PRONUNCIATION: Ki-TEE-shuns and ne-VEE-zhuns
LOCATION: St. Kitts and Nevis
LANGUAGE: English; English-based Creole dialect with West African and French elements
RELIGION: Anglicanism; other Protestant sects; Roman Catholicism; Bahaism
The nation of St. Kitts and Nevis (pronounced NEE-vis) consists of two Caribbean islands separated by a narrow strait of water. The people of the two islands are called Kittitians and Nevisians.
Christopher Columbus sighted St. Kitts and Nevis in 1493. Originally called St. Christopher, St. Kitts is the location of the first British colony established in the West Indies in 1623. For that reason, St. Kitts is sometimes called "the mother colony of the West Indies." Five years later, the British officially settled Nevis. The French were soon competing with the British for control of the islands. The native Carib population was virtually destroyed in the first years of European occupation. Eventually, both St. Kitts and Nevis were turned over to the British under the Treaty of Paris in 1783. Under the British rule, sugarcane plantations flourished on both islands, supported by the labor of slaves imported from West Africa.
St. Kitts, Nevis, together with Anguilla, were united within a larger Leeward Islands Federation in 1882. St. Kitts and Nevis achieved full independence on September 19, 1983. The two-island nation remains a member of the British Commonwealth and retains many British traditions.
St. Kitts and Nevis belong to the Leeward Islands, in the Lesser Antilles. They are separated from each other by a two-mile strait called The Narrows. The country has a total land area of 104 square miles (269 square kilometers), about one and one-half times the size of Washington, D.C. St. Kitts is the larger of the two islands. The capital city and main port of Basseterre is located on the southwestern coast. St. Kitts has a varied terrain: volcanic peaks, rain forests on the higher mountains, fertile lowlands, and coves with black, brown, and white sand.
The most outstanding feature of the circular island of Nevis is Nevis Peak, rising to 3,232 feet (985 meters) at its center. Like St. Kitts, Nevis has forested mountains in its interior and low-lying areas along the coast. Charlestown is Nevis's only town.
Population estimates for St. Kitts and Nevis range from 41,000 to 45,000. About 10,000 people live on Nevis and the rest on St. Kitts. About 95 percent of the population is of African descent. The remaining 5 percent are of mixed-race, East Indian, or European ancestry.
The official language of St. Kitts and Nevis is English. Standard English, with correct grammar, is spoken in formal situations. Informally, most residents speak a local English-based Creole dialect. It combines elements of West African languages and French. Subject and object pronouns are reversed and past actions are expressed with present-tense verbs. For example, in informal conversation, a Kittian might say "I tell she" for "I told her." Also, the African-influenced "de" is used in place of "the."
Kittitians and Nevisians tend to be superstitious. Some still fear the black magic called obeah that is common to the Caribbean region.
Between one-third and one-half of the country's population is Anglican, a Protestant group with roots in England. Other Protestant groups include Methodists, Moravians, Baptists, and Seventh-Day Adventists. About 10 percent of the residents are Roman Catholic. The Baha'i religion is also represented.
Major holidays in St. Kitts and Nevis include New Year's Day (January 1), Good Friday (in March or April), Labor Day (May1), Whitmonday, Bank Holiday on the first Monday in August, Independence Day (September 19), Prince of Wales's Birthday (November 14), Christmas (December 25), and Boxing Day (December 26).
St. Kitts's annual Carnival celebration is held the last week of the year, from December 25 through January 2. It is a typical Caribbean Carnival, with masquerades, calypso and steel band music, and street dancing. Nevis' Carnival, called Culturama, is held in late July and early August, and includes arts and crafts and talent shows in addition to carnival festivities.
Major life transitions, such as birth, marriage, and death, are marked by religious celebrations appropriate to each Kittitian's and Nevisian's faith.
There is a local handshake called a "bump." It consists of two people clenching their hands into fists and bumping them gently together. "Liming" is a popular pursuit in St. Kitts and Nevis. This term, which means "hanging out" is used throughout the Caribbean region, and reflects the easygoing lifestyle.
