Marie Selipha “Sesenne” Descartes

Born: March 28th, 1913
Place of Birth: La Pointe, Micoud

Sesenne Descartes is the grand dame of St Lucian folk culture.  A chantwelle of extraordinary talent, Sesenne captivated the imagination of all who heard her and as a result she was a central figure in the revival of the folk song and dance traditions of St Lucia that had threatened to fade into obscurity.

‘Today Sesenne’s influence has filtered through and inspired the recent achievement of two singing groups, “The Helenites” and “The Hewanorra Voices,” both of which have recorded a long playing record of St. Lucian songs. She is undisputedly the Queen of St. Lucia Folk singing and wrapped in that petite little bundle of Marie Descartes is the graceful stiffness of the French Court, the warm folksiness of the Patience soil, the spontaneous gaiety of the St. Lucia countryside and the deep religious fervor of the St. Lucia Catholic – all in all, there is something that represents the quintessence of St. Lucia “soul” in Sesenne.’ – The Crusader, Saturday March 18, 1972

Armelle Mathurin, Saint Lucia Special Edition, December 2000 writes:

In the St. Lucian context, the name of Sesenne is synonymous with culture. Say “Sesenne” and you talk about culture. Think about her and you are thinking about culture. See her perform or hear her sing and you are held spellbound in captivated admiration of one of the most talented daughters of the land; Sesenne! “Queen of Culture in St. Lucia!”

Born in a rural community in the days when “manners made the man”, Sesenne grew up in the rich cultural environment of her home at La Pointe, Micoud. She was born on March 28th, 1913. She learned and enjoyed the stories, songs, dances and ring games from her parents, her grandmother and the general community of her youth. Her youthful and impressionable mind sopped up all forms of the folklore, songs and dance like a sponge. Having absorbed a rich repertoire of our cultural heritage and having a fund of great natural talents, Sesenne gave all back to her native land. Her gifted performances and her prominence in the cultural field provide a glimpse of the St. Lucia of our great-grand-parents.

Sesenne, whose real name is Marie Clepha Descartes, became a common household name, throughout the Micoud area. She was first singled out for her outstanding vocal talent when she was about eighteen years old. At that time, her father was the reigning La Rose King and her mother was the Queen of La Rose. Her father needed a ‘chantwelle,’ so he chose her because of her impressive vocal ability. He never regretted the choice. That decision introduced and established Sesenne as a vocalist and entertainer.

In her own words, Sesenne explained that her voice rose above and could be clearly heard in a choir of about 300 people. Full of zest for life, the vibrancy of youth and a deep and intense love for all that was gay, happy and joyful, she sang lustily and untiringly to the delight of all who heard her.

La Rose was not the only area in which she gave her vocal talent. She took part in all forms of dances; Débot, Kontwidance, Konte, La Commette, Belair and Ring Games as a very accomplished dancer with body co-ordination that was a marvel to see. She won many prizes for best performance at dances and singing competitions. Sesenne was also responsible for the invention of many dance steps to local and other tunes, chief of which was the Bonjé, s Spanish song brought to La Pointe by her brother Welson Charlery from Cuba.

Sesenne remained a local entertainer in Micoud for many years, until she was discovered by Miss Grace Augustin (a local proprietress of Patience, Micoud) who ran a guest house known as “The Hotel” on the Castries/Micoud highway. The innovative spirit of Miss Grace Augustin led her to organize a group of local performers to entertain her guests. Sesenne was chosen as the principal performer. She had a wonderful band made up of violin, guitar, mandolin, quartro, banjo and chak-chak. The quality of praise given to Sesenne and the appreciation expressed to her and her band motivated Miss Augustin to introduce them to the management of Blue Waters Hotel and other hotels in Castries.

sesenne dancing web.jpg

One event lead to another and very soon Sesenne and her band were introduced to Harold Simmons, whose role, as if by instinct, was that of avant garde – “The Father of St. Lucian Culture.” Sesenne made an immediate impact and impression on Mr. Simmons, who besides making many live recordings of her performances spent much time projecting her as an accomplished and gifted artiste.

It was as a result of Simmons’ recordings that Sesenne’s voice became well known nationally and that she was subsequently considered to be the most suitable all round artiste to represent St. Lucia at Expo 67; a precursor of the Caribbean Festival of Arts. Expo 67 was held in Grenada.

