‘what’s that?’ my son doesn’t answer, ‘I don’t know.’”
Ivan’s Stress Free Bar and White Bay Campground’s 20th Anniversary Celebration
White Bay, Jost Van Dyke, BVI Ivan Chinnery and friends will be celebration the 20th anniversary of Ivan’s Stree Free Bar and White Bay Campground today. There will be food, drinks and music performed by the Fiddle and Chris Carsel.
White Bay, Jost Van Dyke, BVI
Yesterday I headed over to Jost Van Dyke, carrying with me two old friends, whom I haven’t seen in many years, and a copy of an book given to me by Joe Jackson, a book of photos of the Virgin Islands published in 1970, several of which were taken in Jost Van Dyke.
The mission of the day, besides just having a good time and enjoying a lobster dinner over at Abe’s in Little harbor, was to try to take photographs from same positions as the 1970 photographer and present them side by side. Images changed only by some 38 years of time. (I was fairly successful and am working on a blog presentation of these photos – soon come)
The trip turned nostalgic as I presented the book to the Jost Van Dyke natives and residents all of whom were fascinated with the old studies of Jost Van Dyke. My friend, Steve Coakley, took us in his taxi to some of the spots that I need to access.
We drove up the road to the west of Great Harbour for one of the locations, and Steve decided to continue over the ridge and down into White Bay to check out Ivan at the campground. Heading down into the valley I shot the above photo of White Bay, which brought back memories of my first visit to that bay back in the same year that our book was published, 1970.
White Bay Nostalgia
My girlfriend at the time and I were over at Foxy’s when we first heard about the beautiful beach just over the hill to the west. We headed up the rugged jeep trail on the western side of Great Harbour, in the bright morning sunshine. At the top of the hill, a narrow shaded footpath led down through thick bush into the next bay. At the bottom of the trail there was a small opening through a thicket of sea grape trees. We stepped through and were greated by one of the most magnificent sights I have ever experienced. This long pristine white sand beach, backed by coconut palms and sea grapes was totally untouched. Not a soul or a house could be seen anywhere. The waters within the bay were crystal clear, with the characteristic mix of blues found in our shallow indented bays. Not far offshore were the reddish tints created by the coral reef that protected the bay from the open sea.
The beach extended to a rocky outcropping around which was another stretch of coral sand beach. We had passed through a portal into a tropical paradise more beautiful and romantic than even the imagination could conjur up.
I told Steve this story and he told me that he, although born and bred on Jost van Dyke, had the same feeling of awe when he first encountered that beach lying beyond the opening in the sea grape trees.
White Bay Today
Today, White Bay, is not quite the same. It’s still beautiful, but fairly well developed. Whereas a sailing publication advised mariners that there was swinging room behind the reef within the two bays for two or three vessels and if you encountered that many you were advised to head back to Great Harbor and anchor there, today that concept is a joke. In addition to the many, many more than three vessels one can find at any given time at anchor in the bay, mini cruise ships such as the five masted Club Med often anchor just outside the reef ferrying passengers back and forth to the shore. There are now bars and restaurants, campgrounds and guest houses and villas. In general it’s a bustling party atmosphere, still cool, just very different.
The above is a scan of a post card featuring Foxy’s Model Boat Race,” which came before the prime event, Foxy’s Wooden Boat Race,” a happening so popular and well known that it was featured on an official British Virgin Islands stamp
The young man with the beard is Ivan Chinnery, now proprietor of the Stress Free Bar and Local Flavour Campground on White Bay, Jost Van Dyke.
There’s nothing formal about Ivan’s establishment, but it’s oozing with charm and local flavor. Ivan, who I’m proud to call a close long-time friend, is one of the nicest guys, you’ll ever have the pleasure to meet. The bar and campground is frequented by in-the -know-sailors, natives, weekenders from St. John and campers from just about anywhere.
Ivan sings and plays the guitar and on many nights there are impromptu jam sessions, which every once and a while may include such celebrities as Kenny Chesney and Keith Richards.
Once upon a time I was planning on writing an Off the Beaten Track type book about Jost Van Dyke. For some reason or another the project never got off the ground – maybe some day – but going over my notes I discovered some interviews with Ivan dealing with his life and the backtime culture of the island.
For those of you who might be interested I now present this unedited collection of notes:
Interview with Ivan Chinnery 10/1/94
My name is Ivan Chinnery and I was born here March 27, 1943.
