Balenbouche St Lucia Plantation
History of Balenbouche Estate
Almost 2000 years ago, the Igneri (commonly known as Arawak) came to St Lucia from Central America, followed by the more nomadic and war-faring Kalinago (Carib) Indians around 1000 AD. When the Europeans arrived, the Amerindians suffered the typical fate. In the 1660’s, the remaining native inhabitants on St Lucia surrendered to the French, leaving behind only traces of their presence in St Lucia, such as beautiful pottery, stone tools, carved rock basins and petroglyphs along the Balenbouche river.
Africans and Europeans
Balenbouche was first established as a sugar and rum producing st lucia plantation in the 1740’s. African slaves were brought to work the plantations, and the French and British fought over the island for many years, resulting in the colony changing hands 7 times. The Balenbouche st lucia plantation also changed hands numerous times through wars, natural disasters, financial troubles, and personal tragedies. The earliest known family name associated with Balenbouche is “Martin” in 1770. Between 1840 and 1860, the Estate was owned by the Gaillard de Laubenque family. When emancipation was finally enacted in 1834, 166 slaves worked on the Balenbouche st lucia plantation, which was then 587 acres, largely sugar cane fields. The community of Piaye to the East of Balenbouche was founded by freed slaves and retains a strong African identity.
In the late 1800’s, indentured laborers from East India began working on many plantations, typically for 5-10 years in return for a small wage, housing, clothing, food and medical care. Then, they could choose between owning ten acres of land or ten pounds sterling or they could, after a further five to ten years of ‘industrial residence’, get a free passage back to India. About half of all indentured labourers went back to India. Dozens, perhaps hundreds more would have liked to return, but became economic hostages after the Immigration Fund ran dry. By the turn of the century, St Lucia had a free East Indian population of 2,560 persons in a total population of 42,220. Many of the East Indians who previously worked on the Balenbouche plantation settled in the community of Balca to the North of the Estate.
Recent History – The Lawaetz Family
In 1964, Mr. Erik Lawaetz, a Danish-West Indian developer from St. Croix, purchased Balenbouche Estate from the Floissac family, along with other surrounding farms. He began diversifying the traditional crops and tried to revitalize the agricultural production. Jennie Lawaetz refurbished the largely empty 180-year old Plantation House with antiques. However, the islands infrastructure and marketing was geared towards banana export, and there was political tension after independence in 1979. The family was accused of being foreign speculators, and in their absence, the properties were mismanagement and exploited by the management and staff.
In 1984, Mr. Lawaetz’s daughter-in-law, Uta Lawaetz, visited Balenbouche Estate and realized that the property was in critical financial and legal condition. Uta and her husband, Caribbean artist Roy Lawaetz, decided to stay and try to sort out the family’s affairs. They faced many challenges, including the forced acquisition of most of the family land by the government in the late 1980′s. Yet they persevered, and were able to save the Balenbouche plantation house and surrounding acreage. They began repairing and renovating the old buildings and establishing crops again, such as Carambolas, passion fruit, ginger lilies, vegetables and tobacco.
jennie and Erik Lawaetz
Uta, Anitanja and Verena Lawaetz
When Roy and Uta separated in 1991, Roy returned to his art career, whilst Uta remained at Balenbouche with their two daughters, Verena, born in Copenhagen in 1977, and Anitanja, born in St Lucia in 1984. Uta, an architect and interior designer from Germany who had grown up on a farm in Austria and spent many years in the Far East, was well suited for the challenge. She knew that only a strong presence and commitment would enable her to protect and care for Balenbouche. She converted former staff quarters into guest cottages and gradually the st lucia plantation was able to support itself through a combination of farming and tourism. Verena and Anitanja spent their childhood at Balenbouche, where they were home schooled by their mother for many years. Later they completed and continued their education overseas, returning to St. Lucia and Balenbouche in their early 20’s. Since then, they have spent much of their time living and working in St. Lucia and at Balenbouche. For the three women, the preservation and development of the property has become a lifelong commitment.