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St Vincent and the Grenadines / History, Population, Politics

By Nigel Tisdall

History

It is thought that St Vincent gets its name from Christopher Columbus, who sighted the island on his third voyage to the New World in 1498. The adjacent string of small islands known as The Grenadines, meanwhile, are so called on account of their proximity to Grenada, a much larger island at their southern end. The explorer originally christened this Concepción but it was most probably renamed by Spanish sailors, who chose to call it after the Andalucian city of Granada.

Being close to South America, the islands were initially settled by Amerindians, including the peaceful Arawaks and the more hostile Caribs. The latter were well established by the time the Europeans arrived and as colonisation spread through the region mountainous St Vincent became a Carib stronghold that resisted settlement until 1719. By 1763 the island was under British rule and two years later its famous Botanical Gardens were established in Kingstown. In 1773 the Caribs made a treaty with the colonists which lasted till 1795 when, with French support, a violent revolution was staged. This was subdued after British reinforcements arrived and many Caribs were deported to the island of Roatán in Honduras.

St Vincent was principally exploited for the cultivation of cotton and then sugar using slave labour brought in from West Africa. The economy was set back by the eruption of the Soufrière volcano in 1812 and the coming of emancipation in 1834. Bananas became the dominant crop, but another major eruption in 1902 brought further devastation. For much of this period St Vincent and The Grenadines formed part of the British colony of the Windward Islands, with independence finally arriving in 1979. Nature has continued its harassment – there was another serious volcanic eruption that same year and hurricanes have frequently pounded the islands, most recently in 2004 when Hurricane Ivan swept through. Despite these setbacks, St Vincent and The Grenadines remains one of the most enchanting holiday destinations in the Caribbean, with its fortunes set to improve when a new international airport opens on St Vincent in 2013.

Population

The population of St Vincent and The Grenadines is around 103,000. Out of this total some 7,000 citizens reside in The Grenadines with Bequia their most populous island. The St Vincentians are predominantly of African origin but there is also a sizeable community of mixed descent and a small minority of Carib origin. English is the official language.

Politics

St Vincent and The Grenadines is a constitutional monarchy with Queen Elizabeth II as head of state, who is represented on the island by a Governor-General. It has been a member of the Commonwealth since 1979 and is governed by a 21-member House of Assembly with 15 elected representatives. The current Prime Minister, Dr. Hon. Ralph Everard Gonsalves, is head of the Unity Labour Party which has been in power since 2001 - the next elections are due to take place by 2015.

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When to go and weather

Looking for inspiration?

  1. Hike up St Vincent's 4000ft volcano, La Soufriere
  2. Take the Barracuda Express to the pretty harbour of Port Elizabeth, Bequia, for a day's sightseeing
  3. Enjoy a day sail and snorkelling trip to the stunning Tobago Cays
  4. Join in the carnival atmosphere and jump-up during Vincy Mas
  5. Rub shoulders with the rich and famous on Mustique

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