Island Beat (March/April 1996)

People events in the news around the islands


When the St Lucian government held an “Environment Month” some time back, it seemed to produce little public response. But this wasn’t apathy: it was familiarity. The environment already powers the psyche of St Lucia, and only the occasional reminder seems to be needed. This is a place where landscape, language and life naturally intertwine.

In this Catholic island it isn’t too fanciful to see heaven in the lush green cloud-shadowed peaks of Morne Gimie, or hell in the boiling black mud and sulphurous fumes of Soufriére, the “drive-in volcano”.

Morne Sorciére een mist, garçon. Ees whole day rain today! Most of the work of Derek Walcott, the St Lucian poet who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992, gets its impetus from this landscape, where the twin peaks of the Pitons represent much more than plugs of cooled lava. They are an androgynous symbol of the land itself: the breasts of “fair Helen” (of Troy: the French and British fought epic, almost classical battles over St Lucia), and also the male, protective “horns” of the island. Walcott (himself a twin) spear-headed a move some years ago to head off an ill-conceived foreign project to slice off the top of one of the Pitons to make way for a fancy hotel.

La foway et la terre sé la vie says the motto on the Ministry signboard near the rain forest environmental project. The forest and the land are our life. Compère Zandolie (Mister Lizard) is their mascot and the children’s friend, reminding everyone of the importance of the environment.

But it is the Pitons themselves, those environmental exclamation marks, that most reflect the island’s aspirations and St Lucians’ innate love of excellence. Reduced to a simple design — a circle with two triangles — they have become the logo of the National Bank, the local beer (Piton i bon!) and most of the tourism industry. The St Lucian “peak experience” is also reflected in the triangular motifs of island architecture; even bus stops have peaked roofs.

Of course, St Lucians are sometimes made aware in more direct ways of the presence and effect of their environment. Strong winds (the Arawak god Hurucán combing his hair) can decimate the fragile banana crop, and devastating floods can follow a rainstorm. So trees are not felled wantonly, and the newer housing developments have strict rules about tree-felling.

Environment Month? The St Lucian landscape is a daily surprise. La foway et la terre sé la vie.

– Michael Gilkes

 


Caribbean Style

So many peoples and cultures have left their mark on the Caribbean: the original Amerindians, the Spanish, the French, the British, the Dutch, the Americans. You see the different fingerprints everywhere, not only in language and food and music but in houses and shops and offices. The stately water-front buildings of Curaçao, the cobbled streets of old San Juan or Havana, the stone churches of Barbados, the wooden buildings of Georgetown, the Miami-style office-blocks of uptown Kingston — they are so different that it’s hard to believe they are all part of the same Caribbean.

Is there such a thing as a recognisable Caribbean style, a distinctive Caribbean architecture and design? It’s one of the biggest questions that the young Caribbean School of Architecture (CSA) in Jamaica is grappling with. Founded in 1988 as part of the College of Arts, Science and Technology (recently promoted to become the National Polytechnic University) in Kingston, the CSA serves 13 Commonwealth Caribbean countries, and its quota of regional students is rising – in 1993/4, 32 of the 117 students were from beyond Jamaica. The School provides pre-professional and fully professional training, including BA and MA degrees and research, and is now graduating 12 full-trained architects a year plus about 36 apprentices to join architectural practices around the region.

The project has won the backing of regional governments and international support agencies: not only are costs much lower than sending Caribbean students abroad to train (about 30% of the international costs), but the region can now train its own architectural professionals, just as it trains its own doctors, lawyers and engineers; and it can train them in its own way.

Just what that means is still being energetically debated. Students have been producing valuable monographs on regional architecture, identifying buildings of historic value, and arguing about a “philosophy” of architecture for the CSA, and for a region at home with everything from 16th-century Spain to the enclosed concrete towers of late 20th-century Miami. The debate is likely to rage for some time.

– Jeremy Taylor


A Century of Cricket

Some say it is the most beautiful cricket ground in the Caribbean, even the world. The Queen’s Park Oval in Port of Spain reaches its centenary this year (1996), and the Queen’s Park Cricket Club, founded five years before the ground was opened in 1896, has been recalling a century of great sport.

Set beside the foothills of Trinidad’s Northern Range, the Queen’s Park Oval is the best-appointed cricket ground in the West Indies. With space for over 25,000 spectators, it can hold more than Trent Bridge, Old Trafford or Edgbaston — three of England’s Test venues — and claims the most knowledgeable and volatile cricketing audience in any part of the world.

The beauty of the Queen’s Park Oval lies in its backdrop of green hills, its marvellous samaan trees, and its traditional atmosphere, which survives all the ground’s modernisation. The club has managed to make the best of both worlds, providing good accommodation and facilities while remaining sensitive to those who have watched the game at the Oval ever since an old cattle farm was part of a the ground up to the late 1940s (causing the northern end to be called the Farm End rather than the Pavilion End).

The original pavilion was built in 1896, when an agreement between the Queen’s Park Cricket Ground Company Limited and Her Most Excellent Majesty Queen Victoria was signed, with a 199-year lease. It was refurbished in 1952, and again in 1993 when the offices and administrative facilities were streamlined and computerised. The Club now has a membership of over 2,500.

The Oval is not just a cricket ground, though. Over the years it has played host to football, athletics, cycling, boxing, hockey, netball, concerts and even Carnival competitions and fetes. It was one of the main venues where Carnival bands gathered and where a beauty queen show was staged on the eve of Carnival. It has been the site for rallies and state events.

Yet it is for cricket that we remember the Oval best. At the turn of the century, English teams came to show off their skills to locals who were coming to terms with the game. But over the years the tables turned dramatically; West Indian giants like Learie Constantine, George Headley, Frank Worrell, Everton Weekes, Clyde Walcott, Garry Sobers, Wes Hall, Rohan Kanhai, Vivian Richards and the Queen’s Park players — Jeff Stollmeyer, Gerry Gomez, Kenny Trestrail, Charlie Davis, Joey Carew, Brian Lara — gave magnificent performances on the Oval turf.

Old-timers also know the names which made the Oval into such a marvellous arena for sport, like the old administrator W. C. Nock and others who followed him– Sir Errol Dos Santos, Sir Lindsay Grant, Botha Tench, Sonny Murray, and today’s president and former West Indies all-rounder, Gerry Gomez. In the Oval’s centenary year, they must take a bow for keeping the Queen’s Park Oval’s flag flying above this beautiful, sunlit ground.

– Horace Harragin