islands, West Indies
Island country, Windward Islands, in the eastern Caribbean Sea.
It is composed of Saint Vincent island and the northern Grenadines.
Area: 150 sq mi (389 sq km). Pop. (2005 est.): 119,000. Capital:
Kingstown. Most of the population is of African descent. Language:
English (official). Religions: Christianity (mostly Protestant; also
other Christians, Roman Catholic); also Hinduism, Islam. Currency:
Eastern Caribbean dollar. The islands are composed of volcanic rock.
Thickly wooded volcanic mountains run north-south and are cut by many
swift streams. Soufrière (4,048 ft [1,234 m]), the highest of the
mountains, has had devastating volcanic eruptions. Agriculture is the
mainstay of the economy, and export crops include bananas and arrowroot.
Tourism is also important. The country is a constitutional monarchy with
one legislative house; its chief of state is the British monarch
represented by the governor-general, and the head of government is the
prime minister. The French and the British contested for control of
Saint Vincent until 1763, when it was ceded to England by the Treaty of
Paris. The original inhabitants, the Caribs, recognized British
sovereignty but revolted in 1795. Most of the Caribs were deported; many
who remained were killed in volcanic eruptions in 1812 and 1902. In 1969
Saint Vincent became a self-governing state in association with the
United Kingdom, and in 1979 it achieved full independence.
Official name Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Form of government constitutional monarchy with one legislative house
(House of Assembly )
Chief of state British Monarch represented by Governor-General
Head of government Prime Minister
Official language English
Official religion none
Monetary unit Eastern Caribbean dollar (EC$)
Population estimate (2008) 106,000
Total area (sq mi) 150
Total area (sq km) 389
1Includes 7 nonelective seats (including 1 seat for the attorney general
serving ex officio).
islands, West Indies
island country lying within the Lesser Antilles, in the eastern
Caribbean Sea. It consists of the island of Saint Vincent and the
northern Grenadine Islands, which stretch southward toward Grenada. The
island of Saint Vincent lies about 20 miles (32 km) southwest of Saint
Lucia and 100 miles (160 km) west of Barbados. It is 18 miles long (30
km) and has a maximum width of 11 miles (18 km). The larger islands of
the Grenadines associated with Saint Vincent are Bequia, Canouan,
Mayreau, Mustique, Prune (Palm) Island, Petit Saint Vincent Island, and
Union Island. The Tobago Cays, just to the east of Mayreau, have been
designated a wildlife reserve. The name Saint Vincent originally applied
to the mainland and the group of smaller islands associated with it.
After the attainment of independence in 1979 the multi-island state was
renamed Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. The capital and major port is
Kingstown, on Saint Vincent. The country is a member of the
Relief, soils, and drainage
The island of Saint Vincent has thickly wooded volcanic mountains
running north-south and many short swift streams. Though numerous, the
streams are small except after heavy rains. There are no navigable
rivers. The island’s two highest peaks are both on the volcano Soufrière
(4,048 feet [1,234 metres] and 3,864 feet [1,178 metres]), in the north,
which erupted disastrously in 1812 and 1902, seriously affecting the
country’s agriculture and temporarily displacing residents of
communities around the foothills of the volcano. The 1902 eruption
coincided with that of Mount Pelée on Martinique. Soufrière became
active again in 1979, repeating the cycle of agricultural damage and
massive evacuation. The volcanic ash, which spread as far as Barbados,
is said to have enhanced the fertility of the soil. Other noteworthy
peaks on the island include Grand Bonhomme and Mount St. Andrew.
The soil of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is very fertile and
permits the easy cultivation of a variety of vegetables and fruits as
well as arrowroot, which is no longer a major crop but is still grown in
the northeastern part of the main island. Vegetation is varied, and
there are a number of plants of striking brilliance, including hibiscus
and poinsettia. Cultivated land spreads out below the forest zone, and
in some areas terraces protect against erosion. Birdlife on the island
is especially rich.
