History of St. Lucia

St. Lucia's history of power struggles has led to a rich culture

Photo credit: © ~ Snowpea ~

The History of St. Lucia

Over the years, no culture has gladly given up the beautiful island of St. Lucia. Arawaks and Caribs were the first to fight for the land. The French and British fought for over 150 years for final control, with power ultimately landing in the hands of the British.

St. Lucia, with its noteworthy Pitons mountains, beaches, and jungle land, has provided a great home for so many cultures throughout the years. The Arawak tribe was the first to make its home on the island, sometime before 200 A.D. Some 600 years later the aggressive Carib Indians conquered the peaceful Arawak tribe.


The Caribs named the island Hewanorra, which means the Land Where the Iguana is Found. This is now the name of St. Lucia's international airport, as a tribute to the island's past. More than 1,000 years passed before other settlers came to make their place on the island.

European Discovery

The first recorded European to set foot on St. Lucia was the French pirate François Le Clerc, nicknamed Jambe de Bois, meaning "Wooden Leg." He lived on Pigeon island in the late 1500s. From this island located just off the northernmost point on St. Lucia, Jambe de Bois attacked passing ships.

English settlers traveling to Guiana in 1605 were taken off course by storms and ended up at St. Lucia's southern tip, near what is now Vieux Fort. Although 67 landed, only 19 left the island. The Caribs had taken their toll on the shipwrecked and drove the would-be settlers off with only a canoe in which to make their escape.

English settlers gave the island another try some 30 years later, but again were met with strong resistance. Fifteen years later the French arrived after the French West India Company purchased the island. However, that wasn't the end of things.

Trading Spaces

For a period of 150 years, the French and British fought for possession of St. Lucia. In the end, the island traded hands 14 times, but was finally left under British control in 1814.

It was at this point that the Europeans on the island established sugar plantations, mostly through the use of West African slaves. However, trouble came after the slaves were emancipated in 1838. More than 90% of St. Lucia's population was of African descent, a ratio which is much the same even now.

Indians began arriving in 1859 to help stabilize the faltering sugar industry, which had been hard-hit by the end of slavery, and by 1882 indentured servants from the East Indies became the heart and soul of the industry. They also cultivated rice, which has been important to the island. However, by the 1960s the sugar industry had all but disappeared, and bananas became the major export.

St. Lucia's indentured servants most often came from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar via Calcutta, but Bengal and Madras also sent ships full of willing workers from India. Though more than 2,500 returned to India at the end of their contracts, many others stayed and have become an integral part of the island culture on St. Lucia. 

Independence came to this much-sought-after island in 1979. It is now an independent state within the British Commonwealth of Nations. However, much of the island's culture combines French and African influences with the English language and government.

Since the British gained final control of St. Lucia in the early 1800s, the island has had a history of stability. Once you arrive on this beautiful island, you'll see why no group wanted to give it up without a fight.


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