The original name for the island of Saint Vincent was “Hairouna”—the name given to it by early inhabitants, the Carib people, who originally occupied this and many other islands of the Caribbean region. However, unlike in other locales, the Caribs successfully fought off European invasion and domination until early in the 18th century. A significant segment of the population, known as the “Black Caribs” (also known as Garifuna) were the result of intermarriage between indigenous peoples and African slaves who had escaped from other islands.
The French were the first Europeans to gain a foothold on the island, beginning in 1719. They established plantations for sugar, coffee, cotton, indigo and tobacco—worked by slaves imported from Africa. Following several decades of conflict between the French and British over control of the region, Saint Vincent was ceded to the British in 1763, went back into French hands in 1779, and was finally given over to Britain again in 1783. Eventually the nation gained independence as Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, as part of the British Commonwealth of Nations, in 1979.
The country today consists of the main island of St. Vincent together with the northern two thirds of the Grenadines chain of smaller islands. (The southern third of the chain is part of the nation of Grenada.) Most of the population lives on St. Vincent. This main island is mountainous and lush with rainforests. La Soufrie, an active volcano, is the main geographic feature in the north of the island.
More than 84% of the population of the country are descendants of African slaves who later gained emancipation with the abolishment of the slave trade in the British Empire, in 1833. The remainder of the population is made up of Afro-Caribbean (Carib) people, with a tiny minority of Europeans descended from the original colonists.
English is the official language, but the majority use Vincentian Creole English, a dialect close to that spoken on Grenada and Tobago. There was a French-based Creole in use as well, but this has all but died out on St. Vincent.
The majority of the people claim adherence to Protestant Christianity; 47% are Anglicans and another 28% are Methodists. A significant minority (about 13%) are Roman Catholics. The remainder belong to other Protestant denominations, or are Hindus.