I have three brothers Joseph, Albert and Rudy. I have two sisters Evelyn and Ivy, Evelyn Sherman and Ivy Moses. My mother is Sarah Matilda Graham Chinnery. She farmed all her life.
This was the way of life for me that came to be around 1950. In those days the school population was 95 students. The Methodist Church in Great Harbour was used weekdays as a school. The highest grade was seven standard. There was no high school. That was it, you got a certificate, a graduation certificate, from seven standard and that was it.
Population of the island was around 600. There were two teachers. One of the teachers was my Godmother. She was from Batson Bay, above Sidney in Little Harbor. She liked to ring my ear, and she’d pinch you anywhere.
In those days our industries were farming and fishing.
Four or five men would get together and work one man’s cultivation. They would leave about 6:30 A.M. The wives would prepare the breakfast. Some of the wives who could bring it would bring it. Other than that the man who the work belonged to would go back to the house and bring the breakfast right on the job. And we would put in a good hardy days work. So when we finish cutting the pasture, the woods, we have what we call instant cultivation. And if you’re going to plant, when your turn come back again, then we would terrace. Then all the man would have to do is put his seeds, his seedlings, slips and all that in and instant garden going! That’s self help and cooperation that we had in those days. It was an extension of the way life used to be, because that is the way the people before us survived.
There were as many as eight hundred cows here. Princess Alexandrine Sewer owned over 100 head. Christian Callwood, Foxy’s father, owned about 100 head.
There was a trade in agriculture between the Islands. Agents from Tortola and Jost Van Dyke would buy pigs, cows, goats, potatoes, tomatoes, yams, pineapples, mangos, maubi bark, charcoal – you name it. They would load up their Tortola sloops and sail for St. Thomas, which had a booming economy in those days.
And we are talking about main culture men. Farmers, fisherman, Ezikiel Chinnery, Herman Chinnery, Christian Callwood, Ben Sewer and Abraham Millener, Princess Alexandrine Sewer’s husband.
In those days there was no rope. whist, guard whist like that which grows in St. John. You would collect them for days on the dark moon. Twist three till you get to the end of one strand and then tie a knot. Then tie another and keep weaving till you have maybe 35 fathoms. The fish pots were made of whist. We would sometimes mix the whist with birch sticks. The traps would be weighted down with two stones. We didn’t have fish trap buoys then. When someone would go to St. Thomas, and they had a friend with WAPA, they would get old telephone poles and cut them and then quarter them and carve a neck to tie up to. They would last about six months and then they would get heavy. Then you would rotate them and put the old one in the sun to dry, and it would get light again.
In those days when we would catch lobster. We would break their backs with a stick and put them in the pots for bait. The butterfish, hind, oldwife and grouper that they attracted to the lobster were much more desirable then. Later when there was a good market for lobster, we would catch lobsters. When I was young there was no diving, as there was no diving glasses. We would hunt lobsters at night in the shallows. We used a coconut stalk and burn it, and have one ready when that one went out. It was very bight, and the lobsters would be attracted to it. We used a forked stick to pin the lobsters, and then someone would put them in a crocus sack.
Some of the men were farmers, and they would never go out in boats, but they would fish from the land. They would chum with soldier crabs pounded up with sand. The lobsters would come up and eat the chum and they would be able to catch them on hook and line. You had to pull them in fast as the lobster could file the hook and you would lose it.
A Hunting Story
It was winter, and the ground sea was so strong that you could hear it pound the cliffs on the north side. Enrique George was out on the north shore hunting goats with his two dogs. He didn’t return.
The next day we organized a search party and radioed Tortola for help. The police from Tortola found his shoes on Mutton rock. He probably took off his shoes for better footing when he went down with his dog after the goat. One of the dogs was also missing. A great wave from the ground sea must have washed him into the sea from the cliffs high above the north shore.
Walk to Mill Round with Ivan Chinnery 10/6/94
We meet Ivan at seven AM by Foxy’s. It’s quiet and people are sweeping up and starting their day. Sand flies; Skin so Soft works against them! Ceddy is there. Ivan’s daughter comes down the hill to go to school. The trail starts at the western end of Great Harbor west of Rudy’s Place. A lady is calling her goats and they come. Everyone is friendly.
