Sands of Time: Virgin Gorda’s Rich History
The inviting beaches and welcoming warm waters beckon the weary with rejuvenating powers. Tickling one’s toes in the sand is the primary appeal, but the sands of time have something to offer here as well. After all, this part of the world has an incredibly rich history, much of it lost to time, and yet a great deal still left for visitors to be inspired into wonder and awe.
What has made the island of Virgin Gorda what it is today is the tale of not one but three continents. The original settlers of the region injected the first traces of human culture. Europeans followed in the centuries to come, leaving an indelible mark that shapes the island to this day. And, of course, the African influence has also impacted the makeup of the peoples, the food and music, all the while carrying its own challenging experience that must be as appreciated as any other. All of it is still waiting to be found here, and we have a guide to finding it.
The Arawak peoples were one of the primary groups who originally colonized large portions of the Caribbean region. Virgin Gorda is estimated to have arrived in about 100 B.C., where they dominated until the 15th century, when the Carib tribe came into conflict and supplanted the previous culture. While it hasn’t been easy to learn too much about the first stewards of the tropical paradise, many discoveries throughout the 20th century turned up tantalizing clues about how people lived in this enchanted place all those years before European influence.
While there isn’t much left to actually see of these original peoples, there are plenty of signs of the culture all around. The Arawak likely used Virgin Gorda primarily as a safe harbor for fishing camps. The many fish festivals that dot the calendar echo this age-old tradition. Local museums on neighboring islands such as the Virgin Islands Folk Museum in Road Town, Tortola, exhibit pottery and other artifacts from this time.
From the moment that Christopher Columbus first spotted an island that looked like a portly lady lying on her side, European colonization has left a strong influence on Virgin Gorda. Starting with Spain with Columbus’ voyage of discovery, several nations have left their footprint here, including the Netherlands and most prominently, the United Kingdom. British colonists have undoubtedly had the most significant influence here as is evident in the primary historical sites that the island hosts.
All That Glitters Is Not Gold
One of the primary allures to the island of Virgin Gorda for European colonizers was the abundance of copper on the island. The Arawak themselves left behind copper cookware and weapons, giving early British settlers the incentive to exploit the mines on the island. While the Spanish were the first to tap into these mines, it was a group from Cornwall in England who industrialized the production of copper in the area. Today, you can still visit the remains of the mines in the Copper Mines National Park. Nestled on a seaside perch, the ruins of the original stone masonry stand as a testament to the bygone era.
For the more adventurous, hiking through rugged terrain to the Little Fort National Park will be a rewarding trip. These remains of a Spanish fort still have a few of the original mason walls standing, as well as a small, fortified area. While a little less accessible and perhaps not quite as impactful as the Copper Mines, it’s still worth the trip especially for nature lovers seeking a destination at the end of some lovely forest hiking. And don’t be surprised if it makes you think about classic pirate movies. After all, buccaneer history was made in places like this!
There’s a long history of sugar cane production in the British Virgin Islands, and that means the use of African slaves in a less enlightened time. To this day, you will find the legacy of those days expressed in a much more joyous way. The African influence is seen in people’s faces, in the vibrant and percussive music that is always filling the streets, and in the colorful culinary and clothing traditions found everywhere. The soulfulness of the area’s vibe finds its roots in this history, which visitors enjoy every day.