Saint Vincent lies in the path of the northeast trade winds and has
a tropical maritime climate. Rainfall and temperature vary with
elevation. Average annual rainfall ranges from about 60 inches (1,500
mm) on the coast to 150 inches (3,800 mm) in the central mountains.
More-moderate amounts fall on the coastal area, which annually receives
about 60 to 80 inches (1,500 to 2,000 mm). Heavier amounts fall on the
windward (eastern) side of the island. The temperature at Kingstown
averages between the mid-60s and about 90 °F (between about 18 and 32
°C). Tropical cyclones (hurricanes) occasionally pass across or near the
island; it suffered notably severe ones in 1780 and 1898, and
less-severe but still destructive ones in 1955 and 1980. The dry season
on Saint Vincent lasts from January to May; the rains start in June and
continue until the end of the year.
Some two-thirds of the inhabitants are descended from Africans who
were enslaved and brought to work on the sugar plantations; another
one-fourth of the population is of mixed African-European ancestry.
There are small minorities of people of South Asian, European, Carib,
and mixed African and Carib descent; the latter are known as the
Garifuna. English is the official language. An English patois is
commonly spoken and referred to in some academic quarters as “nation
language” (that is, a postcolonial version of a language that was
imposed by colonizers—in this case, English—that incorporates
underground language codes from formerly suppressed languages, in this
case the African languages of the slaves).
Despite a rapid increase in the number of Pentecostals and declining
numbers of Anglicans, Methodists, and Roman Catholics, the latter three
are still regarded as the established religions. The Spiritual Baptist,
or Shaker (as it was known in Saint Vincent), church, a syncretic
Protestant-African faith, was banned from 1912 to the 1960s; in the late
20th century the church began a significant resurgence. There are also
branches of North American Evangelical churches, and there are smaller
numbers of Hindus and Muslims.
Life expectancy is about 70 years for males and in the mid-70s for
females. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines once had one of the highest
birth rates in the West Indies. That figure declined drastically in the
late 20th century, however, largely as the result of government
family-planning efforts, and by the early 21st century it was roughly
equivalent to the West Indian average. The rate of natural increase
declined likewise over the same period. The country has a high rate of
Agriculture, forestry, and fisheries
The economy of Saint Vincent is chiefly agricultural. The country is
one of the world’s few producers of arrowroot, despite a major decline
in the industry. Saint Vincent was once the greatest exporter of it.
Cotton and sugarcane were formerly important to the economy, but, since
the second half of the 20th century, bananas have been the leading
export, and cotton is no longer grown. Other important crops include
sweet potatoes, plantains, yams, coconuts, and dasheens and eddoes
(types of taro). Rice and flour are milled from imported white-cargo or
rice and wheat. All these agricultural products are used locally and
exported to neighbouring Caribbean countries. The interior of the island
of Saint Vincent is still forested, though there is significant
encroachment on the woodland. There is a growing fishing industry, both
offshore and inland, that produces for local consumption as well as for
export to other Caribbean islands and to the United States, particularly
to locations on the Eastern seaboard, such as Miami and New York City.
Lobster, conch, tuna, and swordfish are the main seafoods exported.
Manufacturing and trade
Manufacturing is of minor economic importance. There is some focus,
however, on light manufacturing, on the milling of rice and flour, and
on the production of beer. There are also plants for distilling rum,
building yachts, and making boxes for locally produced beer and the
packing of bananas.
The major imports are machinery and transport equipment, food and
beverages, chemicals, and fuels, coming primarily from the United States
and the Caribbean Community and Common Market (Caricom) countries,
especially Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados. The main exports are
bananas, packaged flour and rice, and root crops such as dasheens and
eddoes. The country’s main export destinations are the Caricom countries
(particularly Barbados, Saint Lucia, and Trinidad and Tobago), the
United Kingdom, and the United States.