This trail has been here since the days of slavery. It has been called Plantation Road. This is the Plantation Road that leads us over to Mill Round, one of the old mills where they used to process the sugar cane into sugar. So that’s where we’re headed now.
We pass an overlook. There we see a Maubi tree which has been totally stripped of its bark for the making of Maubi. This, (Ivan tells us) is the wrong way to get the bark. This will kill the tree. If the tree was cut back and the bark removed from the cut back pieces, the tree would live. It would be even more prolific in the production of new branches, and there would be even more bark for the Maubi.
Nearby is a Turpentine tree with a hollowed out area. There is a active beehive in the hollow. Ivan see’s some whist vine.
Remember I was talking to you about how line for fish pots was made. We take three of them together, and then we start twisting or lapping them over each other. Firstly we got to put a stop. These are straight veined. We twist this one to prevent breaking and tie a knot as a stop. After we make that we start to twist. When we get to the end of the shortest one we do when we make another stop for a rejoining. The stop also helps you to pull up the trap by giving you a good hold, that’s extra. We knot the new one and start again. And we will continue with that process until we get to about 210 feet or 35 fathoms. That was the average amount of line needed to set the fish traps.
To make the trap itself we split the whist down the middle. We usually get a big piece of sail canvas and put it on our knee. Then we get a good sharp knife and spilt the whist, and take the bark off the other side. Now we can commence to start weaving the fish trap. I don’t make them, but this will give you an idea about how it’s done. One of my brother makes them. As you can see there is mesh number one. This type of fish trap will catch more fish then the modern kind made of rebar and tying wire. Number one, it’s natural. Number two it sends off a natural fragrance which attracts them.
That rock we call it Sarah Rock. That entire mountain, we call it Hatchet Hill. Sarah rock up on top Hatchet Hill. Sarah is my mother’s name. See here where you see this piece of fence. She used to raise lots of goats. She is retired now and she’s ill. My mother farmed all her life. She was a farmer, one of the strongest farmers on this island, you know, and being a woman! She farmed all her life. She farmed from cows to goats… Come over here I’ll show you. Her last farming area was on the mountain, on the left ridge, up there. (He points to the ridge top way up on the mountain about 800 feet high.)
Look way up there in the valley to the right. That’s my farm you’re looking at up there. You see the huge trees up in the middle with the trail to the left. I scooped that out of the forest and made my farm. Those are avocados and mangos.
There used to be about 100 head of cows on the island. Now there’s only a few. Modern technology wiped everything out. The Pueblo the Grand Union the poli – tricks and the hypocrites. Now they can bring their frozen cows in from Miami. Little Jost Van Dyke and little Tortola are threats to their marketing thing. The cows got to go to the veterinarian now because they claim they got the fever. We’ve been eating them for centuries and all of a sudden the modern business come in and something is wrong.
(We come to Mill Round)
That structure you see is part of the old sugar mill. Welcome to Mill Round. We are going inside and we’ll do a little exploring. All this stuff was brought in by sea. The mortar was made from sand, coral rock water and molasses. You notice these bricks they come from England. There are three types, red, white and these with charcoal in them.
From here we can get a good look at the Atlantic out there. That island is Tobago and that there is North Side Bay.
Let me tell you about the church. The original church was made out of wood. It was blown down by the hurricane of 1924. Part of the roof was blown to St. John on the north shore. After that they built a new church in 1925. The year is engraved right there on the face of the church.
And that’s where I got my schooling, in that church. It was Methodist. John Wesley he move in. Methodism took over. That is our dominant religion. So that was a church and a school since 1925, until about the early 1970’s when the government built us a school.
After slavery the landowners gave the land to the people and went back to England. People survived by farming and fishing. All these hills were cultivated either for the grazing of animals or the raising of crops. In those days a lot of rain used to fall.
A lot of charcoal was made up here. You had to carry down charcoal on your back in crocus bags. Three or four five gallon pails will fit in one bag. They have what they call a cahtah. You know what a cahtah is? You get a towel and you twist it around like a wreath and then you use it for a padding. You put it on your shoulder and your head and then you put the charcoal bag on that. If you have a donkey, the donkey will carry two crocus bags at a time.
