St. Kitts and Nevis

St. Kitts and Nevis facts and information about the country.

HISTORY

At the time of discovery by the Europeans, the Caribs inhabited the islands of St. Kitts and Nevis. Christopher Columbus (1451–1506) landed on the larger of the two islands in 1493 during his second voyage and named it after St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers and his own personal saint. He also discovered Nevis on the same voyage. European colonization of the islands began only around 1623–24, when the English, followed by the French, arrived on St. Christopher’s Island. The English eventually shortened its name to St. Kitt’s Island.

Settled by Sir Thomas Warner (d. 1648) in 1623, St. Kitts was the site of the first British colony in the West Indies. The following year the French also settled on a part of St. Kitts, a situation that Warner diplomatically tolerated in a bid to gain the upper hand against the native Caribs living on the island. In 1628, Warner sent a party of about 100 colonists to establish a British settlement on the western coast of St. Nevis. Although the original settlement, near Cotton Ground (a town on the western coast of the island), was destroyed in an earthquake in 1680, Nevis went on to prosper as one of the most affluent plantation societies in the eastern Caribbean region. As on St. Kitts most of the island’s wealth was built on the labor of African slaves toiling in the island’s sugarcane fields. The local tourist industry got its start in the late 18th century on Nevis, where thermal baths made it a popular retreat for Britain’s well-to-do.

The Treaty of Paris in 1783, which also formally ended the American Revolution, handed over both islands to Great Britain. In 1816 the British combined St. Kitts and Nevis with Anguilla and the Virgin Islands into a single colony. They remained part of the colony of the Leeward Islands from 1871 to 1956, and of the West Indies Federation from

1958 to 62. In 1967, together with Anguilla, they became a self-governing state in association with the United Kingdom; Anguilla seceded later in that year and remains a British dependency. The Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis attained full independence on September 19, 1983.

In August 1998 a vote in Nevis on a referendum to separate from St. Kitts fell short of the two-thirds majority needed. In late September 1998 Hurricane George caused massive damage totaling approximately U.S. $445 million and crippled economic growth for the year.

In the 21st century Nevis has once again been trying to separate from St. Kitts. Although the two islands share much culture, there is a good deal of rivalry between them, and there are those who suggest that Nevis is moving closer to full independence.

GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE

Geologically St. Kitts and Nevis are mountainous and volcanic in origin, representing adjacent peaks in a chain of partially submerged volcanic mountains. Both islands are subject to subterranean seismographic activity, which makes them prone to earthquakes. St. Kitts is the larger of the two islands, covering 65 square miles. Mount Liamuiga, a dormant volcanic cone with an elevation of 3,793 feet, is the highest point on the island.

St. Kitts’s fertile soil is well watered, has adequate drainage, and usually requires little or no irrigation. Forested areas cover 11,120 acres of land and include both rain forests at the lower altitudes and evergreen forests above 820 feet. Cone-shaped Nevis is about six miles wide, eight miles long, and has a total land area of 36 square miles. The soil on Nevis is generally less fertile than that on St. Kitts, but water is plentiful in the higher elevations. There is no rainy season on Nevis, but showers can be torrential when it does rain. There are several hot mineral springs on the island (the same ones that were so popular with early British tourists in the late 1700s).

Both St. Kitts and Nevis have a tropical climate tempered by northeast trade winds; there is little daily or seasonal variation. Temperatures average approximately 79°F. Humidity is generally about 70 percent. Annual precipitation varies from 39 to 120 inches. Neither island has the distinct rainy season characteristic of many other Caribbean islands. Winds are predominantly easterly and seldom exceed 12 miles per hour except during the hurricane season, which lasts from July to September.

ECONOMY

Although the sugarcane crop still dominates the agricultural sector, tourism, export-oriented manufacturing, and banking have assumed larger roles in the economy. Since tourism revenues are now the chief source of the islands’ foreign exchange, a decline in stopover tourist arrivals following Sep-

tember 11, 2001, eroded government finances. The opening of a 1,000-plus bed Marriott hotel in February 2003 has helped to reverse the situation.

CULTURE AND LIFESTYLE

These two islands—the inhabitants are called Kittitians (Kit-TEE-shuns) and Nevisians (Nee-VEEshuns)—draw on a mix of European, African, and West Indian traditions. While the local architecture is predominantly British, and cricket is the national sport, the music and dances of the islands are very much West Indian and African. Masquerades, St. Kitts’s popular folk dance troupe, performs all kinds of dances, ranging from the traditional French quadrille to the spirited African war dance. The troupe wears colorful costumes with unique West Indian designs.