Tourism has assumed a significant role in the economy, especially
with the greater accessibility of the Grenadines through the airports
established throughout the islands and the use of larger and more modern
boats. Noted for their coral reefs and fine beaches, the Grenadines
serve as the focus of the country’s tourism sector. They are
particularly favoured by those interested in yachting and sport fishing
and lend themselves to Caribbean tourism’s traditional emphasis on sun,
sea, and sand. One of the Grenadines, the island of Mustique, is
privately owned by a consortium of landowners, many of whom rent their
property to vacationers. Ecotourism is being encouraged on the main
island, Saint Vincent.
The major airport is at Arnos Vale, southeast of Kingstown. Several
of the Grenadines also have airstrips. Kingstown has a deepwater port
and a cruise-ship berth. Transport on the island of Saint Vincent is
adequate. A road network runs along most of the coast from Chateaubelair
in the northwest, down to the south coast, and back up to Fancy on the
northeastern side of the island. The area on the western side from Fancy
to Chateaubelair is extremely rocky, and the roughness of the terrain
has prevented the completion of the road network around the island. A
series of feeder roads were built from the coastal area inland to
facilitate the movement of agricultural products to the markets and to
serve numerous inland communities.
Government and society
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is a constitutional monarchy with a
parliamentary form of government. The British monarch is the head of
state and is represented by an appointed governor-general. A prime
minister, the leader of the majority party, is the head of government.
The unicameral legislature is the House of Assembly. It is composed of
15 members (called representatives) elected to five-year terms by
universal adult suffrage, along with six nonelected members (called
senators) who are appointed by the governor-general—four on the advice
of the prime minister and two on the advice of the leader of the
opposition. Another seat in the assembly is reserved for the attorney
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines’ court system consists of a lower
and an upper judiciary. The lower courts include magistrates’ and family
courts; the High Court and the Court of Appeal form the upper level.
Saint Vincent retains its connection with the Eastern Caribbean Supreme
Court. This consists of an appeals court and a high court, while the
final court of appeal remains the Judicial Committee of the Privy
Council in London.
Education, health, and welfare
Primary education is free but not compulsory. Most primary schools
are administered by the government, and a small number are private.
Secondary education begins at age 11. Most secondary schools are
government controlled, with a few run by the Catholic and Anglican
religious organizations with government assistance. Other educational
institutions include technical and vocational schools, a school for
children with special needs, and Saint Vincent Community College, which
provides nursing and teacher training among other subjects. The
University of the West Indies Open Campus has a location in Saint
Government health initiatives are directed primarily against chronic
diseases, including diabetes and hypertension. For children, the focus
of attention is on immunization against diseases such as polio and
measles. Combating obesity and asthma in children is increasingly a
priority. HIV/AIDS receives great attention from the health authorities,
and domestic violence is a growing area of concern. The country has a
main public general hospital, several smaller public and private
hospitals, and a number of outpatient health centres.
Carnival is the major cultural event. The Nine Mornings Festival
takes place in Kingstown in the nine mornings preceding Christmas. While
traditionally it consisted of early-morning street parades accompanied
by caroling, bicycle races, and other festivities, the focus now in
Kingstown is on early-morning street concerts. In the rural areas,
celebrations of this festival are more diverse and include attempts to
revive dying cultural practices. Some of the Grenadine Islands have
annual regattas that include carnival-type activities.
Kingstown has a number of cultural heritage sites. They include the
Botanic Gardens (founded in 1765) and Fort Charlotte (1806); of
architectural interest is the Georgian-style St. George’s (Anglican)
Cathedral. Other 18th- and 19th-century buildings include the courthouse
and the House of Assembly, which occupy the same building, and the
Traditional cultural practices such as tea meetings (ceremonial
speech and singing demonstrations) are occasionally held, and there has
been some emphasis put on dance, drama, and music festivals. Calypso,
soca (which blends traditional calypso and Indian rhythmic instruments),
and Jamaican dancehall and reggae music tend to dominate the country’s
The rise of individualism, economic independence, and migration have
led to a decrease in the importance of the extended family. Women are
increasingly involved in economic, political, and cultural life to a
greater degree than was the case traditionally. Men and women have equal
status under the law, and a government department of gender affairs is
concerned with issues including gender equality and equal access to
social, political, economic, and educational opportunities.
