Located in the Leeward Islands of the Caribbean, the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis is made up of two islands and is the smallest state in the Americas. It was one of the first Caribbean territories to be settled by Europeans, and was home to the first French and British colonies, so is also known as ‘The Mother colony of the West Indies’. St. Kitts is the larger island of the two and is where the majority of the population lives; Basseterre is the capital of St. Kitts and is also the headquarters of the government. The Kalinago Indians, who were the first inhabitants of the islands, named them ‘Liamuiga’ which also means ‘fertile land’; now ‘Liumuiga’ is the name of the main volcano on the island.
Historically the islands’ rich volcanic soil made it a perfect place for many sugar plantations, the island also provided settlers with fresh water, abundant forests and salt reserves, making it a valuable acquisition. Now, tourism and offshore finance are the main industries in the islands. The population of the smaller island of Nevis has complained of being ignored since the country’s independence from the British in 1983. In 1998 a referendum was held over the issue of independence for Nevis, but the majority voted to stay within the Federation. The islands have been criticized for being a haven for drug traffickers and money launderers who take advantage of the secrecy laws of the federation.
The culture of St. Kitts and Nevis is derived mostly from the influence of West African slaves who arrived during colonialism, however there are also influences from the mixing of French, British, native Kalinago and Carib peoples. This is seen in the music, cuisine and storytelling here. Native folk art is also a large part of the culture on St. Kitts and Nevis. Red clay is often covered in native designs and paintings usually depict tropical landscapes and islanders or cultural traditions. One book that is set here is Christopher Venier’s Caribbean Chemistry: Takes from St. Kitts, which captures the author’s stories from the 40’s and 50’s and also reflects the cultural and linguistic traditions of the country.
Like all other Caribbean countries, musical festivities are found in abundance. Besides Carnival, the islands also host large events such as the St. Kitts Music Festival, Culturama, Inner City Fest, Green Valley Festival and Easterama (amongst others). Salsa, jazz, soca, calypso and steelpan and street dancing are typically featured at these celebrations. A notable aspect of these festivals is the art of masquerading where people embellish themselves in colorful headdresses, masks, feathers and clown costumes.