Much of Saint Lucia’s early history is shrouded in mystery and myth. It is now known, for example, that Columbus never set foot in Saint Lucia during any of his voyages.
The Amerinidians, who were found inhabiting the island when the first Europeans landed, called the island ‘IOUANALAO’. According to the Dominican missionary, Pere Raymond Breton who, sometime around 1650, composed a dictionary of the Amerindian language, that name is purported to mean “There where the Iguana is found”. When the Caribs pretended to sell the island to the Barbadians in 1663, the name they used was ‘HEWANORRA’, which makes one historian, Douglas Taylor, conclude that the name was of Arawak and not of Carib origin.
It is claimed that a group of French seamen who were ship¬wrecked on the island on 13th December, 1502 named the island after the Virgin-Martyr of Syracuse, “Sainte Alousie.“This name continued to be used by the French chroniclers, du Tertre and Pare Labat, who were in the region during the 17th and 18th centuries, respectively, although a slight variation “Sainte Alouzie” is found in French nautical records of 1624 and 1628. The Vatican globe of 1502, however, has the name “Santa Lucia” for the island, a Spanish map of 1529 has “Saint Luzia”, while the Spanish Cedula of 1511 names “Sancta Lucia” as a posses¬sion of the Spanish Crown.
Despite the mystery and myth about discovery and names, Saint Lucians have decided to celebrate 13th December as their National Day.
LOCATION & GEOGRAPHY:
Saint Lucia is an island located in the windward group of islands in the Caribbean Sea. The island is of volcanic origin with high lava ridges and craters. St. Lucia has a mountainous center reaching the country’s highest point Mt. Gimie at 959 metres (3,146 feet). Tropical rain forests cover the interior and a number of small rivers flow from the central highlands with the principal ones being the Dennery, Fond, Piaye, Doree, Canaries, Roseau and Marquis Rivers.
The culture of Saint Lucia has been influenced by African, French and English heritage. St. Lucia holds every year two main traditional festivals, La Woz (“The Rose”, on August 30th) and La Magwit (“The Marguerite”, on October 17th), organized by the two rival historic cultural associations (societés) with the same names whose affiliates comprise most of the country’s population.
Saint Lucia also celebrates a cultural festival known as Jounen Kweyol (Creole Day). This is celebrated each year on the last Sunday of October. On the Sunday of this week, the various towns chosen to host this festival put out the result of their grand preparations; local foods and drinks such as breadfruit, green fig, plantain, salt fish, king fish, manicou (opossum), roast pork, Johnny Cake (fried bake) and a famous dish, bouyon (fish, chicken or meat stewed with dasheen, yams, plantains, banana and dumplings), lime drinks, guava drinks and more. Most people commemorate this day by wearing the island’s national wear known as the Madras. Persons who do not want to wear the extreme layers of skirts and dresses make clothing out of the special plaid material. Secular observances include an internationally renowned Jazz Festival. Beginning in 1991, this annual festival draws crowds of music-lovers from around the world.
Thanks to its mountainous terrain and lush flora, St. Lucia’s beauty is unmatched by other Caribbean islands. Its culture is a unique fusion of French, British and African traditions, and its population of approximately 160,000 people brings the island’s beauty and rich heritage to life.
St. Lucians share a French Creole heritage that stems from British and French as well as Catholic colonial domination. The official and dominant language is English however, French Creole or Patios is a native language that is widely used throughout. Saint Lucia boasts the highest ratio of Nobel laureates produced with respect to the total population of any sovereign country in the world. Two winners have come from Saint Lucia: Sir Arthur Lewis won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1979, and Derek Walcott received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1992. Dr The Honourable Dunstan Gerbert Raphael St. Omer, renowned St. Lucian artist, was knighted in the 2009/2010 New Year’s honors list, for his services to art. The investiture ceremony was held on 9th April, 2010 at Government House where the Governor General on the advice of Her Majesty the Queen, invested Sir Dunstan St. Omer with the Insignia of a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG). The UK Telegraph has described him as “the Michelangelo of the Caribbean”, designer of the St Lucian flag. To understand as well as enjoy St. Lucia’s culture is largely a matter of gaining some sense of the various peoples who have contributed to it. The first of these were the Arawaks and the Caribs, Amerindian peoples indigenous to the entire Caribbean. They were expert hunters, farmers, fishermen, and skilled artists. Their primary crops were cassava, yams, sweet potatoes, all of which still play a central role in the island’s food. The Amerindians were decimated by the arrival of the Europeans, and only a small number of St. Lucians can still trace their roots back to this group. Some of the few particular aspects of Amerindian culture that survive include farina and cassava bread, fish-pots and other local craft items. Some villages still practice the ancient art of fishing in dugout canoes.
