Johny  Skerrit, Cultural elder
Johny Skerrit, Cultural elder

The life of 62-year-old Johnny Skerrit of Woodford Hill has been marked by a steadfast commitment to safeguarding and advancing the cultural traditions of Dominica, culminating in his highly esteemed acknowledgement as the Cultural Elder of 2023.

According to the citation read by Acting Chief Cultural Officer Earlson Matthew at Heritage Day at Woodford Hill on 5 November, Johnny's passion for cultural heritage surfaced at an early age. In 1974, he showcased his talent in the children's Bélé dance, a prelude to Dominica's independence. The following year marked a significant milestone as he clinched the first prize in the children's Bélé category, foreshadowing the remarkable legacy he would go on to create.

In 1977, Johnny's artistic prowess extended to music when he emerged victorious in the Northeast Calypso competition with his captivating persona, "The Mighty I Will Try." However, his commitment to cultural preservation went beyond the realm of entertainment. He founded the Young Thunderbirds Cricket Club in 1977, fostering a sense of community and sportsmanship among the youth of Woodford Hill.

A transformative moment came in 1981 when Johnny transitioned to adult Bélé dancing under the guidance of his grandmother, Octavia Laville. Clinching the bélé title for three consecutive years, he demonstrated his remarkable dancing skills and commitment to passing on his knowledge. Johnny became a mentor, teaching children from across the Northeast, ensuring the cultural flame continued to burn brightly.

On the regional stage

The regional stage beckoned in 1986 when Johnny represented Dominica with the Waitukubuli dance group at the Festave Festival in Guadeloupe, showcasing the island's unique cultural heritage. Two years later, in 1988, Johnny and his Woodford group participated in Fete Pepe Martinique, further promoting Dominica's vibrant cultural traditions.

Woodford Hill became a hub of cultural excellence, especially during the Heritage Day celebrations. Johnny played a pivotal role in organizing and leading creative dance performances, resulting in the Woodford Hill group winning the first prize from 1989 to 1991. In 1991, a mixed group from Woodford Hill represented Dominica at the World Cultural Day Festival in Seychelles, Africa, filling the hearts of Dominicans with pride.

Johnny's generosity and commitment were further highlighted in 1993 when he funded a group exchange with the St. Martin group, taking the Woodford Hill Creative Dancers to more regional stages and fostering cultural and mutual understanding.

In recognition of his outstanding contributions, Johnny Skerrit was honoured with the E.O. LeBlanc trophy in the '90s, a testament to his unwavering commitment to preserving Dominica's culture. His dedication extended to serving his community as a member of the Woodford Hill Village Council for three years and as a leaf spot control officer with the Dominica Banana Marketing Corporation (DBMC).

Johnny's commitment to his Catholic faith was evident as he expressed his spirituality through rhythmic drumming, adding a spiritual dimension to his cultural expressions. His generosity of spirit extended to mentoring young talents, fostering the next generation of cultural ambassadors.

Even after migrating in 1999, Johnny's love for his roots brought him back to Woodford Hill. He continues actively contributing to the cultural landscape, sharing his expertise and knowledge. His involvement in various Heritage Day celebrations around Dominica highlights his enduring commitment to preserving Dominica's cultural heritage. To help the youth

The 2023 Cultural Elder expressed gratitude and a renewed commitment to promoting Dominica's rich heritage while pledging to play a pivotal role in empowering the island's youth.

"I am deeply honoured to be recognized as Cultural Elder 2023," Johnny began, his eyes reflecting a lifetime of dedication. "This acknowledgement is not just a personal achievement but a celebration of the vibrant cultural heritage that defines us as Dominicans."

He further emphasized his unwavering commitment to the preservation of Dominica's rich heritage. "Our cultural identity is a treasure that must be cherished and passed down through generations. I will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that our traditions, music, and dance remain vibrant and alive," he declared.

Acknowledging the challenges faced by the youth in the modern era, Johnny averred that it is crucial that we find ways to make our cultural traditions relevant and engaging for the younger generation.

Johnny Skerrit's legacy is not just about dance; it's a story of unwavering dedication, passion, and a deep love for his homeland. His life journey inspires future generations, reminding them of the importance of preserving and cherishing their cultural heritage.

-By Ronalda Luke