Saint Lucia, once a British colony and now part of the British Commonwealth, cannot forget the other European powerhouses that shaped the history, culture, people and landscape of this nation. France has left its unquestionable mark on everything from the names of our cities and towns, religion and food, to our language, arts and architecture.
Our capital city, Castries, was founded in 1650 by the French and was originally named Carenage, meaning ‘safe anchorage’. It was renamed after Charles Eugène Gabriel de La Croix de Castries, marquis de Castries, a distinguished French Marshal who fought in the Seven Years’ War. Morne Fortune, the hill overlooking Castries, means ‘hill of good luck’. The fort on top of this hill was established by the French and still stands today.
The towns of Micoud and Laborie were named after French governors of Saint Lucia, Baron de Micoud and Baron de Laborie respectively. Choiseul was originally called Anse Citron because of the bounty of limes found in the area. However, during French rule it was changed to Choiseul after the French military officer, diplomat and statesman, Étienne François, duc de Choiseul. Other towns such as Vieux Fort, Soufrière, Gros Islet and Anse La Raye have distinctively French names.
Saint Lucian cuisine is one big assimilation from French, English and Amerindian foods. Although many restaurants will serve “French Creole” cuisine, it’s really an amalgamation of French, African and Amerinidian cooking; though, more opulent restaurants will serve French cuisine such as bisque, escargots and crème brûlée.
Our French occupation can also be seen through our architecture. Natural disasters like fires and hurricanes have wiped out several of the traditionally French buildings but some of these structures can be seen in the southern end of Soufrière, parts of Castries and other small villages on the island.
The majority of Saint Lucians are Catholic, attributed by the French rather than the British. There are also some very interesting local lores and facts surrounding the French. There is a legend that Napoleon Bonaparte’s wife, Josephine, was in fact born in Saint Lucia. There are records of her family owning land here. Though her baptism records originate in Martinique, it is said that her birthplace is La Sorcière in Babonneau. The French pirate Francois le Clerc, better known as Jambe de Bois, is known for having set up camp at Pigeon Island, and attacking Spanish galleons passing by. Today there is a restaurant inside the national park named after this renegade.
This Independence Day, while we celebrate our emancipation from a foreign power and the right to self-rule, we also recognise those powers that contributed in shaping us into the incredible and amazing nation we are today.