She had to be found for the purpose. The job of finding the owner of the voice was given to Mr. Eric Brandford, who after a long and careful search from Praslin to Patience, finally met with Sesenne at her home in La Pointe. He appraised her of his mission and sought her consent to be party to the representative group of St. Lucian performers to travel to Grenada. She agreed after a mild hesitation as she had never traveled abroad before.

The result of the journey to Grenada was that Sesenne won the crown for St. Lucia with her famous immortal song, simply known as “WHY”. Sesenne herself described the event thus. By the time she had sung the first few bars of Namai-la-di-why, she noticed people moving up and down in their seats like so many yo-yos. She sang the verses and the audience chorused “Why!” At the end of the rendition there was a deafening resounding round of applause. That was repeated three times until finally she was rescued off the stage by someone.

The uniqueness of Sesenne’s peerless vocal quality was revealed by her account of the efforts made by so many singers and chantwels to sing WHY but without success. Some sang too high and some sang too low. They were incapable of mastering the wide range of pitch and tone crystalized in that song. They concluded that only Sesenne could sing WHY with credibility. Anyone wanting a proper rendition of WHY would have to hear Sesenne as she alone could sing it. Sesenne compared her voice to the sound of a saxophone and claimed to have more than five vocal pitches.

Her tour of Grenada brought her into contact with other well known cultural personalities like Eric Adley and Joyce Auguste with whom she shared a very warm friendship.

Those of use who have not had the good fortune to see Sesenne in action as singer, dancer, storyteller have not been left totally unexposed to her great talent, as much of her work was recorded and can be retrieved on tape. In fact she can still be heard on radio particularly during the La Rose Festival or at Christmas time when many of her songs are replayed.

Sesenne’s greatest asset was the warmth of her personality, her generous disposition and her attitude of service before self. She was truly warm-hearted, outgoing and vivacious; a truly gracious woman with a Creole eloquence that can be compared to the best in the land.

Had she had the opportunity Sesenne would have made a fortune from trading her talent and would have earned enough to bask in luxury and comfort. Rather, she spent the better part of her life sharing herself and her God-given talents with her people. The mother of a family of nine children, Sesenne still found time from her busy and packed scheduled of baker, mother, and housewife to participate in social activities of her community with singular devotion and steadfastness. She organized and carried out house to house prayer meetings long before the days of the charismatic renewal. She instructed candidates for first communion and confirmation. She joined in an assisted at fetes, deaths, funerals, illnesses and cases of emergency. She gave her help at parish bazaars and La Rose Festivals. Sesenne was extremely sensitive and soft-hearted and would breakdown under sorrow and sadness as easily as would rise to elation in the face of joy.

Sesenne’s personality was charismatic. She wished and tried to impart her expertise to any willing pupil or followers. But there was no one person who could absorb so much distinguish talent and ability by mere imitation and practice. Artistes like Sesenne are few and far apart and some about once in so many generations. The most that could have been done was to enjoy and preserve the best of her productions so that the younger generation of St. Lucians could savour and imbibe her indigenous art.

Sesenne had many a glorious moment in her career as a renowned entertainer. She was awarded the British Empire Medal (B.E.M) in 1972. But no moment brought more joy and satisfaction to her as the night of October 28, 1984 when before a packed audience in the Catholic Church of Mon Repos in her immediate community, she was publicly acclaimed and proclaimed “Queen of Culture in St. Lucia”, a tribute well deserved and graciously received.

Dame Sesenne Descartes 1914-2010

Dame Sesenne Descartes 1914-2010

St. Lucia’s Queen of folk culture, Dame Sesenne Descartes has died at the age of 96. The Folk Research Centre extends condolences to her family and home community of La Pointe, Mon Repos.

In 2005, she was declared by the Folk Research Centre a National Cultural Hero. From her discovery by the late Harold Simmons and Eric Branford in the fifties, Dame Sesenne has inspired several generations of St. Lucia with her unique voice and her musical compositions.

The Folk Research Centre is preparing for publication a biography of the famous folk singer. Following is an excerpt from the forthcoming book.


