On 22 February, 1979, Saint Lucia became a fully independent country. They witnessed the red, white and blue flag of Britain lowered for the last time, supplanted by the new Saint Lucian flag of black, blue, white and yellow.
The island has a long history of conquest and settlement, beginning with the native Arawaks being ousted by the more aggressive Caribs in around AD800. At that time, the island was known as Iouanalao, ‘Land of the Iguanas’, thanks to an abundance of the sharp-eyed lizards – but by 1520 it had become Sancta Lucia. The ferocity of the Caribs ensured that any Europeans who tried to settle on the island had an uncomfortable time of it, although a French pirate used Pigeon Island as his lair for a while in the 1550s.
Both English and French claimed to have settled in Saint Lucia in 1635, beginning a pattern that was to be repeated many times over the next 180 years. Ownership swung back and forth between the British and the French, marked by claims, invasions, attacks and treaties, until Saint Lucia ended up with Britain in 1814.
In 1795, freed slaves, known as the Brigands, formed themselves into a resistance army and succeeded in kicking out all the white slave-owners and the British army. Slavery was officially abolished, and several planters were guillotined. Eventually, a 5,000-strong force under General John Moore restored ‘order’, though the rumblings continued until the curse of slavery was brought to a definitive end two decades later.
Sugar was the engine of the slave economy, and continued to be the undisputed ‘king’ of the island until 1957, when bananas took over as the prime export crop. The following year, Saint Lucia joined the short-lived semi-autonomous West Indies Federation, and from 1967 to 1979 was an ‘associated state’ of the UK, looking after its own internal affairs but leaving international relations and defence to Westminster. The country remains a member of the Commonwealth, CARICOM and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States.
Saint Lucia’s 40th year of independence is a very special milestone, and to celebrate this a programme of events has been planned in the UK, including an independence dance, a thanksgiving service and reception, a cultural day, a ball for youth ambassadors, a celebration of Saint Lucia’s Nobel Laureates, and a food and rum festival.
For more information about independence celebrations and activities, contact the High Commission for Saint Lucia on 020 7370 7123.