We are not alone

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Michael Walker

Ihappened to no­tice re­cently that the head of one of the re­gion's ma­jor or­gan­i­sa­tions boasted that he had vis­ited over a quar­ter of the coun­tries in the world - good for him! They say that travel broad­ens the mind – per­haps that's why our much trav­elled lead­ers are so broad­minded – and it is cer­tainly true that a re­cep­tive mind can gather a wealth of in­for­ma­tion on its trav­els, which leads me to tell you that I know things about St. Lu­cia that I bet you don't know.

Feel­ing a lit­tle far from home, I re­cently en­coun­tered St. Lu­cia, an ex­clu­sive, af­flu­ent sub­urb sit­u­ated some 4 miles south­west of Bris­bane on a penin­sula in the Bris­bane River, where some of the area's finest homes, as well as the main cam­pus of the Univer­sity of Queens­land, are sit­u­ated.

The area, orig­i­nally part of In­dooroop­illy and later part of Toowong – I do so love th­ese Aus­tralian names; they are so un­likely, like some­thing out of Harry Pot­ter – was, in the 1860s, an area of sugar plan­ta­tions where one Wil­liam Alexan­der Wilson, born in St. Lu­cia in the West Indies, pur­chased the Coldridge Plan­ta­tion in 1882 and re­named it the St. Lu­cia Sugar Plan­ta­tion. Just a year later, the plan­ta­tion was sub­di­vided for hous­ing, but the name stuck.

The stu­dent pop­u­la­tion of St. Lu­cia is high, es­pe­cially in the im­me­di­ate vicin­ity of the univer­sity, but the sub­urb is also home to wealthy fam­i­lies. Of the pop­u­la­tion of 11,195, those aged between15–24 com­prise 46.7% of the to­tal, com­pared to 13.3% na­tion­ally. It's a young com­mu­nity. Just over half the peo­ple liv­ing in St. Lu­cia were born in Aus­tralia, while just un­der two-thirds of res­i­dents speak only English at home; the next most popular lan­guages were Man­darin, Can­tonese, Malay, Viet­namese, In­done­sian, and just about ev­ery Euro­pean tongue. The place is fas­ci­nat­ing, as you can imag­ine, to some­one like me who works with English as a For­eign Lan­guage. In­ter­est­ingly, one third of the res­i­dents ad­mits to no re­li­gious be­liefs while 18% pro­fess to be Catholics, 12% Angli­cans, just over 5% fol­low­ers of Is­lam, and a sim­i­lar 5% ad­her­ents of Bud­dhism.

Half a world away, in South Africa, I came across yet another St. Lu­cia in the Umkhanyakude Mu­nic­i­pal­ity in the KwaZu­luNatal prov­ince of South Africa – if you are al­ready in love with Aus­tralian names, the South African ones are to die for – a tongue twister's par­adise!

It is amaz­ing re­ally how lit­tle we un­der­stood – I say ‘we' be­cause I think I am no dif­fer­ent from oth­ers – when we chose our ca­reers all those years ago how our lives would be mapped out as a con­se­quence, of­ten through a whim. When lan­guages be­came my pas­sion, I had lit­tle idea that the rest of my life would be made so rich. I guess I got lucky.

The South African St. Lu­cia is old, very old. Over 130,000 years ago, peo­ple lived in caves high in the Le­bombo moun­tains where 69,000 stone im­ple­ments and var­i­ous hu­man re­mains have been re­cov­ered.

In 1554, sur­vivors of a wrecked Por­tuguese ship, The Sao Bento named the area The River of the Gold Dunes. On 13 De­cem­ber, 1575 the re­gion was re­named Santa Lu­cia. In 1822, the Bri­tish pro­claimed St. Lu­cia a town­ship. In 1895, the St. Lu­cia Game Re­serve, 30 km north of the town, came into be­ing. By 1971, the St. Lu­cia Lake, the Tur­tle Beaches and the Co­ral Reefs of Ma­puta­land were listed by the Con­ven­tion on Wet­lands of In­ter­na­tional Im­por­tance and in De­cem­ber 1999 the park was de­clared a UNESCO World Her­itage Site where croc­o­diles, hip­popotami, leop­ards and black rhi­nos live freely.

Another pro­ces­sion, quite dif­fer­ent from a pa­rade of an­i­mals, takes place each year on De­cem­ber 13th in Swe­den when girls clad in white full-length gowns and bear­ing crowns of can­dles in their hair cel­e­brate the feast of Santa Lu­cia. They are fol­lowed by Star Boys who, like the hand­maid­ens, are dressed in white gowns, carry stars on sticks and have tall pa­per cones on their heads. The brown­ies bring up the rear, car­ry­ing small lanterns. Lu­cia is the bearer of light in the dark Swedish win­ter. Ev­ery Swede knows the Lu­cia Song by heart, and can sing it, in or out of tune. Cel­e­bra­tions in­clude Ginger Snaps and ‘lussekat­ter', saf­fron-flavoured buns shaped like curled-up cats and with raisineyes best eaten with glögg or cof­fee. The tra­di­tion can be traced to St. Lu­cia of Syra­cuse, a mar­tyr who died in 304. In the old al­manac, Lu­cia Night was the night when su­per­nat­u­ral be­ings were abroad and all an­i­mals could speak. By morn­ing, the live­stock needed ex­tra feed, and peo­ple, need­ing ex­tra nour­ish­ment, were urged to eat up to nine hearty break­fasts be­fore the Christ­mas Fast­ing be­gan on Lu­cia Day.

Now go on! Ad­mit it! You've not even left home, but your mind feels broad­ened al­ready, doesn't it?

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