Marie Selipha Descartes, nee Charlery, or Sesenne, as she is known, was born in La Pointe, Micoud, on 28 March 1914. She was the fifth and last child of Tewannee and Sony. Sony was a subsistence farmer like his father before him. Tewannee, Sesenne’s mother, served the needs of her family by caring for her children and tending to her various house duties.

St. Lucia was then a colony of Great Britain. But it had a lasting French heritage that was reflected in the vernacular – French patois, ‘Creole’ or ‘Kweyol’ – and the potent and pervasive influence of the Roman Catholic Church – the religion which was professed by over 98% of the population. Many communities were concentrated in coastal areas. Agriculture was dominated by sugar cane, which formed the basis of the economy. This economy was based on subsistence farming. It was within this social context that Sesenne was raised, and within this framework she enjoyed her youth.

Sesenne was a product of her environment; she was raised by her parents and aunt with all the requirements of social etiquette. In her words, “I was raised to respect all adults.”

She spent most of her time as a child with her maternal aunt (her mother’s sister) and her aunt’s husband. Her aunt treated her as if she were her own. Her aunt was called ‘Nenen’ (godmother) by relatives or ‘Ma Chadwick’ by friends and acquaintances.

It was ‘Nenen’ who exposed Sesenne to spiritual devotion and the practice of her Catholic faith. Sesenne enjoyed both praying and singing. ‘Nenen’ was a prayerful individual who arose early every morning to say her daily prayers. Sesenne would be alerted to ‘Nenen’s’ rising by the clinging or chiming sound produced by the eight bracelets which she wore around her wrist. Sesenne and ‘Nenen’ would pray the rosary together, and they would often pray various prayers in patois, especially the Lord’s Prayer. These early lessons in piety would prove to be a life-shaping experience and a very valuable tool in her adult life as a catechist.

Sesenne was a ‘spiritual guru’ from her youth – she presided over prayer with her siblings and parents at home and her parents never objected to the practice. That spiritual exercise – praying in common with her family helped to reinforce the family’s unity, and to develop their moral discipline.

The various prayers and spiritual exercises that Sesenne practiced were very productive because she learned to be humble and modest amid all the recognition and praises from her relatives and acquaintances. “Of my mother’s three daughters, I was the youngest, yet none had the talent I had…”

She further stated that all her sisters were talented in various ways; one of her elder sisters was proficient at grating cassava very effectively and quickly.

The community of La Pointe was a closely-knit community where each person was his brother’s keeper. The nucleus of the community comprised the elders, teachers, and principal and various other persons of importance in the community. Nobody was a stranger. The school played a pivotal role in the socialization of children, and teachers were viewed as second parents. Sesenne attended the Patience School where she was loved by friends and teachers alike. Like any child, she enjoyed playing games and having fun.

Unfortunately, things went horribly wrong. Sesenne the girl who would sing and dance for everyone who requested a private show; the obedient and disciplined child, the girl loved by both teachers and students at school, ended her primary education abruptly. It was out of fear of her principal over alleged remarks he made concerning her flaunting herself. These remarks were made in her absence, for she was attending the wedding of one of her sisters. It was the students who informed Sesenne of the principal’s statements. While Sesenne admits she did not hear the statements herself, it is the content of the statements that distressed her. She considered herself to be a modest youth, yet she was being accused of immodesty. Her mother tried her best to coax Sesenne into returning to school, yet she was too terrified of the principal to do so. Sesenne considered this incident to be the turning point in her educational life. She further added that if things had not occurred as they did she would have been highly educated.

Great things awaited Sesenne and time would reveal them. Sesenne chose to remain at home with her mother and she steadfastly assisted her mother with daily duties, such as the laundry and cooking.

