St. Lucians

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St. Lucians

PRONUNCIATION: (saint) LOO-shahns
POPULATION: 172,884 (July 2008 est.)
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 (pronounced LOO-shah) is a nation in the Windward Islands with a distinctive mix of cultures. Its mostly Black population is descended from West African slaves who worked for both French and British plantation owners. Although the British, its final colonizers, ruled the island for 165 years without interruption, the island's previous history produced a culture that is pervasively French in many ways.

Although it was formerly thought that Christopher Columbus sighted St. Lucia on 13 December 1502 (St. Lucy's Day), historians now believe that there is no real evidence for such a sighting. However, it was apparently seen and named by some explorer within the same time period because it appears under its present name on a 1520 Vatican map. In the 17th century the English made two unsuccessful attempts to settle on the island. Following an agreement with the native Carib population in 1660, the French established a presence on the island. However, their claims were disputed by the British, and St. Lucia alternated between French and British control 14 times until 1814, when it became a British Crown Colony under the Treaty of Paris.

Although political control ultimately went to the British, the cultural influence of the French has persisted to the present day, reflected in the dominance of Catholicism among the population, the islanders' French-based patois (dialect), and such customs as its Flower Festivals. Sugarcane continued its previous dominance over the economy for some time, although the plantation owners were forced to modify their operations when the British abolished slavery in 1834. One consequence was the meytage system of sharecropping, devised to induce former slaves to continue working the land. Later in the 19th century, St. Lucia became a major shipping center for coal.

On 10 September 1994, the island was struck by Tropical Storm Debbie, which inflicted greater damage than that caused by Hurricane Allen in 1980. Some 61 cm (24 in) of rain fell within seven hours, killing 4 people and injuring 24. The capital city of Roseau was flooded, a laboratory building located there was swept out to sea, and over two-thirds of the nation's banana crop was destroyed.

In the 20th century, the island reduced its dependence on sugar, whose volatile market made for an unstable economy and expanded its production of bananas. St. Lucia produces the largest banana crop in the Windward Islands. Through-out the century, the island gradually moved toward self-government, beginning with the establishment of a constitution in 1924. Universal adult suffrage was granted in 1951, and in 1958 St. Lucia joined the short-lived West Indies Federation. In 1967 full internal autonomy was achieved, and on 22 February 1979, St. Lucia became an independent state within the British Commonwealth.

The same as many islands located in the Caribbean Sea, St. Lucia has been attracting foreign investment, especially in its offshore banking and tourism industries. In 2006, direct investment to the construction of several resorts was massive. Tourism is the main source of foreign exchange, with almost 700,000 arrivals in 2005 and more than 900,000 in 2007. St. Lucia has attempted to diversify its national portfolio. However, its vulnerability to external economic crisis and customer preferences are some of the main factors that have complicated the self-imposed task of diversification. Declines in the European Union banana preferences, volatile tourism receipts, natural disasters, and dependence on foreign oil are the main reason of its precarious economics' wellbeing.

St. Lucia grew steadily during the early 1990s. GDP increased by an average 3.2% between 1988 and 1991 and by 3.9% between 1992 and 1995. However, it grew by only 2.2% during 1996–1999. Per capita GDP was us$2,785 in 1999. In 2005, the services realm accounted for 80% of the GDP, the industrial sector for 15%, while the agricultural sector represented 5% of the total economic output. The main industry products are focused on producing clothing, beverages, electronic components, corrugated cardboard boxes, and lime and coconut processing. The most important goods produced in St. Lucia are—besides bananas—coconuts, vegetables, citrus, root crops, and cocoa. Even though the national economy has remained strong with an economic growth of 3.2% in 2007, unemployment has kept stubbornly high.


The second-largest of the Windward Islands, St. Lucia has an area of approximately 620 sq km (239 sq mi), between three and four times the size of Washington, D.C. St. Lucia's geographical position between the former French colony of Martinique to the north and the former British colony of St. Vincent to the south parallels its dual historical exposure to the cultures of France and England.

The island is volcanically formed, and like neighboring St. Vincent, Martinique, and Dominica, it has a mountainous interior with lush rain forests. Its highest point, Mt. Gimie, in the southern half of the island, rises to 951 m (3,118 ft) above sea level, and the twin peaks of Gros Piton and Petit Piton on the southwest coast are prominent as well. Fertile plains that support the country's banana plantations are located at the base of the central mountains, and numerous rivers flow from the interior to the Caribbean.

St. Lucia's population estimated 172,000 people, almost evenly divided between urban and rural areas. The capital city of Castries had just under 52,000 people in 1991, and its current population is estimated at between 57,000 and 60,000. No Caribs remain on the island. The majority of the inhabitants of the island is of African or mixed descent. In addition, there is a small minority of mulattoes and other mixtures. The rest are whites, mostly European, or from East Indian extraction. Overcrowding on the island due to high fertility rates has resulted in migration to neighboring Caribbean countries, such as Trinidad and Guyana, or to the United States, Canada, and Britain.

