The establishment of an official Virgin Islands madras, a fabric customarily using patterned lines or checkers, similar to plaid, was passed Monday by the Senate Committee on Culture, Aging and Historic Preservation and forwarded to the Rules and Judiciary Committee after a 4-3 vote.
Sen. Myron Jackson, one of the sponsors of Bill No. 33-0226, said many may be unaware of what he called the fascinating history of the fabric.
“It goes back to the Indus Valley in India, where the fabric was woven by native Indians from that particular region. It is made in a variety of ways, mostly cotton but also silk is an extension of this fabric. It was also part of the transatlantic slave trade, and prior to that used as trade between Europeans and Africans. And the British are noted for their engagement in this trade. As fabrics were restricted by enslaved Africans and free people of color, they adapted this fabric as an affordable and expressive use,” Jackson said.
Certain patterns were used for an individual’s personal expression and used often for Sunday wear, Jackson said.
“Most recently many of our young people have embraced this cultural fabric as part of their identity,” Jackson said. Then he cited three islands – Guadeloupe, Martinique and Dominica – which have adopted a particular pattern they use to drape their statehouses and formal places of celebration for cultural events.
“This fabric continues to be a part of the fabric of our society,” Jackson said.
The intent of the bill is to establish an official madras that several groups had already collaborated on and presented to the senators during the Monday meeting.
“The mission of this project is to design a madras plaid specific to the U.S. Virgin Islands and have it designated as the official madras for the USVI. The St. Croix Heritage Dancers Inc., a nonprofit organization and the longest standing cultural dance group in the V.I., is creating the V.I. madras in a joint collaboration with Ms. Mary Dema of the Christiansted Community Alliance Group and the textile designer is Ms. Debbie Sun of Debbie Sun Design Studio,” St. Croix Heritage Dancers Vice President Alvin Milligan said. Others also were involved in the collaboration, he said.
The madras displayed for senators took into account the language of the bill, which specified, yellow should represent the official flower of the V.I., red represents strength and love, green the island’s natural resources and production, pink the conch shell and call to freedom, blue the deep sea and transport and discovery, turquoise the natural beauty of the waters of the territory and white the original and traditional dress made of flour sacks.
Milligan said the project was a nostalgic one for him and, “The vision is to have the V.I. madras showcased on all cultural attired dancers and performers at the cultural events and pageants. And to introduce it into contemporary fashion and interior decor.”
Dema, who represented the Christiansted Community Alliance Group, said Sun, the designer of the presented madras, put in a great amount of thought.
“This was not just going out and choosing a plaid and saying that’s the one we are going to have. This thought process was lengthy, and we went through many samples and then when she came up with these colors based on our beauty and bound the four islands, I think everyone was immediately like ‘yes that’s it.’ One of the items I would also like to acknowledge in the plaid itself are the four thin stripes for our four Virgin Islands. So, this has been an incredibly thoughtful process on her part.”
The fourth stripe refers to Water Island, an island which Jackson pointed out has always been under the jurisdiction of the St. Thomas/St. John District, but as a stripe in the madras should be considered a new chapter in the territory’s history.
But not all the senators were convinced the madras lying in front of them should be adopted as the official V.I. madras.
Sens. Jackson, Alicia Barnes, Javan James and Steven Payne Sr. voted to approve the bill and pass it to the Senate Rules Committee, but Sens. Oakland Benta, Dwayne DeGraff and Athneil Thomas voted no.
DeGraff and Benta said they want to see the pattern be taken to the public first to get feedback and have an opportunity to decide with documented input on the colors.
Thomas also called for community input.
“I agree the intent of this bill is long overdue, but I also agree with my colleagues. Let’s involve the community,” he said.
The bill was forwarded to the Rules and Judiciary Committee for further consideration.