The tranquility and beauty of Grenada belie a history fraught with upheavals which began with its volcanic eruption from the sea thousands of years ago. Its first known inhabitants were Arawak Indians, who canoed from the nearby South American continent all the way up the Caribbean island chain. They were followed by another, fiercer group, the Caribs, who supplanted them.
In 1498 the island of Grenada was spotted and named Concepcion by Christopher Columbus. No doubt the then-resident Carib Indians and their predecessors had their own name for this mountainous green island, but they have all perished. Reminded of Andalusia, a region of southern Spain, passing Spanish sailors began calling it Granada, and in one form or another, the name stuck as the island subsequently changed hands. It was the British who gave it the current spelling and pronunciation (Gre-NAY-da.)
The British tried in 1609 to get a grip on Grenada, but were routed by the Caribs. In 1650, some Frenchmen from Martinique tried to “buy” land from them, but peace was not included in the purchase, and running battles ensued. By 1651, only 40 Caribs were left. Man, woman and child all jumped to their death from a cliff at the northern end of Grenada rather than submit to European rule. The site is now named Morne des Sauteurs, or Caribs Leap.
The French and British battled for possession of Grenada for the next 90 years, leaving a legacy of forts, cannon, and French place names. Overlooking St. George’s Harbour are enduring relics of that struggle, Fort Frederick, Fort Matthew and Fort George. In the early 1700s, sugar and tobacco were Grenada’s main products. Later, this was to include cocoa, coffee and cotton.
With the Treaty of Versailles in 1783, Grenada was ceded to Britain. The British proceeded to import large numbers of slaves from Africa and to extend their sugarcane plantations. Their rule was challenged again in 1795, when under the leadership of Julian Fedon, a French Mulatto planter inspired by the French Revolution; the slaves rebelled and for a short time gained virtual control of Grenada. The rebellion was soon put down, and slavery continued as the mainstay of an agricultural economy until emancipation in 1834.
One of the nation’s most important dates is 1843, the year that nutmeg (clandestinely taken from Dutch-occupied Indonesia) was introduced into Grenada. In those days the commodity was nearly as precious as gold, due to its healing, preservative and flavouring qualities. Grenada’s soil and climate proved so hospitable that the island is the world’s second largest supplier of nutmeg and mace, the lacy red covering on the shell. Its export is second only to tourism in generating foreign exchange. It is grown by many individuals and processed cooperatively, a far cry from the plantation system that dominated Grenada’s early colonial days.
In 1877, Grenada became a Crown Colony, a status that lasted until 1967, when Grenada gained control of its internal affairs by becoming an associated state within the British Commonwealth. In 1974, full independence was achieved under the controversial leadership of Sir Eric Gairy.
A mere 5 years afterwards, Maurice Bishop and his radical New Jewel Movement seized power and established a socialist/communist government with ties to Cuba and the Soviet Union. In 1983, when Bishop and several aides were arrested and later executed by a faction within his party, the Governor-General called for military intervention. The USA, Jamaica and the Eastern Caribbean States responded with the now-famous “rescue mission” that restored order. In 1984 a general election was held, re-establishing a democratic government and a tranquility that befits the beauty of these little islands.
The last two decades has been one of development, especially in the tourism sector. At the same time, the tri-island nation has taken steps to preserve its magnificent natural environment, developing national parks and instituting protective measures for the rainforest and the coral reefs.