St. Lucia is a constitutional monarchy. The British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, is the head of state and is represented by a governor-general. The bicameral parliament consists of the House of Assembly elected by universal adult suffrage.


Although the official language of St. Lucia is English, a majority of its people speak a patois (dialect) based on French and influenced by the grammar of West African languages, with a largely French vocabulary that includes words from English and Spanish. This language, which historically had no written form, was developed by French plantation owners and their African slaves before the British took final possession of the island in the 19th century and set about making English the national tongue. English, in its most proper British style, is the language of the schools, government, and media, but patois prevails at home, on the streets, and at informal occasions. More than half of St. Lucia's residents are more comfortable with patois than English, and as many as 20%, especially elderly rural dwellers, speak little English or none at all. Some court cases are even tried in patois.

In recent years, greater recognition has been accorded to patois as a symbol of St. Lucian cultural identity. Cultural groups on the island even offer instruction in it. A written form has been developed for teaching purposes, and patois primers are available, including 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 Folk Research Centre in Castries has published a patois handbook and dictionary and a collection of folk tales and common expressions called Annou Di-Y an Kweyol. The name of St. Lucia in patois is "Sent Lisi."


The African-derived quasi-religious belief system called obeah is practiced in St. Lucia, although it has been outlawed since the 1950s. Many of its practices are meant to ward off harm at the hands of various spirits, devils, and human beings. It is thought to be capable of healing the sick, harming one's enemies, and accomplishing more mundane goals such as "fixing" a court case. Its features include the preparation of herbal potions.


According to the 2001 census, about 67.5% of the island's population is Roman Catholic, with smaller groups belonging to the Seventh-Day Adventist (8.5%) and Pentecostal (5.7%). Other religious minorities are Rastafarian (2.1%), Anglican (2%), Evangelical (2%), and other Christian groups, such as Anglicans, Methodists, and Baptists (5.1 %). The island's East Indians are either Hindu or Muslim. The Catholic population celebrates saints' days.


St. Lucia's public holidays include New Year's Day (January 1), Independence Day (February 22), Good Friday, Easter Monday, Labor Day (May 1), Queen of England's Official Birthday (June 5), Corpus Christi (June 6), August Bank Holiday (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, a focus of many of the island's cultural activities, is held in Castries right before Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday. The finals of the calypso competition and the naming of the Carnival King and Queen are held over the weekend, followed by the spirited street revels of J'Ouvert, which begin at 4:00 AM on Monday morning. The more orderly costumed bands parade on Monday and Tuesday.

A tradition unique to St. Lucia are its two competing flower festivals, which are held on the feast days of two saints and grew out of the historical rivalry between France and Britain for control of the island. 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, planned and staged by a special society, includes costumed parades and a "royal court" of kings and queens. Special songs called belairs are composed for the festivals by society members, and the evening of each festival is spent feasting and dancing traditional dances. In addition, Saint Lucia holds a carnival in mid-July.

The National Day, St. Lucia Day on December 13, is an important occasion. St. Lucia (St. Lucy), who is associated with light, is the island's patron saint; its motto is "the land, the people, the light." St. Lucia Day is marked by nationwide cultural and sporting events.


Major life transitions are marked by religious ceremonies appropriate to each St. Lucian's particular faith community. 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, providing coffee, sugar, and rum, and music is performed. The music played inside the house (generally hymns and gospel) is for the dead, while that played outside (drumming or unaccompanied songs) is meant to comfort the mourners.


The distinction between English and patois has traditionally been linked to social standing. While English was historically the language of culture and education, patois implied a lack of status and sophistication, and it was once common for St. Lucians to hide their knowledge of it. Parents who harbored ambitions for their children would insist that they speak English, even at home. The 20% of the population who do not speak English are still excluded from full participation in the island's social, economic, and political life. However, the government has initiated outreach measures designed to bring that group fully into the mainstream. At the same time, 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 the overwhelmingly Roman Catholic religious affiliation of the island's inhabitants.


Health conditions on St. Lucia improved substantially in the 1980s, with a decrease in infant mortality and an increase in average life expectancy, which stood at 72 years in the early 1990s and 74 years (estimate) in 2008. Total deaths were 3,837, and the crude death rate was 6.4 per 1,000 people during 1996– 1999. Diseases of the circulatory system are the principal cause of death (38%), and tumors and external causes represent 16% and 9%, respectively. External causes of death are more than three times greater for males than females.

Free services provided by the health care system include both curative and preventive care, the latter including immunization, family planning, and nutrition programs. There are approximately 3,400 persons per physician, and most (70%) of the country's urban dwellers had access to safe drinking water as of 1990. There are two major hospitals located near Castries and Vieux Fort. Other service providers include a network of clinics.

