So you come from a small Caribbean island which has achieved nothing in the way of international notoriety or success. The biggest thing that happened on your island in the recent past was that they shot some episodes of The Bachelor here. You’re like a pretty girl on the world stage—no one can see past your breasts (the Pitons) to acknowledge your intelligence, your strength, your diligence and creativity. Sometimes, even you forget, selling yourself to international investors for a song and a dance.
But the truth about you is that you are not just some geo-political jamette. Looking over your history, STAR researchers have found that you don’t just have potential, you actually already have a great record of achievement. You think you’re nothing, but if we rewrite your resume, we will discover that you have done many great things in the past and have the potential to exceed them all. In fact, St Lucia, you are a woman very worthy of being loved and being proud of. In fact, let us count the reasons:
INTELLECTUAL EXCELLENCE: Let’s just get it out of the way. Nobel Laureates. There. I said it. But let’s also be more truthful. St Lucia has two Nobel Laureates but it also has hundreds of highly intelligent thinkers, intellectuals and artistes—people who are recognized as shining lights in every part of the world, except in St Lucia. Think I can’t name them? Dare me to name three— Dr Winston Parris, world renowned pain therapy innovator. Edsel Edmunds, who, in his days as a scientist, discovered some microscopic worms that were eating away at the roots of banana trees, severely limiting the yield. His research affected banana cultivation all over the world, including Africa, the Pacific and Latin America. Earl Long, who served with distinction at the American Center for Disease Control and has now turned author of novels, to critical acclaim. Garth St Omer, St Lucia’s first published writer of novels. Walcott has been styled as a Caribbean Homer. But really Walcott is a Caribbean Shakespeare and St Omer is probably the true Homer. That’s four. And almost everyone reading this article can think of one more. Hit us up at stluciastar.com to let us know who else you think qualifies as a Grade A St Lucian intellectual or over-achiever and why.
PROUD HISTORY: When you talk about the fight for slavery in the Western Hemisphere, St Lucia is often too small to register on the radar. But you look at St Lucia’s actual history of bloodshed in the fight against slavery, you have to wonder how most St Lucians remain ignorant of the proudest era in St Lucian history—the Brigand Wars. St Lucian Negmarrons or brigands as the British called them, were contemporaries of Toussaint l’Overture fighting the same empires that he did, under almost the same conditions. The scale was different and so Toussaint gets most of the glory. But St Lucians like LaCroix, Flore Bois Galliard, Lambert and others turned the wild bands of roaming Negmarrons into an army that defeated the British, freed St Lucia for one year in the 1790s and exported freedom fighters to St Vincent, Grenada and the French islands. They were epic in their own right and are the stuff that St Lucia’s true creation myth is made of.
The PMA: Hey we didn’t create it, but God gave it to us, so we’ll take the credit.
Many people think the uniqueness of the Pitons is about the way it looks. But the way it looks is only an indication of what is special. When you look at any picture of the Pitons, you will see that they go straight down into the sea. Now get on the internet and try to find other mountains (not hills) that plunge straight into the sea. You can’t, can you? It is also one of the few places in the world where you can find a proper rainforest within three miles of the coast. Not to mention that the Amerindians thought that it was the only place in the world where you can see the three symbolic faces of the Triune Godhead. Now if only we could figure out how to get the foreigners who own it to stop destroying it. I mean, who do we have to sue for our ancestral right to maintain our most sacred national treasures?
STRATEGIC LOCATION: It’s probably more of a thing to be thankful for than proud of, but we’re proud of it anyway. Even before Columbus passed through the channel between St Lucia and Martinique, the island now known as St Lucia was a famous location. Historians like Robert Devaux, Gregor Williams and Sylvester Clauzel have pointed to its spiritual significance in their writings. It is probably the only place in the world where you can see the sun set down the side of a mountain (Petit Piton at the equinox). In colonial times, the British and French both agreed that the location of the island was of prime military value and shed a lot of blood for it. Modern war mongers agreed during World War II. Hence, the military base at Vieux Fort. The success of military bases in St Lucia tends to suggest it could be a strategic transshipment point for global trade as well.
MUSIC: St Lucians have been international hitmakers since time immemorial. But somehow, we keep trying to break into the market, as though we have never been there before. But Sandra Lorde was big in the 70s, and not just in St Lucia. Yeah. So were the Tru Tones. Rick Wayne had a Top 40 hit in Britain. And Malcolm Magarron had a gold record in Germany. Onyx is one of the most successful cruise ship bands of all time. (And St Lucia probably has more musicians on cruise ships per capita than any other country in the world. If we’re not, we’re in the top five, for sure. For everyone who says St Lucian artistes are not professional, put that in your pipe and smoke it.) Gillo is one of the most consistent hitmakers in Barbados’ Crop-Over for two decades now. Menaka had one of the biggest world music dance hits of the 1980s with Dirty Dancing. Jaunty was one of the biggest hitmakers in Martinique. So was Yardie. I could go on. I have yet to say anything about Luther Francois, Boo Hinkson or Barbara Cadet. And I have faithfully resisted all temptation to point out that both the Mighty Gabby and Sizzla are half-St Lucian. Why? Because it might be more important to first acknowledge the unsung musicians who have kept the traditional music culture alive. St Lucia is probably the only island in the entire Caribbean with a rich and diverse traditional music culture that has not turned it into a successful popular music export yet. Barbados doesn’t even have a diverse music culture and they have turned their musical artistes into hitmakers who assimilate the cultures of others to make theirs more interesting. In the last 20 years, there have been more hit songs using kweyol coming out of Barbados than have been successfully exported from St Lucia. It sounds like a failure, but really, it speaks about the potential for success, if perhaps we partner with the Bajans (and of course, the Martiniquans) who seem more than willing to record and distribute this stuff. St Lucia has a unique musical culture, with a treasure of beats, melodic ideas and rhythms that are not just special, they are hard for others to copy.
