St. Lucia

St. Lucia facts and information about the country.

HISTORY

During the 17th and 18th centuries the French and the British made several unsuccessful attempts to take possession of the island. Britain finally gained control of it in 1814. The country remained a British colony until it gained its independence in 1979. That same year it also became a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations.

By the mid-1990s, the Banana Trade War between countries of the present European Union (EU) and Latin America had damaged the island’s economy. Since then many reforms have been introduced to strengthen it.

Carnival is the most festive time of year in the capital city of Castries. During this holiday the streets resound with calypso music and the city plays host to many activities and cultural events around the clock. These range from religious celebrations and masquerades to yacht races and band compe-

titions. Costume parades add a splash of color to the festivities on land, while bright spinnakers dot the waterfront.

GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE

St. Lucia is a typical Windward Island, formed out of volcanic rock that came into existence long after the region had already been formed. St. Lucia’s physical features are strikingly beautiful. Dominated by high peaks and rain forests in the interior, the small island is known for the twin peaks of Gros Piton and Petit Piton on the southwestern coast, its soft sandy beaches, and its magnificent natural harbors. Mt. Gimie, the highest peak, is located in the central mountain range and rises to 3,143 feet above sea level. The steep terrain also accentuates the many rivers that flow from central St. Lucia to the Caribbean. Fertile farmland, mostly devoted to banana farming, is scattered throughout the island.

The climate on St. Lucia is a tropical and humid one, moderated by northeast trade winds that ensure pleasant weather throughout the year. Hurricanes are the most severe climatic disturbance in this area and have been known to cause devastating destruction.

ECONOMY

St. Lucia’s economy depends primarily on revenue from banana production and tourism. Because of the EU’s decision to phase out the preferred access to its markets by Windward Island banana growers by 2006, agricultural diversification has become a priority. The government is encouraging the establishment of tree crops such as mangoes and avocados. A variety of vegetables are being produced for local consumption.

The development of the tourism sector still remains a priority. There has been liberal use of public funds to improve the physical infrastructure of the island, and the government has made efforts to attract cultural and sporting events and to develop historical sites. St. Lucia is a beneficiary of the U.S. Caribbean Basin Initiative and has been a member of the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) since 1974. St. Lucia is also the headquarters of the Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications (ECTEL) authority, which is developing the regulations to liberalize the telecommunications sector in the region by the early 21st century.

CULTURE AND LIFESTYLE

The island’s culture has evolved from the intermingling of many different ethnic groups. Each has brought its own beliefs and traditions, which are reflected in the composite lifestyle and culture of the island today.

Although Europeans never settled in St. Lucia in large numbers, they had a lasting effect on the island’s history and culture. Although St. Lucia remained under British rule for more than a century, it is the French and Creole cultural heritage that predominated and still prevails. To St. Lucia’s exciting cultural mosaic, the British contributed their language and educational system in addition to the legal and political structure. French culture is more evident in the arts—music, dance, and the Creole patois, used alongside the official language, English.

St. Lucia takes great pride in its two Nobel Prize winners: the late Sir W. Arthur Lewis (1915–90), who won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1979, and poet Derek Walcott (b. 1930), who won the 1992 Nobel Prize for Literature.

CUISINE

The rich cultural heritage of the island is vividly expressed in its cuisine. The fertile, volcanic soil of

St. Lucia yields an enormous supply of agricultural products. The island is one of the leading banana exporters in the Caribbean, with six different varieties grown on the island.

Not surprisingly, bananas play a key role in the dishes prepared by St. Lucians. One can find endless varieties of banana bread, banana salad, and boiled green bananas accompanied by salt fish. Other fruits include mangoes, papayas, pineapples, soursops, passion fruit, guavas, and coconuts. Local chefs combine the island’s fresh farm products with a wide range of fresh seafood to create intriguing curries, Creole-style entrees, and pepper-pot stews. The local seafood includes lobster, snapper, dolphins, kingfish, and swordfish. Callao soup, made from a leafy green similar to spinach, is the national dish.

Public/Legal Holidays

NEW YEAR’S EVE/DAY

Observed by:General Public Observed on:December 31–January 1 St. Lucians bring in the new year with family and friends. It is traditional to greet the new year at midnight on New Year’s Eve with horns and other noisemakers. On New Year’s Day, many people make resolutions, which they hope to adhere to during the year. Parties, parades, and cultural events are held all over the capital city and in other towns.

