Celebrating Derek Walcott and his views on Tourism

Saint Lucia holds the shared title (#1 country) for the highest Nobel Laureates per Capita in the world. It is a remarkable achievement for a tiny ‘developing nation’ with limited resources and population of only 180,000. Complementary to Sir Arthur Lewis’ economic work, let us explore 1992’s Nobel Prize Laureate Derek Walcott’s famous contribution to Literature and explore his views on the Tourism sector. Derek Walcott’s prophetic warnings regarding the over-dependence of tourism seems to align with Saint Lucia’s current economic woes. The travel hampering effect of the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a dramatic reshaping of the tourism industry over the past 12 months. Economic analysts have predicted that tourism figures are not expected to return to pre-COVID (2019) figures until 2024.

The Book of Omeros

One of Derek Walcott’s most famous collection of poems is his ground-breaking work in Omeros. Omeros can be described as the following: “a poem in five books, of circular narrative design, titled with the Greek name for Homer, which simultaneously charts two currents of history: the visible history charted in events — the tribal losses of the American Indian, the tragedy of African enslavement — and the interior, unwritten epic fashioned from the suffering of the individual in exile.” Some of the poems from Omeros can be read here. In addition, the following paper titled What is Myth and History in Derek Walcott’s Omeros is an informative read.

Here is a powerful excerpt from Omeros:

Modernity has destroyed native values and people are doing anything and everything for money. Walcott worries that “One day the Mafia will spin these islands round like roulette” . Everyone is being corrupted; Island and its people are under the rule of Western modernity. If this continues, Achille worries that the future of St. Lucia is going to be terrible because “the young took no interest in canoes/That was longtime shit. Once it came from Africa/And the sea would soon get accustomed to the noise” .

Achille sees his culture and history being crushed, and he fears that it will continue till it is totally devoured by Western modernity. In this regard, Simon Gikandi states, “… the implication of [European] modernity for the natives of the islands and African slaves was nothing less than the loss of cultures, physical annihilation and historical displacement” . Western modernity made St. Lucians culturally and historically displaced.

Lots of changes have taken place in St. Lucia. Island and its people are becoming modern but “…the step from tradition to modernity did not parallel the distinction between primitive and civilized, or even the opposition between black and white”. Tourists still see the natives as primitive and sometimes another form of being, “as if they were horses, muscles made beautiful/ by working the sea …” ). This prejudice enrages Achille because “the tourists came flying to them to capture the scene/like gulls fighting over a catch …” . He is frustrated that their camera cannot capture the true virtues, simplicity and essence of St. Lucia.

She was selling herself like the island, without any pain, and the village did not seem to care that it was dying in its change, the way it whored away a simple life that would soon disappear

Walcott’s complex literary work and its prediction regarding the impact of the Caribbean’s over reliance on Tourism were ahead of its time. Despite his utterances, previous administrations in the region have failed to invest in other industries. Even Sir Arthur Lewis in his prior work (1954) on “Economic Development with Unlimited Supplies of Labour” advocated for economic diversification.

Walcott’s CARIFESTA X 2008 Speech

Derek Walcott’s opening speech at CARFIESTA X in 2008 also focused on the challenges of over-dependence on tourism. “St. Lucian-born Nobel Laureate, Derek Walcott, has accused Caribbean governments of ‘selling our land like whores to foreign investors.’ Walcott took advantage of the opening literary session at Carifesta X in Guyana to slam into many targets, including the regional governments. He said many are selling off the region without demanding much in return. As he put it: `Prostitution is a thing called development.”

His warning about Caribbean land acquisition issues is particularly relevant given the apparent standstill with the Pearl of the Caribbean (DSH). Essentially, foreign investors were given prime Saint Lucian land at extremely cheap value with Saint Lucians having little to gain in return. “He called the land situation in his own homeland of St. Lucia an “obscenity of greed”. It is about bribery. It is about corruption, he said, adding that huge hotels are being built by foreigners with no cultural or other gain being offered to local communities.”

He recommended that we invested in the Arts as an alternative instead “And Walcott urged governments to “tell these investors we need a theatre, we need a museum. ‘Right now we ain’t got nothing. The theatre in St. Lucia is an abomination,’ he said. As a sideswipe, Walcott related modern hotels to slavery saying that “at least the slaves did not have to smile.

Litany to the Saint Lucian Pitons

Another even more glaring example of Walcott’s land acquisition prophesy is the ongoing development at the foot of the famous twin Pitons. The powers that be would rather risk Saint Lucia losing its World Heritage Status by accommodating such an unnatural development on our sacred mountains. Authorization for the Pitons villa construction was granted to Canadian billionaire, Geoffrey Robillard, with the green light officially given by the current administration. Walcott also highlighted the sacred value of the Saint Lucian Pitons and warned all of us earlier. “I am ashamed of my country,” he sighed, “because that’s whoring and you can quote me on that. If you are telling me right, that there is going to be a hotel built at the base of Petit Piton, visible as a hotel, then that is whoring and I am ashamed of my country. There can still be time for protest but what can you say when a country approves of its own disfigurement?”

Walcott’s Litany to the Pitons from 1992 remains as relevant as it did almost 30 years ago.

May the Pitons pardon us

M-Group and Minister

More and more sinister

Manipulators

Merchants and traitors

Makers of waiters

Whores out of waitresses

Deep our distress

Jalousie is one of

The seven deadly sins

Greed is another …

They would sell their own sons.

They sold me, they sold you

When they sold the Pitons.

May the next Generation

Curse a government so blind.

It handed over a nation

Sealed, delivered and signed

May the Pitons pardon us

M-Group and Minister

More and more sinister

Manipulators

Merchants and traitors

Makers of waiters

Whores out of waitresses

Deep our distress

Jalousie is one of

The seven deadly sins

Greed is another …

They would sell their own sons.

They sold me, they sold you

When they sold the Pitons.

May the next Generation

Curse a government so blind.

It handed over a nation

Sealed, delivered and signed

Perception of Caribbean Culture

In a prior interview, Derek Walcott elaborated on a contradiction in the perception of his culture. “The usual thing is to see the Caribbean mainly as a tourist place with hotels and waiters and stuff like that and it is, that’s its economic direction, unfortunately, that it has to develop tourism as an industry, so there’s a clichéd perception of the Caribbean as a place of, you know, usual thing, Calypso and steel band and beaches and so on. All of that’s there and it’s true, there isn’t much interest, though, I think in the real Caribbean which is small and negligible in a way, so it’s the Caribbean writers and artists who have made attention happen to the Caribbean, that aspect of the Caribbean, not just the tourist aspect of it.” Now the question that remains is: how we can ensure that tiny Caribbean nations develop a more diversified economy? The debilitating economic impacts endured in 2020 by tourism dependent Caribbean nations is captured in this analysis. Progressive thinking authorities will need to explore other means to diversify the economy such as the Cannabis Industry.

Will authorities take hid of the powerful advice that Walcott alluded to decades ago? Walcott’s revelations remain as relevant as they did back then. Furthermore, although Sir Arthur and Walcott’s work were in differing fields of Economics and Literature; their contributions seem to overlap and even complement each other. Perhaps, Saint Lucians should pay close attention to the words of both Laureates as we chart the path for future generations.

Please reach out to stlucia.analyser@gmail.com with any suggested topics for future articles or if you would like to help write or edit our blogposts. Like or Follow our Facebook Page or at Medium or Twitter.

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The St. Lucian Analyzer

The St. Lucian Analyzer

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Critical data-driven research analysis of challenges facing Saint Lucia.