Sesenne’s raw singing and dancing talent would soon be exposed to the entire public. It would be her father, Sony, who would first expose her to the public. Sony had plans to start a La Rose group in the Micoud area and he needed a lead singer. Sesenne was then posed with the challenge of being lead singer/chantwelle of that new La Rose group. Sesenne was about eight years old at the time. Her father first informed her mother of his decision to place her in the group because he believed she was the best individual to become the chantwelle. Sesenne accepted and she took her first bold steps into folk culture history. Sesenne said of her distinct and pristine voice, “Everyone was envious of my voice…” and “…when I sang I could be heard in Magretout…”

At the peak of the La Rose celebrations in Mon Repos, a huge crowd of La Rose fans awaited the commencement of the séance. Sesenne realized that the crowd was growing impatient so she requested that coffee be served to the people in an effort to curb their increasing frustration. The ushers at the séance organized many teacups to be filled with coffee for whoever wanted a drink. And as if that was not enough, Sesenne asked the ushers to cut the two cakes that was gifted to the La Rose group into small pieces so that everyone could get a taste. The people were all appreciative of that gesture of genuine hospitality. When all of that was done, Sesenne stepped onto the stage and sang these words – “ah ya yai mamai La Rose, pa plé wé!” – the crowd went into an uproar. That story served as confirmatory evidence of Sesenne’s wise counsel and her ability to stir a crowd at will.

Sesenne had now gained great fame and affection in the Micoud district. She was master of various dances including the ‘mapa,’ ‘quadrille,’ ‘bakalow’; also the ‘mazouk,’ ‘meina,’ ‘chalstan,’ and the ‘belair.’ She was chantwelle of the La Rose group in Micoud and an exceptional teller of ‘kont.’ That was precisely why she was approached by Grace Augustin, the proprietor of The Patience House – a local inn within the Patience community. Grace Augustine employed Sesenne as an entertainer for her guests, both local and foreign. The Patience House experience helped to expose Sesenne to a more diverse audience, and it helped to create greater awareness of the skill and talent of this unique folk singer.

Sesenne was at the peak of her artistic life. Her voice was envied and admired, even by the chantwelles of the La Marguerite group. She had the ability to sing seven different pitches in synchrony. One person described her as an orchestra simply because of her ability to create these different pitches. And these sounds were summoned at will by simply touching her throat!

Harold Simmons heard of this “Rose of the East” and wanted to meet her. Simmons sent Eric Branford to Mon Repos in search of Sesenne. After some time Branford found Sesenne’s residence and began discussions with her on plans to record her music, which Sesenne consented to after some deliberation. Harry Simmons then introduced an American anthropologist named Dan Crowley to Sesenne. Crowley wanted to record some of St. Lucia’s folk cultural music to document and preserve it for later generations.  The recordings were made and Sesenne’s music was then being aired on radio. That single initiative helped to disseminate Sesenne’s music, propelling her into the annals of Saint Lucian history as the “Queen of Culture.” In the eighties, an audio cassette was produced by the Department of Culture with help from Ronald “Boo’ Hinkson, noted Saint Lucian guitarist.

In the midst of all this, Sesenne continued steadfastly in her Catholic faith teaching catechism to children and catechumens. Many of the catechumens were older than Sesenne’s mother, but they all respected her. It was the resident priest at the Micoud Roman Catholic Church who commissioned her to undertake the work of catechist.


Sesenne has remained quietly content with herself and her achievements. Her life has rewarded her with seven children; approximately thirty-four grandchildren; and thirty-eight great-grandchildren. They are the heirs to her cultural wealth and the keepers of her spiritual wealth.

Sesenne has been the recipient of the British Empire Medal (B.E.M.) in 1972 and the St. Lucia Medal of Merit (SLMM). In 2000, she was awarded the honour of Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (D.B.E.) for folk culture and art and community service on the occasion of St. Lucia’s 25th anniversary of  Independence, hence, her title “Dame”.

While these honours have served to establish the distinguished achievements of Dame Sesenne, none have been more appreciated and well-loved as the title “Queen of Culture.” On October 28, 1984 in the presence of relatives, friends, and well-wishers in the Mon Repos Roman Catholic Church, Sesenne was hailed categorically as the “Queen of Culture in St. Lucia.” It was in Mon Repos she was crowned with that title.

Apart from the various honours conferred upon Sesenne, she also received various other accolades, including:

·         The United Workers Party Women’s Arm – acknowledging her contribution to the culture of St. Lucia, in March 1992.

·         The Ministry of Community Development, Culture, Local Government and Co-operatives and the La Rose Community – for her contribution to the La Rose Festival.

·         “Les Danseurs” award in 1990.