INDEPENDENCE DAY

Observed by:General Public Observed on:February 22 In February 1979 St. Lucia became an independent country and a member of the British Commonwealth, a political and economic alliance of former British colonies. The islanders cherish their freedom. Interestingly Independence Day is celebrated in conjunction with Carnival, Ash Wednesday, and Lent, traditional religious events related to Easter. A number of colorful events and parties are held each year to commemorate independence from Britain; these include parades, calypso music performances, and dance festivals. There are also special radio broadcasts, speeches by politicians, and military parades on this day. Often royal dignitaries from the United Kingdom visit the island to mark Independence Day. Church services and school rallies are also held to express national pride.

COMMONWEALTH DAY

Observed by:General Public Observed on:March Commonwealth Day is an annual event during which all 53 member countries of the British Commonwealth celebrate their links with one another. It is observed on the second Monday of March. On this day, member-countries, all former British colonies, promote understanding about global issues, international cooperation, and the work of the modern Commonwealth. Each year there is a different theme.

The Commonwealth Day message recorded by the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II (b. 1926) is broadcast by radio throughout the island. School activities are also an important part of the Commonwealth Day celebrations and schools in St. Lucia organize shows and rallies on this day.

EARTH DAY

Observed by:General Public Observed on:April 1 Earth Day is celebrated on April 1 in St. Lucia. Large Earth Day celebrations are held in the southern town of Vieux Fort. Ceremonies are held all over the island at sunrise and sunset. Various meetings and cultural shows are organized that emphasize the need to preserve nature and natural resources.

LABOR DAY

Observed by:General Public Observed on:May 1 Labor Day, also known as May Day or Workers’ Day, is an international holiday for working people. The day is meant to recognize the contributions of all workers and laborers.

In 1889 the Second International, a consortium of socialist organizations, declared 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.

In St. Lucia the day features meetings, speeches, and other events organized by labor unions. Schools, universities, and public offices remain closed. In recent years people have started celebrating this day with picnics and beach parties.

See alsoVolume III: LABORDAY

QUEEN’S BIRTHDAY

Observed by:General Public Observed on:Early June The British ruled St. Lucia for more than a century. Although independence was declared in 1979, the birthday of the reigning British monarch (Queen Elizabeth II) is still celebrated. The celebrations on this day start with a 21-gun salute by the royal sentinels. A church service is followed by a parade. Arts and crafts shows are also held on this occasion.

Soca

Soca is a mix of Trinidad’s calypso, dance, and Amerindian music. Like calypso, soca is used for both social commentary and risqué humor. Some of the alltime favorite soca artists are Shadow, Sparrow, Machel Montano, Xtatik, and Superblue.

CARICOM DAY

Observed by:General Public Observed on: July 5 CARICOM Day celebrates the Treaty of Chaguaramas, signed on July 4, 1973. This treaty established the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM), which is dedicated to promoting the political and economic interests of the Caribbean nations. St. Lucia became a member of CARICOM on May 1, 1974. Official gatherings and political messages mark this day in St. Lucia. Dignitaries deliver speeches on the current state of and aspirations for the development of the CARICOM nations.

CARNIVAL

Observed by:General Public Observed on: July The underlying idea of most Carnival celebrations is to enjoy one last hurrah before the beginning of the austere Christian Lenten period, which lasts 40 days. In St. Lucia Carnival is not associated with Lent. It is, however, St. Lucia’s biggest festival and a reason to have a good time. People throng the streets in colorful costumes and headdresses. They take part in parades and dance to the rhythm of the latest soca and calypso hits. The highlight of the festival is a calypso competition. A beauty contest and steelband competitions (called Panorama) are also held. Individuals wearing traditional costumes perform for a panel of judges as representatives of particular bands.

See alsoVolume III: CARNIVAL

EMANCIPATION DAY

Observed by:General Public Observed on:Early August Emancipation Day, or Abolition of Slavery Day, celebrations mark the end of slavery in the British West Indian possessions in the Caribbean in 1834. The day is celebrated on the first Monday in August. The people of St. Lucia cherish their hard-earned freedom and remember all those who helped to achieve it. Educational institutions, businesses, and government offices remain closed. Parades, street fairs, and private parties are held on this day.

REMEMBRANCE DAY

Observed by:General Public Observed on:November 11 Remembrance Day, also called Armistice Day, commemorates the signing of the treaty that ended World War I. The treaty was signed at Compiègne, France, in 1918. Remembrance Day was originally designated to honor the soldiers who died in World

War I, but the commemoration now includes the dead of other wars as well. On this day a minute of silence is observed at 11 A.M. all over the island as a mark of respect. St. Lucians place floral wreaths on the graves of fallen soldiers and mark this day with ceremonial parades of veterans’ organizations and schoolchildren and parties. Poppies and stickers are sold to help raise funds for the families of exservicepeople.

