Traditions and culture

The population of Saint Barth remains very conservative, proud of its lineage. But don’t be fooled by false impressions: the inhabitants of Saint Barth seem reserved, yet are much friendlier than they appear.

Tradition is most important during important family events: births, baptisms, First Communion, engagements, marriages, or funerals.

During the 19th century, when the island lived its quiet little life, young men did not hesitate to court young women, but always discretely, as the eye of the watchful chaperone caught any signs of overdoing it.

Every joyous occasion was celebrated with a “ti-sec” shot of rum, a baked galette—the traditional St Barth bread, or a sweet potato pudding. Accordions, tambourines, and maracas were played and a neighborhood dance was quickly organized. Church mass, romantic marriages, and religious processions were occasions to wear your Sunday best or even put on a new outfit.

Today, the traditional island costume is worn only for the island’s Saint’s Day or other folkloric events. Until a few years ago, as one visited the various neighborhoods on the island, it was still possible to glimpse an occasional woman wearing traditional white pleated bonnets.From the “caleche” and the straw hat worn in Corossol and Colombier to the Panama of Cul de Sac, Marigot, or Vitet, each had a different style. The “caleche” or “Quichenotte,” a large white bonnet, was made in two different ways:

  • The “calèche à platine” was made with strips of pleated white fabric sewn together.
  • The “calèche à batons” had narrow pieces of wood inserted into the spaces made when the fabric was sewn to shape the bonnet.

There was also the “cape” (the only example of which is in the museum in Gustavia), a hood made of blue fabric for working and black for special occasions. All of this headgear served to protect the wearer from the sun as well as scratches from branches as they collected wood for cooking.

They were also extremely useful in keeping impertinent Englishmen and Swedes at a distance, thus the name “Quichenotte” (kiss me not). Straw hats would eventually replace the fabric bonnets.

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