Culture of Union Island
By Danielle Gaus:
During my two week study abroad trip to Union Island, I learned a lot about the culture of the island and what it is like to live here. We took a visit to see some members of the Imani tribe, where we were able to see and participate in some of their cultural dances. I remember being amazed watching the children playing the drums to match the rhythm of the songs because they were able to make it look effortless, while our group found it to be difficult to learn. We learned about how the dances are not as easy as they seem, and that each separate move has a meaning to the overall dance and helps coordinate the drumming. It was a very educational experience and we were excited and grateful to learn about the cultural practices of the tribe.
On one day during our trip, we took a break from diving to go on a hike. During this, our hiking ranger educated us on some of the history of the island and what the people are like today. In the 1700’s, a man named Samuel Spann owned many acres of the island and decided to name it Union Island after his first ship in the area. Slaves were brought to the island for many years, and French and British invasions occurred. We were told that the people living on the island today are very united, and that whenever there is a disaster, everyone comes together to help each other out. According to our trip collaborator Katrina, Union Island differs from the other nearby islands for this reason.
During our trip, we ate a variety of new foods. For example, on one of our dives, we were given some Soursop fruit to try out, which is a commonly eaten fruit on the island. It was my first time trying it, and although I personally was not a fan of the fruit, a large portion of our group thought it was quite tasty. We also learned throughout our trip that a lot of the food we were eating was grown or caught locally. Some of the fruit markets located near where we were selling locally grown fruits, and for the meals that consisted of fish, we learned that the fish were caught around the island. I thought this was really great, as most of the food I eat at home is not locally produced. When we were eating our meals, we often had dogs standing by our sides begging for food. On the island, there are many stray dogs roaming around, which was very surprising to many people within our group as stray dogs are not a common sighting from where we are from in the United States.
Overall, this trip was absolutely amazing and I learned an incredible amount about scientific diving and about life on Union Island. Going on this trip was a major step out of my comfort zone, and I am so happy I decided to go on it as I feel like I have grown so much over the past two weeks.
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The authors of this blog are students enrolled in Tropical Marine Ecology and Conservation, field courses run in the Caribbean by the University of South Florida. In 2019 and 2021, the course went to the Carmabi research station in Curaçao and dived around the island over a 10-day period, for training and to carry out research projects. In 2018, the group went to Soufriere, Saint Lucia, and took part in various projects in partnership with the Soufriere Marine Management Association. In this blog, students will document their activities and how they relate to course material.