With its rich soil, St. Kitts and Nevis grow a wide variety of fresh produce. Abundant seafood and meats such as goat add to the diet. The style of cooking is fairly simple, flavored much like other West Indian cuisine. Goat water stew, perhaps the country’s most well-known dish, mixes goat, breadfruit, green pawpaw (papaya), and dumplings (also known as “droppers”) in a tomato-based stew. Another favorite dish is cook-up, or pelau, which combines chicken, pig tail, saltfish and vegetables with rice and pigeon peas. Conkies bear a large similarity to tamales, though instead of having filling rolled inside the dough, the cornmeal is mixed together with grated sweet potato, pumpkin, coconut, and a few other ingredients; after wrapping the dough in banana leaves, they’re boiled rather than steamed. Sweets tend to be simply made, sometimes with nothing more than fruit, like tamarind or guava, and sugar.
Rum is as popular on St. Kitts and Nevis as it is throughout the Caribbean. The Brinley Gold Company manufactures rum on St. Kitts, with such distinctive flavors as coffee, mango, and vanilla. But the national drink is actually Cane Spirits Rothschild (often abbreviated to CSR), distilled from fresh sugar cane. Belmont Estate and St. Kitts Rum also make rum on the island. In addition several of the beach bars will provide moonshine rum produced by individuals with homemade stills. Many villages on Nevis hold cookouts on Friday and Saturday nights, where people come together to eat, drink, play games like dominoes, and have a good time.
As in other Caribbean nations, the culture on St. Kitts and Nevis is festive and vibrant. Carnivals and celebrations play an important role in island life. At Christmas time, Carnival is in full swing on St. Kitts. The opening gala takes place in mid-December, with events going on until a few days after New Year’s. Among these events, crowd favorites include the Miss Caribbean Talented Teen Pageant, the Junior Calypso Show, and the National Carnival Queen Pageant. Of course, there are also plenty of parades full of people wearing colorful, spangled costumes.
Another very popular aspect of Carnival, Masquerade (or Mas) evolved over the past three centuries from a mix of African and European traditions. Masquerade performers wear brightly patterned long-sleeved shirts with trousers, all embellished with bangles, mirrors, and ribbons. Topping off their costumes are masks and headdresses decorated with peacock feathers. Their dances combine elements of waltzes, jigs, wild mas, fertility dances, quadrilles, and other traditional African and European dances.
Stilt-walkers called Moko-Jumbies wear similar but simpler costumes. The word “Moko” may come from the name for a vengeance god in West Africa, where the tradition originated. Or it may derive from the Macaw tree, a tall palm with thorns – headdresses worn by the Moko-Jumbies are said to be patterned after a Macaw in bloom. Wearing stilts six to eight feet high, Moko-Jumbies dance to entertain the crowds.
Clown troupes also perform at this time of year. In groups of about fifty, they dance while a live band plays music. Bells on their baggy, vivid costumes jingle as they move. Pink masks meant to represent Europeans cover their faces.
Apart from Carnival, the island of Nevis has its own unique festival, Culturama. Celebrated on the weekend of Emancipation Day, it began in 1974 when some islanders feared that their native folk art and customs were being lost. They started Culturama to reconnect people with their traditional culture. In addition to arts and crafts, the five-day-long celebration includes dances, music, drama, and religious sacrifices. Parties, boat rides, swimsuit contests, and street jams have also become part of the festivities.
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