Saint Lucians

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Saint Lucians

ETHNONYM: Lucians (colloquial)


Identification. Although Saint Lucians regard themselves as West Indians, their Saint Lucian identity is primary.

Location. Saint Lucia is one of the Windward Islands, which constitute the southern chain of the Lesser Antilles, in the eastern Caribbean. The island is located 40 kilometers south of Martinique and 48 kilometers north of Saint Vincent. Its proximity to these two islandsa former French colony and a former British colonyreflects and reveals Saint Lucia's dual European history and culture.

Demography. The population of Saint Lucia was estimated to be 151,774 in 1992. In contrast to other West Indian societies, Saint Lucia is and always has been ethnically homogeneous. People of African descent constitute 90.3 percent of the population; of these, some are Melates (a combination of African and European lines), others are Doglas (African and East Indian), and still others Chabeans (African, East Indian, and Amerindian). East Indians, descendants of contract workers recruited from India in the 1850s, account for 3.2 percent of the population. Less than 1 percent of Saint Lucians are Caucasians.

Linguistic Affiliation. Saint Lucians are largely bilingual. Although English is the island's official language and about 45 percent of the population is literate in English, Patwah, the nonwritten language that developed between French-speaking planters and African slaves, is widely spoken. Whereas French and Patwah had at one time been the island's sole languages, a linguistic transition to English occurred in the early 1800s, after Saint Lucia became a British colony.

History and Cultural Relations

Saint Lucia was first occupied by Amerindians. Around AD. 200, the Arawak, who are thought to have emigrated from the coast of South America, arrived in Saint Lucia. By 1300, the Arawak were displaced by the Carib, who probably also originated on the South American mainland. Although Amerindian communities are no longer found on the island, their cultural contributions are still apparent. In particular, many of their craft skills, such as pottery making and boat building, are still practiced on a small scale.

Although Columbus is generally credited with discovering the island on 13 December 1502 (the feast day of Saint Lucy), its actual European discoverer remains unknown. The English were the first Europeans to attempt to colonize Saint Lucia, but their 1605 settlement had to be abandoned following a Carib ambush in which most of the main party of sixty-seven men were killed. The French, who had a more amicable relationship with the Carib, are credited with establishing the first successful colony on the island in 1650.

By 1674, as the French continued to settle the island, Saint Lucia was claimed by the French Crown and made a dependency of Martinique. Ten years later, however, because France and Great Britain contested its ownership, Saint Lucia was declared neutral, but the dispute continued for 150 years. During this period, the "Helen of the West"as Saint Lucia was known because of its beauty and strategic harborpassed back and forth some fourteen times between Great Britain and France. Even though the island was finally ceded to Great Britain in 1814, the French exerted a tremendous influence over Saint Lucia, today most evident in the realms of religion (i.e., Catholicism), language (i.e., Patwah), and culture (particularly the Flower Society revels, described under "Ceremonies," and Carnival).

Once the British gained control of the island and political stability was restored, a plantation economy was established, based on the cultivation of sugarcane. Adjusting to the vicissitudes of the nineteenth-century sugar market and compensating for a shortage of African laborers, the British introduced the meytage (sharecropping) system in the 1840s. Devised as a means to supply planters with a cheap labor force while providing the recently freed slaves with an incentive to remain on the estates, the meytage system created a dual plantation and peasant economy.

In spite of its remote location, Saint Lucia was affected both politically and economically by World War I and World War II. As a British colony, Saint Lucia sent troops to Europe and allowed the United States to establish an air base near Vieux Fort. The global depression of the 1930s also adversely affected Saint Lucia. Owing to perennial slumps in sugar prices, the islanders began to divert land from sugar to banana production, and by 1964 sugar was no longer a commercial crop.

In February 1967 Saint Lucia was granted the status of a state associated with the United Kingdom, with full internal self-government. Great Britain remained responsible for external affairs and defense. On 22 February 1979 Santa Lucia achieved full independence.


On the basis of French ecclesiastical principles of organization, Saint Lucia is divided into eleven geo-demographic districts for purposes of administration: Ansye-la Raye, Canaries, Castries, Choiseul, Dennery, Gros Islet, Laborie, Michoud, Soufrière, and Vieux Fort. Approximately three-fifths of the population is concentrated in Castries, the island's capital, in the north, and Vieux Fort, a semi-industrial zone in the south. The rest of the population is dispersed along the coastline, in the other nine administrative zones. Thickly forested mountains in the interior of the island preclude either cultivation or habitation.

Parallel to this pattern is the Saint Lucian notion of spatial zoning. The island is divided into two discrete geosocial zones"town" and "country." "Town" almost always refers to Castries, whereas "country" is generically applied to all other inhabited regions, including those areas that contain relatively large pockets of settlement and industry.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Despite efforts to promote the development of industry and tourism, Saint Lucia's economy is still primarily dependent on agriculture. The cultivation and export of bananas account for nearly 80 percent of the island's revenue. Saint Lucia is wholly dependent on the banana industry, the future of which is uncertain. Until 1992, when Europe became a single market, Geest, a British-based transshipment corporation, transported, distributed, and retailed all the bananas Saint Lucia produced. The European union resulted in the loss of Saint Lucia's ready-made market because Britain is no longer in a position to give preferential treatment to its former colonies. Saint Lucia's exceedingly low productivity level for the cultivation of bananas was not a concern prior to 1992, but now the island's chief export must compete on the world market. The government has been seeking to diversify the island's agricultural activities.

