Bequia - History & Culture
Bequia is the largest of the Grenadine Islands and is located only 9 miles away from St Vincent. Bequia was given the name “Becouya”, meaning”Island of Clouds” by the Kalinago, an Amerindian group that originated from South America. The French were the first Europeans to settle on Bequia. Between 1719 and 1763 the French set up indigo, lime, cotton and sugar factories on Bequia. In 1763 The Treaty of Paris gave possession of all the Grenadine islands to the English but a legal and sometimes physical battle ensued between both parties for possession as both nations continued to lay claim to the islands. However, in 1783, the Treaty of Versailles permanently ceded possession to the English. By then sugar had become the major crop cultivated on Bequia. Several plantations and numerous small holdings were developed and for the next 70 or so years, sugar was the lifeblood of Bequia.
Following the decline of sugar Bequians turned to the resources of the sea for their livelihood. Bequia quickly became synonymous with fishing (including whaling), boat building and sailing. Sea-faring Scots who were colonists on the island introduced whaling to Bequia around the middle of the 1800s. The International Whaling Commission has recognized whaling in Bequia as a cultural tradition and has granted St. Vincent and the Grenadines aboriginal whaling rights. Bequian whalers are allowed by this commission to harpoon no more than 2 whales per year. Bequia is mainly accessible by boat, normally a one hour ferry ride from St Vincent. There’s an airport in Bequia, the J.F. Mitchell Airport opened in 1992. The airport services charter flights from St Vincent and some nearby Caribbean islands like Barbados.
Bequia has a maritime culture that is steep in fishing, whaling, boat building and sailing. These are old traditions that span centuries. Every year the Bequia Easter Regatta takes place in honour of the island’s rich maritime heritage. This consists of boat races, including model boats, fishing expeditions and on shore activities that add some bustle to Bequia’s typical snail-pace locomotion. Model boat building is an intergenerational tradition and model boats are among the art and craft that typifies the island’s culture often on display at Port Elizabeth, a splendid natural harbour. Life on Bequia is inextricably linked to the sea and when you are there you are never too far away from a sparkling white beach or restaurant brimming with fresh, delectable seafood. The Bequia Music Fest held in January/February is another cultural engagement you can pin to your calendar.