·         The Ministry for Women’s Affairs – on the occasion of International Women’s Day, March 8, 1998.

·         Music Hall of Fame, Caribbean Broadcasting Union (CBU) – for lasting contribution to the development of music in St. Lucia.

·         In 2000, at the CARIFESTA held in St. Kitts, she was granted the Caricom distinguished citizen award, the Order of Caricom.

·         In 2005, the FRC declared Dame Sesenne Descartes and the late Harold Simmons, National Cultural Heroes.

In 1992, during his Nobel lecture in Stockholm, Derek Walcott spoke of Sesenne, quoting one of her songs. Later in his book The Bounty (1997), the Nobel laureate wrote of Sesenne’s voice and singing in a poem titled “Homecoming.” That poem begins, “My country heart, I am not home till Sesenne sings, A voice with woodsmoke and ground-doves in it..”

Konnèt FRC

Sé nan mil nèf san swasant twèz (1973) FRC a té établi. Lè i établi a, lidé sé moun-lan ki établi’y la sété pou wéjistwé èk dokimanté kilti péyi-a, èk édé moun apwésyé’y èk ankouwajé yo enstwi sé jennès-la sé bagay-sala. FRC-a ni an manman bibliyotèk ; nan bibliyotèk-sala yo ni anpil liv, anchay vidéyo èk foto (pòtwé). Sé pa dé jan isi èk jan lòt péyi ki ja sèvi bibliyotèk-sala pou yo étidyé kilti Sent Lisi.

Mi sé pli gwo wèskonsablité-a FRC-a ni asou kont li a :

  • Pofondé nan kilti Sent Lisi (sa vlé di étidyé’y) ;
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Apa di sé étid la FRC-a ka fè asou kilti péyi-a, i ni diféwan aktivité ka mennen pou édé kilti-a fè pwogwé : i ka bay lison kwéyòl ; i ni aktivité bay manmay gwo lékòl (primary school ; école primaire) èk bay manmay lékòl sigondè (secondary school ; collège) ; twadouksyon nan kwéyòl ; grafi kwéyòl…

Sé nan mwa d’òktòb FRC-a ka fété pli gwo aktivité kiltiwèl pou lanné-a : mwa éwitaj kwéyòl. Péyi-a ka fété jounen kwéyòl an finisman mwa-a. Sa sé an sélébwasyon ki ka fèt an diféwan konmin ; an sélébwasyon mizik, manjé, èk dòt twadisyon kwéyòl. Sé nan mil nèf san katwiven kat (1984) Sent Lisi koumansé fété  jounen kwéyòl, èk pou pou wivé jòdi-a, pa ni pyès dòt sélébwasyon pou bat li.

FRC-a ka twavay èvèk dòt òganizasyon isi kon lòt péyi pou édé moun konpwann valè kilti pèp-la nan dévlopman péyi.

A History of St. Lucia

The first-ever comprehensive history of St Lucia is now in local bookstores. The authors hope it will become a tool for teaching students about their island’s past, as well as providing St Lucians world-wide with a detailed and factual history of their own ancestors’ lives.

“A HISTORY OF  ST LUCIA” covers the period from the island’s creation to the passing in 2007 of  long serving Prime Minister and “Father of the Nation”, Sir John Compton, the architect of independence.

The 400-plus page book records the island’s geological formation and subsequent Amerindian occupation, through colonization by France and England to the rise and fall of the sugar industry, the tribulations of slavery, the Brigand wars, Emancipation, the struggle for independence, dignity and respectability, the birth of trade unions and political parties, the demise of the sugar industry and the social revolution created by the advent of bananas as an economic emancipator.

The book was originally commissioned by British publisher MacMillan Caribbean, whose efforts to produce it were derailed by the 2008 world economic crisis. However, the three authors decided that such a vitally important book simply could not be abandoned at that stage and, given the tremendous amount of work already put into the project, decided to produce the book themselves.

Principal driving force behind A HISTORY OF ST LUCIA was Dutch-born Jolien Harmsen, one of the three authors, who has lived in Vieux Fort since 1994 and holds a PhD in Social History based on research done on the island.

Another author is former Director of the St Lucia National Trust Robert Devaux, who has spent a lifetime promoting the conservation of St Lucia’s natural and cultural heritage and has several published works to his credit.

