Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is a multi-island nation in the Lesser Antilles. Its 389-square-kilometres (150 sq miles) territory consists of the main island of Saint Vincent and the northern two-thirds of the Grenadines. The country has a French and British colonial past but is now an independent and sovereign nation since 27th October, 1979.
The indigenous people (Caribs), living in St. Vincent aggressively prevented European settlement on St. Vincent until the 18th century. Enslaved Africans whether shipwrecked or escaped from Barbados, St. Lucia and Grenada and seeking refuge ended up settling on mainland St. Vincent, or Hairouna as it was originally named by the Caribs/Callinagoes. The inter-marrying and resultant child-bearing between these ethnically diverse groups resulted in the establishment of a new race and culture that came to be known as the Garifuna or Black Caribs.
Beginning in 1719, French settlers cultivated coffee, tobacco, indigo, cotton, and sugar on plantations worked by enslaved Africans. In 1763, St. Vincent was ceded to Britain. Conflict between the British and the Black Caribs/Garifuna, led by defiant Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer, continued until 1796, when General, Sir Ralph Abercromby crushed a revolt fomented by the French radical Victor Hugues. More than 5,000 Black Caribs were eventually exiled to Roatán, an island off the coast of Honduras. Upon arriving in Honduras, they went also to Belize and Nicaragua, taking the Garifuna culture with them and it is still alive today in Central America.
In St. Vincent and the Grenadines, slavery was abolished in 1834. After the apprenticeship period, which ended prematurely in 1838. Labour shortages on the plantations resulted in the immigration of indentured servants. The Portuguese came from Madeira starting in the 1840s and shiploads of East Indian labourers arrived between 1861-1880. Conditions remained harsh for both former slaves and immigrant agricultural workers, as depressed world sugar prices kept the economy stagnant until the turn of the century.
From 1763 until its independence, St. Vincent passed through various stages of colonial status under the British. A representative assembly was authorized in 1776, Crown Colony government installed in 1877, a Legislative Council created in 1925, and universal adult suffrage granted in 1951. During this period, the British made several unsuccessful attempts to affiliate St. Vincent with other Windward Islands in order to govern the region through a unified administration. The colonies themselves, desirous of freedom from British rule, made a notable attempt at unification called the West Indies Federation, which collapsed in 1962. St. Vincent was granted Associate Statehood status on October 27, 1969, giving it complete control over its internal affairs.
Following a referendum in 1979, under the Labour Party Administration Lead by Robert Milton Cato, St. Vincent and the Grenadines became the last of the Windward Islands to gain its independence on the 10th anniversary of its Associate Statehood status, October 27, 1979.
Natural disasters have featured in the country's history. In 1902, the La Soufrière volcano erupted, killing 2,000 people. Much farmland was damaged, and the economy deteriorated. In April 1979, La Soufrière erupted again. Although no one was killed, thousands had to be evacuated, and there was extensive agricultural damage. In 1980 and 1987, hurricanes compromised banana and coconut plantations; 1998 and 1999 also saw very active hurricane seasons, with Hurricane Lenny in 1999 causing extensive damage to the western coast of the main island, St. Vincent.
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is a parliamentary democracy within the Commonwealth of Nations. Queen Elizabeth II is head of state and is represented on the island by a Governor General, Sir Fredrick N. Ballantyne. An office with mostly ceremonial functions, true control of the government rests with the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. There is a parliamentary opposition made of the largest minority stakeholder in General Elections, headed by the Leader of the Opposition.
The current Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is the Honourable Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves, affectionately called "Comrade." The country has no formal armed forces, though the Royal Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force includes a Special Services Unit and takes part in joint regional training exercises such as Trade Winds.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines is also a member of the Regional Security System (RSS) which comprises of Barbados and Member States of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS). Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is a full & participating member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) and the Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America (ALBA).
Agriculture, dominated by banana production, is one of the most important sectors of this lower-middle income economy. The services sector, based mostly on a growing tourism industry, is also of vital importance. Maritime Affairs and the International Financial Services Industry also play a considerable role in the country’s economy. There is also a small agro-business and light manufacturing industry.
The tourism sector has considerable potential for development over the next decade.
The recent filming of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies on the island has also helped to increase tourism and expose the country to the wider world. Recent growth has been stimulated by strong activity in the construction sector, especially tourism related construction. A further boost is expected to be provided by the new international airport which is currently under construction.
Population: 118,149 (June 2008 est).
Ethnic groups: Black 66%, East Indian 6%, Mixed Race 19%, Descendants of the Caribs/Callinagoes 2%, White (including Portuguese) 4%, and Other 3%. Most Vincentians are the descendants of African people brought to the island to work on plantations. There are other ethnic groups such as Portuguese, East Indians and Syrians living on the island. There is a growing Chinese population and a sizable minority of mixed race individuals. St. Vincent has a high rate of emigration.
While the official language is English, many of the locals speak a dialect called Vincentian Creole. English is used in education, government, religion, and other formal domains, while Creole (or 'dialect' as it is referred to by locals) is used in informal situations such as in the home and among friends.
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is a Caribbean island with thriving music scenes based on calypso, soca, steel pan and also reggae. String band music, quadrille and bele music and traditional storytelling are also popular. One the most popular international singers from St. Vincent is Marlon Roudette, lead singer from the band Mattafix. The band is famous for their hit single "Big City Life" which reached the number 1 spot on the charts in Austria, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Poland and Switzerland. Another popular singer is Kevin Lyttle, whose "Turn Me On" topped charts across Europe and North America. Others may also have heard of Alston "Becket" Cyrus, with his hit "Teaser" earlier on in the country's history. Another well known Soca singer from Becket’s era was Winston Soso. The most popular Calypsonian in St. Vincent’s history was the Professor. Other prominent Calypsonians include the Mighty Sheller, D Man Age, Vibrating Scakes, Ipa, Rejector, the Black Ebou, Rasum, Joy C, Fatty Dan, Pat Ralph, Pat Raguette, Patches, Toiler, Papa Das, Singing Shaunelle and the Man Kemmy. Mention must be made of legendary bands such as Touch (Road March winner for numerous years), Asteriks, Black Sand, Signal, and X-Adus. Of the late there have been quite a lot of young and upcoming artists whose music is spreading throughout the Caribbean and the United States. These include Zola, Bomani, Maddzart, Skarpyon, Jamesy P and Problem Child, who in July 2007 became the local Carnival Road March winner with his hit song, "Party Animal". Fireman Hooper is the most popular Soca Artiste in St. Vincent and the Grenadines who has won the Soca Monarch Competition on numerous occasions.
Lou-Anne Gaylene Gilchrist