For me, the small island of Saint Lucia in the Caribbean is home. For many of you reading this, it may be a dream destination, the place where your grandparents left for England during Windrush, or the place where Nella Rose recently shot a campaign for Pretty Little Thing.
I live my day-to-day life on this little piece of paradise, working as a communications professional, going to the beach after work when I can, and spending nearly all my weekends in the countryside village where I grew up. I like it there. With less than 10,000 people, six degrees of separation is very real.
On my drives home, I pass three colonial-era sugar mills that now stand as landmarks and tourist attractions. It wasn’t until recently that I made the mental note to myself that these are not just perfect backgrounds for wedding pictures, but instead reminders of slavery and Saint Lucia’s extensive history of colonialism. In school, we learn ‘seven times British, seven times French’ which signifies how many times these two colonial powers fought over us. While I mulled over that reality a couple of weeks ago, I realized that I didn’t even need to look that far into history to see the markers of colonialism on my pretty little island.
For some context, the British won the last battle and retained rule over Saint Lucia until February 1979. That’s when we gained independence. Still, we have a governor-general who represents Queen Elizabeth, ‘God Save The Queen’ is still written on local documents, and despite redesigning our currency, the Queen’s face remains. I see her any time I must pay for anything at all.
As a Commonwealth nation, Saint Lucia too had to join in for the Queen’s Jubilee Celebrations a few days ago. It took the form of a baton relay across the island, with highly ironic stops near those sugar mills that I mentioned before. I watched as notable Saint Lucians braced the scorching Caribbean heat, carrying a baton and handing it to the next popular personality. The baton visited schools, Catholic churches, and the southern town of Soufriere where slave rebellions were notoriously popular.
Despite all of this, I’m not sure if many Saint Lucians even tuned into the BBC or online to watch the Jubilee celebrations. In fact, I’m not sure many of them even knew what was going on, what anniversary she was celebrating, or why any of them should care. If they paid closer attention, some may have asked why we even bothered ourselves with these sorts of symbolic activities.
If you’re keen on geography, you might know that Saint Lucia is pretty close to Barbados (Rihanna’s country of birth). Back in November, they became a republic, cutting off several colonial-era ties with Britain. Their governor-general is now the actual, factual head of state. They’re even releasing new cash to commemorate this bold new move. When their Prime Minister announced plans to become a Republic, Saint Lucians understandably turned to the (now former) Prime Minister to ask if we’d be doing the same. Safe to say that a Republic does not seem to be on the horizon for this isle.
So while we continue to ask for God’s graces for Queen Elizabeth II, and continue to look at her face as we pay for after-work cocktails, the reminders of slavery and colonialism stick out just as much as those old sugar mills near my home. I, for one, was not the slightest bit interested in the celebrations. It remains unclear to me why we’re even invited to participate at all. Perhaps it’s a mother trying to make amends with the young child that she wronged.
Written by Nelcia Charlemagne