Grenada - Background information


Mural depicting Amerindian culture by Celia SorhaindoThe first people to arrive in Grenada would have been Amerindian adventurers from South America somewhere between 5000BC and 3000BC; pictured: a mural depicting these early settlers © Celia Sorhaindo

History
Natural history
People and culture

History

Abridged from the History section in Grenada: the Bradt Travel Guide

Hurricane Ivan

Hurricane Ivan struck Grenada a near-fatal blow on 7 September 2004. By the time it hit, Ivan had strengthened to a category three hurricane and it ravaged the island with sustained 193km/h winds for over eight hours. Until that fateful day, it had been Hurricane Janet that most Grenadians remembered and considered the worst storm to ever hit the island. In 1955, Janet had blasted northern Grenada and Carriacou with winds of up to 260km/h, destroying everything in its path and leaving 120 people dead in its wake. The nation’s agricultural economy was severely damaged by Janet and many structures were destroyed, including the already weakening St George’s harbour jetty and buildings.

The eye of Hurricane Ivan passed approximately 10km south of Point Salines and thoroughly ransacked the island. It either completely levelled or damaged around 90% of residences and other buildings, leaving countless Grenadians homeless. It ravaged the island’s forests and farmlands, destroying the majority of the nation’s crops, including nutmeg, and it crippled the island’s infrastructure. Schools, churches, hospitals, roads, water and electricity supplies, homes, hotels, businesses, farms and orchards were le! in complete tatters. Immediately after the hurricane there followed some very frightening days of lawlessness with widespread looting and violence. The Grenadian people were in a state of immeasurable shock and altogether fearful for their very existence.

Visitors to Grenada will no doubt come across some of Ivan’s legacy when travelling around the island.

The world came to Grenada’s assistance in the weeks and months following Ivan. A programme of donor and loan aid commenced and plans were initiated to reconstruct schools and hospitals, to clear and replant crops, and to repair and rebuild homes. The estimated cost of Ivan’s fury was put at around US$1 billion and it was clearly going to take a long time to completely recover. The island’s tourism industry, which was beginning to thrive, together with nutmeg and cocoa crops, suffered an unmitigated setback. Before Ivan, Grenada was the world’s secondlargest producer of nutmeg, after Indonesia. With only 10% of nutmeg trees still standing, and a period of seven to ten years for a seedling to reach maturity, it is no wonder that very many livelihoods were in serious jeopardy.

After picking themselves up from the rubble and the despair, Grenadians would be forgiven for feeling entirely desperate when just one year later Emily passed over their island as a category one hurricane. Though not as devastating as Ivan, Emily caused an estimated US$100 million worth of damage to the island as well as untold psychological harm to its people.

In the main, structural recovery from these storms is complete. Nutmeg farming is getting back on its feet but has not caught up with the levels of the past. Few believe it will.

Natural history

Plants and flowers

The national flower of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique is the bougainvillea (Bougainvillea spectabilis) which grows all over the three islands and is o!en found in the carefully tended gardens of many private homes. Visitors to Grenada will also see many other varieties of colourful flowers and plants including ginger (Alpinia purpurata), heliconia (Heliconia), hibiscus (Hibiscus), ixora (Ixora), allamanda (Allamanda cathartica), angel’s trumpet (Datura candida), anthurium (Anthurium andraeanum), bird of paradise flower (Strelitzia reginae) and several varieties of orchid. Endemic to Grenada is the bois agouti (Maytenus grenadensis), a tree with simple leaves and small white flowers. Also endemic are Rhytidophyllum caribaeum, a small shrub with cream or orange flowers, Lonchocarpus broadwayi and Cyathea elliotii. Flowering trees such as the flamboyant (Delonix regia) are usually seen growing along coastlines and are very bright and colourful when in full bloom.

