Culture Name


Alternative Names

The locals sometimes call the main island “Hairoun,” its Carib name. The term “Saint Vincent” is often used for the whole group, including the Grenadines.


Identification.The name “Saint Vincent” was bestowed by Columbus on his discovery of the island on 22 January 1498, in honour of Saint Vincent of Saragossa, a Spanish saint. The name “Grenadines” derives from the Spanish for “pomegranate” (in reference to the distribution of the smaller islands; pomegranate fruits grow on the islands ).

Location and Geography.The area of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is 150 square miles (389 square kilometres), with the 133 square miles comprising the mainland and 17 square miles in the Grenadines.

Demography. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines has a population of approximately 120,000 (2000 estimate), with about 110,000 residing on Saint Vincent and the remainder distributed among the Grenadines. On Saint Vincent, most of the population lives in the southern two-thirds of the island because the volcano occupies the northern third of the island. The capital, Kingstown, and its suburbs have a population of around 25,000.

Linguistic Affiliation.The official language of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is English. Most, however, normally speak a creole known locally as “dialect.” This would be unintelligible to the casual visitor, but it is based on an English vocabulary and can be learned in a short time.

Symbolism.The national flag is a tricolour of green, gold, and blue, with a stylized in the center—representing the rich foliage of the island, the sun, and the sea. All public buildings display the flag, as do many private homes. Vincentians dwell on the natural beauty of the islands: the volcano and the “black sand” of the beaches; the Vincentian parrot, an endangered endemic species; the rainforest of the interior; the beautiful views.

History and Ethnic Relations

The emergence of the Nation.Saint Vincent was one of the last Caribbean islands to be colonized by Europeans. The aboriginal Caribs existed there in sufficient force to hold off European incursions until the eighteenth century. In the early seventeenth century, the Black Caribs—a population composed of the descendants of Caribs and African maroons from other islands—emerged on Saint Vincent.

In 1763, the Treaty of Paris granted Saint Vincent to the British who quickly set up plantations with large numbers of slaves. The Carib lands in the northern part of the island had been excluded from expropriation by the British, but the promise of profitable sugar cultivation led to encroachment by planters and eventually to two Carib wars. After the Second Carib War (1793–1795), the Black Caribs were removed to Central America. The “Red” Caribs, whose descendants still live in Saint Vincent, were allowed to stay.

By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the British colony had settled into a sugar plantation economy maintained by the importation of slaves. Slavery ended on 1 August 1834.

The importation of Africans by Europeans established the basic Afro-European foundation of Vincentian society. The labor shortage created by emancipation occasioned the immigration of East Indians, Portuguese, and Barbadian whites. Many of the freed slaves were turned into agricultural wage earners, but most became peasants. A combination

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

of peasant and plantation agriculture remains the character of Saint Vincent in modern times.In the latter half of the twentieth century, Vincentians gradually came to have more control over their own political life. Universal suffrage granted by the British Crown in 1951 gave common people a measure of power that was formerly possessed by the planters. Independence was granted in 1979. Due to the reliance on an export economy of bananas, Saint Vincent remains dependent on the trade policies of the United States, Great Britain, and the European Union.

National Identity.The poor people in Saint Vincent, whether of African, European, Native American or Asian descent, derive a strong sense of identity from the history of the resistance activities of the Caribs in the eighteenth century, while the wealthier Vincentians identify with English or North American models of behaviour. More than that, the environmental features of Saint Vincent unify the country. The national anthem emphasizes the natural beauty of the islands.

Ethnic Relations.The population of the nation at the 1991 census was 106,499, with over 82,000 describing themselves as African/Negro/Black (77.1 percent), 17,501 as mixed (16.4 percent), 3,341 as Amerindian/Carib (3.1 percent), 1,477 as East Indian (1.4 percent), 511 as Portuguese (0.5 percent), 982 as white (0.9 percent), and 140 describing themselves as “other.”

Each of the ethnic minorities has been successfully integrated into the nation-state and a Vincentian identity. All ethnicities intermarry with the black majority, although the Barbados-descended local whites of Dorsetshire Hill are said to be more reclusive.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is primarily rural. Most of the population lives in small villages of 100 to 500 people. The only large town in the country is the capital, Kingstown.

Saint Vincent has a reliable electric supply to the entire island, along with telephone service and safe drinking water. Many people cannot afford utilities in their homes, and the government has supplied most villages with public showers and water taps. Most buildings are made of cinder block or wood frames, painted white or the pastel colours common to the Caribbean.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life.The daily dish of most Vincentians is pilau, a preparation of rice and pigeon peas to which is added any meat or fish available. Locally grown vegetables, “ground provision,” include yams and sweet potatoes, dasheens, eddoes, tannies, and cassava. Among the island’s abundant fruits are bananas, mangos, breadfruit, guavas, plumose, coconuts, passion fruits, and pineapples.