With globalization, the demand for foreign foods has increased, and
these are widely available in supermarkets. Growing awareness and
concerns about health and nutrition are beginning to lead to a greater
emphasis on local foods for consumption, however. The country’s markets
are usually well stocked with fruits and vegetables. The national dish
is roasted breadfruit and fried jackfish (jack); the fish are commonly
caught locally, and breadfruit have been present on the island of Saint
Vincent since 1793, when they were brought by Capt. William Bligh, the
former commander of HMS Bounty.
Sports and recreation
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines are internationally renowned for
the clarity and calm of their offshore leeward waters, which have lured
countless yachtsmen, sailors, surfers, and scuba divers to the islands.
Native Vincentians, however, favour land-based sports, especially
cricket. The Arnos Vale Sports Complex, in Kingstown, has become a
popular venue for one-day international cricket matches. Over the years,
Vincentian cricketers have represented the West Indies in international
cricket tournaments and have played professionally in England.
Vincentians are equally fond of football (soccer); the national team has
played in the Caribbean Cup and the Gold Cup world competition. The
sport of netball has also produced a number of strong Vincentian
national teams. Basketball and women’s cricket and football are gaining
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines made its first appearance at the
Olympics at the 1988 Seoul Games. Vincentian athletes compete and place
regularly in the quadrennial Commonwealth Games.
Media and publishing
The government runs a free public library system. Several weekly
newspapers are published. Cable television service provides programs
mainly from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and from North
America. Local radio and television programming is provided by a
government-owned broadcasting company in the capital. There are a number
of private radio stations, including one affiliated with a political
party and another that broadcasts religious programs.
Before the time of European contact, Saint Vincent was first
inhabited by the Ciboney, who were joined and eventually displaced or
conquered by an Arawak people who had originated in Venezuela and
settled the West Indies. About a century before the arrival of European
explorers, the Arawak were themselves displaced by another group, the
Carib, who originated from South America.
It was formerly thought that Christopher Columbus first visited the
island and named it Saint Vincent on Jan. 22, 1498, a day that used to
be celebrated as “Discovery Day.” It is now known that Columbus was
still in Spain on that day, and there is no evidence to suggest that he
ever visited Saint Vincent.
In the 17th century a group of so-called “Black Caribs,” also known
as the Garifuna, was formed from intermarriage between the indigenous
Caribs and more-recent African arrivals. The Africans were mainly slaves
who had escaped from plantations in Barbados or were taken from raids on
European plantations; other Africans came from a party of slaves who
were shipwrecked in the Grenadines in either 1635 or 1673 (both dates
are frequently given) and eventually reached the Saint Vincent mainland.
The Caribs resisted frequent British, French, and Dutch attempts to
settle in Saint Vincent, but they eventually allowed limited French
settlement of the island’s west coast in the early 18th century. This
move was likely aimed at gaining French support against the more
aggressive English. In 1763, with the Treaty of Paris, Britain was
granted control of Saint Vincent and settlement proceeded, although the
Caribs refused to accept British sovereignty. In 1779 the island was
seized by the French, but in 1783 it was restored to Britain under the
Treaty of Versailles. The Caribs’ ongoing resistance to British presence
led to two wars (1772–73 and 1795–96); the Caribs were exiled following
the second. Most were deported to an island off the coast of Honduras,
from which they later migrated to Belize and other areas along the
Atlantic coast of Central America. Those who remained sought refuge in
the interior of the island until an act of the colonial legislature in
1805 pardoned them for their rebellion, which had been deemed
Following the conquest of the Caribs, the British government took
full control of the country. After the Treaty of Paris of 1763, Saint
Vincent had become part of an administrative union known as the Windward
Islands. The union comprised the islands of Grenada, Saint Vincent,
Dominica, Tobago, and the Grenadines; they shared a common
representative assembly and a seat of administration in Grenada. This
union soon collapsed, and the islands were given separate representative
assemblies. In 1791 the islands of the Grenadines were partitioned
between Grenada and Saint Vincent, with Saint Vincent having
administrative control over the ones to the north; these were closer to
Saint Vincent and therefore could more effectively be administered by
it. This system of administration lasted until 1877. It was replaced by
a crown colony system in which a governor and a nominated council
administered the islands on behalf of the British crown.
