Relaxing in Grenada

Neil Ford

Despite its history of armed rebellion and staunch resistance against much larger nations, the country has a reputation for being very chilled out, even by Caribbean standards 

Caribbean islands are well known for their laid-back way of life and this image has helped to promote the region as a popular tourist destination for the stressed-out urban dwellers of North America and Western Europe. Grenada takes this approach one step further and is even regarded as having a relaxed pace of life by the residents of neighbouring Caribbean countries. Some locals describe it as ‘a place to be, not to do’ yet it has been the backdrop for historic events that were far from tranquil and which have helped to create a very distinctive culture today. 

Many Grenadians are proud of their country’s tradition of resistance. Although not a lot of people agreed with the policies of the People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG), which ruled from 1979 until 1983, many have respect for the way leader Maurice Bishop refused to cave in to pressure from the USA to end his socialist programme of reforms. During the Cold War events of that period, Grenada’s standoff with Washington was regarded as the ultimate David versus Goliath contest. 

This independent streak goes back many generations. In the wake of first the French Revolution, and then the Haitian Revolution, a wave of slave rebellions broke out across the Caribbean. 

In 1795, a landowner of mixed French and African heritage, Julien Fédon, led a group of slaves against British forces in an attempt to create a black republic to match that of independent Haiti. The 14,000 rebel slaves who fl ocked to Fédon’s side seized control of the entire island with the sole exception of the capital, St George’s. However, 7,000 of them were subsequently killed when British reinforcements crushed the opposition and retook the island. Fédon himself was never caught and he is now regarded as a Robin Hood figure in Grenada – a folk hero who fought for what was right and represents the best of Grenada. 

His legend was widely cited by the PRG revolutionaries and earlier during the campaign for improved working conditions and self-determination that gathered steam after World War II. The 1951 general strike saw many buildings burnt down, but universal adult suffrage was introduced later that year and wages gradually increased. After the collapse of the Federation of the West Indies in 1962, local Grenadian politicians began to work towards full independence, which was achieved in 1974 after six-and-a half years of home rule. 

Today, national pride tends to take on a sporting rather than political hue. The most popular sport is cricket and, along with most other anglophone countries in the Caribbean, Grenada is a member state of the West Indies Cricket Board. The construction of the US$40 million National Cricket Stadium in St George’s was financed by the government of China. It opened in 2000 and is now one of the West Indies’ home grounds, seating 20,000 fans and providing one of the venues for the 2007 Cricket World Cup. There are active cricket leagues in Grenada itself and several local players have represented the West Indies including, in recent years, top order batsman Devon Smith, wicketkeeper batsman Andre Fletcher and fast bowler Nelon Troy Pascal. 

There is also a tradition of athletics on the island, particularly in the 400 metres, in which Alleyne Francique took silver at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. However, the country’s biggest sporting triumph came last year when 19-year-old Kirani James won the country’s first ever Olympic medal, taking gold in the men’s 400 metres final in the London Olympics in 43.94 seconds, making him the first non US athlete to break the 44-second barrier. 

He instantly became a national hero. Lagoon Road in St George’s has now been renamed Kirani James Boulevard and the then Prime Minister, Tillman Thomas, called a half-day national holiday in celebration when James returned home. Thomas said: “My message to Kirani James is to continue doing what he’s been doing. He’s been a very good influence on our young people. He’s very disciplined, very organised and very focused.” That single medal made Grenada the most successful Olympic country per capita in the world. 

Although proud of its links with the rest of the Windward Islands and its role in the West Indies cricket team, Grenadian culture has a distinctive flavour of its own. In addition to the regional mix of British colonial rule and a population that largely descends from slaves transported from Africa, there is also a French influence in the country, as it was originally colonised by France in the 17th century. It was seized by the British in the Seven Years’ War and then again during the American War of Independence. The subsequent two centuries of British rule bequeathed a system of parliamentary government, British-style legal and tax systems and a love of cricket, all of which survived independence in 1974. 

Following the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire in 1807, indentured workers were brought from India to the island. The formerly distinctive Indian population has largely intermarried with other Grenadians and Europeans but an Indian flavour survives in local cuisine. Street food includes dal puri, aloo pie and tarmarind balls, while traditional cooking pans are named curry pots. 

The adherents of any particular Caribbean culture tend to be rather protective of the language, religion or other cultural strain in question. For example, despite British colonial rule, the French patois of Grenada has proved to be remarkably durable, although the number of native speakers is now in decline. 

The French influence has brought French Caribbean souk music to the island, complementing local reggae, calypso and soca traditions. Soca is a combination of soul and calypso music that originated in Trinidad and Tobago and then spread across the region. Reggae star David Emmanuel and jazz songwriter Eddie Bullen both come from Grenada, while the island’s distinctive calypso dances are known across the Caribbean. 


About the author:

Neil Ford is an independent consultant and journalist, focusing on international affairs, particularly in developing countries


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