Accepted paper:

La belle creole: heritage, tourism and the politics of representation in St Lucia


Jennifer Lutton (CUNY Graduate Center)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines how anthropological and archaeological knowledge is engaged in St. Lucian heritage tourism. It looks at debates over representations of creole culture and histories of slavery and resistance and how these reflect contemporary issues of nation building and identity construction.

Paper long abstract:

Heritage tourism in St. Lucia developed in the last decade in response to the economic shift from agriculture to tourism prompted by the ending of European trading preferences. This uncertain political economic context creates an urgency among heritage specialists and cultural activists to preserve, (re)define and (re)assert St. Lucian heritage for St. Lucians and tourists alike. St. Lucian heritage becomes linked with tourism marketing agendas which support constructions of historical, cultural, and ecological distinctiveness in a quest to remain competitive in regional tourism. Emphasizing uniqueness presents an opportunity for St. Lucians to tell their history and celebrate culture on their own terms. However, goals of private tourism concerns and general public perception over the uses of heritage are often at odds with cultural and historical interpretations constructed by local cultural and historical heritage organizations. While cultural activists and heritage specialists subscribe to anthropological views of culture, in public debates about the role St. Lucian creole culture should play in development, some charge that emphasizing creole culture—for St. Lucians and foreign tourists— shows a nation stuck in the past, frozen in time, putting it at a disadvantage in the global economy. At historic heritage tourism sites, most recent archaeological and historical interpretation has been approached from the paradigm of history from below, yet many heritage sites mask or omit colonial history and its effects, privileging romanticized versions of colonial history. This paper examines the substance of debates over the uses of creole culture and the multiplicity of representations of colonialism, slavery, and resistance in St. Lucian heritage tourism. I argue that these vibrant debates and varied representations reveal complex processes of national identity construction in a nation still coming to terms with its colonial past and the fragility of its present political sovereignty as it confronts, accommodates and challenges globalizing processes.

panel P02
Imagineering the past: the (mis)uses of anthropology and archaeology in tourism