Somewhere in The Blue Caribbean Sea
On this date, forty one years ago, the islands of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique became a tri-island state! Due to the persistence and tenacity of then Premier, the honorable Sir Eric Matthew Gairy, this former British Crown colony earned it’s place amongst fellow independent Caribbean states, and became the first of the Winward or Leeward islands (Lesser Antilles) to become a sovereign state.
To celebrate this glorious honor, please allow me the time to give you a brief history and review of this tropical gem known to many as the Isle of Spice, and simply to my husband and I, home.
Geographically, the tri-island state and their surrounding smaller islands, sits at 12° 03′ N latitude and 61° 45′ W longitude.
It is one of the southernmost members of the Caribbean archipelago neighbored by Trinidad & Tobago to the South West, Venezuela to the South East and St. Vincent & the Grenadines to the North West. Bordered by the Caribbean Sea to the left and the tempestuous waters of the Atlantic Ocean to the right, the island has much to offer in way of idyllic beaches and views around the coastlines. Several of the parish towns are protected by the naturally occurring coral reefs which provide the island’s natural whites sand shores, of which the 3 km (1.9 mi) long Grand Anse Beach in St George, is considered to be one of the finest in the world and often appears in countdowns of the world’s top ten beaches.
Grenada’s interior is very mountainous, with Mount St. Catherine, the highest point on the island measuring in at 840 m (2,760 ft). Several rivers with beautiful waterfalls flow into the sea from these mountainous regions.
There are also several naturally occurring bodies of water such as the sulfur springs and lakes Antoine and Grand Etang; the later of which was formed by a volcanic crater; all surrounded by lush foliage and wildlife reserves. It is at these natural forests, local wildlife attractions such as the national bird, the Grenada dove (Leptotila Wellsi) as well as the local Mona monkeys (Cercopithecus mona) can be seen.
Much of the island’s richness in foliage and wildlife is represented on the coat of arms , including the national bird, and the armadillo (agouti) which are not uncommon to the locals.
Most of the population lives on mainland Grenada, and major towns there include the capital, St. George’s, Grenville and Gouyave. The largest settlement on the other islands is Hillsborough on located on sister isle, Carriacou. Mainland Grenada is divided into six parishes and the two Grenadine islands Carricaou and Petite Martinique are considered the seventh parish and have the status of dependency.
The islands are of volcanic origin and are the by-product of the semi-dormant underwater volcano, “Kick ’em Jenny“, which is responsible for the islands thriving with mineral rich soil which supports the lush greenery and foliage. The climate is tropical, with only two seasons. The island is hot and humid – which often marks impending showers in the rainy season and cooled by the Trade Winds in the dry season. Grenada, being on the southern edge of the hurricane belt, has suffered only three hurricanes in fifty years. Hurricane Janet passed over Grenada on September 23, 1955, with winds of 185 km/h (115 mph), causing severe damage. The most recent storms to hit have been Hurricane Ivan on September 7, 2004, which was by far one of the most devastating to hit the island, causing severe damage across the tri-island state and thirty-nine deaths, and Hurricane Emily on July 14, 2005, which affected the sister isles, Carriacou and Petite Martinique, and the north of the mainland.
The official size of mainland Grenada 132.8 square miles (approximately 348.5 kilometers squared), with a population of approximately 110,000.
In 1877, Grenada was made a Crown colony. Theophilus A. Marryshow founded the Representative Government Association (RGA) in 1917 to agitate for a new and participative constitutional dispensation for the Grenadian people. Partly as a result of Marryshow’s lobbying, the Wood Commission of 1921–22 concluded that Grenada was ready for constitutional reform in the form of a “modified” Crown colony government.
In 1950, Eric Gairy founded the Grenada United Labor Party, initially as a trades union, which led the 1951 general strike for better working conditions. This sparked great unrest. On October 10, 1951, Grenada held its first general elections on the basis of universal adult suffrage,with Gairy’s party winning six of the eight seats contested.From 1958 to 1962 Grenada was part of the Federation of the West Indies.
