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Three Vie for Title of Carnival Queen

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Feb. 23, 2008 — For the past 56 years, the St. Thomas Carnival Queen competition has given some of the territory's finest young women the chance to showcase their talents and achievements, speakers said Friday evening, as this year's contestants were announced at the Marriott Frenchman's Reef Resort on St. Thomas.
Gathering in an elegant ballroom, members of the V.I. Carnival Committee, along with public officials and several of the contestants' closest family and friends, discussed the importance of the competition in relation to Black History Month.
"There's something profoundly attractive about our queen shows," said Nandi Sekou, chairwoman of the Queens Committee. "Today, during Black History Month, I would like to remind you that among African people, or Caribbean people of African descent, our queen shows are actually more important that what you see before you. African society has always had a deep respect for the female gender, and the notion of selecting queens has historical value. On the banks of the Nile River, in ancient Egypt and Nubia, queens were mothers, co-rulers, co-regents or absolute monarchs in their own right."
Sekou's remarks set the mood for the rest of the evening, as the queen contestants also spoke of the link between Caribbean and African cultures, with the development and perpetuation of St. Thomas's Carnival as an experience unique to the territory.
"Can you hear the soothing rhythm of quelbe and calypso music, the air filled with the explosive aroma of local delicacies?" queen contestant Shanique Henley asked the audience. "This is a cultural escape like no other. Let me be your tour guide as we celebrate a legacy of 56 years of culture, heritage and the fun of carnival. There is no other under the sun."
Henley, 16, attends Charlotte Amalie High School and is sponsored this year by PRT Enterprises and Pronto Cleaners.
Other contestants, such as Aniska Tonge, 16, solicited support from the audience by describing some of her best qualities.
"Like a garnet, which is a long-lasting and durable gem, I am consistent, perseverant and hardworking," Tonge said. Tonge added that she is the reigning Miss Charlotte Amalie High School, an honor student and member of the school's JROTC program.
Tonge is sponsored this year by the V.I. Carnival Committee.
Rounding out the group was 17-year-old Lessley-Ann Gumbs, also a CAHS honor student and JROTC cadet.
"Tonight, as I stand here before you, I am truly humbled," Gumbs said to the audience. "This experience will assist me in expressing who I am as an individual. For the past 56 years, the Carnival Queen Competition has been deeply rooted in the very fabric that defines a tradition within our unique culture as V.I. people. I have tried hard to present myself as a young woman worthy of this competition."
Gumbs is sponsored this year by Marianne's.
Looking back on the history of the pageant, Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone shared Gumbs' sentiments, saying that the V.I. Carnival Queen competition rivals national and international competitions such as the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants.
"So we must be proud of our history, and this pageant, which gives our young ladies the platform to show themselves off as outstanding individuals here in our community," he said.
This year's Carnival Queen competition will kick off at 8 p.m. on April 12 at Lionel Roberts Stadium.
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