The luminescent accessories, the smell of fried food, the sound of slamming dominoes and the fluttering excitement inside the tummy of a child are all synonymous with the full stop of the holiday season: Assou Square. Records of the original Assou Square are mysteriously hard to locate, hence it’s difficult to confirm when it all started. But, most would agree that it’s eponym, Columbus Square, was in the early years where hundreds of children would spend lavishly the 25 cents afforded by parents. There was no stage, but a plethora of barbequed chicken and imported apples that people from the countryside would not usually find otherwise. Toys included tiny dolls for the girls and mini trucks and cars for the boys. Attending Assou Square became something of a ritual, with children receiving their outfits for the fair as Christmas presents.
The notorious New Year rains that pour every January have led some to rename the event Assou Laboo. But despite the laboo, most Saint Lucians have memories of strolling with their parents (or children) and browsing through vendors’ stalls, shouting out for their desired purchase whilst waving money – some readers may well have a stash of paraphernalia collected over the years.
Noisy game matches and the drumming of Solo, Belair, other folk music and enthusiastic chatting would be the sound of the night. There was horseback riding, and Masquerade performances that would terrify children, but not enough for them to not beg to come back the next year. It was a place to socialize, where school children met up with their friends who they hadn’t seen enough during the holidays.
Over the years the entertainment has been modernized to include popular, local soca artistes and toys depicting cartoon characters from American TV shows. Presumably to accommodate the adult patronage, alcohol was introduced, contrary to when it was a family event geared towards the entertainment of children. In addition, the fireworks display evolved. However, many would argue that Assou Square has been deminished. The excitement to wear new “dandan” has withered away and many can’t be bothered to bring their children either.
Locations have changed: to the main road in Vigie, when its title colloquially switched to Assou Chimeh, then the Beausejour Promenade, even Pigeon Point, and, for a few of the millenials’ younger years, in Cul de Sac where the meagre, infamous rides were the highlight of the affair. Now it has returned to its original location, known for decades as Derek Walcott Square.
Organisers of the event have similarly switched over time. According to the Cultural Development Foundation (CDF), Assou Square has been planned in varying partnerships of entities including Ministry of Creative Industries, Ministry for Community Development, Ministry for Culture, Castries City Council and CDF itself.
This year, solely the Castries Constituency Council spearheaded the three-day event. The organisers adopted a similar format for booth set-up on the sidewalks surrounding Derek Walcott Square as CDF had previously maintained, and ensured some were wooden stalls similar to those of the original years of Assou Square. An added feature was the extension of Assou Square into William Peter Boulevard and Constitution Park where local delicacies were available for purchase.
It was strange to see a train-trolley ride on the Vigie highway around 8 p.m. on January 1 – a new attraction added to the usual offerings of bouncy castles, face painting, and a myriad of “square” traditions.
In the disseminated press release prior to the commencement of events, CCC’s press relations officer stated, “The event remains a family friendly affair which has been supported by all. It has been St. Lucia’s premier calendar event festival, a rich traditional commemoration hosted as a new year’s fair focused on children.”
However, controversy began when people and their children attended Assou Square 2018 to find questionable, non-family oriented performances underway. Videos circulated on Facebook showing intense gyrating, strewn legs and many unwarranted appearances of ladies’ underwear onstage during the performance of a popular local artiste. Some locals, especially those with personal affiliations with the artiste, were pleased with how Assou Square seemed to have “evolved” and others were utterly disturbed because, as stated earlier, it’s an event for children; yet another reason for conscientious parents not to attend.
At press time the Castries Constituency Council members were unavailable to comment on the reasons for choosing the particular entertainment at a family fair.