The people of St Lucia are generally laid back and friendly. The St Lucia Culture is influenced by a mixture of English, Caribbean and African flavor, however, culturally, St Lucia has a great deal of French influence. The majority of the St Lucians speak a Creole type language known as Kweyol, which is similar to French, and in some areas, people – particularly the older generation tend to struggle with English. There are special radio programmes and news programmes which are broadcast entirely in Kweyol.
The architecture features a French provincial style, many of the place names are French and around 70% of the population are Roman Catholic. The Catholic cathedral in Castries is of French design with an African inspired interior. The African heritage of St Lucia can be seen in the many traditional customs and superstitions that still survive, such as Obeah (voodoo) and the local Snakeman who is visited by locals seeking his medicinal powers.
Music has a French influence on the St Lucia Culture too. Whilst reggae and calypso are very much enjoyed, zouk and cadance are also prominent musical styles.
The influence of the English can be seen in the political, legal and educational systems and of course the St Lucian love for cricket.
There is a strong Rastafarian movement on the island which has become much more political in recent years and is tending to influence the St Lucia Culture more and more.
The people of St Lucia are known for their love of literature and as an art form it has contributed greatly to the St Lucia Culture. The island has produced some notable authors such as Derek Walcott. A renowned poet and playwright, he was born in 1930. His published works include poetry collections, and autobiography in verse, and several plays. He won the 192 Nobel Prize for Literature. A good introduction to his work would be his “Collected Poems, 1948-184″. Other authors include Garth St Omer, Earl Long, Jane King-Hippolyte, Kendal Hippolyte, John Robert Lee and Jacintha Lee.
St Lucia also produces great artists such as Dunstan St Omer, who creates religious paintings, and with his four sons, has painted some of the countryside churches on the island. Llewellyn Xavier is an artist and environmental campaigner whose works reflect his beliefs. Ron Savory, Sean Bonnett St Remy, Winston Branch, Chris Cox, and Alcina Nolley are all well known St Lucian artists.
Food is a big part of the St Lucia Culture, with a wealth of restaurants to choose between. Local produce is used to create wonderful fresh dishes in a Creole style, however, other types of cuisine including French, Italian, Indian and Steakhouse are also represented here. Fish and seafood are plentiful as are a range of tropical fruits. The national dish is Callaloo Soup, which is made from a leafy green vegetable similar to spinach. Other St Lucian specialities include fresh seafood such as lobster, lambi (conch), green figs, saltfish, and fried plantain.
Restaurants can be found in hotels, at malls and in various locations. Recommendations include The Edge in Rodney Bay, Jacques Waterfront Dining in Castries, and Rainforest Hideaway at Marigot Bay.
Celebration is a big part of the St Lucia Culture and the locals celebrate a variety of festivals during the year including religious festivals such as La Rose, which represents the Rosicrucian order, and La Marguerite which represents Freemasonry. Every year on 27th October, Jounen Kweyol (Creole Day) is celebrated. Locals dress in national costume and prepare local food and drink. A different kind of festival is the annual St Lucia Jazz Festival which strongly expresses the St Lucia Culture and reflects the local love of music. Carnival takes place over two days in July and features the election of the carnival Queen, plus parades and street parties. Carnival used to take place around Easter time, but was moved to July in order to attract more visitors.
The St Lucia Culture proves that it is a very diverse nation with much to offer in terms of food, music, art and literature.
Today, St Lucia is a stable democracy having enjoyed independence since the 1970s. It has however, got a very colorful and fascinating history.
Archaeologists studying St Lucia history have determined that the Arawak Indians originally settled on the island between 1000 and 500 BC. The Arawaks were a peaceful people, but fierce migrating Caribs then conquered the Arawaks in around AD 800, and established permanent settlements on St Lucia. The Carib Indians called the island Iouanalao, which is thought to mean “where the iguana is found”. The name was later changed to Hiwanarau, which then evolved into Hewanorra – the present day name of the international airport. The name St Lucia was not used until the 16th Century.
Although many St Lucians believe that their island was discovered by Columbus on St Lucy’s Day – 13 December, a national holiday – St Lucia was probably first sighted by Spanish explorers during the early 1500s. According to Columbus’ log, he was not even in this area at that time. A Vatican globe dating back to 1520 shows the island marked as Santa Lucia, which is where the suggestion that the Spanish discovered it comes from.
The first European to settle in St Lucia was a pirate called Francois Le Clerc, also known as Jambe de Bois, or Wooden Leg. He would attack passing Spanish ships from Pigeon Island.
A couple of British attempts at colonization were successfully defended by the Caribs in the 1600s – 67 Englishmen made an attempt on their way to Guiana in 1605, when their ship, the Olive Branch was blown off course – Sir Thomas Warner and others tried again in 1638, but were killed by the Caribs around three years later.
The French were more successful a century later. The King of France claimed sovereignty in 1642, and then ceded the island to the French West India Company. The French established Soufriere, the first European settlement on St Lucia, in 1746. They had already established twelve settlements by 1780 and had begun to develop sugar plantations with the help of slave labor – which was abolished by the British in 1834. The Caribs tried repeatedly to expel the French, murdering several of the governors. The British did not wish to relinquish their claim to the island, so this colonial period was also a time of war from about 1660, with a successful British invasion taking place in 1778. Naval bases were established at Gros Islet and Pigeon Island, with attacks being launched from here on the French islands to the north. 150 years of conflict continued until the Treaty of Paris in 1814 ceded the island to the British. During this period, St Lucia changed its flag 14 times! The years of war have left their mark on the island with fortresses and other wartime relics still providing a poignant reminder of such a turbulent St Lucia history.
Britain chose St Lucia as one of its main coaling stations, passing steam ships could buy Welsh coal from the island.
The city of Castries was founded by the French in the 18th century but has lost many of its historic buildings, having been ravaged by fire no less than four times in its history. By the end of the 19th century, Castries was the 14th most important port in the world based on tonnage handled, however, decline set in once oil began to dominate in the 20th century.
French customs persisted on St Lucia, with the official language changing to English from French in 1842. Even today, however, locals speak a French based Patois, and many villages have French names. St Lucia history has been far from quiet, but locals enjoy a far more peaceful state today as the country gained full independence on February 22 1979.