On March 3, 1967, Grenada was granted full autonomy over its internal affairs as an Associated State. Herbert Blaize was the first Premier of the Associated State of Grenada from March to August 1967. Eric Gairy served as Premier from August 1967 until February 1974.
Independence was granted on February 7, 1974, under the leadership of Eric Gairy, who became the first Prime Minister of Grenada.
Civil conflict gradually broke out between Eric Gairy’s government and some opposition parties including the New Jewel Movement (NJM). Gairy’s party won elections in 1976, but the opposition did not accept the result, accusing it of fraud. In 1979, the New Jewel Movement under Maurice Bishop launched a paramilitary attack on the government resulting in its overthrow.
The constitution was suspended and Bishop’s “People’s Revolutionary Government” (PRG) ruled subsequently by decree. Cuban doctors, teachers, and technicians were invited in to help develop health, literacy, and agriculture over the next few years. Agrarian reforms started by the Gairy government were continued and greatly expanded under the revolutionary government of Maurice Bishop.
Some years later a dispute developed between Bishop and certain high-ranking members of the NJM, including Communist Deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard who deemed Bishop insufficiently revolutionary and demanded that he either step down or enter into a power-sharing arrangement. Though Bishop cooperated with Cuba and the USSR on various trade and foreign policy issues, he sought to maintain a “non-aligned” status. Bishop had been taking his time making Grenada wholly socialist, encouraging private-sector development in an attempt to make the island a popular tourist destination.
On October 19, 1983, Bernard Coard and his wife Phyllis, backed by the Grenadian Army, led a coup against the government of Maurice Bishop and placed Bishop under house arrest. These actions led to street demonstrations in various parts of the island. Bishop had enough support from the population that he was eventually freed after a demonstration in the capital.
When Bishop attempted to resume power, he was captured and executed by soldiers along with seven others, including government cabinet ministers. The Coard regime then put the island under martial law.After the execution of Bishop, a military government was formed. The army declared a four-day total curfew, during which (it said) anyone leaving their home without approval would be shot on sight.
The overthrow of a moderate government by one which was strongly pro-communist worried U.S. President Ronald Reagan. And so on October 25, 1983, combined forces from the United States and from the Regional Security System (RSS), based in Barbados, invaded Grenada in an operation code named Operation Urgent Fury. It was highly criticised by the governments of Britain, Trinidad & Tobago, and Canada. The United Nations General Assembly condemned it as “a flagrant violation of international law“.
After the invasion of the island nation, the pre-revolutionary Grenadian constitution came into operation once again. Eighteen members of the PRG and the PRA (army) were arrested after the invasion on charges related to the murder of Maurice Bishop and seven others.
When U.S. troops withdrew from Grenada in December 1983, Nicholas Brathwaite of the National Democratic Congress was appointed prime minister of an interim administration by Scoon until elections could be organized.
The first democratic elections since 1976 were held in December 1984 and were won by the Grenada National Party under Herbert Blaize who served as prime minister until his death in December 1989.
Ben Jones succeeded Blaize as prime minister and served until the March 1990 election.
The election was won by the National Democratic Congress under Nicholas Brathwaite who returned as prime minister for a second time until he resigned in February 1995.
He was succeeded by George Brizan who served until the June 1995 election.
The following election and the next two (1999 and 2003, respectively) were won by the New National Party under the leadership of Keith Mitchell who went on to serve for a record 13 years until 2008 when he lost to Tillman Thomas.
He has since regained his title as leader of the island following the 2013 elections.
He was succeeded by Tillman Thomas of the National Democratic Congress from 2008 – 2013.
A vast majority of Grenadine citizens (82%) are descendants of the African slaves brought by the English and French; few of the indigenous Amerindians, (Carib and Arawak) population survived the French purge at Sauteurs. Today, Grenadians of Indian descent comprise the second largest ethnic group, and are descendants of indentured workers from India. There is also a small community of French and English descendants(5%). The rest of the population is of mixed descent (13%).