Tourism, the second-largest earner of foreign exchange, is an enclave industry that is still evolving. Although revenues from tourism have continued to increase, it, too, is a precarious industry. The vast majority of hotels and restaurants are foreign owned. Hurricane Allen caused heavy damage to the tourist infrastructure in 1980.

Ranking third in contribution to the island's economy is the industrial sector. Small in scale, it includes about 200 enterprises that produce furniture, clothing, paper products, electronic appliances, beverages, and textiles.

Industrial Arts. In 1971 the Saint Lucian government established the Craft Centre at Choiseul. Its purpose was to provide jobs for villagers and to preserve such traditional craft skills as pottery making, wood carving, and weaving.

Trade. The chief exports include bananas, cardboard boxes, clothing, and coconut products. Approximately 40 percent of Saint Lucia's exports are to Great Britain, the remainder to neighboring islands and the United States. Food, live animals, and electronic parts are imported.

Division of Labor. The division of labor is based on precepts of reciprocity, interdependency, and cooperation. At the village level, this ethos is best exemplified in the coupde-main, a type of organized work party into which an individual gathers friends and relatives to accomplish a labor-intensive task such as building a house or preparing a baptismal party. All members of the work party are fed by the host in exchange for their labor. At the household level, each member of the family, including children, is expected to work. Men and women toil side by side in the banana fields, but women are responsible for the bulk of domestic and child-care chores.

Land Tenure. The land-tenure system is a legacy of colonialism. Almost 47 percent of Saint Lucia's agricultural holdings, or 13,074 hectares, are owned in estate by seventeen families, whereas about 4,700 smallholders till plots of land that average less than 0.4 hectares. Unless there is a specific arrangement regarding inheritance of land, all offspring are entitled to an equal share. Because there rarely is a prearranged agreement and because multiple offspring often have claim to land, fragmentation of landholdings has occurred.


Saint Lucians trace descent through both parents. The extended family, including fictive kin such as godparents and informal adoptive parents, also assumes an important role in social and economic interpersonal relations.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Three types of heterosexual unions are common in Saint Lucia, as is true for the West Indies in general: visiting unions, in which a couple engages in sexual/economic relations but does not share a residence; common-law unions, in which in addition to having a sexual/economic relationship, the couple also shares a domicile; and marital unions, in which the couple engages in sexual/economic relations, is legally wed, and shares a common residence. Each union entails different degrees of stability, typically correlating with differing levels of economic obligation and commitment. Moreover, union types vary with the life cycle: visiting unions are most common during early adulthood, marital unions later on.

Domestic Unit. Like the vast majority of West Indian societies, Saint Lucia is matrifocal; households are not only largely composed of women and their offspring, but women also assume a dominant role in the domestic domain. Although individuals in the upper stratum of society are likely to be found in households that approximate the European ideal of a nuclear family, for those in the lower stratum of society, the nuclear-family pattern is exceptional.

Socialization. Women are the primary socializing agents, although children are greatly valued by both men and women in Saint Lucian society. Children provide labor while they are young, and as adults they are expected to care for their aging parents. The concept of familial reciprocity is instilled in children at a very early age.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Saint Lucia has long had a dual class structure: an elite class that controls the economic and political scene, and a poor, laboring class. A popularly expressed differentiation, analogous to the geo-spatial distinction between "town" people and "country" people (see "Settlements"), is drawn between "high" people and "low" people. The former are typically associated with urbanity, a light skin hue, the English language, and "high" occupationsattorney, landowner, teacherwhereas the latter pertains to rural residence, darker skin hues, the Patwah language, and "low" occupationsmanual labor and domestic service.

In Lucian society, particularly among "low" people, there is a strong sense of community and sharing, which is achieved by cultivating an extensive social network. This ethos is perhaps best exemplified by "friendly societies"voluntary associations established for extending mutual aid to members in times of financial need caused by illness or death in the family. Each member contributes monthly dues, and officers are expected to oversee the funds. In times of distress, members apply to the association for benefits. Operating at the individual level is the su-su, another type of revolving-credit association, in which individuals merge into small groups of about six. Every month, members of the su-su give one individual in the group a fixed amount of money to be disposed of as he or she chooses.

Political Organization. Saint Lucia is a constitutional monarchy and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. A prime minister governs the island with the aid of a ten-member cabinet. The legislature consists of a seventeen-seat elected House of Assembly and an elevenseat Senate, whose members are appointed by the governor general, the prime minister, and the leader of the opposition. The constitution also provides for a parliamentary commissioner and an integrity commissioner, both appointed by the governor general.

Social Control and Conflict. Major deviant behavior is handled through the judicial system, which consists of the Magistrates Court, the High Court, the Court of Appeal, and the Privy Council in Britain. Minor deviance is controlled at the community level through gossip, obeah, and familial intervention.

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 placeevil 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.


Auberteen, Michael (1987). "Patterns of Gender Socialization in St. Lucia." M.A. thesis, University of Manchester.

Breen, Henry (1970). St. Lucia: Historical, Statistical, and Descriptive. London: Frank Cass & Co.

Dressler, William (1982). Hypertension and Culture Change: Acculturation and Disease in the West Indies. New York: Redgrave.

Jones, Rose (1994). "Songs from the Village: An Ethnography of Gender, Reproduction, and Sexuality in St. Lucia, West Indies." Ph.D. thesis, Southern Methodist University.

Koester, Stephen (1986). "From Plantation Agriculture to Oil Storage: Economic Development and Social Transformation." Ph.D. thesis, University of Colorado.


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Saint Lucians

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Saint Lucians