St. Lucia–Overview

The history of Saint Lucia is one of an island that bounced back and forth between colonial hands like a ping pong ball. Its first inhabitants were the Arawak who lived there for hundreds of years before the Caribs came in the 800s and pushed them out. Early inhabitants called the island “Iouanalao” and “Hewanorra,” meaning “Island of the Iguanas.”

Either Columbus or one of his associated explorers was the first to “discover” Saint Lucia (historians aren’t sure), but no Europeans settled until the 1550s when the feared buccaneer Francois le Clerc, also known as Jambe de Bois, or Wooden Leg, landed on Pigeon Island and used it as a base from which to attack Spanish ships. The Dutch came next, then the British, whose ship “the Olive Branch” ended up on the island after being blown off course while en route to Guyana, and then the French, who came on purpose with representatives of the French West India Company to “buy” the island and establish sugar plantations there that relied on African slave labor. The local Caribs successfully fought off colonization for a while, but eventually the Europeans took charge. For the next 150 years the British and French fought over the island; it changed hands between them fourteen times before the British finally pushed the French out in 1814. All the while independence-seekers of African and sometimes of mixed African-Arawak-Carib heritage, who the Europeans called “Brigands,” fought the colonizers from the forests and rural areas.

Today Saint Lucia’s official language is English but most Saint Lucians speak French-based patois. Saint Lucians love cricket, but they a equally as enthusiastic about calypso, reggae and Afro-Caribbean foods and festivals. The island became an independent nation in 1979 but is still part of the British Commonwealth.

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