Union Island - History & Culture

Union Island is a folk-centred paradise where the natural beauty of the landscape is spirited with the lore of a vibrant people.


Amerindian tribes from South America settled Union Island from as early 5400 BC and remained until the 1750s when the Europeans arrived. By 1778 there were 16 Europeans and 430 enslaved Africans living on Union Island. The European colonists grew cotton at a yield of 250,000 pounds per year. After the abolition of slavery in 1834 the island was leased to a Charles Mulzac, a Scotsman and slavery was replaced by sharecropping. However, most people on Union island depended on the trade of poultry, turtle shells and wood to neighbouring islands and subsistence farming.

In 1898 a hurricane exacerbated a poor cotton harvest and Mr Mulzac sold Union island to Mr Richards, a Vincentian. After a tenuous period of ownership Mr Richards sold Union Island to the British Crown in 1910 and they set up the Union Island Land Settlement Scheme. The island was divided into 2 and 4 acre parcels and sold to the local population at subsidiary rates. Today Union Island is the hub of the Southern Grenadines from which excursionist jettison to nearby islands like The Tobago Cays for day trips and picnics. There’s an airport on Union Island with scheduled flights from St Vincent.


Union Island has a strong Afro-Caribbean heritage bequeathed through the lineage of enslaved Africans on the island. This heritage is celebrated in activities like the Maroon and Big Drum Festival, traditional Cake-Dance weddings, a 3 day event that include special cooking and public display of friendly rivalry through cake dancing and bamboo flag pole duel between families of bride and groom.

The Maroon festival is a pre-harvest ritual where homage is paid to the ancestors through acts of thanksgiving, feasting (featuring a special dish called wangoo), drumming and dancing. The drum has always been a key Afro-Caribbean instrument and on Union Island it has special pride of place. Big Drumming on Union Island where people gather in a public square to drum and dance to celebrate special occasions and events, is an exhilarating experience.

Easter is celebrated on Union Island in a week of activities referred to as Easterval. It consists of sports, cultural showcases, a regional pageant, beach parties and picnics. Union Island is also known for its seafood, especially its iconic conch. They love it so much that there is a festival in its honour. The Conch Festival is a culinary delight with a wide variety of conch dishes prepared with unique recipes. The festival usually takes place at the end of February. Visitors to Union island can also check out the Model Boat Regatta at Richmond Beach on Independence Day (October 27th).