The trio of authors is rounded off by journalist Guy Ellis, whose career has run side by side with the island’s more recent past and who has written books on St Lucia as well.

An interesting aspect of the content of A HISTORY OF ST LUCIA is the choice of some very unique photographs of developments on the island over the years. For  instance, the cover design by Cecile Wiltshire features an uncommon photograph  of two local women’s teams playing a cricket match in Castries around 1900.

A HISTORY OF ST LUCIA is published by Lighthouse Road Publications of Vieux Fort. It is already available for sale at the island’s leading bookstores.


Sir Dunstan St Omer

Born: October 24th, 1927
Place of Birth: , Castries

Sir Dunstan St Omer is St Lucia’s premier artist and muralist.  He designed St Lucia’s National Flag and his murals grace the altars of many St Lucian churches, including the notable Holy Family Mural at Church of the Holy Family at Jacmel, Roseau. 

Born in Castries to Gerald and Louisa St Omer, Dunstan St Omer attended the St Aloysius R.C. Boys School and St. Mary’s College. It was at St. Mary’s that he befriended Derek Walcott and Leo ‘Spa’ St Helene who were to have a lasting influence on his life.  The trio were introduced to National Cultural Hero Harold Simmons who was to have a profound impact on the boys and their art.  It was with Harry Simmons that the group began to value the St Lucian landscape as a worthy subject for artistic reflection.

In 1946 St. Omer left St Lucia for Curacao to work with Dutch Oil; there he was influenced by Greek painter Pandelis.  When he returned to St Lucia in 1949 it was to various teaching jobs, including a stint at his alma mater.  He received a scholarship to go to Puerto Rico where he studied art for a year and returned home to work with mentor Harry Simmons as sub-editor at the Voice newspaper, eventually replacing him from 1959-1962.  Sir Dunstan worked with the Ministry of Education as an art specialist and remained there until he retired in 2000.

Sir Dunstan’s first mural was commissioned by Fr. Joseph Vrignaud, for the altar of Our Lady’s Chapel at La Clery.  He would go on to paint several more through out the island, drawing acclaim and criticism for his depictions of black divinity.  Sir Dunstan once said, ‘If my faith depends on Christ being white, I think I will lose my faith because the relationship that exists in the world between the white race and the black race is one of prejudice and inferiority for the blacks…’  Sir Dunstan’s work has inspired an art movement and he is father of the prismism style of painting.    

He was awarded a Papal Medal by the Catholic Church and the St Lucia Cross by the St Lucia government on the occasion of the island’s 25th Anniversary.  In 2007 the Folk Research Centre declared him a National Cultural Hero.  Accolade was to follow accolade as in 2009 he received an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from the University of the West Indies, and in 2010 was the Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG) was conferred on him in the New Years Honours of H.M Queen Elizabeth II

Sir Dunstan is married to Cynthia St. Croix and together they have nine children.

Harold Simmons

Born: December 2nd, 1914
Place of Birth: Castries
Died: May 6th, 1966
Place of Death: Garrand, Babonneau, Saint Lucia

Harold Simmons has often been called the father of St Lucian culture because of his tireless work researching, recording and promoting the island’s rich cultural heritage. He wrote fastidiously on fading traditions and facilitated other researchers’ work in the field and as a result has preserved many folkloric practices that would otherwise have been lost.

Below is a biographical article on Simmons taken from The Growth of the Modern West Indies by Gordon K. Lewis (Jamaica: Ian Randle Publishers, 2004):

Harold Simmons was born in 1915 and died in 1966. He was well known in St. Lucia and beyond as a local historian, archaeologist, artist, folklorist and social worker. He was a mentor to the young Derek Walcott and Dunstan St. Omer who regard him as their teacher. The Folk Research Centre has recognized him as the inspiring spirit of all their work. Mr. Simmons was also a journalist, who served as a local correspondent for the Trinidad Guardian and Reuter’s. He was also editor of the VOICE from late 1957 to April 1959.

Born in Castries, Mr. Simmons received his early education at the Methodist elementary schools and St. Mary’s College. After leaving school, he worked with the firm of W.B.Harris, which he left in 1940 after six years, to devote time to his painting, which had by then received much recognition in St. Lucia, the Caribbean, Canada, and the United States. He also started Art classes and was awarded the Art Teacher Diploma and became an Associate of the Royal Drawing Society.

