If you’re spending your Christmas holiday in Saint Lucia, you are certain to enjoy one of the island’s most festive seasons. As with everything else here, Christmas has its own peculiar traditions which add to the uniqueness of our holiday season. In sharp contrast to carols which encourage peace and goodwill to all men, in Saint Lucia you will be treated to a virtual bamboo-cannon war (locally known as bamboo bursting) that shatters the calm of cool December evenings.
This war traditionally begins in early November, lasting until the end of December, and starts from sundown, going on into the night. Although it may sound alarming, there is really nothing to fear because the participants in this traditional folk method of heralding the coming of Christmas are primarily young boys, and the cannons are non-ballistic. They are made from the semi-tropical bamboo grass and each bamboo-cannon team tries to outdo the others in making the loudest booms.
Mature bamboo stalks, about six inches in diameter. are cut to varying lengths – the longer the bamboo, the more resonant the boom. The ends are trimmed and all nodes inside the hollow stem are broken except the last one – this will serve as a receptacle for the fuel when the bamboo is tilted into a firing position. Over the receptacle, a one inch square hole is bored away from the end of the bamboo. The bamboo’s open end is elevated slightly by placing it on a pile of stones with the closed end on the ground. Kerosene is poured in through the hole and a bottle lamp (called a ‘shal’ in Kwéyòl) is kept nearby to serve as the lighting source.