St. Lucia—Island of the Twin Pitons
By “Awake!” correspondent in St. Lucia
ONE of the loveliest of the West Indian islands is St. Lucia—a mass of mountains, rising steeply from the waters, their summits bathed in mist. This most mountainous of the Windward Islands is noted for its unique natural feature, the twin Pitons. These are two gigantic pyramids of rock rising abruptly from the sea. Clothed in vegetation, the twin peaks are each over 2,400 feet high and are entirely detached from all neighboring mountains. They have long served as a sailor’s landmark to an island that was for more than two centuries the scene of many a battle between the French and the English.
St. Lucia, in fact, has changed hands no less than fourteen times. She has been under British rule since 1803. Now St. Lucia is one of the self-governing West Indies Associated States, associated with Britain. But the French influence is still present. A visitor readily notices the French influence in the language and names, intermingled with the English. For example, Londonderry is a village in the hills behind Anse de la Rivière Dorée, and the Pitons are called Gros Piton and Petit Piton.
Although English is the official language, patois, a colorful French dialect, is frequently used in everyday conversation. It is not a written language, but still it is surprising how the patois has managed to survive. Despite the fact that some persons display a slight resentment toward patois, fearing it will spoil the children’s English, there are very few people on the island who cannot speak it.
True, the patois does have a tendency to affect the English, especially when it comes to idiomatic expressions. For example, a very common greeting is “kumõ yay?” The answer invariably is “mwẽ la, tee bwẽ.” If literally translated it comes out like this, “How are you?” “I’m there, little well.” So, often in conversation when one asks someone in English, “How are you?” the answer comes back, “I’m there.” Another common idiom is, “Come, let me tell you that.” So, it is easily seen that the English has a distinctive flavor.
As a visitor enters the capital, Castries, he cannot help but notice that all the houses have galvanized roofs, many of them painted red. This makes for real contrast with the green foliage that surrounds most homes. In the distance one might hear the music of a steel band hammering out lively melodies on instruments made from discarded oil drums.
At one time St. Lucia was a “sugarcane” island, but now bananas provide the main source of income. It takes nine months to a year for a banana tree to mature from a seedling and to produce a stock of bananas. Then the tree is cut down, but care is taken so as not to destroy the sprout or sucker that is growing up because, in due time, it also will produce a stock of bananas.
Many of the islanders are well informed. However, some persons know only the isolated world in which they live. They are cut off, not only by water, but by customs and traditions. While some are in position to give one all the details on recent history, others may never have heard of the second world war, and many do not know who was fighting whom. In places obeah (sorcery and magic) is practiced, some even claiming it is possible to make a bargain with the Devil for one’s own personal advancement.
For many the day begins at five in the morning, and they are up busily going about their affairs before the sun is up—carrying something on their head, walking barefoot with a cutlass (machete) in their hand. Its eighteen-inch blade is used for about everything you can imagine—from weeding the garden to cutting up fish. Despite the early start, life on this beautiful island is not as rushed as in many of the larger centers. As a rule the homes are simply furnished and mealtime may offer a plate of rice, breadfruit, plantain, red beans and bonito (tuna).
This island of the twin Pitons, with its thick, green tropical foliage and deep, well-cultivated valleys, is indeed a delight to the eye and a place where many people are still content with the necessities of life.