We hadn’t long arrived in St Lucia. It had been a difficult, sticky, tiring few weeks, but finally pre-school was open and the girls would have somewhere to go and other children to socialise with. It was a huge relief for me, despite the horrible settling-in period when my older daughter screamed and clung to me every morning. But I knew we had to get through this phase – if they didn’t go to “school” then what on earth was I going to do with them all day? Yes, it was definitely for the best.
But they’d only been there what seemed like a few days when we were told that the next week was the La Marguerite festival. And that we had to sort out clothes for my older daughter, who had been chosen to be the Marguerite Queen and lead the parade.
The whaaaat festival? The whaaat parade?
St Lucia is an island with a lack of the sort of shops I was used to back in the UK. No fancy-dress places, nowhere I was likely to be able to pick up a quick queenly dress, the right size oh and yes, the right colour. Didn’t I know that the Marguerite colours were always blue or purple?
And so started my love/hate affair with the strange rituals in this slightly-eccentric island, rituals which go back centuries and are actually very interesting once you start reading in to them. But rituals that, at this point, simply caused me a massive headache as I tried to procure the right dress for my Queen.
La Marguerite (known colloquially in the local creole as “La Magwit”) is one of two societies in St Lucia – the other being La Rose (“La Woz”). The societies originate from the time of slavery and and started out as co-operative groups for mutual support in difficult times. Probably the closest we can get to them in this country is the Freemasons – although I am not sure that the St Lucian versions have the same funny hand-shake. However, there are other rituals that go with La Marguerite and La Rose which involve singing songs and parades.
This is all well and good and understandable. But what I never quite understood is why not only did the schoolchildren sing and parade, they also had to dress up. As queens and kings. But also as lawyers, police-officers and (it seemed) old ladies. And then they had to parade around waving flowers and singing the creole songs. In the 110 degrees heat. In their finery. We certainly got a nice, big dose of culture shock right there and then.
If you’re wondering, I did manage to find a dress for my daughter – or rather, I found some suitably-coloured (and suitably shiny) material and a dressmaker, living on a patch of land, surrounded by chickens down a back road in the middle of nowhere. Which I would never have known about if it wasn’t for my housekeeper who at that point was more or less the only person I knew on the island.
A year went by and we had to go through the whole ritual again. Although this time we were prepared, and E decided she jolly well wasn’t going to be the Queen again, she was going to be a police officer.
But luckily the dress didn’t go to waste as by now my younger daughter was out of pre-preschool and old enough to join in the parade. So off she went, in the same dress, with high heels (she was 3!), clutching the hand of her “king” friend. And singing away in creole, not a word of which I was ever able to understand.
La Marguerite was one of a few strange rituals we were part of while living in St Lucia, and I still wake up at night in a cold-sweat after dreaming about trying to find them an outfit for Jounen Kweyol (“creole day”) with just a couple of days notice. But I wouldn’t have swapped it for all the book days and red-nose days our children have to go through in this country. It was part of the charm of lving on that tiny Caribbean island, and it was, in the end, one of the most memorable things about it. I can’t say I ever really enjoyed the last-minute scramble to find the right costume for yet another strange event I had never heard of, but it certainly made me a stronger person. Although with an International school looming for us in Pretoria, I think I’d better start thinking about what the girls are going to wear for the no-doubt-obligatory International Day Parade. Just as long as it doesn’t involve waving daisies in the air….
Have you had any experiences with bizarre new rituals or events in any of the countries you have lived in? Have your children had to dress up in strange clothing? Have you taken it in your stride – or has it pushed you over the edge? Come on, share away!
This post was written as part of the My Expat Family link-up