by Zarah Rose
Did you know that St. John has a month long cultural festival every year celebrating freedom and independence? The festival begins in June with a Panorama; an event featuring local Steel Pan bands playing current hits and old favorites on steel drums. This lineup includes the talented youth on island, St. John's premier steel pan band; The Love City Pan Dragons. Mid-June the celebration continues with a mini “village” of brightly decorated food booths where vendors sell local culinary dishes. The booths are centered around a stage where leading Caribbean soca musicians come from far and wide to lead the dance party till the wee hours of the morning. There is also local talent featured such as Cool Session Brass, R. City and Ah We Band.
This year will be the 171st anniversary marking the official end of slavery in the Virgin Islands, called Emancipation Day and celebrated July 3rd during a program with cultural scholars and activities dedicated to the remembrance of freedom and history of the VI. Also, on this day there is a food fair where local bakers and chefs sell treats and Caribbean dishes.
June 16th there is a Queen competition for best fashion, talent and presentation where young women try out for the title and win prizes. The coronation of Festival Queen happens on the evening of July 3rd. J'ouvert starts at dawn on July 4th and is usually kicked off with a scratch band, utilizing handmade instruments from calabash and gourds. J'ouvert is traditionally “dirty mas” for revelers to dance through the streets following local bands blasting soca and calypso music. Water guns and hoses are sometimes used to rile up the crowds and keep things cooled down. “J'ouvert values the transgressive dirt, while Pretty Mas celebrates the transcendent glitter.” 
Later in the day the annual parade begins with bands, floats and troupes wearing costumes of feathers and sequins and trendy designs while others “masquerade” and dress in traditional regalia to represent different folklore and deities. Another tradition are the appearance of moko jumbies (moko=healer, jumby=spirit), talented dancers on stilts wearing masks and in costume. The end of the festival is marked by fireworks the night of Independence Day (July 4th). J'ouvert began in Trinidad during slavery in conjunction with the beginning of carnival by Africans who were banned from the French masquerade balls, so they held dances where they dressed up and sometimes got to “mock” their oppressors and used this time to pass down stories through dance, music and costume from their original African cultures. The tradition of J'ouvert and Carnival has spread throughout the Caribbean and happens yearly at different times all over the world, wherever large groups of people of African descent and Caribbean people live.
Book your last minute trip and don't miss the festivities this year!