Out of St Lucia: Nobel winner squares up to Columbus myth

CASTRIES - Ernest Francois, a 24-year-old construction worker from Bagatelle, fell to his death two weeks ago while repainting St Lucia's Ministry of Education in preparation for the return of the island's most famous son. Derek Walcott, the 1992 Nobel prize-winner for literature, was coming home to a frenzy of official festivities in his honour; that young Francois, believed to have been electrocuted on his ladder, should have died in the process caused little stir bar a headline on the back page of the St Lucia Voice which read 'Painter shocked on job'.

Celebrations were to culminate in the renaming of the capital's central feature to Derek Walcott Square. This Walcott, who has lived abroad for decades, accepted with caution: 'When an irresistible honour has been almost forced upon me by the will of a committee and what seems to be the pleasure of a people it would be an act of pseudo-humility to reject such an honour.'

There was another reason for Walcott to accept the gesture, for he had provided the local authorities with a timely opportunity for a political correction they had been agonising about for some time: how to get rid of the old name, Columbus Square. It was a correction in two senses. Not only were Caribbean people urged to take a different perspective of Columbus since the quincentenary controversy over his men's genocidal actions against American Indians; the island itself takes its name from the undocumented theory that Columbus landed here on 13 January 1492 - the Day of Saint Lucia, patron saint of light. The renaming was an admission, now that Columbus is no longer politically correct anyway, that the explorer probably never saw, let alone set foot on, the island.

Such derivative iconoclasm appears to be catching, for St Lucia, a British dependency until 1979 and a member of the Commonwealth, is not unaware of the royal-bashing gripping the mother country. A local commentator, Claudius J Francis, notes: 'Bearing in mind the copycat people we in these parts have become in recent times, it is most surprising that it has not as yet caught on.' He would not dream of questioning the role of the Head of State herself, but Mr Francis does the next best thing by challenging the role of her representative, chosen by the Prime Minister and approved by the Queen, and concludes that '. . . my vote goes towards an elected Governor- General, if one is at all necessary'.

Remarkably, this population roughly the size of Blackburn has yielded not one but two Nobel laureates. Sir Arthur Lewis, now deceased, was awarded the prize for economics in 1979. It is even more remarkable considering the high degree of illiteracy on the island. The official language is English, but people converse in a patois of mongrelised French, breaking into English when the subject-matter requires it. This seems to be remarkably often: for example, two St Lucians I asked did not think there was a patois word for 'widow'. Foreigners should also beware of unguided attempts at decoding. The advertising slogan for the local Piton beer, named after the island's two landmark peaks, is 'La biere sent lisi'. It's phonetic for 'the Sainte Lucie beer'.

Tourism money tends to be an in-and-out job and so St Lucia's economy remains heavily dependent on bananas. Earnings last year amounted to 184m Eastern Caribbean dollars ( pounds 47m). But battles lie ahead. Some European markets, notably the Germans, prefer the bigger Central American banana to its more diminutive Caribbean cousin. Two weeks ago the Prime Minister, John Compton, sought to rally the troops in parliament: while Britain and France 'never wavered' in their support, 'arranged against us were Germany and the Benelux allies, the five banana countries of Central America led by Costa Rica and the American multinationals'.

With the arrival of the Single Market, the PM said, St Lucia could no longer rely on its colonial past masters in London. The 'faceless bureaucrats' in the European Commission were not going to change their rules for the sake of St Lucia and furthermore, St Lucians had failed to heed advice to produce fruit of the quality demanded by the market. He even accused his countrymen of laziness, declaring that 'the three or four hours in the banana fields must be a thing of the past'.

The troops may not want to be rallied. They're more keen to blame others. One said: 'It's the Germans who should be educated not to judge a banana only by its size.' Small is fun. Over a plate of green bananas and boiled fish at Laurel's cafe I told Winston, a Castries barrister, about the latest banana bulletin on the radio. He said: 'Yes, I know, it was me reading the six o'clock news. I read the radio news on Wednesdays.'

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Maths Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher (mater...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for an ...

Maths Teacher

£22000 - £37000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: A West Yorkshire School i...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week