NATIONAL DAY

Observed by:General Public Observed on:December 13 National Day, also called St. Lucia Day, marks the beginning of Christmas celebrations. It is marked by a number of sporting, cultural, religious, and commercial events. The contests include the national festival of choirs and blindfolded boxing competitions. Feasting, music, dancing, and a spirit of revelry pervade the island on this day.

Religious Holidays

ASH WEDNESDAY

Observed by:Christians Observed on:February Ash Wednesday, or Day of Ashes, is primarily a day of repentance. Devout Catholics observe a fast and wear a mark made by ashes on their foreheads as a sign of mourning and penance. It is also a sign of closeness to Jesus, who died on the Cross on Easter. This is the first day of Lent, the 40-day period of abstinence and austerity preceding Easter.

See also Volume III: CHRIS-

TIANITY; EASTER; LENT

GOOD FRIDAY

Observed by:Christians Observed on:Friday before Easter The Christian holiday of Good Friday commemorates the death of Jesus by Crucifixion. On this day the islanders attend church services, and the day is spent reading the Gospels and Psalms and singing hymns from the Scriptures. The day is also known as Holy Friday, Great Friday, or Mourning Friday and the mood on this occasion is solemn.

See also Volume III: CHRISTIANITY; EASTER;

GOODFRIDAY; HOLYWEEK; LENT

EASTER

Observed by:Christians Observed on:First Sunday after Lent Easter commemorates the Resurrection of Jesus after his Crucifixion. On the third day following his Crucifixion, Jesus is said to have risen from the grave. Thus this day carries with it the idea of eternal life and renewed hope. In St. Lucia worship services begin before dawn. Easter Sunday is marked by church services and the exchange of gifts. It also marks the end of Lent, the Christian season of abstinence.

On Easter Monday celebrations include eggrolling competitions and dousing others with holy water, which was used to bless the house and food. The traditional motifs associated with Easter—rabbits and eggs—are pagan symbols of fertility and renewal of life, taken from their celebrations of spring’s arrival. In St. Lucia, Easter Monday is a time for hosting elaborate family dinners.

See also Volume III: CHRISTIANITY; EASTER;

HOLYWEEK; LENT; PESACH; SPRINGFESTIVALS

PENTECOST

Observed by:Christians Observed on:Fifty days after Easter The Christian feast of Pentecost is celebrated in remembrance of the descent of the Holy Ghost on the Twelve Apostles and about 120 early Christians after Christ’s Resurrection. Parades led by clergy, local dignitaries, boy scouts, and other youth groups make their way through the streets of St. Lucia. This observance is also known as Whitsunday and Whitmonday.

See also Volume III: CHRISTIANITY; EASTER;

PENTECOST

CORPUS CHRISTI

Observed by:Roman Catholics Observed on: Sixty days after Easter The Corpus Christi Festival is believed to have originated in the early 13th century, when the nun Juliana of Liège (Spain), began to have a strange vision when she prayed. In it a full Moon appeared with its center darkened by a shadow. Finally Jesus appeared to her to explain the significance of her vision: The bright circle signified all liturgical celebrations; these were darkened by the absence of a feast day dedicated to the actual presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Official recognition of the feast day was given in 1246. In 1317 Pope John XXII (r. 1316–34) ordered that the body of Christ should be part of a solemn, public procession.

Corpus Christi is an important religious holiday on St. Lucia because St. Lucians have combined Corpus Christi with local Creole practices. In large processions clergymen dressed in red carry the cross through the streets. Church Masses on this day include a special benediction.

See alsoVolume III: CHRISTIANITY

ALL SOULS’ DAY

Observed by:Roman Catholics Observed on:November 2 All Souls’ Day, also called Defuncts’ Day and Day of the Dead, is an important holiday on the Catholic liturgical calendar. The day was set aside to honor those who have died. Apart from the offerings and singing of the Office of the Dead, there are three requiem Masses that are said by the clergy to assist the souls in their journey from purgatory to heaven. On this day the people of St. Lucia remember their ancestors and deceased relatives, and a vigil lamp is kept burning in homes all day long. Families also place flowers and light candles on the graves of their ancestors as marks of respect.