The next group to arrive on the shores of the island was the Europeans, primarily the British and the French. Though the Europeans didn’t settle St. Lucia in large numbers, they had an incalculable impact on the island’s history and culture. The British and French influences seem to weigh equally, despite the fact that the French lost the island in 1814. To St. Lucia’s complex cultural mosaic, the British contributed their language, educational system, and legal and political structure. French culture is more evident in the arts–music, dance, and Creole patois, which stand alongside the official language of English. After the abolition of slavery, East Indians came to St. Lucia as indentured servants. Most worked in the large sugar factories in the Cul-de-Sac, Roseau, and Mabouya valleys and in Vieux Fort, where there is still a significant East Indian community. In comparison to other immigrant groups, their numbers were small. Although their traditional culture has almost disappeared, the East Indians have had a notable and lasting influence on the island’s fine cuisine.
St. Lucia’s economy depends primarily on revenue from tourism and banana production, with some contribution from small-scale manufacturing. All sectors of the economy have benefited from infrastructure improvements in roads, communications, water supply, sewerage, and port facilities. These improvements, combined with a stable political environment and educated work force, have attracted foreign investors in several different sectors. Although St. Lucia enjoys a steady flow of investment in tourism, the single most significant foreign investment is Hess Oil’s large petroleum storage and transshipment terminal. In addition, the Caribbean Development Bank funded an extensive airport expansion project.
Although banana revenues have helped fund the country’s development since the 1960s, the industry is now in a terminal decline, due to competition from lower-cost Latin American banana producers and reduced European Union trade preferences. The country is encouraging farmers to plant crops such as cocoa, mangos, and avocados to diversify its agricultural production and provide jobs for displaced banana workers.
Tourism recovered in 2004, following the post-September 11, 2001 recession, and continued to grow in 2005, making up more than 48% of St. Lucia’s GDP. The hotel and restaurant industry grew by 6.3% during 2005. Stay-over arrivals increased by 6.5%, and the United States remained the most important market, accounting for 35.4% of these arrivals. Yacht passengers rose by 21.9%. Redeployment of cruise ships, remedial berth construction, and high fuel costs prevented higher growth rates. However, several investors have planned new tourism projects for the island, including a large hotel and resort in the southern part of the island. The global recession has caused a reduction in tourist revenue and foreign investment, significantly slowing growth rates.
St. Lucia’s currency is the Eastern Caribbean Dollar (EC$), a regional currency shared among members of the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU). The Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) issues the EC$, manages monetary policy, and regulates and supervises commercial banking activities in its member countries. The ECCB has kept the EC$ pegged at EC$2.7=U.S. $1.
St. Lucia is a beneficiary of the U.S. Caribbean Basin Initiative and is a member of the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM). The country hosts the executive secretariat of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).
Arawak Indians first settled St. Lucia around 200 A.D., though 800 had superseded their culture by that of the Caribs. These early Amerindian cultures called the island “Iouanalao” and “Hewanorra,” meaning “Island of the Iguanas.”The history of the island’s European discovery is a bit hazy. It was long believed that Columbus had discovered St. Lucia in 1502, but recent evidence suggests that he merely sailed close by. An alternative discoverer is Juan de la Cosa, a lesser-known explorer who had served at one time as Columbus’ navigator. There are some indications that de la Cosa may have discovered the island in 1499, although there is also evidence suggesting that he didn’t find the island until 1504. In any case, there was no European presence established on the island until its settlement in the 1550s by the notorious buccaneer Francois le Clerc, a.k.a. Jambe de Bois, or Wooden Leg. Peg-Leg le Clerc set up a fine little base on Pigeon Island, from whence he issued forth to prey upon unwitting and treasure-laden Spanish galleons. Around 1600, the Dutch arrived, establishing a fortified base at Vieux Fort.
The first attempt at colonization occurred just a few years later, in 1605. An unfortunate party of English colonists, headed to Guyana on the good ship Olive Branch, landed on St. Lucia after having been blown off course. In all, sixty-seven colonists waded ashore, where they purchased land and huts from the resident Caribs. After a month, the party had been reduced to only nineteen, and those were soon forced to flee from the Caribs in a canoe. A few decades later, in 1639, a second party of English colonists under Sir Thomas Warner also failed in their settlement attempt.
By mid-century the French had arrived, and had even “purchased” the island for the French West India Company. Needless to say, the persevering British were less than enchanted with this idea, and Anglo-French rivalry for the island continued for more than a century and a half. The island’s first settlements and towns were all French, beginning with Soufriere in 1746. By 1780, twelve settlements and a large number of sugar plantations had been established. Two years earlier, the British launched their first invasion effort at the “Battle of Cul de Sac.” By 1814, after a prolonged series of enormously destructive battles, the island was finally theirs.
