The original people
The recorded history of Grenada dates back to the early 1600′s. The original people, subsistence agriculturalists, are thought to have come by canoe from the Orinoco Basin in what is now Venezuela in the first century AD. The Arawak people followed in the sixth century, who named the island Ciboney. The next wave of immigrants were the ‘Caribs’, who arrived in the fifteenth century and conquered the Arawak nation and renamed the place Camerhogne. European history has described the Caribs as ‘cannibals’ but there is no proof that this was the case. Their correct historical name is the Kalinago. Christopher Columbus sailed by on the Santa Maria and gave the name Concepcion, in honour of the Madonna. This is reflected on the coat of arms with a Madonna lily. The area is still sometimes referred to as the “West Indies”; a legacy of Columbus thinking he was on his way to India!
The French arrived in the early 1600′s and after being fought off on numerous occasions by the Caribs they made a violent entrance by almost wiping out the entire Amerindian population. Sauteurs (‘Leapers’ in French), in St.Patrick’s is renowned to be where the last of the Carib people leapt to their death rather than be enslaved by the French. Some Carib people, however, did live on and intermingled with the incoming African population, forming Maroon societies in some of the most inaccesible areas of Grenada.
As the enslavement of the Caribs did not work out for the French, nor European indentured labour, they turned to Africa for their free labour. African people were captured in West Africa and brought to Grenada as in the entire region in the infamous slave trade and forced to work in brutal and degrading conditions. They began to arrive in Grenada soon after the establishment of French rule.
There was a power struggle between the French and the British over a period of years. In 1762 the French surrendered to a British squadron and Grenada remained under British control until the French recaptured it in 1779. However the Treaty of Versailles 1783 handed it back (including Carriacou and Petite Martinique) to the British. In 1795/6 the Fedon rebellion occurred which almost led to emancipation at that time.
The Fedon Rebellion
Julien Fedon, a French-African planter allied with other ‘free coloured’ and slaves to overthrow the British. The French agreed to free all slaves at that time. The fact that Fedon allied with the slaves in Grenada shows that the underlying cause of the armed struggle that began in 1795 was the injustices of the slave system, not just a French-British conflict which is often put forward. Fedon, after 15 months of struggle almost succeeded in his task, but a large British force attacked from outside and eventually overcame the rebels.
The slave trade was abolished in 1833, however, the planters tried to keep the ex-slaves in a system of unpaid apprenticeship and repression. The majority of farmers, though, became independent farmers. Groups of indentured servants were brought in to take over the slaves’ labour on the plantations, some Yoruba, some from Madeira and Malta. Labourers arrived from India during 1856-1861 and the majority of them stayed on and became farmers. After emancipation a third of the adult male population were smallholders and the rest working on the estates in a feudal relationship.
The early 20th century
Protests came from the newly-emergent middle-class, challenging the British Crown and the planter class during the early part of the twentieth century. T. A. Marryshow was an important intellectual figure with a concern for the poor and holding to the ideas of Caribbean unity and African pride. Unions were allowed in the 1930′s but the working class did not ally with this mainly middle-class movement.
Gairy and Independence
Eric Gairy in the 1950′s became the spokesman for the working class and peasantry. He rallied the masses in the country in a General Strike in 1951. Universal Suffrage had just come in and Gairy won the election. He became the Chief Minister of State in 1961, the Premier with Associated Statehood in 1967 and the first Prime Minister in 1974. However, he went on to create a repressive regime with economic deterioration and in March 1979 in a coup the socialist New Jewel Movement took over with Maurice Bishop at its head.
Revolution, Invasion and Since…
The Revolution, or ‘Revo’ as it was called, made great strides in the areas of health and education and social cooperation, with the help of Cuba. However, during this four-year period detentions became more common and eventually on October 19, 1983 a more radical wing of the party took over, killing Bishop and many of his supporters. The American government launched their famous ‘rescue mission’ and installed an interim government until elections the following year.
Grenada has been a democracy since, with several changes of government. Elections in July 2008 brought a change of government, with the ruling New National Party voted out in favour of the National Democratic Congress with Tillman Thomas at its head. There will be elections once more on 19 February 2013.