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The Cultural Heritage of St. Vincent and the Grenadines

The Cultural Heritage of St. Vincent and  the Grenadines

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Culture: The ideas, customs, skills, arts etc. of a people or group that are transferred, communicated, or passed along as in, or to succeeding generations.

Our Cultural Heritage

The cultural heritage of St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a result of the blending over the centuries of the African, Carib, East Indian, Portuguese and European influences. The result is a culture which is uniquely Vincentian.{{more}}


Fishing is also an important aspect of Vincentian culture.
Our cultural resource is perhaps the resource which is most underutilized by our people. In fact, many aspects of our culture are dying, or some may say, changing, as the younger generations embrace the North American lifestyle which seems to have a much greater attraction for them than the local traditions which seem “old fashioned”.

Our cultural heritage is multi-faceted. In this feature, we look at just a few aspects of what makes us uniquely Vincentian.

Food

While our Vincentian cuisine may be similar to that of other Caribbean islands, we have many methods of food preparation which are unique to us. They have developed out of our unique history, agriculture and experiences and tell a story about who we are. Madungo bakes (made from arrowroot) and Ducana are some examples of foods which can be considered our own. Even other “Caribbean” foods like Callalou and Boil’in are given a Vincentian flavour when prepared in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Our National dish is fried Jack fish and roast breadfruit.

Craft

Here are some of the traditional straw – baskets and mats.
 
Craft production is an aspect of our culture which manifests at individual levels the interaction between people, the environment and the community. St. Vincent has a tradition of craft, especially in the Sandy Bay, Barrouallie, and North Leeward areas.
 

                                                                         Pottery made at the craft centre at Orange Hill by young trainees.

 

The crafts traditionally made are straw (pandanas) baskets and mats, wattle baskets, nail mats, bamboo brooms and baskets, seine and fish pot making; the buildings of canoes from the logs of the Gommier tree; the making of Drums from the hollowed stem of the gru gru palm and goat skins; the making of flutes from bamboo; the thatching of roofs using Vetivert; the making of inshore fishing craft from three logs of “Bois flo” held together by spikes made of hard wood; the fashioning of walking sticks from climbing stems, so that while they are twisted in structure, from top to bottom they are straight.

Music

Vincentians have a tradition of music, and music and songs play a role in most aspects of Vincentian life, whether it be work, play, to pass time on a long journey, death or as part of a celebration.

 
Young dancers from the Chatoyer Youth Movement perform a traditional dance.
Launching Songs were sung when boats were being launched and were often ribald. In a number of cases only the refrain was standard with the lead vocalist extemporizing to suit the situation.

Moonlight games were popular before the advent of electric lighting, and this was a time for the adults in the community to gather for fun and games under the moonlight.

From a clearing in the village you would hear such songs as:

Moonlight, poor man’s lantern
Moonlight show me yo motion
People come from far and near
sound of music in the air
Come and make yo’ motion
And dance in the moonlight telele.

Games like Three White Horses might be played by men. The men made a tight circle and would move three large stones around the circle at ever increasing speeds while singing:

“Three white horses in a stable
Tek dem out an grease
dey nable” (navel).

Moonlight Games were popular before the advent of electric lighting, and this was a time for the adults in the community to gather for fun and games under the moonlight.

If someone loses the rhythm, a stone would come down on a hand and that person would leave the circle quite often for the hospital or clinic.

Both sexes often participated in some games and the songs and movements were sometimes sexually stimulating. Games like “Pan” and “Coop” allowed some couples to indulge their appetites, if the pan master failed to locate their hiding places.

Other games were pure fun, chasing each other around the ring as the others sang:

I lost my gown on a Saturday night
I found it Sunday morning
I wrote a letter to my wife
I lost it and I found it
Drop Peter drop Peter wouldn’t drop
Drop Peter drop Peter wouldn’t drop.

This game starts with one person outside the ring with a leather belt in hand. He/she keeps moving around the ring until the chorus says “Drop Peter Drop” where upon he must drop the belt into a hand held behind the back or on the ground behind a person. The one dropping the belt must run the entire circumference of the circle with the receiver giving chase, if he catches up before he gets into the circle he is beaten until he finds his place.

