Sir Derek Walcott was not a head of state or in any way affiliated with the political affairs of the country, but the Nobel laureate received a state funeral from Saint Lucia. This decision was made, of course, because Derek Walcott put Saint Lucia in the international spotlight after winning the 1992 Nobel Prize in Literature. He and the late Sir Dunstan St. Omer made an oath to capture Saint Lucia in poetry and paint before they left her soil, by which they both defined national significance. In Walcott’s years he made invaluable contributions to the island’s cultural, theatrical and literary aspects.
On the night prior to Derek Walcott’s highly honourary departure, the literary and theatrical community paid tribute to him. Weeks after our Nobel Laureate Festival, the same faces who performed throughout in celebration of his achievements, did it one more time, but to say goodbye. Tributes in the form of song, dance, drama and poetry recitals were presented on-stage at the National Cultural Centre. The event was a variant of a local wake for the dead and included traditional storytelling, drumming, dances and refreshments. With just days to prepare, the performers and the Cultural Development Foundation pulled off a memorable event.
The following day, Saturday March 25, 2017, Sir Derek’s family, friends, past students, members of parliament, Saint Lucian literati, students from St. Mary’s College and Gordon & Walcott Memorial Methodist School, plus appreciative Saint Lucian citizens gathered at the Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception to bid the body of Sir Derek Walcott a mortal goodbye. Walcott, with his words, his teachings or his walk through life, seared different memories onto the depths of most of those attendants’ hearts.
The viewing of Walcott’s body was held at the House of Parliament, after which it was escorted by an official, national parade to the cathedral, located across from the Derek Walcott Square. The procession followed strict protocol of a state funeral.
Emeritus Edward Baugh, someone whom Walcott counselled about literature during his lifetime delivered the eulogy of his life. Baugh’s intimate recounts of moments shared with Derek Walcott pierced the thoughts of everyone there, especially those who shared similar memories or could relate to those Derek-like behaviours. Again, Walcott was tributed in various forms: McDonald Dixon, Jane and Kendel Hippolyte, Robert Lee and Adrian Augier each recited one of his poems and Elra Ermay-Glasgow rendered Ave Maria beautifully. The music, voices and performances lived up to Walcott’s refined perception of art.
Continuing to follow protocol, Sir Derek Walcott’s casket was transported to Morne Fortune following a parade of uniformed members of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force. He and Sir Arthur Lewis shared the same birthday, national honour and homeland, equal Nobel Prize recognition and now the same burial location: at the memorial site of the Royal Inniskillin Fusiliers.