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A different way of life and death

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If one was feeling adventurous, they would jump into the water on South Shore in Bermuda, point their compass due south and head out to open sea.

A mere 1,000 miles later, they would find themselves on the pristine shores of our sister island of Tortola. With Tortola, an island of approximately 30,000 persons, being the main island of the British Virgin Islands.

I am not yet that adventurous. As such, I took the easy way and jumped on three flights — Bermuda-New York, New York-Puerto Rico, overnight in Puerto Rico, then on to Tortola.

Tortola is the land of my mother's birth and we often travel here to spend time with our friends and family. On this trip, we came to attend the home-going service of my great-aunt, Daisy Braithwaite, who lived to see the ripe age of 96.

“Ms Daisy”, as she was most commonly known, raised not only her own biological children but countless other children, including my mother and aunts, at her home on Harrigan Hill, which overlooks Road Town, the capital of BVI.

Perhaps fittingly, her home was the de facto “Government House” of Harrigan Hill, where all matters of the surrounding community were discussed and decided upon. Essentially, Ms Daisy either gave her blessing or correction to anything of significance.

Ms Daisy was an astute businesswoman, homemaker, devout Methodist and outstanding pillar of the community.

The church service was held at the Sea Cow's Bay Methodist Church becauses the Road Town Methodist Church had been badly damaged during Hurricane Irma on September 6, 2017.

Every one of the near-700 seats was filled, with many standing in the foyer.

Included in the congregation were most of the parliamentarians, or district representatives as they are called in BVI, from both sides of the aisle, including the Premier, Orlando Smith.

I was honoured to be one of her pallbearers in and out of church and at the burial ground. Indeed, she had carried untold many for untold generations, so for me to carry her was the highlight of my trip.

In the BVI, the funeral traditions differ slightly from our own in Bermuda in the following ways:

• Family members wear a ribbon tied to their left arm

• Pallbearers wear white gloves

• Graves are generally built for no more than one or two persons in a “vault” style

• After the casket is lowered into the grave and settles, the gloves and ribbons are collected and thrown in

• The grave is then sealed by a team of masons, who mix and pour concrete on top of plywood and reinforcement rod placed on the walls of the grave

Perhaps what is most unique about this part of the service is that the entire family and congregation remain at the burial ground singing countless hymns, accompanied by a full band of keyboardist, guitarist and tambourines.

Without a doubt, this is where and when you feel the true spirits, pun intended, of Virgin Islanders rise.

Let's think about it for a minute: generations upon generation of people have been laid to rest at these burial grounds, and a full gospel concert is going on in their presence for more than one hour. You would have to be there to experience the essence of seeing people not in mourning but in full celebratory mode, rejoicing that they are among their kin, and reflecting on life and dancing with their ancestors.

I can best summarise what I saw and felt by saying that BVI may have been extensively damaged during Hurricane Irma, but the spirit and resolve of the people has only strengthened.

I know this without a doubt because, while at the burial grounds, I heard the voices of Ms Daisy and my elders.

Christopher Famous is the government MP for Devonshire East (Constituency 11). You can reach him at WhatsApp on 599-0901 or e-mail at cfamous@plp.bm

Paying respects: a full band provides the music to awaken the elders
Paying respects: mourners wear purple ribbons on their arms
Paying respects: graves are covered while the congregation conducts a gospel concert

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Published March 23, 2018 at 9:00 am (Updated March 22, 2018 at 10:51 pm)

A different way of life and death

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