Mammals

Mona monkey, Grenada by Celia Sorhaindo

The mona monkey (Cercopithecus mona) is also known as the macaque and was probably brought from west Africa to Grenada by slave traders in the 18th century. The population is thought to have developed from very small numbers though studies have suggested it is healthy and lives off fruits, leaves and insects in Grenada’s mountainous, forested interior. Tough hurricanes and hunters continue to threaten its existence, it seems to survive well and in relatively high numbers.

The small Asian mongoose (Herpestes auropunctatus) was introduced to Grenada in the late 19th century in an attempt to control rodents in sugarcane plantations. Its impact on pests is thought to have been extremely negligible and it was soon considered a pest itself. In the second half of the 20th century it was discovered that the mongoose carried the rabies virus and an island-wide vaccination and eradication programme commenced. Tough rabies still exists in the mongoose population it is not considered a serious problem. Visitors to Grenada should nevertheless avoid contact with this animal if it is encountered.

(Photo: Although threatened by hunters, the mona monkey is common throughout Grenada © Celia Sorhaindo)

The nine-banded long-nosed armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus hoplites) is a small mammal with a bony, armour-like shell. It was probably introduced by the island’s original settlers and is known locally by its Amerindian name, tatu. Though it is classified as rare, it is also considered a game animal, which seems very contradictory. It lives in the forests of Grand Etang, feeding on insects, small animals, vegetables and decaying flesh. Interesting facts about this particular species of armadillo are that it produces four identical offspring, it can inflate its intestine, making it buoyant enough to float or swim across rivers, and, if swimming is an unattractive proposition, it can hold its breath long enough to be able to walk along riverbeds instead.

Birds

Grenada’s forests, coastal woodlands, bays, estuaries, rugged coastlines and floral gardens combine to create habitats for birds of all kinds. The national bird is the Grenada dove (Leptotila wellsi), which is thought to be endemic to Grenada and very rare. The dove has been observed mainly in the southwest of Grenada, within the Mt Hartman National Park and Clarke’s Court Bay areas. It has also been recorded around Perseverance, Beauséjour, Black Bay and Halifax Harbour. Little is known about the dove though its numbers are believed to be small. Also considered endemic to Grenada is the endangered hook-billed kite (Chondrohierax uncinatus), which is one of the smallest species of hawks. Like the Grenada dove, it has been observed in the dry scrubland habitat of the southwest.

Green iguana, Grenada by Celia Sorhaindo

Reptiles 

There are thought to be around ten species of lizard living in the tri-island state. The most common is the bronze anole (Anolis aeneus), also known locally as the zandoli, which grows to around 20cm in length and has the ability to change colour according to its environment. The male green lizard has a distinctive colourful throat fan that it uses in courtship and also as a territorial warning. Slightly larger than the green lizard, and also quite commonly  sighted, is the tree lizard (Anolis richardii), which is either green or brown and has a distinctive crest running the length of its head and neck. The ground lizard (Ameiva ameiva), also known as the zagada, does not climb trees and prefers to live in dry undergrowth or to sit stock-still, sunning itself on a rock. The male is usually a bluish colour and the female brown with lighter stripes along her flanks. Grenada’s largest lizard is the very colourful green iguana (Iguana iguana), which has been known to grow as large as 1.5m in length. It is herbivorous and usually lives in trees where it feeds on leaves and flowers. The iguana is considered a threatened species in Grenada due to loss of habitat and hunting.

(Photo: The green iguana is Grenada’s largest lizard © Celia Sorhaindo)

People and culture

People

Although it is a generalisation, in my experience Grenadians are openly warm and friendly people. Th ey are very approachable and genuine. Indeed if you spend your holiday holed-up in an all-inclusive resort, never giving yourself the opportunity to interact with local people, you will certainly have missed out. Many Grenadians lead a tough and challenging life and are relatively poor by Western standards, often living in conditions that contrast starkly with the luxury residences of the south. In spite of hardship and a history of conflict, setbacks and rebellion, Grenadians are predominantly a quiet and reserved people who are very polite and genuinely warm towards visitors. If you plan on visiting Carriacou and Petite Martinique (which you absolutely should) you may notice a difference between these islanders and those on Grenada. Also extremely friendly and hardworking, they are a very independent people with a strong sense of identity with their island home, with their cultural heritage and with their historical roots, which – you may be surprised to learn – are as diverse as Africa and Scotland.