The making and playing of traditional instruments like the bamboo flute and gru gru palm drums are skills very few Vincentians possess today.

Folk Spirits

Just as the moonlight has given rise to fun and outdoor games, so, too, dark nights lend themselves to “jumbie stories” or tales of evil spirits. Among the lead characters in these stories were:

La Diablesse – A pretty lady in a long dress down to her feet. The dress is to hide one foot which is that of a cow. If you invite her to your house or even speak to her, she would take you away and tie you up on an ant’s nest or some similar place of suffering or death.

Then there is Loupgarou or Socuyant which sucks the blood of its victim and flies away in a ball of fire. The socuyant is supposed to be an evil person who sheds his/her skin at night when he/she goes looking for victims. If you find the skin and cover it with salt and pepper, the socuyant must get into it before dawn or it will die.

Rounce is another evil character which grunts like a pig and will carry you away if it finds you outside of the house. To defeat the rounce, you must beat it with a stick, and no matter how many blows you strike you must say one; if you go above one, say two – another rounce will appear and do battle with you.

Legend has it that the Rounce, Socuyant, La Diablesse and the devil himself gather on dark nights under the Silk Cotton Tree to converse and to plan their dark deeds.

Local Dialect

“Hog say bade in fus mud!” Do you know what that saying means? Can you think of any more sayings? Language is an important part of any culture. Our language is rich with colorful expressions and sayings. Although Standard English is our official language, our local dialects are far more widely spoken. These dialects are a mixture of the ‘Queen’s English’ with French patois, Spanish, African and Carib influences. Our dialect is almost musical, and so is our accent, which many of our visitors appreciate and often try to imitate. Our language is important also because we have a long oral tradition where lessons of life, songs and histories were passed from generation to generation. We must keep these special cultural treasures alive. “Well, tory dey fo talk buh time na dey!”

Big Drum Dance

 
On Union Island, several ceremonies, such as the “Big Drum” or “rain Dance”, are performed.  Here, two dancers perform a traditional dance on Union Island.
 
On Union Island, there are several ceremonies not carried out in St Vincent. These include “The Big Drum” or Rain Dance, Dancing the Cake at a wedding and raising a tombstone. Careful recording needs to be done to accurately put on paper the folkloric activities on that island. Similar ceremonies are known on Canouan.

Hangings/Wakes

 

 
Jumbie Le’go:  On November2, “All Souls Day”, graves are lighted with candles in commemoration of the departed.
Our foreparents had interesting ways of dealing with death. Traditionally, on the third night, after someone died there would be a wake at the person’s home. In the evening, candles would be lit and a table of flowers and grains, like nuts and corn, and a Bible would be set out for when the spirit of the dead passed by the house. The family would sing and pray until the appointed hour (about midnight). Did you know that little children were usually passed over the body of the dead so that the spirit would not harm but rather protect them? These days relatives and friends still get together after the funeral to eat and drink chocolate tea and bakes and remember their loved ones. We also had interesting ways of dealing with injustices. Did you know that if someone was suspected of incest, the villagers would make a dummy that looked like the person and then hang the dummy while crying shame on the individuals. Ask the old folks about these almost forgotten pieces of our history.

Bush medicine

 
Before medication became widely available and affordable, many people used bush medicines.
 
“Granny, me belly hurting me and ah feeling sick”

“Go bring some ginger, I’ll boil some tea for the bellyache and give you some baby bush for the cold.” Did you know that before medication became available and affordable, our ancestors used bush medicine, that is plants and herbs to cure all ills? Many of us still use some form of bush medicine today, and, of course, many medicines are made from plants. Rastafarians in particular believe strongly in the use of herbs for healing. Here are a few herbs and their uses: sasparilla and shine bush cool the blood, rock sage tea relaxes you, carilla reduces high blood pressure, physic nut is a laxative and baby bush is for colds. Why not find out about other natural remedies.

Excerpted with permission from the following reports:

Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Heritage Tourism Project Coordinator’s Report – 1996 – Clare Keizer

Report of the Curator / Information Specialist Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Heritage Tourism Project 1996- Morrison Baisden

Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Heritage Tourism Project Herman the Heritage Man Series – Ayana Hypolite.

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