Aileen Burton: It is my responsibility to pass on the knowledge
A cultural stalwart, committed to preserving and passing on Dominica's traditional wear, is continuing to educate the public whenever the opportunity arises.
Aileen Burton, a registered nurse, midwife, and nursing administrator by profession, is renowned for her contribution to the cultural sector.
She told The Sun her curiosity and love for national wear started at a young age.
"My mother belonged to the Social League of Catholic Women and every year there was a children's carnival party where we dressed up in a Jip/Chimiz, Dwiyet, or other costumes. Often, I was in a Juipe. At age five I had a Dwiyet," Aileen said.
Her immediate community also influenced her. "Irenie Peltier lived up Cork Street, and she was always dressed in Dwiyet for special occasions."
Aileen had an aunt who ran carnival with the Dwiyet, her parents attended Samdi Gwa balls in national wear, and a sister belonged to Mrs. Caudeiron's dance group.
Aileen admits: "I think I am the only one in the family who has this as a passion."
She eventually worked as a research and development officer at the Cultural Division.
"As cultural officers, we participated in everything. There were officers responsible for initiating certain events, but all officers helped," Aileen said.
During her ten years at the Cultural Division, Burton produced a book on the traditional dresses of Dominica, which she believes can and should be used to inform the youth about the country's national wear.
"I wrote it as passion. I felt there was a need so I took the opportunity to write about the two dresses: the Jip/Chimiz and Dwiyet. I also included the outfits for the men," she said.
Burton continued her love for culture outside of work, becoming a founding member and president of the Roseau Cultural Group in 1990.
"We initiated a lot of things during that time. We introduced Fete Ti Dou Dou. I also did a head tying video. I have tried my best to transfer my knowledge to the younger generation. As a retiree, I feel this is my responsibility," Burton said.
Additionally, Aileen shared her nursing skills where possible. During her stint at the Dominica National Council of Women, she "initiated and coordinated the first formal course on 'Carers of the Elderly'".
"It was successful and some participants pursued nursing as a profession," Burton said.
Over the years, Aileen has been awarded Cultural Custodian by the Roseau Cultural Group, Cultural Icon by St. Luke's Primary School and ADNEXUS, New Jersey, and the Golden Drum Award in 2018.
Burton's tenure with the Cultural Division ended in 2003. She then migrated to Guadeloupe where she worked as a palliative nurse until retiring in 2015.
Despite being retired from the medical field, Aileen gives back to Dominica whenever she can.
"Mrs. Debbie Shillingford was always interested in making the Dwiyet. We had a workshop in January, one in May, and will have another later in the year. I work with her and show the participants how to tie the head and construct the Dwiyet," she said.
The former research and development officer opines that there needs to be better record keeping of the country's cultural traditions.
"There is a lot more documentation that we need to do and it needs to be made more public," she said. "I don't know how we do not have special programmes (on different media platforms) for those things."
While acknowledging the creative styles seen during the Creole season, the correct wearing of the Dwiyet is close to Aileen's heart.
"What is most important is keeping the authenticity of the Dwiyet and the Jip/Chimiz. First of all, it is something to be very proud of as it was created by women of colour."
As regards her future plans, Burton hopes to produce two children's books that can be used as a tool in schools to guide youth on how to construct and don the national wear.