PRONUNCIATION: (Saint) vin-SEN-shuns
LOCATION: St. Vincent and the Grenadines
LANGUAGE: English; local dialect with French, West African, Spanish, and English elements
RELIGION: Protestant sects (80–90 percent): Anglican, Methodist, and Seventh-Day Adventist churches; Roman Catholicism; Hinduism; Islam
In spite of its small size, St. Vincent and the Grenadines had a turbulent early history. Control of its islands was fought over by both Amerindian and European groups for nearly three hundred years. Its heritage includes the unique mingling of Africans and Amerindians that produced the group known as the Black Caribs. The Amerindian (native) population on the island of St. Vincent guarded its homeland so vigorously that it became the last major Caribbean island to be colonized.
St. Vincent's native Carib population resisted European settlement until the eighteenth century. In 1675, however, the Caribs welcomed black Africans who survived the shipwreck of a Dutch ship carrying settlers and slaves. They were allowed to settle on the island and mix with its population. The resulting people became known as the Black Caribs.
St. Vincent is named for the saint's day on which Christopher Columbus first sighted the island on January 22, 1498.
In 1763 the Treaty of Paris granted control of St. Vincent to the British. The French retained control of some of the Grenadines for a number of years. Thus, their cultural influence in the area continued. In the first part of the nineteenth century, East Indian and Portuguese laborers were brought to St. Vincent to work on its sugarcane plantations.
Throughout the nineteenth century and for much of the twentieth century, St. Vincent and the Grenadines remained a British crown colony. It joined the West Indies Federation in 1958 and achieved full independence on October 27, 1979. In 1987 Hurricane Emily destroyed almost 70 percent of the nation's banana crop.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines is located among the Windward Islands in the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean Sea. (The Wind-ward Islands are the group of islands south of Martinique. The Lesser Antilles include all the islands in the south Caribbean north of Venezuela.) The Grenadines include more than one hundred tiny islands. Thirty-two of the Grenadines are part of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, while the rest belong to Grenada. St. Vincent itself has a total area of 134 square miles (347 square kilometers). The country is slightly less than twice the size of Washington, D.C.
St. Vincent is a volcanic island whose highest point is La Soufrière, an active volcano. The volcano's last major eruption was in 1979. La Soufrière, with elevation of 4,048 feet (1,234 meters), is at the northern end of a mountain range that runs southward to Mount St. Andrew. The mountains are heavily forested, with numerous streams fed by heavy rainfall.
Bequia (pronounced BECK-way), the largest of the Grenadines, could only be reached by sea until the construction of an airport in 1992.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines has an estimated population of 107,000 people. Some 99,000 live on St. Vincent and about 8,000 on the Grenadines. There is a reservation for the native Carib people at Sandy Bay in the northern part of St. Vincent.
English is the official language of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Most people on the islands speak a local dialect, or Creole, that combines elements of West African languages and French. West Indian Creole languages use object pronouns in the subject position. For example, a Vincentian might say, "Me going down town" for "I am going down town."
There are many French names for places in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, including Sans Souci, Petit Vincent, and Mayreau. Carib place names include Bequia (one of the Grenadines) and the Commantawana Bay on St. Vincent.
The folklore of St. Vincent and the Grenadines reflects its combined English, African, and French heritage. There are Creole and West Indian influences as well. Vincentians tend to be superstitious. Some still fear the African-derived black magic called obeah that is common in the Caribbean region.
Between 80 and 90 percent of the population is Protestant, with Anglicans representing the greatest share. Other sects include Methodists and Seventh-Day Adventists. Catholics account for about 10 percent of the population. There are also small Hindu and Muslim (followers of Islam) minorities among the East Indian community.
Public holidays in St. Vincent and the Grenadines include New Year's Day (January 1), St. Vincent and the Grenadines Day (January 22), Good Friday and Easter Monday (in March or April), Labor Day (May 1), Whit-monday (in May), Carnival Tuesday (July9), CARICOM Day (July 11), Emancipation Day (August 1), Independence Day (October 22), Christmas (December 25), and Boxing Day (December 26). The nation's Carnival celebration ("Vincy Mas") is held in late June and early July. It features costumed parades, calypso and steel drum bands, and "jump-up" (street dancing).
Union Island, one of the Grenadines, holds sporting and cultural events, including a calypso competition at Eastertime and a Big Drum festival in May.
Major life transitions, such as birth, marriage, and death, are marked by religious ceremonies appropriate to each St. Vincentian's faith.
"What di' man say?" is a typical greeting. Popular slang among young people on the islands includes "Irie" (an all-purpose phrase that is something like "stay cool" or "see you later") and "Sic too bad" (similar to "awesome").