CUISINE

The cuisine available on St. Kitts and Nevis is a blend of local Caribbean and international influences. Native dishes include Arawak chicken seasoned and served with rice and almonds on a breadfruit leaf, curried mutton, and grilled wahoo (a species of mackerel). There are also plenty of tropical fruits, seafood (including lobster), pork, goat, and jerk chicken.

Public/Legal Holidays

NEW YEAR’S EVE/DAY

Observed by:General Public Observed on:December 31–January 1 On St. Kitts and Nevis, New Year’s Day brings a host of activities including sports competitions, musical shows, and parades. People get together and enjoy this occasion with their families and friends. Dressed in colorful costumes, residents dance in the streets to music played by local bands.

COMMONWEALTH DAY

Observed by:General Public Observed on: Second Monday in March The 53 Commonwealth countries renew their ties with Great Britain and one another on this day. It is observed on the second Monday in March. Commonwealth Day offers an opportunity for young people from the Commonwealth nations to celebrate and become aware of the 53 countries that make up the free association of states, their 1.8 billion people, and their customs. In St. Kitts and Nevis, as in other Commonwealth countries, people listen to a special broadcast of a speech delivered by Queen Elizabeth II (the present British queen, who is the official head of the Commonwealth; b. 1926). People use the day to promote understanding about global issues, international cooperation, and the work of the modern Commonwealth.

LABOR DAY

Observed by:General Public Observed on:First Monday in May St. Kitts and Nevis celebrate Labor Day (also called May Day or Workers’ Day) on the first Monday of May and not on the first day of the month. The ori-

gins of this holiday lie in the ancient pagan spring festivals practiced by farmers and peasants. For the islanders the holiday is a British legacy. The day is also observed as a tribute to workers, for their contribution to the progress of nations. In 1889 the Second International, a consortium of socialist organizations, designated May 1 a day to recognize the importance of workers around the world and scheduled the first demonstrations and celebrations for the following year, 1890. They coordinated this observance with the strike called by the U.S. labor union, the American Federation of Labor (AFL), demanding an eight-hour workday.

Public meetings and lectures, reminding workers of their rights, are some of the activities on the islands; for most it is a time to relax.

See alsoVolume III: LABORDAY

QUEEN’S BIRTHDAY

Observed by:General Public Observed on: Second Monday in June The birthday of the British monarch is an important day on the islands as a result of their long association with Britain. Although the birthday of the present

The St. Kitts-Nevis Defense Force Band marches in the capital of Basseterre as part of the two-island nation’s celebration of independence from Britain on September 19. (APPhoto/John Parker/St. Kitts-Nevis Observer)

monarch Queen Elizabeth II actually falls in April, the local people continue to observe this holiday on the second Monday in June, as they have been doing since the reign of the former king of England, George V (1865–1936), who was born in June. On this day in St. Kitts the nation’s various security forces, local dignitaries, and guests attend the annual parade, which features music played by military bands. This day is also referred to as the Birthday of Her Majesty the Queen.

CARICOM DAY

Observed by:General Public Observed on: July 5 This day commemorates the founding of the Caribbean Community in 1973. It is marked by official gatherings and political speeches by eminent personalities. St. Kitts and Nevis celebrate the efforts of countries sharing a common history, culture, origin, and language.

EMANCIPATION DAY

Observed by:General Public Observed on:August 1, or First Monday in August Most of the inhabitants of St. Kitts and Nevis are descendants of slaves. Therefore Emancipation Day (or Abolition of Slavery Day), which commemorates the abolition of slavery in all the British West Indies on August 1, 1834, is of great significance to them. The celebration of the holiday is on the first Monday of August and not always on the first of the month. On this holiday, banks, most business establishments, educational institutions, and government offices remain closed. Activities include musical performances, displays of local crafts, and parades.

INDEPENDENCE DAY

Observed by:General Public Observed on: September 19 On September 19, 1983, St. Kitts and Nevis obtained their independence from the British. The celebrations continue for an entire month and include drama festivals and cultural activities. The celebrations culminate with a military parade at Warner Park, in the capital Basseterre, followed by beach picnics and parties.

CARNIVAL

Observed by:General Public Observed on:December 24–early January Carnival is the biggest event in St. Kitts and Nevis. It begins on Christmas Eve (December 24) and ends in early January, which makes it a version of the 12 days of Christmas, culminating with Twelfth Night and Epiphany, as opposed to the traditional pre-

Lenten carnivals held in February in most countries. Carnival in St. Kitts and Nevis is a time for beauty pageants, calypso competitions, parades, and street dancing. People participate in masquerades and wear brightly colored costumes. The final day of Carnival culminates in the Carnival Last Lap, a parade of costumed bands and street dancing.