Until the 1970s, the typical islander's house was wooden with a corrugated metal roof, often painted red. The houses themselves were often painted in pastel colors. By the 1990s, most houses were built from concrete blocks and wood. Roofs are still made of corrugated metal. It is becoming more common for islanders to own the land on which they live. At one time, houses were built on piles of stones in case they had to be moved quickly, but this is no longer the practice.
St. Kitts and Nevis enjoy a healthy climate with almost no tropical diseases. Sanitation conditions are good. The life expectancy is sixty-eight years.
The country has a good system of roads. Following the British way, motorists drive on the left side of the road. Drainage ditches along the side of the roads are called "ghauts." Drivers must be careful not to go off the road into one of these ditches. The phrase "Watch de ghaut" is a common warning to drivers.
Family loyalty is strong. It is not uncommon to find households with extended families including members from two or three generations living together.
People on St. Kitts and Nevis take great pride in their appearance and wear modern Western-style clothing. Even for casual wear, women wear skirts or dresses. Men wear jeans or casual slacks. For men, business attire usually includes a shirt and tie, or at least a button-down shirt, called a shirt jack. Fashion-consciousness on the islands is especially strong on weekends, when people dress up rather than down. School children wear uniforms.
Preheat oven to 350° F .
Cut into squares and serve.
Dietary staples include yams, plantains, rice and peas. Soups are popular, including pumpkin, bean, pepperpot, and fish soups. Lime juice is a common seasoning. Hot pepper sauce made from Scotch Bonnet peppers is a specialty on Nevis. Carib beer is a favorite beverage. Sweet cassava bread is a popular dessert.
St. Kitts and Nevis have traditionally had very high standards for education. Ninety-eight percent of adults are literate (can read and right), among the highest percentages in the Western Hemisphere.
Primary education is free and required between the ages of five and fourteen. There are more than thirty primary schools and eight secondary schools. There is no university on either island. However, post-secondary education is offered at a teachers' training college, a technical college, and a nursing school.
An annual St. Kitts Music Festival is held in July. It features music from reggae to gospel. On Nevis, the Drama and Cultural Society sponsors an annual play and other cultural events. St. Kitts' well-known folk dance troupe, Masquerades, performs traditional dances ranging from the French-derived kwadril to African war dances. Nevis' best-known artist is Dame Eva Wilkin, who is now more than eighty years old. Her pastels and watercolor artwork portray the island's people and way of life.
More than 33 percent of the labor force is engaged in agriculture. The sugar industry is the country's main employer. Many islanders have more than one source of income. These may include fishing, selling garden produce, and working part-time or seasonally in the sugarcane fields or the tourist industry. Working in the sugarcane fields under a tropical sun is very difficult labor. Clumps of sugarcane grow ten feet (three meters) tall. The workers cut the clump at its base with a machete, trim the tops, divide the stalks into smaller lengths then stack them and clear up the debris.
Much of the labor force lacks the employment skills to move from agricultural work to better-paying service-oriented jobs. An estimated 20 percent of the population emigrate each year to the United States, Canada, or Great Britain in search of better-paying jobs. They send money home to the islands and that has been a major source of income on the islands.
Cricket is the national sport of St. Kitts and Nevis. The whole country practically shuts down for a major cricket match. Other popular sports are horse-racing on Nevis, and soccer on St. Kitts.
Music is an important form of entertainment on St. Kitts and Nevis. Steel drum, dance, string band, and reggae music are all popular.
The islands' crafts include batiked (dyed) clothing and wall hangings made from local sea island cotton. Nevisian craftspeople are also known for their fine pottery.
The country's continued economic dependence on the sugar industry has made its economy sensitive to the ups and downs of international sugar prices.
Gordon, Joyce. Nevis: Queen of the Caribees. London: Macmillan Caribbean, 1990.
Walton, Chelle Koster. Caribbean Ways: A Cultural Guide. Westwood, Mass.: Riverdale, 1993.