A 760-km (470-mi) road network links the island's villages, towns, and major residential areas, with the major cross-island route running from Castries in the northwest to Vieux Fort in the south. Local mass transit is provided by vans and mini-buses, which are known as "transports." Rural dwellers often reach the nearest town or main road by footpath. Castries and Vieux Fort are the country's most important ports, with ferry links from Vieux Fort to St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Hewanorra International Airport accommodates jet aircraft, while the smaller Vigie Airport is used for flights to neighboring islands in the Caribbean.

An existing housing shortage due to overcrowding on the island—especially in urban areas—was worsened by damage from Tropical Storm Debbie in 1994.

Regarding media property, St Lucia's newspapers and broadcasters are mainly privately owned and carry a range of views. The government operates a radio network. There are no daily newspapers.


Couples in St. Lucia, as in other parts of the West Indies, are united in three basic types of relationships: legal marriage, unmarried cohabitation, and "visiting unions," where the man and woman live apart and the woman raises the children. Visiting unions are more likely to occur in early adulthood, while married relationships are more common later in life. The traditional nuclear family is mostly found among the upper classes, with female-headed families the norm at other levels of society. Many households are largely composed of different generations of women, and women have the major decision-making responsibilities. Children acquire a strong sense of responsibility toward their families from an early age and are expected to care for their parents as they age.

In rural areas, men and women do the same types of farm work, but 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 may still be seen in the traditional national costume consisting of a madras head-tie and a skirt with lace petticoats draped at the sides. Costumes are also worn at the Flower Festivals and the Carnival celebration.


Like its language, St. Lucia's cuisine combines the island's French and African heritages. It is based on the local produce and seafood catch, liberally spiced and prepared in clay pots heated by coals. The waters surrounding the island contain crab, tuna, dolphin fish, conch, flying fish, and snapper, while its tropical climate yields breadfruit, dasheen, green-skinned pumpkin and yam, avocado, coconut, guava, mango, and papaya. (Produce is generally available year-round). Favorite Caribbean dishes enjoyed on St. Lucia include fish soup, callaloo, and plantains prepared in many different ways. Pouile Dudon is a French-derived sweet-and-spicy chicken meal. The national dish is saltfish and green figs (a type of banana also known as "bluggoe").

Saltfish and Green Figs

¼ pound salted codfish
2 tablespoons vegetable oil water
3 medium-sized green figs (unripe bananas)
1 small onion, finely chopped

Place the salted codfish into a bowl, breaking it into large chunks. Add water to cover and let soak for 12 hours, adding fresh water at least twice.

Cut the bananas into 2.5-cm (1-in) pieces and boil in about 2 cups of water, simmering about 15 minutes.

Boil the salted fish in 3 cups of water for 15 minutes, or until tender. Drain thoroughly, remove any remaining skin or bones, and shred or flake.

In a large skillet, sauté the fish together with the onion for about 5 minutes. Stir in the drained bananas and cook for 2 more minutes.

Optional: garnish with tomato or avocado slices, or celery sticks.


Education on St. Lucia is free and compulsory between the ages of 5 and 15. The literacy rate of the adult population has been estimated at about 90%, a figure related to the fact that some 15% of the populace speaks only the French-based Lucian dialect, or patois. There are 83 primary schools and 13 secondary schools. In the 1980s only 6 of the nation's secondary schools offered schooling beyond the junior secondary level (equivalent to junior high school), sending many young people into the work force without having received a full education. Higher education is offered at Sir Arthur Lewis Community College and a branch of the University of the West Indies. There is also a technical college and a teacher-training college.


Nobel Prize-winning poet and playwright Derek Wolcott was born in St. Lucia in 1930. Although he has long divided his time between Boston and Trinidad, where he founded a theater workshop, he has established an international writers' retreat called the Rat Island Foundation off the coast of his native land. Wolcott's works represent a fusion of the English language and literary tradition with Caribbean culture and folklore. Other St. Lucian writers include Walcott's twin brother Roderick Walcott, novelist Garth St. Omer, and poet and short-story writer John Robert Lee.

In addition to Wolcott, St. Lucia has produced another Nobel Prize winner: economist Sir Arthur Lewis. The country's visual artists include Dunstan St. Omer, known for his religious paintings, and Llewellyn Xavier, the St. Lucia-born creator of Mail Art who has become involved in environmental conservation on the island in recent years. Modern dance has thrived on St. Lucia, and two of its best-known performers are Michael Francis and Carlton Ishmael.

