Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

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Princeton, MAINE USA

Thursday, August 30, 2007

St. Lucia’s Rivals: Rose and Marguerite

For work, solidarity and pleasure, the people of St. Lucia island pledge their allegiance to one of two historic blooms.


Map of St. Lucia

Via: Dive St. Lucia

Floating in the Caribbean Sea between French Martinique and English-speaking St. Vincent, people of St. Lucia know something about cultural competition and the vagaries of political power. Their island changed possession 14 times in the French-Anglo wars of the 17th and 18th centuries. (St. Lucia became an independent state within Britain’s Commonwealth of Nations in 1979.)

So how does a society reckon with two centuries of checkered domination by colonialists across the ocean? The St. Lucians turned this legacy of divisiveness into two flower societies – one dedicated to the rose, the other to the marguerite (St. Lucians’ name for globe amaranth, Gomphrena globosa). Each year, they re-enact the old monarchical rule and strife with gentler conflicts: Which flower “la woz’ or “la magrite” is more beautiful? And – more important—which flower society can throw a better party?

As Human Flower Projects go, this one appears to be a world-class effort – combining secular and sacred traditions. The Rose society holds its grand fete today, the feast day of St. Rose of Lima. The Marguerites will have their chance the 17th of October, honoring St. Margaret Mary Alacocque.

In the weeks preceding their grand celebrations, the clubs conduct “séances” – ceremonial rehearsals of singing and dancing. Their symbolic King, Queen, and other royals preside over these occasions. “Strict protocol is observed at those nightly Séances, with every visitor or participating member, upon entering, bowing to the King and Queen who are present with their court. Police and soldiers in uniform enforce regulations against any disorder, breaches of protocol, or what are considered misdemeanors. Offenders are taken before a magistrate for a mock trial and then fined.” But a few pennies will bail you out, part of the delight, and the money all goes toward the flower societies’ next bash.

imageSeance, Rose Society, St. Lucia

Via: Tameron Eaton

On the saint’s feast day itself, there is a church service, followed by a banquet, music and a long night of dancing. One flower society at a time plays host, but it appears the whole island is invited. You can find some of the dance music on this old recording. And here’s a more recent youtube. “When the singing gets going, led by the shatwel (lead singer), drums start beating, guitars start playing and the shak-shaks (similar to maracas) start shaking, the party becomes so exuberant that it continues well into the next day.”

Further, as Florence Reese would say, “There are no neutrals here.” Everyone on St. Lucia island is a member of one flower society or the other. You’re either a Rose or a Marguerite.

“In 1884, Henry H. Breen reported that ‘although few persons, besides the labouring classes and domestic servants, take any active part in their proceedings, there is scarcely an individual in the island, from the Governor downwards, who is not enrolled amongst the partisans of one coterie or the other.’ Today over a hundred years later, nearly every St. Lucian, whether white planter, colored civil servant, landed peasant, or Negro or East Indian cane laborer, is at least nominally affiliated with one of the societies.” So wrote folklorist Daniel Crowley in 1958.

We’re not sure how one is admitted to one society or the other. Perhaps some of our Caribbean visitors can inform us about this and many other mysterious aspects of St. Lucia’s flower clubs.

imageParade at the Fete La Rose, St. Lucia

Photo: HTS St. Lucia

According to ethnomusicologist David Campbell, “The Societies demonstrate and celebrate their difference in contrasting behaviour and accomplishments.  La Rose, in spite of its English association, values noise, movement, rhythm, participation and showing-off in general. La Marguerite favours restraint, decorum and melody.”

Could there be a more genteel expression of rivalry, a more forgiving and playful re-enactment of oppression and strife? We’ll make sure to revisit this custom in mid-October when the Marguerites stage their fete. For today, bring on the noise. Vive La Woz!

Posted by Julie on 08/30 at 05:15 PM
Culture & SocietyReligious RitualsSecular CustomsPermalink