Over the past four decades, various organisations in Saint Lucia and elsewhere have carried out surveys and studies regarding not only art, but also craft in the Caribbean. Based on the studies and newspaper articles that I have read on the subject in recent years, it is clear that one thing that they all have in common is the fact that craft and tourism are intrinsically linked. Together, they can boost local economies in a big way. This has been proven in the Dominican Republic which has a successful craft industry. Still, besides tourism being the main income earner for several Caribbean islands, I keep asking myself why is it that the creators of the crafts continue to struggle to earn a living.
For example, one evening in 2019, I tuned in to the radio only to hear that the very topic of craft was being discussed in St. Vincent. I decided to listen to the discussion, because I thought that maybe I could understand something about that island’s craft industry. At the end of the discussion I was shocked to learn that their craft industry was hanging by a piece of thread so thin it might break any minute. The reason being, most of the people with the indigenous skills were dying, and the ones remaining were too elderly to do anything anymore. The documentary also made mention of the lack of support that the people who wanted to make crafts were getting locally. By the end of the one hour (approximately) discussion, I understood that given the chance, craft on the island could flourish.
Saint Lucia’s craft industry is not, yet, at the dire stage like St. Vincent. Even so, those in the industry are concerned about the lack of opportunity to pass on their skills to the next generation of Saint Lucian’s. For example, a craft’s person was asked to teach the children in a local school. The crafts person explained that the money offered to teach was not worth anything at all and felt that she was better off staying at home to make her crafts. Requesting to know whether more money could not be negotiated under the circumstances, the crafts person further explained that it was said that there was not enough money to increase the offer made. In a time when children are not really interested in weaving skills like their parents or grandparents, one would have thought that paying a reasonable sum to those crafts people willing to pass on their valuable skills, would be a great incentive to pass on such skills – an investment in the future of craft in our opinion.
On another occasion a crafts person told us that, one day, she was weaving her mats on her balcony when an old friend (another crafter) whom she had not seen for five years, dropped by.
“Are you still doing that! I left that long ago! the woman said.
“What do you mean! she asked. You know that my husband died when my children were young. And, this is what put food on my table and paid my bills!”
The woman took off in a puff of smoke and did not return again to visit.
Traditionally, Saint Lucia’s crafts people work from home, because the raw materials that they normally grow themselves in their back yard is easily accessible. Also, not everyone has a car to go back and forth transporting the raw material to a specific place to work with it, especially in rural areas like Choiseul. It is, therefore, important to note that most of the people who work in the craft industry in Saint Lucia live in small villages. So, for example, when people come to Saint Lucia expecting to find a ‘craft city,’ they are usually surprised that there is not one to be found.
So, we know that craft and tourism are linked in a big way, like a wedding ring in a marriage. So what can be done for this to be a good marriage. For example, when tourists come to Saint Lucia most of them want to buy a craft item to take home. Normally, this piece of craft will either be a reminder of their visit to the island, or a gift for someone back home. Preferably, they want something that has been created locally. However, most crafts people complain of the lack of financial assistance that they need to start their business. Although some people do get financial help by the relevant bodies, more help is needed. In spite of this, it is encouraging to know that some people are taking it upon themselves to start their own craft business with whatever little finance that they do have so that they can satisfy the visitors looking for locally made crafts.
In our opinion, if more support was given to crafts people by the local authorities in the communities around the island, and if more and more people were encouraged to make their own crafts, the future of the craft industry in Saint Lucia in the field of tourism would be better able to sustain the crafts people for many years to come. Furthermore, this would be a tremendous boost to the local economy just as it is in the Dominican Republic.