In addition to the calypso and reggae music that are universally popular in the Caribbean, two other musical styles, zouk and cadance, are heard on French-influenced islands like St. Lucia. The St. Lucia International Jazz Festival has been held annually since 1992, with the dual goals of bringing top international performers to the island and encouraging local musicians. Festival participants have included such acclaimed artists as Herbie Hancock, Nancy Wilson, and Ramsey Lewis. The 1993 festival was attended by 6,000 people.


The cooperative labor ethos of St. Lucians extends from the family to the neighborhood cou-de-main tradition, where villagers organize themselves into work parties to help their neighbors with such tasks as building a new house or organizing a major family event such as a wedding. The majority of the work force is engaged in agriculture, with light manufacturing and a growing tourist industry employing most of the rest.


As is the case in other British-influenced Caribbean islands, cricket is very popular on St. Lucia, whose team competes regularly against the British team (which itself has a number of West Indian players).


Dancing is extremely popular on St. Lucia, and dances are held regularly, even in the smallest towns. In the 1980s, up to one-third of a popular radio news program broadcast in patois was devoted to dance announcements. Other favorite forms of recreation include beach parties, full-moon parties, and simply gathering with friends at night to discuss the day's events. Popular music on the island includes the Caribbean calypso and reggae styles, as well as the French-influenced zouk and beguine. As on other islands in the West Indies, the rum shop is the traditional male after-hours gathering place.


St. Lucia has a rich and varied folk music tradition, which can be heard on a CD collection compiled by the island's Folk Research Centre and recorded at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. (Musical Traditions of St. Lucia). The island's traditional music includes work songs that originated during the days of slavery, as well as beach party and game songs, "play-song-dance" music, and Carnival music. Some of St. Lucia's folk instruments, including the violin, guitar, and mandolin, are of European origin. Instruments of African origin 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.

The music itself shows both French and African influences. The former is evident in the St. Lucian kwadril, derived from a French dance form, and the latter can be seen in the koutoumba, derived from African call-and-response forms. St. Lucian gospel songs are called sankeys (in honor of American singer and songwriter 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, like the French version, consists of five distinct parts with complicated steps that must be carefully learned and memorized. The kwadril has enjoyed a revival since the mid-1980s, when it was recognized as a unique cultural expression rather than simply a vestige of European colonialism.

Traditional crafts on St. Lucia include pottery, woodcarving, and weaving. The Craft Centre at Choiseul was established by the St. Lucian government to preserve the island's folk art heritage and help support its craftspeople.


In recent years, low banana prices have affected St. Lucia's economy, and the situation has been exacerbated by farmers' strikes and the damage wrought by Tropical Storm Debbie in 1994. In that year, the St. Lucia Banana Growers' Association was forced into receivership and confronted a heavy debt load. Prime Minister John Compton estimated that it would take two years and cost us$30 million to repair the damage from the storm. It was feared that up to one-fifth of the island's fertile farm lands might have been permanently ruined for crop production.


St. Lucia still has discriminatory laws against women. St. Lucian women who marry foreign men are not permitted to acquire citizenship for their husbands, but men who marry foreign women receive automatic citizenship for their wives. Women also must consult and receive permission from their husbands before basic procedures related to their reproductive health. On the other hand, men are not required to have the consent of their wives if they choose to have a vasectomy. Abortion was made legal in 2003, but only in limited circumstances, in cases of rape, incest, deformed fetus, and to protect the life of the mother.

Violence against women is a critical problem in St. Lucia and the government has enacted laws to deal with the problem. However, there is a low level of public awareness and sensitization. Many people still believe that domestic violence is a private affair. Law enforcement and the judicial system also pose major problems, as many cases of violence against women remain unsolved and those that do go before the court experience years of delays. In addition, there has been a growing trend in adolescent childbirths and girls from poor families are more prone to become pregnant due to sexual abuse, unlawful carnal knowledge, or the inability to gain access to contraceptives. Also, there is currently no recourse in the criminal code for women who are victims of rape within marital relationships.

Female participation in the labor force stands at 44.42% and there has been a steady increase in women occupying senior and middle management positions since 2002. However, women are still concentrated in elementary positions, including services and clerical work. Even though women have a greater level of education and skill attainment than men, more women are unemployed. Moreover, not only do women have more consistently higher rates of unemployment than men, they are also generally paid less than men for the same work.

Regarding politics, in St. Lucia there is no quota system that could create spaces for participation of women in parliament and in local government. In 1997 and 2001 there was an improvement in the participation of women in the parliamentary assembly, as two women were elected to office out of the 17 constituencies and seats in the lower house. There are 11 seats in the senate and women maintain a presence there, but the numbers have decreased. In addition, the speaker of the house has always been a male. Senior management posts in public service are still dominated by men although there have been some progress for women. There are many female attorneys and there are also female judges. Even though women are holding positions in most areas of the public service, including that of permanent secretary, the majority of top positions are still held by men.


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—revised by C. Vergara

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