Long before European explorers first discovered the beautiful shores of St. Lucia, the island was home to the Amerindians, most notably the peaceful Arawaks, adept potters, weavers, farmers and shipwrights, and the Caribs, a warrior group that overpowered the Arawaks for control of the island after nearly 800 years of peaceful habitation. The Caribs ruled the Windward Islands for many years and aggressively defended St. Lucia against European colonists. The first European to settle in St. Lucia was François Le Clerc, a pirate known as Jambe du Bois (‘Wooden Leg’), who built his home on Pigeon Island. The English first landed in 1605 after veering off-course on their way to Guyana, but were quickly expelled by the Caribs. Europeans did not venture back to St. Lucia’s shores until 1651 when the French West India Company purchased the island and developed the Soufrière settlement.
For the next 150 years, the French and English fought for control of St. Lucia, which changed hands fourteen times until the Treaty of Paris ceded the island to the British in 1814. St. Lucia became a British Crown Colony in 1842 and remained under British control until England granted the island full self-government 1967. St. Lucia gained status as an independent member state of the British Commonwealth in 1979; Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is the head of the state and is represented by an appointed Governor General based in St. Lucia. The island adopted a number of systems and practices from the British in establishing its government framework; the local government is led by the Prime Minister and the legal system is based on English common law and ‘Code Napoleon’.
St. Lucia’s economy was originally built on its agricultural exports. For over 200 years the island’s main export was sugar; however bananas took over in the 1950’s. For several decades St. Lucia was the largest banana producer in the world, accounting for nearly 70 percent of the gross domestic product and employing 50 percent of the population. Recent changes in global economic policies have threatened St. Lucia’s stronghold on the world market; however it continues to be the leading banana producer in the Eastern Caribbean. To compensate, the island has turned to other industries, primarily tourism and financial services.
In the past 20 years St. Lucia has experienced significant expansion to meet the growing needs of its tourism industry. Construction of new resorts, boutique hotels and other social amenities including restaurants, shopping facilities and entertainment venues has also impacted development of the island’s infrastructure, including better roads and services including telecommunications. St. Lucia’s development is heavily regulated by the government to safeguard the island’s natural beauty including protected rain forests, estuaries and marine reserves.
St. Lucia’s population is just over 160,000, with one-third residing in the Castries – Gros Islet region of the island. St. Lucians are a passionate people, with extreme loyalty to their island and its strong cultural identity, influenced by English, French and African traditions as well as religion, music and community.