A plantation economy grew, producing sugar, cotton, coffee, and cocoa
with the use of the labour of enslaved Africans. The emancipation of the
slaves in 1834 increased the bargaining power of the former slaves and
reduced the planters’ total control; Portuguese and South Asian
labourers were introduced later in the century to increase competition
and weaken the position of the emancipated people in the labour market.
In the latter half of the 19th century, sugar prices fell, plunging
the island into a depression that lasted through the end of the century.
The hurricane of 1898 and the eruption of Soufrière in 1902 were
especially damaging to agriculture, hindering economic recovery, and
virtually signaled the end of the sugar industry. Sugar was replaced as
the major crop by arrowroot and Sea Island cotton, which remained the
dominant export crops until their place was taken by bananas in the
The 20th century was dominated by a struggle to replace the crown
colony system of government by a representative system. A legislative
council was established in 1925, but the franchise was limited and the
majority of descendants of slaves were kept out of the process. Efforts
to extend the franchise and to get further constitutional reform
culminated in a federation of the islands. Riots in the mid-1930s,
sparked by fallout from the Great Depression, paved the way for further
constitutional reform that reached a climax in 1951, when universal
adult suffrage was introduced. Saint Vincent also joined the West Indies
Federation, which existed from 1958 to 1962. A new constitution was
adopted in 1960. Saint Vincent became a state in association with the
United Kingdom on Oct. 27, 1969; it had become a member of the Caribbean
Free Trade Area on July 1, 1968. It joined the Caribbean Community and
Common Market (Caricom) in 1973 and the Organisation of Eastern
Caribbean States in 1981.
After the collapse of the West Indies Federation in 1962, efforts
began that were aimed at creating political union among different
groupings of the federation’s former members, but the efforts did not
bear fruit. Most of the islands sought independence individually.
Independence for Saint Vincent was achieved on Oct. 27, 1979. Shortly
thereafter, the political entity became known officially as Saint
Vincent and the Grenadines. The new government was formed as a
constitutional monarchy and became a member of the Commonwealth. The
country held its first elections in December of that year. The Saint
Vincent Labour Party, the ruling party of the time, won the elections,
and its leader, Milton Cato, became the first prime minister of the
independent country. Cato, a Caribbean nationalist, favoured closer
links with the relatively centrist governments of Trinidad and Tobago
and of Barbados.
In 1979 the Soufrière volcano erupted once again, damaging
agriculture and the tourist trade. The banana industry was seriously
damaged by Hurricane Allen in 1980. Recession in the United States and
the falling value of the pound sterling against the dollar further
lowered tourist visits and exports of bananas during the early 1980s.
In July 1984 the New Democratic Party, under James Mitchell, won the
general elections. Mitchell began a program of reorganizing agriculture
and of lowering unemployment by encouraging the construction industry
and facilitating land settlement among landless agricultural workers.
Mitchell’s party won the next several elections. He remained in office
until his retirement from the presidency in August 2000 and was
succeeded by Arnhim Eustace. A general election was called for March
2001; the left-wing Unity Labour Party won a decisive majority, and its
leader, Ralph Gonsalves, became prime minister.
The people of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, like other people of
the Commonwealth Caribbean, still see the deepening of the integration
movement as one of their goals. In the early 21st century the various
countries were concerned with the creation of a Caribbean single market
and economy, and a subgrouping of members of the Organisation of Eastern
Caribbean States sought to establish an economic union. Since
independence, many attempts have been made to form a political union,
including, in the early years of the 21st century, one seeking to link
Saint Vincent and some of the other eastern Caribbean states with
Trinidad and Tobago.
David Lawrence Niddrie