Monday, October 17, 2011

The St. Lucia Flower Festivals

I woke up this morning all energized and ready to write a political article but while preparing the article a song come over the radio.Guess what, A La Magawit song and right away I decided to do a little research on the festival.
The societies originated in the time of slavery as co-operative work groups created for mutual support, and assistance in time of trouble. These groups were similar to the dokpwé of Dahomey, and the coumbite of Haiti.

The two societies are vaguely inspired on two mystic orders that were active at the time in Europe, Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry. This connection is depicted in a mural painted by Dunstan St. Omer, which shows the holy trinity of Osiris, Horus and Isis.

In former years the St Lucian society was split in affiliation to one or the other group. At times membership has been illegal, and it has also been condemned by the Roman Catholic Church. Nevertheless the societies survived, although their nature has changed through the centuries. As the general society changed, so did the sociétés, becoming more commercial and money-oriented. In time, other organisations were created for money saving and social security. Nowadays, the two historical societés are largely devoted to solidarity through recreation.
At the time of Saint Lucia's Independence, when the national symbols – tree, bird, flower etc. – were being defined, St Lucia chose to have two flowers, a rose and a marguerite.
Both societies have a formal hierarchic structure patterned upon the socio-economic structure of colonial society. Each society has a king and a queen, as well as princes, princesses, and man other symbolic legal, military and professional roles, such as judges, policemen, nurses, soldiers.
Preparations for the yearly festivals begin several months before the actual feast day. Each group holds "seances". These consist of all night singing and dancing sessions where drinks are sold and games are played.

The central figure at the "seances" is the shatwel or leadsinger who sustains the spirit and tenor of the entertainment. Most groups have one outstanding shatwel. They are usually female.

On the actual day of the festival all members of the society dress in the finery of their respective roles and march to Church for a service which precedes their parade through the streets before returning to the hall for their feasting or grande fete.

Choiseulstlucia.com wrote a scant report on the two flower festivals.
Their emphasis is more on the La Rose festival and you can't blame them for this since this festival takes precedence over the La Magawit in the district.
Below is the extract from the web page on culture.

The Flower Festivals: La Rose & La Marguerite

St. Lucia has two flower societies that put on festivals each year, La Rose and La Marguerite. They are rival societies that commemorate the Anglo- French heritage of the island; the factions represent the warring colonial powers, between whose hands Saint Lucia changed fourteen times. The societies date back to the early 19th century, when each village was home to competing organizations of the Roman Catholic Church.

Both societies draw on English royalty traditions and have a number of positions, including the King, Queen, Prince, Princess and various lower titles like the Chief of Police and nurse. La Rose and La Marguerite meet once weekly except during Lent. At these meetings, which are on Saturday for La Rose and Sunday for La Marguerite, members sing or play instruments and dance.

La Marguerite meetings feature the membership in a seat chorus with a leader, the chantwèl, standing, while La Rose meetings include instruments like the tanbouwen (tambourine), baha (wooden trumpet), chakchak (rattles), guitar and gwaj (scraper).


The celebrations of both groups differ. La Rose, the "English" faction, is characterized by noisiness, movement, participation, rhythm and exuberance, while La Marguerite, the "French" faction, is characterized by melody, discipline and restraint. There is a vibrant tradition of women singing factional songs related to this rivalry.

Traditions common to both factions include the omans, a sort of waltz, Marches and the duple rhythm manpa (or maynan) dance. Kwadril and lakonmèt are also performed by La Rose.

Fet La Woz Seance Band

Each society holds an annual festival or grand fete, an elaborate and colorful event full of pomp and pageantry, which is preceded by several months of nightly singing practices called “Séances”. Presiding over the annual festivals are the ‘King’ and ‘Queen who are accompanied by their royal entourage of Dukes, Duch­esses, Princes, Princesses, Soldiers, Policemen, Magistrates, Doctors, nurses, the clerical hierarchy and supporters of the respective flowers.

Strict protocol is observed at those nightly Séances, with every visitor or participating member, upon entering, bowing to the King and Queen who are present with their court. Police and soldiers in uniform enforce regulations against any disorder, breaches of protocol, or what are consid­ered misdemeanors. Offenders are taken before a magistrate for a mock trial and then fined.

Each society has a patron saint on whose feast day the grand fete is celebrated. For the Roses it is the feast of St. Rose of Lima on the 30th August; and for the Marguerites it is that of St. Margaret Mary Alacocque, 17th October.

The grand fete is celebrated, first with church services through­out the island and afterwards with processions through the streets, the principal personages magnificently attired. In the evening there is a sumptuous banquet to which dignitaries and leading personalities are invited. The rest of the evening is spent in dancing. One can then witness and participate in some of the colorful folk dances, the Quadrille, the Mappa, the Belair and such like.


The first La Rose group in Choiseul was formed in 1939 with Mr. Mc. Vane Antoine (Mr. Po from La Fargue) and Mrs. Janice ‘Ma Miese’ Mitchel as first King and Queen respectively. A few years later saw the birth of the first La Marguerite group. Mr. ‘Dor dor’ Cox (from Dacretin) and Lucien Peter, King and Queen respectively.

Source:The Culture page - http://www.choiseulstlucia.com

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