Choiseul is strategically nested in the midst of two main towns in St. Lucia with major hotels – Coconut Bay, Jalousie, Ladera, Anse Chastanet/Jade Mountain. Imagine a typical tourist in the south/southwest – wakes up, goes to breakfast, goes on a tour or lays on the beach/by the pool. However, I have often wondered what constitutes the nightlife of tourists staying in the southern belt of the island – of course apart from restaurant/bar or weekly entertainment at their respective hotels? Where is there to go? Where can a visitor find an authentic, engaging, enriching, bonafide, typically St. Lucian experience?
As we get ready to celebrate the Flower Festivals of La Rose and La Maguerite, there is social and economic merit in considering the promotion of the festivals as a major tourism experience. Festivals and events play a vital role in portraying communities as exciting and friendly and are pertinent in enhancing the images of local communities. Moreover, festivals galvanize active involvement of local residents and play an integral role in empowering disadvantaged members of the community such as women and the poor. Increased local involvement in the industry will also help ensure that more earnings from tourism remain in the community.
The Rose and the Marguerite symbolize the two floral societies of St. Lucia. While represented by simple flowers, they tell a tale of more than two centuries. Whereas in some countries the population is divided between classes or castes, in the cultural context St. Lucia has two ‘societies’ - Roses and Marguerites.
The structure of these societies is inextricably linked to their function within the colonial society. Both groups are hierarchically structured with a king and queen as head of each society with other dignitaries organized based on the socio-economic structure of the colonial society. Thus, after the king and queen, are the prince and princess, followed by several pseudo-legal and military and professional personnel, including magistrates, soldiers, policemen, doctors, and nurses. Each society has a patron saint on whose feast day the fastival is celebrated. For the Rose it is the feast of St. Rose of Lima on August 30; and for the Marguerite it is that of St. Marguerite Alacocque on October, 17.
The festival is typified by an elaborate and colorful event, rife with splendor and pageantry. It is preceded by several nights of rehearsals called ‘séances’, when many community residents partake in folk dancing, chanting and dramatizing. Séances are nightly activities of song and folk dance, which take place a few weeks before the feast date. They are very intriguing events that may be of major interest to tourists.
Strict protocol is observed is observed at those nightly ‘séances’ with members bowing to the King and Queen. Uniformed soldiers and police enforce rules to maintain order. Any offenders are taken before the magistrate for a mock trial and are then fined. One of the most intriguing aspects of the ‘séances’ is that if found stealing candies hanging from the top, one is arrested by the ‘police’, brought to ‘jail’ and released only upon payment of a fine (small fee). This can serve as a main avenue for the community to earn of revenue from visitors.
The central figure in the ‘séance’ is the ‘chantwel’ (mostly females) or lead singer who controls the tenor during evening entertainment. She leads the singing with the other members acting as a chorus in a responsorial pattern. The songs can be one of two types: songs that praise the beauty and power of the respective flower; and those that ridicule the other flower society. Creativity is key to the success of outwitting the opponent. Instrumentation comprises any combination of violin, guitar, banjo, quarto, shak shak, drums and baha.
The festival culminates on the feast date with a church service in catholic churches throughout the island. The mass is followed by processions in the streets, the key characters exquisitely clad. Thereafter all community groups travel to a selected community each year for the grand celebration to which dignitaries are invited. The rest of the evening is spent eating and dancing to folk music such as quadrille, mappa and belair.
Of all activities undertaken on a trip to St. Lucia, the engagement in such a unique experience makes it one of if not the most memorable experience. However, such an undertaking requires the support and assistance in areas such as promotion from the national tourism organisations (SLHTA, SLTB, and the Minsitry).