Harold Simmons joined the Civil Service in 1946 as Co-operative Societies Officer and Registrar of Co-operative Societies. In connection with this work, which he helped to pioneer in the island, he attended courses in Jamaica and at Co-operative College, Stanford Hall, Leicester, Britain. During his stay in the Civil Service he was Secretary and Executive Officer of the Castries Fire Relief Fund Committee 1948-1949; Secretary of the Standing Economic and Financial Advisory Committee; District Officer; Officer-in-charge of Beane Field; and Housing Manager.

Simmons also found time for voluntary social work and was island secretary of the St. Lucia Boy Scouts Association from 1942-1946, and later became a District Commissioner. His work in the Boy Scout Movement was recognized with the award of the organisation’s Medal of Merit. He served on many Government bodies including the St. Lucia Tourist Board and the Library Committee. He was a member of the Local Advisory Committee, and also a member of the local advisory committee of the Extra Mural Department of the University of the West Indies.

A lover of music and drama, he was a foundation member of the St. Lucia Arts and Crafts Society of the forties. He was also closely associated with the work of the St. Lucia Arts Guild, and many other local cultural groups. He was a foundation member of the St. Lucia Archaeological and Historical Society and was the Society’s Archaeological Secretary from its inception.

As artist, folklorist, historian and archeologist he commanded an encyclopedic knowledge of local conditions and always placed it, with his genial eagerness to please, at the disposal of the visitor. He had an imaginative range of interests unspoiled by a modern university education. He was friendly, garrulous, versatile, always a joy to be with. Most of all, he stayed in St. Lucia throughout his tragic life to fight colonial philistinism while others left. He spurned the ‘pleasures of exile’ to embrace the thankless task of bringing culture to the anarchy of a narrow-minded society that gave him back little but neglect and contempt. The new West Indian society of the future – which this book only implicitly describes – will, let us hope, one day pay him his full reward.

Simmons’ seminal research and documentation on the flower festivals, the Kèlè, folk dances and other traditional practices are captured in his work NOTES ON FOLKLORE IN ST. LUCIA, WEST INDIES which he compiled for the benefit of a visiting team of US Peace Corps Volunteers. He laments in this work that these practices were at risk because of an abiding shame about local culture:

“…the average leader is ashamed of his heritage, his folkways, his leitmotif. The teachers of our schools consider it infra dig to associate with many of our folkways. Our leaders, once they attain a symbol status, are embarrassed of their past and grass roots.”

Harold Simmons mentored Saint Lucian cultural luminaries Dunstan St Omer and Derek Walcott as young artists and inspired in them a curiosity about Saint Lucia’s folk culture.  Dunstan St Omer credits Simmons with having introduced the idea of West Indian landscape and life as a worthy subject for study in his work.

Simmons wrote:

“Art in itself could not be called Art unless it springs from the people, unless it records these experiences felt and experienced.” – The Need for an Arts and Craft Society, April 21st, 1945

Simmon’s death was keenly felt by those who were touched by him.  Nobel Laureate and former student and protégé Derek Walcott summed up the loss in an obituary following his death in 1966:

“Simmon’s career outside his art was rich and various. He was an amateur botanist, an active historical researcher, a folklorist and an eloquent interpreter and defender of creole and creole customs.” – The Sunday Guardian (Trinidad) May 15th, 1966

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Msgr Hon. Dr. Patrick ‘Paba’ Anthony

Place of Birth: , Castries, St. lucia



Patrick A. B. Anthony, director of the Archbishop Kelvin Felix Archdiocesan Pastoral Centre, St. Lucia, (AKFAPC, formerly the Archdiocesan Pastoral Centre) holds a Masters degree in theology from the  Catholic Theological Union in Chicago and a doctorate in Literatures in English from the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine. His doctoral thesis was on symbols, myths and rituals in the plays of Saint Lucia’s Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott. Theologian, cultural activist and communications specialist, Msgr. Anthony is the founding director of the Folk Research Centre, St. Lucia which he established in 1973 with a group of students and teachers to promote research and documentation of St. Lucian culture. His ongoing involvement and commitment to culture has led him to establish such culturally related institutions as the Jubilee Trust Fund for assistance to young artists, cultural activists and researchers in 1997 and the George Odlum Grant for Creative Artists in 2003.

