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Saint Lucia celebrates its 39th year of independence today. Lucians worldwide are preparing for concerts, religious observations and, of course, partying.
The island has a long history of conquest and settlement, which began with the native Arawaks, who were ousted by the more aggressive Caribs in about AD800. Its name at this time was Iouanalao (‘Land of the Iguanas’, thanks to an abundance of the sharp-eyed lizards), but it had become Sancta Lucia by 1520. The ferocity of the Caribs ensured that any Europeans who tried to settle on the island had an uncomfortable time of it, though a French pirate used Pigeon Island as his lair for a while in the 1550s.
Both English and French claimed to have settled St Lucia in 1635, starting a pattern that was to be repeated many times over the next 180 years. Ownership swung back and forth between the British and the French, marked by claims, invasions, attacks and treaties, until St Lucia ended up with Britain in 1814.
In 1795 recently freed slaves known as the Brigands formed themselves into a resistance army and succeeded in kicking out all the white slave-owners and the British army. Slavery was officially abolished and several planters were guillotined. Eventually, a 5,000-strong force under General John Moore restored ‘order’, though the rumblings continued until the curse of slavery was brought to a definitive end two decades later.
Sugar was engine of the slave economy, and continued to be the undisputed ‘king’ of the island until 1957, when bananas took over as the prime export crop. The following year, St Lucia joined the short-lived semi-autonomous West Indies Federation, and from 1967 to 1979 was an ‘associated state’ of the UK, looking after its own internal affairs but leaving international relations and defence to Westminster.
Finally, on 22 February 1979, St Lucia became a fully independent country and witnessed the red, white and blue flag of Britain lowered for the last time, supplanted by the new Saint Lucian flag of black, blue, white and yellow. The country is a member of the Commonwealth, CARICOM and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States.