St. Vincentians generally own their own homes. Women are more likely to own homes through inheritance. Men usually build their own. It is not uncommon for a family to live in a house owned by the wife. A woman may also acquire a home by having a son or daughter build it for her. A typical rural dwelling is a single-story wooden house with a tin roof, often painted red. Parts of St. Vincent are accessible only by foot or boat.
Three common family structures are found on St. Vincent and the Grenadines: legal marriage, unmarried couples living together, and "visiting unions," where the man and woman live apart and the woman raises the children. Even in visiting unions, which are also called "friending," strong ties between father and child are maintained.
Infants receive a great amount of attention and physical affection from all members of the household. The mother takes care of the family's washing and cooking. She also grows its produce and, in many cases, also serves as the household's water carrier. Men are responsible only for those children they have actually fathered, either through present or previous relationships. Thus they may be responsible for children living in different households. The mother is at the center of the household, with obligations to all the members of the household.
Women accounted for 38 percent of the nation's work force in the 1980s. Traditional expectations, however, keep most women from receiving an education equal to that of men.
People on St. Vincent and the Grenadines wear modern Western-style clothing. They favor light, brightly colored clothes and are interested in the latest fashions. Some young people enjoy dressing in attention-getting items such as bright orange jeans, the latest in expensive footwear, or shirts with popular designer names. Children wear uniforms to school.
Staple foods include rice, sweet potatoes, and fruits. Especially popular are fruits from the banana family, including plantains and bluggoe ("green figs"). Another widely eaten food is breadfruit. The national dish is "jackfish and breadfruit." Arrowroot, a major cash crop, is used in desserts, including arrowroot sponge cake and arrowroot custard. Also popular are dishes that contain spicy Scotch Bonnet peppers.
Primary education is free but not compulsory. Government-run secondary schools are free; government-assisted secondary schools are private and charge tuition. Over three-fourths of children at the primary level attend school, while only about one-fourth of older students enroll in secondary school. St. Vincent has a technical college and a teacher training college affiliated with the University of the West Indies. Most students seeking a higher education study abroad.
Big Drum music is popular in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and throughout the Windward Islands. Reflecting an African heritage, this music combines the African "call-and-response" with features of calypso and reggae. The Big Drum is actually a set of three drums. They were originally carved from trees, but are now commonly made from rum kegs. The singers are usually women; the lead singer is called a "chantwell." The songs feature satire and social commentary. Dances are performed by dancers wearing full skirts and headdresses.
Many St. Vincentians farm or fish, either for subsistence or for profit. Those who farm small plots take their produce and chickens or fish to market on Saturdays. Bananas are St. Vincent's main commercial crop. Banana growers are paid for their harvest at the stations where bananas are boxed. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are counted into small envelopes every week and distributed to as many as three thousand waiting St. Vincentians.
On the Grenadines, most men are fishermen or boat-builders. The International Whaling Commission has granted the whalers of the island of Bequia with Aboriginal Whaling Status. This classification is reserved for people who traditionally hunt whales for local consumption rather than commercial use. No more than three whales are caught in any one year. A successful catch is considered an important event on Bequia. Much of the island's population flocks to Petit Nevis to see the whale.
Cricket, the most popular sport, is played throughout the islands on any piece of flat ground and even on the beach. Other sports include soccer, netball, volleyball, and basketball.
Nighttime gatherings outdoors are a favorite form of recreation. They often include singing, dancing, and the popular pastime of gossiping. With the recent growth of tourism on the islands, it has become common for locals to gather at hotel and restaurant entertainment facilities to eat, drink, dance, and socialize. Men on St. Vincent and the Grenadines enjoy the popular Caribbean pastime of playing dominoes.
Folk music is played on the four-stringed quatro, as well as the guitar, fiddle, drums, and a variety of percussion instruments. The island of Bequia is known for its skilled model boat builders. They fashion small-scale versions of yachts, whaleboats, and other vessels that are perfect in every detail. Even the island's children make model boats—out of coconut shells—with brightly colored sails.
The low percentage of young people who complete their secondary education has created a shortage of skilled workers on the islands. Better-educated St. Vincentians often emigrate and live abroad until they retire. Drug-related crime is a concern on the islands.
Bobrow, Jill, and Dana Jinkins. St. Vincent and the Grenadines . Waitsfield, Vt.: Concepts Publishing, 1993.
Cosover, Mary Jo. "St. Vincent and the Grenadines." 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.
Potter, Robert B. St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 1992.
Young, Virginia Heyer. Becoming West Indian: Culture, Self, and Nation in St. Vincent. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993.
World Travel Guide, St. Vincent. [Online] Available http://www.wtgonline.com/country/vc/gen.html , 1998.