Saint Lucians - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Owing to the legacy of French influence, 90 percent of Saint Lucians are Catholics. In conjunction with their Catholic beliefs and practices, however, Saint Lucians also adhere to obeah. Although not as formalized as other African-based West Indian religions, obeah, like Catholicism, influences the way Saint Lucians construct and conduct their lives.

A type of sorcery, obeah is predicated on the belief that the world is a dangerous place—evil lurks in spirits, demons, and human agents who are capable of inflicting injury on others. Saint Lucians thus believe that one must be prepared to thwart these harmful agents before they can realize their malignant intentions, while simultaneously being prepared to combat them. Outlawed in 1954 and long castigated by the church, obeah is still commonly practiced in Saint Lucia, albeit covertly.

Religious Practitioners. In addition to the Catholic clergy, obeah practitioners assume a role in the spiritual life of Saint Lucians. The jagajey, who obtains power directly from Satan, is an obeah practitioner; the gade, who gains knowledge through divination, uses power to counteract obeah.

Ceremonies. The vast majority of holidays and ceremonies center around the church's liturgical calendar. Others are either sponsored by the government under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture, or they transpire at the community level, among individual families. Three events are unique to Saint Lucia: the pageantry of Flower Societies, A-Bwe, and Kele. The Flower Societies hold an annual round of revels that effectively divide Saint Lucian society into the Roses ( lawozes ) and the Marguerites ( lamagwites ). Beginning with Mass at dawn, each group, on its respective feast day (30 August for the Roses and 17 October for the Marguerites) stages a parade, complete with a court of Kings and Queens. The day and evening are spent feasting, dancing, and playacting. A-Bwe, a singing ceremony, transpires in Dennery during the months of November and December. Kele, like A-Bwe, is limited to only a few communities on the island. It is a ceremony in which homage is paid to the ancestors.

Medicine. Medical services are delivered through a network of health-care centers and hospitals under the direction of the Ministry of Health. The island has three hospitals: Victoria, which is located in Castries and operated by the government; Golden Hope, which is also in Castries and is a treatment center for mental illness and alcohol/drug addiction; and St. Jude's, situated in Vieux Fort and administered by the Order of Sorrowful Sisters of Mary.

Saint Lucians also have recourse to "bush medicine." Illnesses caused by forces of nature such as cold air and dampness are treated with teas made from local plants, popularly known as "bush tea."

Death and Afterlife. Upon hearing that a friend or family member has died, mourners convene a small wake in the home of the deceased, bringing coffee, sugar, rum, and juices. The next day, a Catholic Mass is held and the deceased is buried in a cemetery. Following the funeral, the wake continues. In rural areas, a raconteur (storyteller) is summoned, and the evening is spent riddling, singing, playing games, drinking, and eating. It is not unusual for the wake to last nine consecutive nights. The dead are remembered on 1 November, All Saints' Day. At this time, graves are cleaned and adorned with paper wreaths, fresh flowers, and lighted candles.

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