The main meal is usually eaten in the early evening when the heat of the day has dissipated. A light lunch or snacks of fruit make up the midday meal. Breakfast is normally a hearty affair, typically consisting of fried salt fish with onions and peppers, bread, and a pot of cocoa or coffee.

Fish of all kinds are caught by the local fishermen. Cetaceans also are hunted and eaten, the most common being porpoises, killer whales, and pilot whales. Fishsellers travel to the villages in pickup trucks when a catch is in, blowing conch shells to announce that fish are for sale. On holidays, it is common for everyone to fish for crawfish in the mountain streams or to catch land crabs to add to the evening meal.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions.Whenever guests are invited for a meal, they must be fed until they are satisfied. Rum is drunk before or after a special meal, or even during a break in the day. Strong rum (70 percent alcohol) is the Vincentian drink and is offered to all male guests. Women may have a eer, but usually they do not drink strong alcohol. Sea moss—a mixture of milk, seaweed, and spices—is considered an aphrodisiac and appears at Christmas and other special occasions. For birthdays and other celebrations cakes are usually eaten.

Basic Economy.Bananas and tourism are the main forces in the Vincentian economy: bananas on the mainland, tourism in the Grenadines. Plantations continued to exist after the end of slavery and remained powerful, but small farming employed more people in contemporary times. Few households can subsist entirely from their farming, and most have some members engaged in wage labor. Remittances from abroad have become an essential part of the Vincentian economy.

Land Tenure and Property.The current pattern of land distribution and use began during slavery, and a few families own most of the land. Agricultural land may be owned outright, rented or sharecropped. Land may also be held jointly by a number of siblings and their heirs—a uniquely Caribbean form of land tenure known as “family land.” All who have a share in the land have a right to its produce.

Commercial Activities.The economy is a mixture of subsistence and plantation agriculture. In the capital, Kingstown, a market square is occupied on most days by women selling “ground provision,” produce from their gardens. Women also sell their produce in neighboring countries. A separate market in the capital is set up for fishermen. Funded by Japan, it is called “Little Tokyo.” Whales, caught on the western side of Saint Vincent, are butchered and sold out of the town of Barroullie. All fish products are produced for local consumption.

On Saint Vincent, there is a cigarette factory, a plastics factory, a various food processing facilities directed to the local market. Occasionally, European and American investments provide jobs, including a tennis racket factory, clothing manufacture, and a marina.

On Canouan, a traditional boat-building industry continues to employ a few people.

On the other islands, subsistence agriculture and tourism are the primary factors in the economy.

Major Industries.Apart from agriculture, and tourism in the Grenadines, there is no major industry. Saint Vincent is a major world producer of arrowroot.

Trade.The main trade partners are the United States, other CARICOM (Caribbean common market) countries, the United Kingdom, and the European Economic Community. Saint Vincent has very little manufacturing, so most of the trade is in bananas, arrowroot, and other agricultural produce. In spite of the peasant economy, all of the food staples used daily by Vincentians—flour, rice, sugar, salt cod—are imported.

Division of Labor.Unemployment ranged from 20 to 50 percent throughout the twentieth century, with the highest rates coming in the 1990s. These figures are misleading, as nearly everyone is engaged in some subsistence activity. Most Vincentians engage in multiple economic activities.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes.Vincentian society consists of a small elite composed of foreign-educated black Vincentians and the white planter families, a small middle class of government employees and business professionals, and a large class of poor people. The Caribs, whose villages flank the volcano, are the poorest people on the island. A community of foreign expatriates who have taken Vincentian citizenship live in the southeast section of the main island. Foreign whites control Mustique, Petit Saint Vincent, and Palm Island.

Symbols of Social Stratification.A sharp difference is visible between the very small local elite and the activities of the poor who make up the majority of the Vincentian population. The middle class differentiate themselves from the poorer people by their use of standard English speech, private automobiles, and expensive dress, as well as lodge memberships and such activities as beauty contests.

Political Life

Government.Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is a constitutional monarchy with Elizabeth II as head of state in 2000. Her representative on the island then was Governor-General David Jack.

Leadership and Political Officials.Power is divided between the Unity Labor Party (social democrat) and the New Democracy Party (conservative), with the conservatives holding the balance for most of the years since independence. Sir James Mitchell has been prime minister since 1984. Ralph Gonsalves, a scholar and lawyer, was the minority leader in 2000.

Social Problems and Control.Unemployment, underemployment, and the drug trade are the main problems Saint Vincent has had to face in modern times. The Grenadines, with their many uninhabited islets, are a transhipment point for illicit drugs from South America to the United States.