See also Volume III: CARNIVAL; CHRISTMAS;

EPIPHANY

Religious Holidays

GOOD FRIDAY

Observed by:Christians Observed on:Friday before Easter Good Friday, also called Holy Friday, Mourning Friday, or Great Friday (in Eastern Orthodox Churches), commemorates the Crucifixion of Jesus. The people of these two islands observe the occasion by offering prayers and eating hot cross buns. Stories from the Gospels and Psalms are narrated in public assemblies, and choirs sing hymns about Jesus’ life and virtuous deeds.

See also Volume III: CHRISTIANITY; EASTER;

GOODFRIDAY; HOLYWEEK; LENT

EASTER

Observed by:Christians Observed on:First Sunday after Lent Easter celebrates the Resurrection of Jesus on the third day following his Crucifixion. Easter is a public holiday on both islands. In Nevis on Easter afternoon there are horse races, concerts, and parties.

See also Volume III: CHRISTIANITY; EASTER;

LENT

PENTECOST

Observed by:Christians Observed on:Fifty days after Easter The name Pentecost is derived from the Greek pentekost, which means “fiftieth.” It commemorates the descent of the Holy Ghost on the Apostles. It is celebrated 50 days after Easter and 10 days after Jesus’ Ascension to heaven. Modern scholars believe that many of the traditions associated with Pentecost were originally borrowed from pagan celebrations of spring.

This holiday is also referred to in many Englishspeaking countries as Whitsunday, because of the white robes worn this day by those who are newly baptized. Whitsunday and monday have been recognized since the third century C.E. On Whitmonday most establishments and government offices remain closed on the islands. This day is usually spent with family at picnics and beach barbecues.

Wahoo

This is an offshore game fish highly popular in St. Kitts and Nevis due to its excellent flavor. The fish is typically grilled with melted butter and olive oil. Garlic, cilantro, and parsley are used for seasoning, while lemon wedges provide a final garnish.

See also Volume III: CHRISTIANITY; EASTER;

PENTECOSt; SPRINGFESTIVALS

CHRISTMAS

Observed by:Christians Observed on:December 24–25 Christmas celebrations on St. Kitts and Nevis are a time for family reunions, get-togethers, parties, dancing, drinking, and eating. Hot chocolate and gingerbread are traditional Christmas fare here. People put up Christmas trees in and around their homes, which are typically adorned by glittering lights, ornaments, and gifts. During the afternoon of Christmas Day hordes of masqueraders, clowns, singers, and dancers turn out on the streets of the islands for a big street party.

See alsoVolume III: CHRISTIANITY; CHRISTMAS

BOXING DAY

Observed by:Christians Observed on:December 26 Because of their British heritage the islanders observe Boxing Day (or St. Stephen’s Day), a traditional British holiday, on the day after Christmas. People spend the day visiting their relatives and friends, bearing gifts of food or money. Horse racing and dance performances are big events on this day. During the dances, people form long lines, moving rhythmically backward and forward, while one of the performers solicits money.

See also Volume III: BOXINGDAY; CHRISTIAN-

ITY; CHRISTMAS

Regional Holidays

EASTER-RAMA

Observed in:Basseterre Observed by:General Public Observed on:March–April Easter-Rama is celebrated during the Easter season. There is an official opening ceremony followed by track and field and basketball competitions. Other events include beauty pageants, kite-flying contests, a gospel night extravaganza, calypso bacchanals, prince and princess shows, mass of j’ouver (a noisy musical carnival that originated in Trinidad), parades, and an awards ceremony at the end of the festival.

THE SHAK SHAK FESTIVAL

Observed in:Basseterre Observed by:General Public Observed on:Late June The Shak Shak Festival, also known as the St. Kitts Music Festival, derives its name from the shak shaks (pods) that bloom on the poinciana (Cock and Hen) tree in summer. The festival was designed by assimilating the best features of leading festivals from around the world. The four-day musical extravaganza showcases Caribbean music and features a blend of musical crosscurrents including calypso, soca, jazz, merengue, salsa, gospel, and reggae.

CULTURAMA

Observed in:Nevis Observed by:General Public Observed on: July–August Culturama celebrates the ethnic diversity of Nevis. It is actually a weeklong affair, featuring music, arts and crafts, parades, and cultural events. Folklore, drama, and a Mr. Kool contest (for the best-looking male model) are the other attractions of the festival.

Further Reading

Vincent K. Hubbard, A History of St. Kitts: The Sweet Trade (Northampton, Mass.: Interlink Publishing Group, 2003); Frank L. Mills and S. B. Jones-Hendrickson, Christmas Sports in St. Kitts-Nevis: Our Neglected Cultural Tradition (U.S. Virgin Islands: Author, 1984); Verna Penn Moll, St. Kitts-Nevis (Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 1995); Michelle M. Terrell, The Jewish Community of Early Colonial Nevis: A Historical Archaeological Study (Gainesville, Fla.: University Press of Florida, 2005).

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