As many a tour guide will tell you, St.Lucia’s history is a multi-faceted one, beginning with the early Amerindian settlers and continuing through the conquest of the Europeans, the introduction of slaves from Africa, and the subsequent employment of indentured servants from India. Each ethnic group brought with them a set of traditions and cultures that merged into ‘creole’, and became the backbone of St. Lucia’s heritage. Although distinctive to this particular island, we share similarities with other Creole ethnicities around the world including other Caribbean islands, New Orleans and even some areas in Africa. Throughout October, the world celebrates the diverse and colourful nature of Creole culture, culminating in International Creole Day, which this year is on Oct 26.
Here in St. Lucia, the big day is called “Jounen Kwéyòl” and activities are centered around designated communities which change from year to year. Each community adds it’s own particular flair to the events, but one thing is for sure – wherever it may be held, this favourite local festival focuses on Creole heritage, food and drink.
During Jounen Kwéyòl, you may think the only language being spoken is St. Lucian “patois”, but fear not – most Lucians speak patois as a second language, and only in the very rural areas do you find folks who still speak it exclusively.
Depending on the village or town holding Jounen Kwéyòl, you may find a ‘shak-shak’ band playing traditional St Lucian music, generally a group of older gentlemen armed with drums, a violin and the locally made seed-pod maracas or shak-shaks that lend their name. If you’re very lucky, they will be accompanying pairs of quadrille dancers whose dainty steps, polite bows and deep curtsies are a real reminder of more genteel times.
As far as traditional activities go, one of the favourite draws is the art of cassava-making, which was passed on from the early Amerindian settlers. The long tubers of this scraggly bush are grated, pressed through a sieve to remove the poisonous juice and dried over a fire in large cauldrons to form a flour-like product locally known as farine. It is often eaten with avocado, mixed into a porridge or baked into cakes.
If you don’t get a chance to see our Lucian coalpots being made during Jeunen Kwéyòl, you’ll definitely see some of these traditional but trendy cooking vessels in use: part stove, part grill and all hand-crafted out of local red clay, coalpots have been adopted by iconic chefs like Jamie Oliver, and are being exported to the UK and USA.
Food, food, food is the order of the day at the Creole festival, ranging from everyday favourites like bakes and accras, to fire-roasted breadfruit which comes dripping in butter, kidneys grilled on a stick, lambi (conch) stewed in Creole spices and of course St. Lucia’s national dish of green fig and salt fish. Green figs are simply unripe bananas which are peeled and boiled like potatoes, while saltfish is cod or other white fish that has been salted and dried, and was originally a favourite staple of sailors on Atlantic crossings. After soaking and boiling in water to re-hydrate, the bones are removed and the fish is cooked in a sauce with onions and green peppers to be eaten with the green fig.
The heritage theme doesn’t stop with the food, but continues with the serving dish, as the round gourd-like fruit of the Calabash tree is dried and used for bowls, another tradition borrowed from the Arawaks.
Over the past 15 years, Jounen Kwéyòl has become a significant date in the celebration of St Lucia’s rich history and heritage, and each year the communities involved reach deep into their pasts to present authentic food & drink, exciting art and craft displays and truly cultural entertainment.
If you want a glimpse into St. Lucia’s Creole past alongside our contemporary Creole culture, Jeunen Kwéyòl is an absolute must.