The official language, English, is used in the government, but dialects like, Grenadian Creole English and/or Grenadian French Creole (patois –> pah-twah or Kwéyòl) are considered the common tongue of the island. French Patois (Antillean Creole) influences remain amongst 10%–20% of the population and several colloquial terminologies are still commonplace in Grenadian household conversations to date. General conversations often reflects the Indian, African, and European heritage of the nation, and the creoles contain elements from a variety of African languages.
Over the course of it’s history, post-discovery by Christopher Columbus on his third voyage in 1498, the colony of Grenada continuously switched hands between the French and the British, remaining in British control until it’s independence. Along with this trade of hands came the constant changes of capitals and settlements whose influence still marks the language and names of the island’s seven parishes, their towns, several villages and even common surnames.
Stronger French influence is found in the well seasoned spicy food and styles of cooking similar to those found in New Orleans, and some French architecture has survived from the 1700s. Island culture is heavily influenced by the African roots of most of the Grenadians, particularly on the island of Carriacou who still part take in several traditions such, saracca, maroon festivals, and big drum dancing.
There is also an ever present Indian and Amerindian influence as observed by the many variants of dhal puri, rotis, Indian sweets, cassava and curries in much of the island’s cuisine.
Oildown is considered to be the national dish. The name refers to a dish cooked in coconut milk and curry or saffron, until all the milk is absorbed, leaving a bit of coconut oil in the bottom of the pot. Early recipes call for a mixture of salted pigtail, pig’s feet (trotters), salt beef and chicken, dumplings made from flour, and provision like breadfruit, green banana, yam and potatoes. Callaloo leaves are sometimes used to retain the steam and for extra flavor. It was first made after hurricane Janet rocked the island to prevent wastage of the fallen fresh produce and stored meats.
Soca, Calypso, and Reggae set the mood for Grenada’s annual Carnival activities, which are rooted in the days of slavery and early emancipation, and show how much the islanders’ African and Carib Amerindian heritage plays an influential role in many aspects of Grenada’s culture.
Another important aspect of the Grenadian culture is the tradition of story telling, with folk tales bearing both African and French influences. The character, Anansi, a spider who is a trickster originated in West Africa and is prevalent on other islands as well. French influence can be seen in La DJablesse, a well-dressed she-devil, and Ligaroo (from Loup Garoux), a man able to turn into werewolf at night.
During it’s colonial days, the nutmeg was brought to the island. It was first introduced to Grenada ub 1843 when a merchant ship called upon the natural harbor of St. George’s on it’s way back to England from the East Indies, and thus began Grenada’s nutmeg industry, that now supplies between 20 -40% of the world’s annual crop, second to Thailand.
The nutmeg on the nation’s flag represents the economic crop of Grenada; the nation is the world’s second largest producer of nutmeg (after Indonesia). The seven stars represent the parishes, the green represents the foliage of the island, the yellow the sunshine and the red the passion of the nation’s people.
The island’s rich volcanic soils make it optimal for farming and agriculture, which plays a role in the country’s economy and was once a prime source of economic stability. Crops such as bananas, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, all spice, nutmeg and mace, were grown for international export. Overtime due to pest issues leading to international embargoes on banana crops an later hurricane’s Ivan and Emily, Grenada’s agriculture suffered serious losses, hence the country’s emphasis on tourism.
The cultivation of organic cocoa which is also processed into finished bars by the Grenada Chocolate Company, has also boosted the economy and pioneered adaptations in agriculture.
Tourism is Grenada’s main economic force. Conventional beach and water-sports tourism is largely focused in the southwest region around St George, the airport and the coastal strip; however, eco-tourism is growing in significance. Most of these small eco-friendly guesthouses are located in the Saint David and Saint John parishes.
So if you’re ever in the mood for a tropical get away here’s a friendly option. In the meantime enjoy getting to know more about this gem.
And may we as one people continue to celebrate in the triumphs of our own, mourn the sorrows of our past and keep the torch burning ever brightly as we move forward…with liberty, justice and equality for all. Happy Birthday Grenada.