Almost 2,000 years ago the Igneri (commonly known as Arawak) from Central America settled in St Lucia. The nomadic and war faring Kalinago (Caribs) conquered the island around 1,000 AD. In the 1660’s, the remaining Caribs on St Lucia surrendered to the French, leaving behind only traces of their presence in St Lucia. Carved rock basins and petroglyphs are found along the Balenbouche river. We also have gathered a sizable collection of artifacts such as stone hatchets, tools and beautiful pottery.
Balenbouche Estate was established as one of the sugar and rum producing st lucia plantations by the Europeans as early as the 1740’s. St Lucia’s first road (the Chemin Royal) traversed the Estate. 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. The present Plantation house (180 yrs old), elaborate landscaping, aqueduct and the ruins of an 18th century sugar mill as well as several artifacts remain a prominent feature of Balenbouche, which offers one of the most popular tours of st lucia plantations.
African slaves were brought to work on st Lucia plantations around 17xx. Remains of African cook wares have been found on the estate, as well as documentation of the number, origin and occupation of African slaves. When emancipation was enacted in 1834, 166 slaves worked on the 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 also worked on many st lucia plantations. Just over 1,600 people arrived in St Lucia between 1856 and 1865 and another 4,427 Indians between 1878 and 1893. Typically, the laborers were bound to work for five years in return for a 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 or ten years of ‘industrial residence’, get a free passage back to India.
About half of all indentured labourers went back to India after finishing their contracts. Dozens, perhaps hundreds more would have liked to return, but became economic hostages after the Immigration Fund ran dry, leaving no money for return passages. 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 souls. Many of the East Indians who previously worked on the Balenbouche st lucia plantations settled in the community of Balca to the North of the Estate.
Mr. Erik Lawaetz, a Danish-West Indian developer from St. Croix, purchased Balenbouche Estate in 1964 from the Floissac family, and began diversifying the traditional crops. Jennie Lawaetz refurbished the 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 periodic absence, the st lucia plantations 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. Her and her husband, Caribbean artist Roy Lawaetz, eventually decided to stay and face the 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 Estate house and surrounding acreage. They began repairing and renovating the old buildings and establishing new crops, such as Carambolas, passion fruit, ginger lilies, vegetables and tobacco.
When Roy and Uta separated, 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 the family to hold on to the st lucia plantations. She converted former staff quarters into guest cottages and gradually the former st lucia plantation was able to support itself through a mixture of farming, accommodations, meals, and guided tours. Verena and Anitanja spent their childhood at Balenbouche, home schooled by Uta for many years before going overseas for further education and eventually returning to St. Lucia and Balenbouche. For the three women, the preservation and development of the property has become a lifelong commitment which binds them together very closely.