People and Places of St. Vincent and the Grenadines

The people living in St. Vincent and the Grenadines have a wide variety of heritages. In the picture below we can see this quite clearly!

There people of African, Asian (India), European and Native American (the Caribs or “Garifuna”) ancestry all living together on the group of 32 islands and cays strung out in the section of the Caribbean known as the Windward Islands.

When referring to a person who is a citizen of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, many persons say that that person is "Vincentian" or say that the person is a "Vincy."

Like most of the other windward islands is very mountainous, especially in the interior of mainland St. Vincent.  To the north of the island is the La Soufriere volcano which rises to some 1,234 meters, with Morne Garu, the second highest peak, rising to 1,070 meters. You might notice that both peaks have French names—this is the legacy of the brief period that the French settled in the island before being pushed out by the British.

 

La Soufriere is an active volcano and there was a major volcanic eruption on April 13, 1979. Although known as “Black Friday” fortunately there was no major loss of life as was in the case in 1812 and 1902-3 when thousands were killed.

 

One Vincentian poet, Shake Keane, wrote a poem about the eruption. Here is an extract:

The thing split Good Friday in two

And that good new morning groaned

And snapped

Like breaking an old habit

Within minutes

People

Who had always been leaving nowhere

Began arriving nowhere

Entire lives stuffed in pillowcases

And used plastic bags

Naked children suddenly transformed

Into citizens

… Shake Keane, April 1979

As you can imagine, living on a country surrounded by water means that a large number of people work the sea, many fishing from small sailing boats like the one below. People living in the Grenadines, the small islands to the south of the main island of St. Vincent, have a long heritage of fishing and sailing. So do the descendants of the Caribs who live in the north of the island in what is called Carib country area.

Another challenge for people on small islands like St. Vincent and the Grenadines is the yearly threat of hurricanes. The threat is highest during the months of September and October but they can occur any time between August and November generally. Many of the beaches and much of the land facing the beach in the Grenadines show dramatic erosion due to these storms.

 

People in St. Vincent and the Grenadines are said to have a “Vincy” culture. There are many different traditions in these islands—they reflect a heritage of people from Africa, England, Europe, India and South America. Out of all of this has emerged a “Vincy” culture.

Sometimes, particular parts of one or the other heritage will show through. For instance, certain African ceremonies and language elements have manage to survive largely intact to the present day. A bit of this can be seen in the “Maypole Dance” still carried out in parts of the Grenadines.

Another way elements of Africa can be still seen is in certain religions, such as the Spiritual Baptists. Originally called Shakers, the exact origin of the religion is not known but it emerged from hiding when emancipation was completed in 1838. The colonial authorities became afraid of the popularity of the religion and banned it in 1912. However, its adherents simply set up their prayer houses in remote areas and evaded the authorities. In 1965 the ban was finally lifted.
Just about the most popular cultural festival in St. Vincent and the Grenadines however, is Carnival. Carnival is a celebration involving masqueraders in large groups called “mas bands,” singers of the Caribbean music called “calypso,” and the playing of the Caribbean invented instrument called the “steel-pan” The calypsos are always eagerly awaited as they describe events or controversies going on in society. This art form actually developed during the period of plantation slavery in the Caribbean as a way of critiquing the colonial authorities.
The main occupation in these islands is still, however, agriculture. The main exports from the country are bananas and other foodstuffs such as fruits and vegetables. Farming is St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a challenging occupation however. In the Grenadines there is not much rainfall so all water has to be stored in water tanks attached to homes. This is why most people in the Grenadines either go into fishing, sailing or tourism jobs.

Most settlements in St. Vincent tend to be along main roads or on the flat land close to bays as we can see in the picture of New Sandy Bay, a village in the far north in the main island.

(This area is also known as Carib Country-a reflection of the fact that it was also the reservation area where the Caribs were confined to after their war with the British colonial authorities in 1795-1796)

On the mainland of the St. Vincent, most of the land is EXTREMELY mountainous. What gently sloping land that there is tends to be owned in large estates. Most Vincentian farmers therefore have to farm on the slopes of the hills as you see in the picture. You will also notice that there are small homes built on the hillsides also.
Because of the mountainous terrain, farming usually involves a lot of walking and manual labor. Machinery just doesn't get up and down these steep hillsides easily! Some people have invested in large trucks however. These are mainly the persons who also severe as truckers carrying the main agricultural crop of St. Vincent (in the 180s and 1990s at least), which is bananas.

Trucking can be an expensive and risky investment however. First of all, trucks are VERY expensive to import. Then, if a truck needs repairs it may be very difficult to get parts or a skilled mechanic who can repair it. So, often when trucks go bad, they end up parked forever, never to run again.

In order to reach their farm lands, most farmers take “feeder” road, that is, unpaved roads, into the hills as far as they can, then they walk up the hillside to the actual farm.

Some farmers will use donkeys to assist them. This is useful when they are bringing back produce. However, the government has been slowly extending feeder roads so that more and more farmers can drive almost all the way to their lands. Also, a number of large estates are being split up so that more Vincentian farmers can farm on flatter lands.

The challenge for farming in St. Vincent, however, is that very few young people want to become farmers as the income is declining due to declining prices in the face of globalizing agro-companies. For those families who large plots of land it is somewhat easier but still very challenging. This is made worse by the fact that the largest agricultural product of most farmers has been bananas which are now coming under intense competition from countries which have much flatter lands so that they can create huge plantations.

Presently there are several extremes in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. There are places that are doing extremely well, such as the tourism enclaves in Mustique and elsewhere throughout the islands. These provide an important number of jobs but still only a relatively small number compared to the number of persons looking for jobs. Also, to have upward mobility in the tourism industry demands that you have a very good education with special training Otherwise you remain in low paying jobs.

The Grenadines in general have become known worldwide for their beautiful beaches, crystal clear waters, terrific sailing and friendly people. Many people from Europe and North America have even decided to relocate to the Grenadines!

For those persons who are not very well educated, many have to rely on the “informal” economy, setting-up small, shops at the side of the road where they try to eke out a living…

This poses quite a challenge for the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines—because, simultaneously, many young, educated, Vincentians now prefer to go abroad in search of jobs. One reason for this is because there is not much access to higher education in the form of colleges and universities in St. Vincent.

In the perception of the Vincentian government, the way forward out of the above dilemma is to reorient the education system to be more innovative and entrepreneurial, a tall order, however, for a country that is quite poor..