THEATRICAL & DRAMATIC EXCELLENCE: As for theater, just think about it—Derek Walcott is from our island. We’ve been the standard bearer for decades. Go to any CARIFESTA and you will see the seasoned performers from other islands asking each other what the Lucians are doing. There is nothing they appreciate more than a bunch of Lucians doing serious drama. As for their reverence of Kendal Hippolyte, it’s almost blasphemous. The Jamaicans especially seem to be under the impression that he is the real Derek Walcott. Just because we undervalue our artistes doesn’t mean they are sub par. Other countries may produce more plays than we do and have performers who are very good compared to the kids that we tend to see a lot in the local performances. But there are several factors involved in what seems to be our failure in this field, but is really our persistent success. For one thing, every territory that has a more successful theater market than St Lucia has at least twice as many people in its population. Because the audiences are larger, there is more of a chance of getting paid. Second, because it’s easier to get paid, actors tend to stay in the business longer, leading to the long term development and transmission of skills. You can see this in St Lucia. Take Cokes and Larry Bain, for example. When Che Campeche started, Cokes was funny, but he was not the veteran performer he is today. Experience made him good and initiative made him better. Bain on the other hand was a trained and seasoned performer when he was a young adult. But the market could not yet sustain his talents and the pressure forced him into being a television producer and public relations agent, robbing the theater of what is probably the best actor in St Lucia, bar none.
ATHLETES: So we never won the World Cup. St Lucians footballers are still good and full of money-making potential for the island. The island’s terrain was practically made for breeding footballers for export. Unfortunately, very few people in the policy and budget departments can imagine sports as anything more than a tourist attraction, so St Lucians footballers have, for a long time, been destined to form a disproportionate part of the crackhead population. As for cricket, Mindoo Phillip and Ferrol Charles proved the point a long time ago, even when the island was not making a concerted effort. Once someone put effort into it, we got Darren Sammy. And all this time, we thought we were not a cricket island. As for track and field, Lavern, Dominic and others have been soaring to higher heights, for the benefit of American universities for a long time now. One good Aquatic Center and the next thing you know, St Lucia is on the verge of qualifying for major international games. And need we mention the muscle boys Rick Wayne and Julian . . . Here’s a clue for policy-makers. The next time you want to spend endless million dollars on sports, forget infrastructure. Spend it on training facilities and programs. The kids will not let you down. They will take to professional sports like it was drugs or video games or whatever else they are doing nowadays.
DEMOCRACY & FREEDOM: We’re like the Cartoon Network. We do what we like. No leaders are going to push us around. We’re not killers anymore, like we were during the Brigand Wars, but we will march, we will call the talk shows, we’ll write articles and we might even block roads. We will frustrate, embarrass and destroy bad leaders from the inside out. We have never, in the Independence era, had despots as the leaders of our country. We may have had fools, virgins, crazies and perverts, but we had never allowed our democracy to be taken for granted and shifted off the rails by messianic despots. In every other Windward Island, there has been at least one leader who could be convincingly painted as a power mad killer of democracy. But in St Lucia, the men most qualified for this sort of madness instead became known as great examples of Caribbean centrism and leftism (i.e. John Compton and George Odlum, respectively). Our press as well has, especially over the last decade, been remarkably free to express itself and self-correct rather than submit to government regulation and censorship. There have been instances of closure of government radio stations, yes, but not enough to establish any kind of trend of censorship. And when government officials have criticized the media ( like calling them ‘media terrorists’) it could be argued that they were merely exercising their freedom of expression.
QUALITY OF POLITICAL LEADERSHIP: Third World leaders do not have the best reputation. History has shown them to be foolish, prone to despotism, corrupt, foolish (did we neglect to mention foolish?) But St Lucia somehow escaped this problem very early on in its modern history. John Compton, George Odlum and Kenny Anthony: intellectual giants. Julian Hunte, George Mallet and Neville Cenac (yes, I said Neville Cenac—despite everything ever said about him, even Rick Wayne would agree that he is smarter and cleaner than most who served in Parliament): men of distinction and character who would have been better leaders than most Third World countries dare to dream of. George Charles is not regarded as an intellectual giant, but he was smart enough to see the opportunity for progress presented by the economic problems of the mid-20th century. He was exactly the right man for his time, a thing that can be said for all St Lucian leaders except those who served in the 1979-82 era. Perhaps the only other English-speaking Caribbean territory that can make the claim to have been served by leaders as great as ours is Barbados. The rest of our Parliament may look like the same bunch of fools and bandits who populate the Parliaments and Congresses in the rest of the world, but our prime ministers and opposition leaders have, in the past, been the right stuff.
STRONG SENSE OF IDENTITY: We know we’re different. We’re tri-lingual. Our island is a cultural crossroads between the Amerindian, African, British and French languages. Our native music is so different, we’re afraid to turn it into export material without putting a stupid computer-based beat on it. We have, in the past, treated our kweyol side like it was the mark of Cain. But more and more, when we are in New York, London or even Bridgetown, we recognize the value of being able to slip into kweyol, either to become less audible or more visible, whichever suits our purpose at the time. We are not yet conscious enough of why we should be proud of that special sense of identity we share in common, but try as we might we stop being who we are—and that has turned out to be a very good thing as small societies get so homogenized by globalization that you can barely tell the difference between the Caymans and the Bahamas anymore.