Contemporary St Lucian society is a product of its textured and colourful history, one that reaches back to the Amerindians who made their way up the archipelago from South America in a migration that began thousands of years ago. Those Amerindians, known as the Arawaks and Caribs, left behind an indelible stamp in the petroglyphs at Dauphin and place names such as Hewanorra, and a legacy in the canoe, still used by local fishermen today, and in the canari, a clay cooking pot from which the coastal village Canaries takes its name.
While there is evidence to suggest that a notorious pirate, Jambe de Bois, made Pigeon Island his lair and retreat in the 1500’s, no serious attempt to colonise the island was effected for years even though the island appeared on a papal map in the early 1600s. Those attempts that were made were resisted, the earliest of which by the Dutch is noted in the first ten years of 1600, and followed by the French and English towards the middle of that century. The Amerindian people eventually succumbed to their overwhelming numbers equipped with the technology of arms, and even more dangerously, disease that their constitutions were unable to repel.
What ensued was a struggle between European powers, who in a bid to consolidate powers on the continent engaged in a frantic race to exploit the riches of the region, a competition so fierce that St Lucia, coined Helen of the West for Helen of Troy, endured the vacillations of a power struggle between France and England fourteen times over 100 years. The two powers coveted the 238 square mile island not only for the bounty of its lands but also for the strategic role the island played in the defence and maintenance of hegemony in the archipelago.
Enlisting forced labour from the African continent, the descendants of whom form the primary foundation of Caribbean society, the colonial powers enjoyed the bounty of sugar, rum, spices produced on the island by their toil. Emancipation came in 1834 but still the economic machine which was fuelling Europe’s Industrial Revolution demanded more labour. Indentured workers from Europe and Asia were recruited, introducing to the island an entirely new dimension that was to have major cultural implications. Though by 1814 by the Treaty of Paris St Lucia was resolutely in the hands of the British, the strong French impact persists, in a land where the majority of the population is Catholic and speaks a French Creole. Limited self-government came to the island after an attempt at regional Federation failed in the 1960s, and full independence followed soon thereafter in February 1979.
The contemporary history of the island is one marked by steady development, fuelled first by an agricultural boom with the banana industry and carried on by the tide of the island’s popularity as a tourist destination. Voila, Sainte Lucie! Here, Saint Lucia: melange of cultures, best articulated in the Creole language, catchment for all the influences which have shaped the island.