Dancing the cocoa, Belmont Estate, Grenada by Celia Sorhaindo

(Photo: ‘Dancing the cocoa’ at Belmont Estate is the traditional and fun way of polishing the beans © Celia Sorhaindo)

Culture

Unlike some Caribbean nations whose culture continued to be strongly influenced by the proximity of islands that were governed by France, Grenada’s French Creole began to wane once the country became a British Crown Colony. Nevertheless, despite the dominance of the British and the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches, French influence still managed to survive in the form of dress, language and also in many of Grenada’s place names. Stronger still were the residual influences of the liberated population’s African heritage, which can still be enjoyed today in the form of music, dance, festivals, folklore and cooking. East Indian cultural influences originally stem from the island’s indentured labour force of the mid 19th century and more recently from the neighbouring island of Trinidad.

Traditional music and dance finds its roots deep within the island’s history. From the slaves of west Africa, the influences of their European oppressors, and the more contemporary sway of neighbouring islands such as Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada’s instruments, songs, music and dance have evolved as heady concoctions of past and present that are still used, performed and enjoyed today.

Big Drum Dance

Grenada’s most celebrated music and dance expression is the Big Drum Dance, which is performed in Carriacou. Big Drum Dance is a cultural celebration that consists of dancing, singing and drumming. It is thought that the West African slaves who were transported to the islands in the 1700s somehow managed to keep their heritage alive through folktales, stories, music and song. Drumming played a significant role among these African tribal people and was very prominent during weddings, feasts, prayer, harvest, birth and death. The Big Drum Dance is a manifestation of the past and is now not only a key feature of Carriacou’s cultural legacy, but also very much an integral part of everyday life on the island. Why drumming survived so well in Carriacou and not in Grenada is a puzzle. Perhaps it is because the drums that were made and played by slaves were also routinely taken away from them, or banned, as part of their owners’ efforts to crush their spirit and identity.

The drums, collectively known as lapeau cabrit, which is Creole for goatskin, were originally made from carved wood, but were later more commonly made from small rum barrels. Traditionally three drums are used. The centre drum, and the most important of the three, is called the cot drum and is traditionally made with the skin of a young ewe goat to produce a higher note. A piece of cotton thread with three or four straight pins is attached to the top of the drum to add a unique sound. Always standing upright in the centre of the group, the cot drum is responsible for leading the rhythm and requires a skilled and experienced player.

The Big Drum Dance is a manifestation of the past and is now not only a key feature of Carriacou’s cultural legacy, but also very much an integral part of everyday life on the island.

If you are fortunate enough to see a Big Drum Dance during your visit to Carriacou, you will be immediately struck by how much more African, rather than Creole or Caribbean, the celebration actually is. The music, the singing, the dance and the drums themselves will transport you into the past, to a dark time, when people were plucked from their homes in Africa and brought to these islands where they were forced to spend generations enslaved. It is a very spiritual experience.

Back to the top

Grenada articles

View all

A self-guided tour of St George’s

Author Paul Crask takes us on a walking tour of the beautiful Grenadian capital. 

Read more...

The Bianca C

Bianca C  is the Caribbean’s largest diveable shipwreck. Nicknamed ‘the Titanic of the Caribbean’, this wreck is an atmospheric and interesting dive.

Read more...

Walking in Carriacou

Author Paul Crask explores enchanting Carriacou in the Southern Grenadines on foot, proving walking is the best method of transport around the island.

Read more...

Related guides and other books

View all