See also Volume III: ALL SAINTS’ DAY; ALL

SOULS’ DAY; CHRISTIANITY

FEAST OF ST. CECILIA

Observed by:Roman Catholics Observed on:November 22 St. Cecilia was a Roman saint who was martyred for her unflinching faith in Jesus and her refusal to show allegiance to false gods. St. Cecilia is venerated as the patron saint of poets, church music, and musicians. This particular day is meant to pay tribute to her. Celebrations of this day on St. Lucia include church services, street concerts, and sporting events.

See alsoVolume III: CHRISTIANITY

CHRISTMAS

Observed by:Christians Observed on:December 25 Christmas marks the birth of Jesus. The people of St. Lucia decorate their homes with strings of decorative lights and attend church services. Worshippers sing traditional Christmas carols. Families get together for special meals where ginger cookies and bread made with saffron are served.

See alsoVolume III: CHRISTIANITY; CHRISTMAS

St. Rose of Lima

Beloved in St. Lucia, St. Rose of Lima is the patron saint of Latin America and the Philippines. Her real name was Isabel, but she was so beautiful that she was called “Rose,” and that name remained. As she grew older, she became more and more beautiful, and one day her mother put a wreath of flowers on her head to show off her loveliness to friends. But Rose had no desire to be admired, for her heart had been given to Jesus. So she put a long pin into that wreath and it pierced her so deeply that she had a hard time getting the wreath off afterward. At another time, afraid that her beauty might be a temptation to someone, she rubbed her face with pepper until it was all red and blistered.

Regional Holidays

FISHERMAN’S FEAST

Observed in:Castries Observed by:General Public Observed on: June 29 The Fisherman’s Feast (or Fet Peche in the local patois) is celebrated on St. Peter’s Day. This is an occasion to pay tribute to St. Peter, the patron saint of fishermen. The day begins with a church service followed by the blessing of boat sheds. The entire day is spent in eating and partying that continues until the following day.

THE ROSE FESTIVAL

Observed by:General Public Observed on:August 30 Named for St. Rose of Lima, this annual floral festival is held in different regions of the island. The celebration honors the rose with great pomp and show. Members of the British royal family, if present, or their representatives, host a magnificent party on this occasion. People from indigenous tribes also present music and dance shows. This day is also called Feast of St. Rose of Lima or Fet La Woz.

THE MARGUERITE FESTIVAL

Observed by:General Public Observed on:October 17 After obtaining independence, St. Lucia chose the rose and the daisy, or marguerite in French, as their national flowers. This St. Lucia holiday honors the marguerite (the humble daisy) with great pomp and ceremony. The day is also celebrated as the feast day

The Roses versus the Daisies

The rose and daisy societies on the island have a unique rivalry. Each group holds weekly meetings, known as séances, at which a designated female singer of each society improvises French Creole tunes (belairs) that blend African and French and are accompanied by violins, banjos, saxophones, and other instruments. The singers typically praise their own flower society while poking fun at the other. These weekly séances build up to the elaborate festivals of each society—roses in August and daisies in October—when the members attend special church services and then parade the streets dressed as royalty, doctors, nurses, policemen, or soldiers.

of Maurgerite Mary Alacoque, the patron saint of polio patients and the sacred heart of Jesus, so it is also called Fete La Marguerite à la Coque. St. Maurgerite was the personification of humility, modesty, and meekness, always mindful of her humble origin. That is why the daisy, the most innocuous of all flowers, is named after her. On this important day St. Lucians attend church services. The much-anticipated celebrations include a grand party replete with music, dances, masquerades, and cultural events that go on throughout the night. On several occasions royal personalities from Britain and other dignitaries have attended as special guests.

Rites of Passage

BIRTH

The birth of a child is a special event since it ensures the continuation of the family lineage. It also adds to the respect of the family. Children are usually named after saints (following the Roman Catholic custom). The family hosts a party to celebrate the birth of a child. Guests and relatives bring gifts, flowers, and cards for the newborn.

MARRIAGE

To prepare for a wedding in St. Lucia family members bake a rich, black cake with dried fruits and rum. This custom of preparing a wedding cake can be traced back to Roman times. The cake is a symbol of unity and the couple’s willingness to join their lives, sharing mutual joys and sorrows. Many couples prefer a traditional religious ceremony in a church where a priest performs the Catholic rites with readings from the Gospels. There is an exchange of vows, and a candle is lit by the bride and groom, signifying their new life together.

Further Reading

Linda Molloy, Saint Lucia Past: A Pictorial History (Swanage, U.K.: Author, 1996); Dick Romyn, Saint Lucia, Life and Scenes (London: Macmillan Caribbean, 1985).

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