Mention the word
"Bamboula" and few Virgin Islanders today will know what you're talking about. We once
did. The Bamboula was an African-derived dance, music and drumming tradition that flourished in the
Virgin Islands prior to the 20th century; it is cousin to the "Bomba,”
an African-inspired folkloric tradition that still thrives in Puerto Rico.
The drummer and
dancer in these photos were members of a Puerto Rican dance company that visited St. Croix during
the late eighties. I photographed them near the Christiansted wharf. While performing, the drummer
chanted praises of the Bamboula.
"can be traced" to the Congo River region of Africa writes Margot Lieth-Phillip, Ph.D, in
the preface of
Zoop, Zoop, Zoop: Traditional Music and folklore of St. Croix,
and St. John. Some researchers speculate the Bamboula might have also made its way to New
I was in my twenties
when I first heard about the Bamboula. I "discovered" it while reading
Redemption, a book by well-known Crucian author and political activist Mario Moorehead.
Moorehead credits the Bamboula for adding spice and zest to the Quadrille, a dance of European
origin that was introduced in the 18th and 19th century. Unlike the Bamboula, the Quadrille is still
performed in the Virgin Islands today on a regular basis.
But the Bamboula was
not merely a form of entertainment. In the book
Old Time Masquerading in the Virgin Islands by Robert Nichols, a local Virgin Islander named
Chas Emmanuel says: "the bamboula functioned as the eyes and the ears of the society and served
both as a local tabloid and scandal sheet rolled into one."
became of this art form? Nichols says "strong
social pressure" from the colonial establishment led to the decline of the Bamboula as a
Interview with legendary Cariso Master, Leona Watson: There
are many references to Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901), the British Monarch, in many cariso songs.
Queen Victoria was often described as being a “dirty, brutish woman” who smelled like a