The Afterlives of Coral or The Persistence of Colonial Violence

Mon February 6th 2023, 12:30 - 1:20pm
Event Sponsor
Department of Anthropology
Anthropology Colloquium Room
Building 50, Room 50-51A
Ayana Omilade Flewellen


Mined coral lays at the foundation of colonial architecture on the island of St. Croix in the USVI. These structures, built by Black hands to withstand hurricane-force winds and the brutalities of African enslavement, still stand, scattered across rolling hills, valleys, and urban centers. Across St. Croix, many of these 18th-century structures are either left in ruins or renovated over time for continual use, making encounters with the colonial past a quotidian experience for present-day residents. As a result, linear temporal distinctions of past, present, and future are called into question on St. Croix, where colonial structures act as ruptures in conceptualizations of time and serve as palimpsestual reminders of the past in the present. Since the 2017 commemoration of the centennial transfer of the now U.S. Virgin Islands from Denmark to the United States, cultural politics regarding identity, representations of the past, disfranchisement of Black and Brown populations in the present, and heritage have been at the forefront of public dialogue. Coral as an architectural artifact is the starting point of this presentation. Here coral - via the structures built out of it - is discussed as an “intercultural space created at the crossroads of the novel and the familiar.” This presentation looks at three distinctive encounters with the colonial past mediated through coral, demonstrating the varied ways this organic material ruptures time and demands us to tend to the persistence of colonial violence.