Over the next century St. Lucia settled into the stable democracy and multicultural society that it is today. The country remained under the British crown until it became independent within the British Commonwealth in 1979. Despite the length of British rule, the island’s French cultural legacy is still evident in its Creole dialect.
St. Lucia’s first known inhabitants were the Arawaks, believed to have come from northern South America to settle around 200-400 AD. Numerous archaeological sites on the island have produced specimens of the Arawaks’ well-developed pottery. Caribs gradually replaced Arawaks during the period 800-1000. Europeans first landed on the island in either 1492 or 1502, during one of the New World voyages of navigator and cartographer Juan de la Cosa, who explored the Windward Islands south to the South American mainland. The Dutch, English, and French all tried to establish trading outposts on St. Lucia in the 17th century but faced opposition from hostile Caribs. The English, with their headquarters in Barbados, and the French, centered on Martinique, found St. Lucia even more attractive when the sugar industry developed in 1765. British influence gradually spread. English commercial law was introduced in 1827, criminal procedures in 1833, and in 1838, the French language was officially abolished. In that year, St. Lucia was incorporated into the British Windward Islands administration, headquartered in Barbados. The system lasted until 1885, when the capital was moved to Grenada. Increasing self- government has marked St. Lucia’s 20th century history. A 1924 constitution gave the island its first form of representative government, with a minority of elected members provided for the previously all-nominated legislative council. Universal adult suffrage was introduced in 1951, and elected members became a majority of the legislative council. Ministerial government was introduced in 1956, and in 1958, St. Lucia joined the short-lived West Indies Federation, a semi-autonomous dependency of the United Kingdom. When that collapsed in 1962, following Jamaica’s withdrawal, a smaller federation was briefly attempted. After the second failure, the United Kingdom and the six Windward and Leeward Islands–Grenada, St. Vincent, Dominica, Antigua, St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla, and St. Lucia–developed a novel form of cooperation called associated statehood. As an associated state of the United Kingdom from 1967 to 1979, St. Lucia had full responsibility for internal self-government but left its external affairs and defense responsibilities to the United Kingdom. This interim arrangement ended on February 22, 1979, when St. Lucia achieved full independence. Ties to the UK remain, as the nation recognizes Queen Elizabeth II as titular head of state and is an active member of the Commonwealth. The island continues to cooperate with its neighbors through the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the East Caribbean Common Market (ECCM), and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).
Two significant secular events draw many participants. The first of these is Carnival, traditionally a pre-Lenten festival, similar to those found elsewhere in the Caribbean, Brazil, and Louisiana. Although it had some religious overtones, Carnival has become a purely secular event. Recently the Saint Lucian Carnival has been shifted to July, possibly to attract tourists and to avoid the congestion of many events occurring in the spring. Carnival includes costuming, parades, Calypso contests, queen contests, and general celebratory behavior. A second event, of more recent vintage, is Jounen Kwéyo`l (Creole Day), a week-long festival celebrating traditional music, dance, storytelling, costuming, crafts, and Kwéyo`l language. Another pair of celebrations are the flower festivals, La Rose and La Marguerite, observed annually by local societies in many villages on the feast days of the patron saints, Saint Rose de Lima (30 August) and Saint Marguerite D’youville (17 October).
In recent years the growth of tourism, mostly associated with the development of facilities in the Castries-Gros-Islet corridor, has overtaken banana production as the most important earner of foreign exchange. Employment generation attributed to tourism has been significant, with more than twelve thousand full-time jobs in the industry. The Saint Lucia Tourist Board has promoted tourist-oriented events, including a jazz festival featuring international and local talent.
The St. Lucia Jazz Festival is an annual internationally known event, which takes place on the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia. The event brings together international as well as local musicians. The jazz festival not only features jazz music but also R&B and Calypso.
Revamped, redesigned and with a broadened artistic direction, the Caribbean’s premier cultural event the Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival will attract thousands to Simply Beautiful Saint Lucia. Cultural enthusiasts, festival lovers and music aficionados will be wooed by over 50 world-acclaimed entertainers and artisans over the 12-day festival, which runs from April to May.
The first St. Lucia Jazz Festival was held in 1992 as an initiative to extend the tourist season and increase foreign exchange in Saint Lucia into May which had previously been a relatively quiet period.
Originally 4 locations were used; however today the festival has expanded and several locations around the island are used to host performances.
At first, the festival attendances were small. But as the years passed, word spread helped by coverage on the BET J television network, and it is now a well-established fixture on the Jazz festival calendar.
Over the past few years the Saint Lucia Jazz Festival has developed a reputation for the quality of the artistes it attracts and now ranks #1 on the list on the E! entertainment top 5 Festivals in the world.
In 2011 the St Lucia Jazz Festival celebrated its 20th anniversary, which was a rare achievement as several other Jazz festivals established in the Caribbean region had failed.