Military Activity.The country has no formal military. The duties of a military have been taken over by the Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Royal Police Force. The U.S. military has a training and advisory role.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

The U.S. Peace Corps and Canadian Crossroads organizations maintain a presence in Saint Vincent. Scandinavian, Taiwanese, and Japanese aid agencies all have active projects in the islands. The World Health Organization had some success in an AIDS awareness campaign, with the result that Saint Vincent and the Grenadines has one of the highest rates of condom use in the world near the end of the 1990s.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

Churches organize many activities, but secular clubs are plentiful. These include drama groups, lodges, nature organizations, the girl and boy scouts, and domino playing, soccer, and cricket clubs.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender.Men and women work together on many activities, but typically men do the farming, women do the gardening, and men work at sea. Traditionally, only women sell produce in the market square; only men sell fish. Women are paid less than men at service jobs.

The Relative Status of Women and Men.Although women have more economic power than in many peasant economies and are often heads of households, men have a higher status. Relationships between men and women are placed overtly in a context of monetary/sexual favor exchange.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage.Three forms of conjugal relationship are recognized: “visiting” (the couple reside separately), “keeping” (cohabitation), and legal marriage. Among the majority of the population, the tendency is to marry later in life, usually after a couple has had several children together. It is common for women and men to have a number of children by different partners.

Domestic Unit.Households in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines may be composed of extended families, nuclear families, or individuals. The matrifocal, multigeneration family is typical. Overall, the composition of the household is flexible. In times of need, children are “lent” or “shifted” to the households of kin to lighten the subsistence needs of a household.

Inheritance.Inheritance is bilateral according to British law. Family land is always inherited jointly and cannot be broken up.

Kin Groups.People recognize kin of any degree and will go out of their way to be especially courteous and generous to them, but there are no kin groupings larger than the extended family.


Infant Care.For most Vincentians, the umbilicus or “navel string” is planted under a fruit-bearing tree shortly after birth, so that the child will have a healthy and productive life. The child is not given a name until about four weeks after birth. Meanwhile, the infant is coddled and cuddled and played with by all in the household. Care is taken not to become too attached to the infant unless it should sicken and die from too much love—a condition known aslove maljo.

Men loading plastic-wrapped banana bunches onto a lighter for transfer to a freighter anchored in deeper water. Bananas are one of the major exports of Saint Vincent.

Men loading plastic-wrapped banana bunches onto a lighter for transfer to a freighter anchored in deeper water. Bananas are one of the major exports of Saint Vincent.

Child Rearing and Education.Children are raised by everyone in the household and in the extended family. Children early develop a sense of security about their place in society. At the age of five or six, the child may begin to attend school. Education is free but not compulsory up to about eight years of age. After that, tuition must be paid. Many families cannot afford to send their children to school at any age, and their children work on the farms as soon as they are able. Literacy is in excess of 80 percent, and given their occupational opportunities, Vincentians are over educated on the whole. People often must have several O-levels (equivalent to one or two years of American college) to be hired as a clerk in a store.

Higher Education.Saint Vincent has a small teacher’s college, a nursing school, and a medical college on the main island. The medical college is geared to foreign students, only admitting one or two Vincentians on scholarship per class. A University of West Indies Extension office offers some classes but no degrees.


Generosity is the main feature of Vincentian conduct. Vincentians give of themselves and their resources to an extraordinary degree. Two customs that may strike the visitor as unusual are that it is a serious breach of etiquette to call someone’s name in public and that the use of cameras by foreigners is likely to elicit an angry or violent response.


Almost everyone in Saint Vincent is a Christian, and most Christian denominations are represented. A native religion, a combination of African rituals and Christian liturgy, has formed on Saint Vincent. Its followers are known as the Converted, or Spiritual Baptists. Believed by the rest of the population to have a particular facility with spirits, they are utilized by most Vincentians to conduct rituals at wakes and at other times of spiritual unrest. The local “pointer,” the Converted ritual specialist, may also be consulted for illness or psychological unease. Rastafarians also have a presence in Saint Vincent.

Religious Beliefs.Saint Vincent is a Christian country, although a few Bahai can be found. Main denominations are Anglican, Catholic, Methodist, and Pentecostal. About 10 percent of the population belongs to the local “Converted” religion (also known as “Spiritual Baptist”), a combination of African and Christian rituals. Several hundred Vincentians are Rastafarians.

