PRONUNCIATION: (Saint) LOO-shahns
LOCATION: St. Lucia
LANGUAGE: English; French-based dialect with West African, English, and Spanish influences
RELIGION: Roman Catholicism; small groups of Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists, and Seventh-Day Adventists; Hinduism; Islam
St. Lucia is a nation in the Windward Islands in the Caribbean Sea. It was believed that Christopher Columbus first saw the island on St. Lucy's Day, December 13. Although historians dispute this, the island, under the name of St. Lucia, can be seen on a Vatican map dated 1502.
The population is descended from West African slaves who worked for both French and British plantation owners. St. Lucia alternated between French and British control fourteen times before it became a British Crown Colony under the Treaty of Paris in 1814. Although the British ruled the island for 165 years without interruption, the cultural influence of the French persists to the present day. It is reflected in the islanders' Catholicism, in their French-based patois (dialect), and in such customs as its Flower Festivals.
In the twentieth century, St. Lucia gradually moved toward self-government. In 1958 it joined the short-lived West Indies Federation. On February 22, 1979, St. Lucia became an independent state within the British Commonwealth. Replacing a dependence on sugar as the basis of its economy, St. Lucia today produces a large banana crop.
St. Lucia is the second-largest of the Wind-ward Islands. (The Windward Islands are a group of islands in the Caribbean that are situated south of Martinique.) With an area of approximately 239 square miles (620 square kilometers), it is between three and four times the size of Washington, D.C.
The island was formed by volcanoes. It has a mountainous interior with lush rain forests. Fertile plains that support the country's banana plantations are located at the base of the central mountains. Many rivers flow from its interior to the Caribbean.
There are still areas where thermal activity from the earth bubbles to the surface. Pools of boiling hot mud—filling the air with the smell of sulfur, similar to rotten eggs—are seen not far from the island's beautiful beaches.
St. Lucia's population is estimated to be about 150,000 people. The capital city of Castries has a population of about 60,000.
Although the official language of St. Lucia is English, most people speak the local patois (dialect). It is based on French and is influenced by the grammar of west African languages. Proper English is the language of the schools, government, and media. Patois is spoken at home, on the streets, and at informal occasions. A written form of patois has been developed for teaching purposes. Examples of patois textbook titles are Mwen Vin Wakonte Sa Ba'w (I am going to explain it to you) and Se'kon Sa I Fèt (Know how it is done). The name of St. Lucia in patois is "Sent Lisi."
The folk religion of St. Lucia, called obeah , is based on practices from Africa. Many of its practices are meant to keep one from being harmed by spirits, devils, and by other human beings. People believe obeah can heal the sick and hurt one's enemies. The preparation of herbal potions is a part of obeah. People often combine obeah with observances of the traditional Christian church.
About 80 percent of the island's population is Roman Catholic. Smaller groups belong to Protestant groups, including Anglican, Methodist, Baptist, and Seventh-Day Adventist churches. The island's East Indians are either Hindu or Muslim. The Catholic population celebrates various saints' days.
St. Lucia's public holidays include New Year's Day (January 1), Independence Day (February 22), Good Friday and Easter Monday (in March or April), Labor Day (May 1), Queen's Official Birthday (June5), Corpus Christi (June 6), August Bank Holiday on the first Monday in August, Thanksgiving Day (first Monday in October), St. Lucia Day (December 13), Christmas (December 25), and Boxing Day (December 26).
The annual Carnival celebration is held in the town of Castries right before Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday. It includes parades, a calypso competition, and the naming of a Carnival King and Queen.
St. Lucia has two competing flower festivals held on the feast days of two saints. La Rose, the Feast of St. Rose of Lima, is held on August 30. Its counterpart, La Marguerite, the Feast of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, occurs on October 17. Each festival includes costumed parades and a "royal court" of kings and queens. In the evening there is feasting and dancing.
The National Day, St. Lucia Day on December 13, is marked by nationwide cultural and sporting events in honor of the island's patron saint.
Major life transitions are marked by religious ceremonies appropriate to each St. Lucian's particular faith. For instance, Catholics hold funeral wakes on the first and eighth nights after a person's death. Mourners gather at the house of the deceased, and music is performed.
St. Lucians who do not speak English—about 20 percent of the population—are excluded from full participation in the island's social, economic, and political life. However, there has been a revival of respect for patois as a symbol of cultural pride among St. Lucians. Social relations in St. Lucia are strongly influenced by Roman Catholicism.
