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2021 Virgin Islands History Month - Bamboula Traditional Dance

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Oral history has it that slaves often practiced the traditional bamboula art form in the “bush.” Bamboula is a dance that originated from Africa and spread throughout the West Indies, South, Central, and North America, and other regions of the Western Hemisphere where Africans were imported as slaves. The bamboula dance is the soul beat of the drum on goatskin, which players pounded with fingers and the heels of the hand to alter the timbre. It is a powerful rhythm sound, transcending you physically and spiritually.

In the West Indies, and wherever the bamboula dance ritual was performed during the colonial period of the West, white planters were afraid of the enslaved Africans’ music. They felt threatened that a slave revolt might occur, impacting the plantation economy. Case in point, on Aug. 8, 1672, Gov. Jorgen Iversen banned bamboula dancing on the island of St. Thomas. Slaves who were caught dancing bamboula risked imprisonment at Fort Christian and a public lashing.

Richard Haagensen, a Danish observer, mentioned the slaves and their dances on the island of St. Croix in a small pamphlet published in 1758, titled Beskrivelse over Eylandet: “Drums sounded in the warm dark night and the jungle came to life again … Here something was happening which the white people did not understand and which they feared … At first the planters laughed at the monotonous music and the violent dances, but deep down they feared that this recreated jungle atmosphere might create rebellion … so they passed numerous laws forbidding these dances.”


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St. Thomas

1834 Kongens Gade, St. Thomas, VI 00802
Phone: 340-774-0100

Curriculum Center:
Mon – Fri:  8AM – 5PM


St. Croix

2133 Hospital Street, Christiansted, St. Croix, VI 00820
Phone: 340-773-1095

Curriculum Center:
Mon – Fri:  8AM – 5PM

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