1975 I start my farm. You won’t believe the huge avocado and mango trees that are up there. Some grafted some from seed. My biggest mango weighed four pounds. There ain’t no way you could eat one. If you eat one, you don’t want no more, and you rest man! When I carry one of those size home, it shares for my family my wife and two girls. Four pounds, four people. It’s a hybrid from Puerto Rico. I got it from my good friend, John Gibney.
I have this one tree. She’s a Vietnamese mango. It’s from John. When they come and when I take them by Foxy’s, Foxy bar will buy any amount. It makes a great mango drink. Because there’s no hairs no fuzz, and the blender just melts them up. Oh man, you add a little rum, a little touch of the coconut, um! Nothing’ sweeter, nothing’ more delicious!”
(We walk by the well in Great Harbor. It’s surrounded by black rock and looks very old.) As you can see this is one of our original wells. This been here for 100s of years. It’s still intact. And that is spring water. Fresh water. Nice tasting water. If I had a bucket I’d drink some right now. It has all of the minerals.
(About the campground in White Bay) Actually I started clearing the grounds for this project in November 1991 and it took me about a year of landscaping, cutting and digging roots and burning. You had to use a pick ax for all these roots. After that year it took me another year to actually construct the buildings. I opened in February 1993.
So far people have been liking us, man. People like the idea of a campground here in White Bay on the beach. To me, my whole idea, my picture, was just seeing a nice place that everybody can come and enjoy right here. White Bay is the perfect place for all, all the people, nothing private. Everybody could come here. I’m the proprietor, and we’re going to make sure maintain it and we’re going to keep it nice for everybody to come and really enjoy the best of it. Ain’t no it’s my place, and you can’t swim here and you can’t swim there. It don’t matter. So here I am, and so far everybody loves this place. When I started out, I started out with two little huts and two tents and now I have six cabins and one tent. If you want to come and bring your own tent, we have a bare sight for you. Then we have toilets, showers; we have a kitchen where you can prepare your own food.
I spend nine and a half years in the service. Part of my military experience was being able to be stationed in Hawaii. When I went over there, I took a look at the pineapple fields and it really inspired me. I said, hey man this place is warm and look how much pineapples are growing here. It just really give me a spark. I can be successful at growing pineapples at home. When I go home, I can open up my pineapple farm. That is where I really get my whole insight from; just looking at the Dole pineapple farms over there. It was really inspiring to me. So after I came back in 1975, then I started to open up some lands that my family owned. It was about eight of us all together. Each of us had our own individual plots. From Foxy to Aisha to Junie or Herman to Ali Baba, myself, Raffy and maybe a couple of others. I can’t leave out Mr. Etien, Etien Chinnery, I really look up to him, he’s been farming over fifty, sixty years he’s still farming. So far twenty years now I’m in the business of farming. I’ve grown about 3000 pineapples as well as banana, avocados, guavaberry, guava, mangos, grapefruit, limes, soursop, sugar apples I got quite a variety of different fruits. After all of these things start coming, and it was more than I could eat, and I started selling them in the street. Then I found out a way that I could have my own place. I leased the land for Nature Basket from the government. My wife runs it, and I keep it supplied. So far it’s been working
This year 1994 is the most serious drought I’ve seen since I’ve been born. It was dry for almost eight months, no rain. Now in September we had quite a bit of rain, but its hold off now.
Jost Van Dyke was a stop on Princess Alexandria of England’s State visit to the Caribbean. When she arrived on Jost Van Dyke with her secret service and retinue, there was a large banner over the dock at Great Harbour welcoming her. As she was walking west down the beach road toward Rudy, she stopped all of a sudden around the location of the Methodist Church. It was as if a spirit had hit her; the relaxed and comfortable, at home, feeling of Jost Van Dyke. She stopped and she took off her shoes. They were golden shoes. She continued on her way barefoot. At the end of Great Harbour the well organized plan was for her to turn around and go back to the dock and continue on her way. The princess bolted from her secret service people and bodyguards. She explained that she was not ready to leave. She wanted to buy some local pastry. She went to Miss Christine’s bakery, which was down by Rudy in those days, and she went inside and got some coconut cake, and when she was ready she bid a warm and genuine goodbye to the people of Jost Van Dyke. In the years following her visit she has written several letters thanking the citizens of Jost Van Dyke for there hospitality. The princess has said that her visit to the small island of Jost Van Dyke was the absolute highlight of her Caribbean visit.
All about St John in the beautiful US Virgin Islands (USVI) American Paradise