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Global issue 20

In Focus Saint Lucia in the Caribbean, with its unique and very fragile ecology. The Saint Lucian painter and printmaker Llewellyn Xavier has dedicated much of his work to the environment. Gaining early exposure and accolades on the London art scene, he has returned to Saint Lucia and has created a series of collages. Each collage is endorsed with stamps and signatures from environmental activists like his compatriot Derek Walcott and environmental organisations such as the World Wildlife Fund. Xavier’s collages are made entirely from recycled materials, such as handmade paper and 19th-century zoological prints. So the ongoing exploration of Saint Lucian identity becomes bang up to date and global, while profoundly conscious of its past. Juliet Highet is an author and photographer specialising in travel, the arts and culture and French spoken primarily in rural areas. Most Saint Lucians, especially young ones, are bilingual, since English is the language used in education, business and government. Use of the two languages indicates socio-economic differences, since Kwéyo was viewed as ‘backward’ until the recently emergent Creolisation movement nurtured and restored dignity to the language, as well as respect for indigenous traditional music, competing with Caribbean-wide genres like reggae and soca. Creole-style cuisine is celebrated, too, in various towns selected to host the festival, pushing the boat out with salt and kingfish, manicou (opossum), breadfruit, plantains, Johnny Cake and bouyon (fish, chicken or pork stewed with dasheen, yams and dumplings). Copious quantities of rum are swallowed, along with lime and guava drinks. Callalou soup, made from a leafy green vegetable, is now the national dish, though food habits still echo the impoverished plantation past, with the typical everyday diet heavy on starches, capsicum or pepper sauce spicing up the protein which reflects its historical scarcity – think pig tail and chicken back. Creole Day is the opportunity for women to bring out what has become Saint Lucia’s national dress, known as the Madras, a plaidpatterned cotton still imported from India. It’s fashionable on other occasions too, such as the flower festivals of La Woz (‘The Rose’) and La Magwit (‘The Marguerite’) celebrated in many villages for patron saints, and organised by two rival historic cultural associations, whose members comprise most of the country’s population. On the plantations African women had to wear the uniform or ‘livre’ of the estate, but on Sundays and at Christmas they could dress as they pleased, and bought clothes from the sale of produce from their small garden plots. Their bright, colourful skirts, as compared with the dreary tones of their uniform, became known as Creole dress. By the end of the 18th century, the muchoir madras had replaced white headscarves, which are tied in more or less provocative ‘peaks’ of availability. One peak means – ‘I am single’, two – ‘I am married’, three – ‘I am widowed or divorced’, and four – ‘I accept everyone who tries’. To add a further frisson, a custom evolved of lifting the skirt and flinging it nonchalantly over one arm, revealing a lace-trimmed petticoat. For two weeks in April, Saint Lucia swings with its Jazz and Arts Festival, showcasing local musicians and international stars. The main venue is Gambling on a game of dominos, Soufriere scenic Pigeon Island, an appropriate lure for visitors, but performances are also held around the island to involve local people. Contemporary performance art has flourished during the last few decades with an explosion of popular music recorded by local groups and broadcast on the radio. Theatre productions are staged across the island, not just in Castries, many of them inspired by the Creolisation movement. Although other Saint Lucian writers are less well-known than Derek Walcott, interest in literature and its production as drama is significant. Visual art has received less attention than literature or performance, yet some remarkable art has and is being created. Local figure Dunstan St Omer has made a name for himself with his public murals, some of which illuminate churches. He also designed the country’s national flag. In the last decade or so degradation of the environment has become a major concern 78 l www.global -br ief ing.org f i rst quar ter 2015 global


Global issue 20
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