(pages 148 - 157)
There is dispute as to the origin of the name and discovery of St. Lucia, creating the opportunity for all kinds of speculation. Even Thomas Coke (in 1811) challenges the very discovery of the island, and in which particular voyage, by Columbus; and all available evidence suggests that Columbus never came close to the islands of the Southern Antilles (except for Trinidad). Even his courses through the islands, derived from his logs, show no approach to Tobago, Barbados, Grenada, St. Vincent or St. Lucia. It is known however, that our explorer touched by Martinique during his Fourth Voyage in 1502, coming in from the Atlantic through the Martinique Channel. It is also revealing there is no mention of Columbus’ reaction to the unique Pitons, though he was known to keep copious notes.
The island is heavily volcanic, dominated by a central mountain range traversing much of its length, north to south, punctuated with fertile valleys going down to the sea. A one-time English resident and writer, Henry Breen, wrote enthusiastically of St. Lucia in 1842, of its wild and romantic scenery, grand and picturesque, its somber forests and shallow rivers and other enchanting forms. These sentiments would still apply today
The French were probably the first colonists, in the seventeenth century, when France and England both rising naval powers, initiated their conquest of Spain’s Caribbean colonies. St. Lucia would become a major producer of sugar and other slave-grown crops. The French developed the island’s sulphur baths at the south-western town of Soufriere and left their mark to this day, with all the nation’s towns and villages (Castries, Gros Islet, Vieux Fort, Soufriere, Laborie) given French names, and a French patois being universally spoken. Roman Catholicism was, until recent times, the overwhelmingly dominant religion, in contrast with other British territories, like Barbados, where Anglicanism prevails. Castries the capital and main port, founded in 1650, is named after a French nobleman.
The Pitons and surrounding area were designated a World Heritage Site in 2004. The original natives called the island Hewanorra, “Land of Water” which name remains in use today for the island’s international airport.
The island achieved independence in 1979 and is a member of the OECS grouping. Citizens refer to themselves, somewhat proudly as Looshuns, the word derived obviously from a corruption of the name of their island.
The island became known as The Helen of the West, apropos “Helen of Troy”, because it was, to the colonizing Europeans, militarily the most sought-after island in the Eastern Caribbean, simply in view of its location and large and naturally deep and sheltered harbours, a rarity among the smaller islands in the region. It changed hands at least 14 times in violent conflict between the English and the French, the most aggressive imperial powers after the decline of the Spanish.
The modern period has its own attractions too. The island has for many years, been the terminus of the ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers), an annual race for yachtsmen originating in Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands during November, with arrival in St Lucia in time for Christmas celebrations. Then there is the internationally popular Jazz Festival held in May of every year attracting music aficionados from all over the world.
St Lucia may be heavily volcanic in origin, but it does have some beautiful golden-sand beaches, Sandals Resorts and the world famous and very exclusive Jade Mountain Resort, with its close-up and magnificent views of the Pitons.
Oprah Winfrey famously has said St Lucia and the Pitons … one of the five places to see in your lifetime.