            He is also the founder of the St. Lucy’s Home (St. Lucia) for the rehabilitation of street people; a founding member of the Conference on Catholic Theology in the Caribbean Today; an editor of Theology in the Caribbean Today (proceedings of that annual conference) as well as a founding member of the Association of Diocesan Clergy of the Province of Castries. Since 1980 he has been the editor of the Catholic Chronicle (the monthly newspaper of the Catholic Church in St. Lucia) and was from 2003, a member of the Eastern Caribbean Press Council (ECPC).

            For several years he was Chairman of the St. Lucia National Trust and Vice President of the St. Lucia Archaeological and Historical Society. He was also Chairman of the St. Lucia Integrity Commission. He is a past president for the Caribbean region of the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC-Caribe); a former director on the Central Committee of the World Association for Christian Communication, London (WACC), and Archdiocesan Press Officer (Archdiocese of Castries).

 He has been a visiting lecturer at the Center for  Religious Communication, University of Dayton, Ohio; a research partner and faculty member at the Center for Mission Research and Study, Maryknoll, New York; a faculty member at the Caribbean School for Catholic Communication (CSCC) Trinidad & Tobago, and also a faculty member of the Catechists’ Training Institute (CTI).

            Msgr. Anthony’s academic interest is in the relationship between theology and culture, especially literature and theology. He has published internationally on such local cultural issues as Kele in 1988 [“The Encounter between Christianity and Culture : The Case of the ‘Kélé’ Ceremony in St. Lucia,” in  Bulletin, Secretariatus Pro Non Christianis, xxiii/3  ( 69 ):287-300], popular Catholicism in 1996 [“Popular Catholicism and Social Change in St. Lucia” in Social Compass: International Review of Sociology of Religion. 45 (4): 555-574]. He has also published on the Flower Festivals of Saint Lucia, on Dunstan St. Omer and Derek Walcott.

In February 2000 he was awarded the St. Lucia Cross (SLC)  by the Government of St. Lucia and in November 2012, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal. On 26 June, 2013 he was declared a National Cultural Hero by the Folk Research Centre, St. Lucia.

Frank Norville

Frank Norville is a photographer, actor, dancer and cultural activist, but what he is most known for is his work as a singer, musician and composer.  He has arranged and recorded a large repertoire of Saint Lucian folk music and is credited with preserving what might otherwise be lost.  He has written a booklet on the folk dances of Saint Lucia and in 1983 published Songs of St Lucia: ‘folk songs’, a comprehensive scoring of the island’s most popular folk music.

‘In the midst of the pervasive influence of North American, Trinidadian and Jamaican musical artforms transmitted via the electronic media, Frank has insisted and succeeded in retaining the Saint Lucian indigenous musical tradition, its richeness and variety which he conveys in his highly personalised and confident style of delivery when he sings, an aesthetic experience that lingers long in the memory.” – Jacques Compton, Foreword to Songs of St Lucia

Joseph ‘Rameau’ Poleon – Papa Kilte

Place of Birth: Belle Vue, Vieux Fort

Rameau Poleon is considered one of the most pre-eminent folk musicians in the country. Two-time Best Violinist winner, he is also a member of the Mount Gallion Folk Group.  He was cited by the Governor General of St Lucia in 2000 with a Saint Lucia Medal of Merit (Silver) for his meritorious contribution to Folk Arts.

 ‘He remains the most eminent St Lucian violinist’ Jounen Kweyol 2000-20

The child of Jolliffe Joseph Poleon, a famed fortune/teller herbalist and Tina Poleon, Rameau Poleon started to play the violin under the tutelage of his uncle Flood Poleon at the age of 15.  His first public performance was at Laurenson’s Hall in Micoud which was met with critical acclaim, and he soon developed a following.  In 1979 he met with Eric Adley, cultural activist and musician and formed the Morne Gallian Quadrille Band. Together they performed at CARIFESTA 1981 in Barbados and travelled in Europe and North America & Caribbean.