Among a large portion of the Vincentian population, dreams are interpreted as real spiritual events and many ordinary Vincentians fear dreams, as they may predict misfortune. “Jumbies” (evil spirits), “Rounces” (spirit-animals that produce night terrors), “Ghosts” (the spirits of lie people seeking their graves), “Diablesses” (demon temptresses), “Haggs” (vampire-like creatures), and other supernatural beings inhabit Saint Vincent and many small ritual actions are required to protect one from them. These include keeping a bottle of hot pepper sauce by one’s bed, placing a jar of urine in one’s yard, and spinning around before entering one’s home. Some young people scoff at these practices.

Religious Practitioners.The ordinary Christian denominations have ministers, priests, and bishops as they are found in other Christian countries. The Rastafarians have elders, who do not conduct any special rituals but instead are respected interpreters of scripture (the Bible). The Converted have a host of religious practitioners, the most important of which is the office of “pointer.” The local pointer is the person to whom most Vincentians will turn in times of spiritual trouble. Although the Converted are persecuted socially and their religion was actually illegal until 1965, they are still revered and feared for their powers. The Converted say, “They curse us in the day, but they seek us out at night.”

Rituals and Holy Places.There are no pilgrimage locations on Saint Vincent. Church buildings themselves are the only permanently holy places. Rituals by the Converted temporarily sanctify specific locations—a house, the market square, a crossroads, a beach—for services they hold there.

Traditionally the Converted conduct a wake for a family (regardless of the denomination) on any one of the third-, ninth-, fortieth-night, or six-month or one-year anniversary of the death—but the “nine nights” and the “forty days” are the most important. The Converted receive a ritual payment of hot cross buns and cocoa tea.

The celebrations of Carnival (originally before Lent) and Nine Mornings (before Christmas) began as religious rituals, but now are primarily secular in nature.

Death and the Afterlife.The dead in Saint Vincent are remarkably mobile. On All Saint’s Eve (31 October) and on All Soul’s Eve (1 November), souls of the deceased are believed to leave the grave and to wander about Saint Vincent visiting their favorite places. Lighted candles are placed on the graves of departed family members to guide the souls back to their resting places.

The dead also roam on the third, ninth, and fortieth days after death, and on the six-month and one-year anniversary of the death. The Converted traditionally are called to conduct rituals in the home of the deceased on any of these days.

Medicine and Health Care

Health care is accessible to people in all parts of the island. Basic health care is free or low cost to all, but any special services and all surgery are expensive. Many of the poor forgo operations that would be considered necessary in other countries.

Secular Celebrations

The two most important events in the Vincentian calendar are Christmas and Carnival. There are, besides, twelve national holidays throughout the year: New Year’s Day, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Day (22 January, celebrating the discovery of the islands by Columbus), Good Friday, Easter Monday, Labor Day (1 May, also known locally as “Fisherman’s Day”), Whit Monday, CARICOM Day (celebrating the Caribbean common market), Carnival Tuesday, August Monday (1 August, Emancipation Day), Independence Day (27 October), Christmas Day, and Boxing Day (26 December).

Christmas includes three segments: Nine Mornings, Christmas Day, and “the two days following Christmas.” Following a custom begun during slavery, on the Nine Mornings Vincentians hold parties each day in the pre-dawn hours, then go to work, and party again the next day for each of the nine days. In Kingstown, large sections of the town are taken over by the party goers. Christmas Day is spent with one’s family. Boxing Day and the day after are spent visiting neighbors. The Christmas season coincides with a cooling “Christmas breeze” and is looked forward to for the temporary relief from the tropical heat as much as for the celebrations.

Carnival celebrations, with their attendant calypso and costume contests, are sponsored by the government.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts.The visual arts are not highly elaborated on Saint Vincent. Several musical groups do support themselves, although mainly by tours and record sales off the island. The government sponsors the Carnival celebration which formerly was held according to the religious calendar, but was moved to July to encourage tourism.

Literature.There is almost no written literature produced by Vincentians themselves. Myths, folktales, and other stories are rarely passed down in any formal way. However, Vincentians place great value on the ability to create good stories, jokes, and riddles and to present them in a convincing and entertaining way. Impromptu speaking contests and joke contests may be arranged in any gathering. Moonlit nights in the rural villages are especially noted as a time for these performances.

Graphic Arts.There is little in the way of graphic arts in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Occasionally an individual self-taught artist will gain attention.

Performance Arts.Calypso, Soka, Reggae, and Gospel are the main forms of music heard in Saint Vincent. Competitive caroling groups also perform at Christmas time.

Dramatic presentations are held by school and church groups throughout the islands as fund-raising events. The most important of these are “concerts,” variety shows featuring short plays, jokes, and singing for which a small entrance fee is charged.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

Local development of the sciences is negligible; however, the islands themselves are the focus of much scientific activity. Scientists from around the world are attracted by Saint Vincent’s volcano and its endemic wildlife. Dozens of sociologists and anthropologists have conducted major research on aspects of Vincentian society.


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