St. Lucia has a housing shortage due to overcrowding. It was aggravated by damage from Tropical Storm Debbie in 1994. Most of the country's urban dwellers have access to safe drinking water. Local mass transit is provided by vans and minibuses called "transports." Rural dwellers often reach the nearest town or main road by footpath. The average life expectancy is seventy-two years.
Couples in St. Lucia are united in three basic types of relationships. They may be legally married, live together without marriage, or have a "visiting union," where the man and woman live apart and the woman raises the children. The traditional nuclear family is mostly found among the upper classes. Female-headed families are the norm at other levels of society. Children have a strong sense of responsibility toward their families. They are expected to care for their parents as they age.
In rural areas, men and women do the same types of farm work. However, women also take care of the majority of domestic chores and assume primary responsibility for child-rearing.
St. Lucians wear modern Western-style clothing. Some older women still wear the traditional national costume. It consists of a madras head-tie and a skirt with lace petticoats draped at the sides. The traditional costumes are worn at festivals.
St. Lucia's cuisine combines the island's French and African heritages. It is based on the local produce and seafood catch, generously spiced and prepared in clay pots heated by coals. Favorite Caribbean dishes enjoyed on St. Lucia include fish soup, callaloo (a type of crabmeat stew), and plantains prepared in many different ways. Pouile Dudon is a sweet-and-spicy chicken meal. The national dish is "saltfish and green figs." (Green figs are a type of banana, also known as "bluggoe.")
Education on St. Lucia is free and mandatory between the ages of five and fifteen. The literacy rate of the adult population has been estimated at about 80 percent. There are eighty-three primary schools and thirteen secondary schools, which are like junior high schools. Many young people enter the work force after secondary school. Higher education is offered at Sir Arthur Lewis Community College and at a branch of the University of the West Indies.
Serve with optional garnish of tomato or avocado slices or celery sticks.
St. Lucia's traditional music includes work songs that originated during the days of slavery. There are also beach party and game songs and Carnival music. Folk instruments include the bélè (or ka ) drum; a long, hollow tube called the baha; a rattle called the chakchak; the zo (bones); and the gwaj (scraper). Various types of banjos and a four-stringed instrument called the cuatro are also native to the island.
St. Lucian gospel songs are called san-keys in honor of American singer and song-writer Ira D. Sankey. Each year the calypso tunes currently popular on the island appear in a recorded collection called Lucian Kaiso. The St. Lucian kwadril , a popular traditional dance, reflects the island's French heritage (it is based on the quadrille). It is a complicated dance with five distinct parts.
Nobel-prize-winning poet and playwright Derek Walcott was born in St. Lucia in 1930. He established an international writers' retreat, the Rat Island Foundation, off the coast of his native land. Other St. Lucian writers include Walcott's twin brother, Roderick Walcott, novelist Garth St. Omer, and poet and short-story writer John Robert Lee.
Calypso and reggae music are universally popular in the Caribbean. Two other musical styles—zouk and cadance—are heard on French-influenced islands like St. Lucia.
The majority of the work force is engaged in agriculture. Light manufacturing and a growing tourist industry employ most of the rest. Villagers join together in "work parties" to help a neighbor build a new house or organize a family event like a wedding.
Cricket is very popular on St. Lucia. Its national cricket team competes regularly against the British team.
Dancing is extremely popular on St. Lucia. Dances are held regularly, even in the smallest towns. Other favorite forms of recreation include beach parties and informally gathering with friends in the evening. The rum shop is the traditional after-hours gathering place for men.
Traditional crafts on St. Lucia include pottery, woodcarving, and weaving.
In recent years, low banana prices have effected St. Lucia's economy. The situation has been aggravated by farmers' strikes and the damage caused by Tropical Storm Debbie in 1994.
Eggleston, Hazel. Saint Lucia Diary. Greenwich, Conn.: Devin-Adair, 1977.
Hornbeck, John F. "St. Lucia." In Islands of the Commonwealth Caribbean: A Regional Study, edited by Sandra W. Meditz and Dennis M. Hanratty. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1989.
Walcott, Derek. Another Life. New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1973.
St. Lucia Tourist Board. [Online] Available http://www.interknowledge.com/st-lucia/ , 1998.
World Away Travel. St. Lucia. [Online] Available http://www.worldaway.com/islands/stlucia/home.html , 1998.
World Travel Guide, St. Lucia. [Online] Available http://www.wtgonline,com/country/lc/gen.html , 1998.