Today is Independence Day in Grenada, an island nation consisting of the island of Grenada and six smaller islands at the southern end of the Grenadines in the southeastern Caribbean Sea. Grenada is located northwest of Trinidad and Tobago, northeast of Venezuela, and southwest of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. It measures 344 square kilometers (133 sq mi), with an estimated population of 110,000. It is one of the world’s largest exporters of nutmeg and mace (both products of the same tree).
On March 17, 1649, a French expedition of 203 men from Martinique led by Jacques du Parquet founded a permanent settlement on Grenada. Within months this led to conflict with the local islanders which lasted until 1654 when the island was completely subjugated by the French. Those indigenous islanders who survived either left for neighboring islands or retreated to remoter parts of Grenada where they were marginalized—the last distinct communities disappeared during the 18th century. Warfare continued during the 17th century between the French on Grenada and the Caribs of present day Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The French named the new French colony La Grenade, and the economy was initially based on sugar cane and indigo. The French established a capital known as Fort Royal (later St. George). To shelter from hurricanes the French navy would often take refuge in the capital’s natural harbor, as no nearby French islands had a natural harbor to compare with that of Fort Royal. The British captured Grenada during the Seven Years’ War in 1762.
Grenada was formally ceded to Britain by the Treaty of Paris in 1763. The French re-captured the island during the American War of Independence, after Comte d’Estaing won the bloody land and naval Battle of Grenada in July 1779. However the island was restored to Britain with the Treaty of Versailles in 1783. Britain was hard pressed to overcome a pro-French revolt in 1795–1796 led by Julien Fedon.
Nutmeg was introduced to Grenada in 1843 when a merchant ship called in on its way to England from the East Indies. The ship had a small quantity of nutmeg trees on board which they left in Grenada, and this was the beginning of Grenada’s nutmeg industry that now supplies nearly 40% of the world’s annual crop.
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 1921–1922 concluded that Grenada was ready for constitutional reform in the form of a ‘modified’ Crown colony government. This modification granted Grenadians the right to elect 5 of the 15 members of the Legislative Council, on a restricted property franchise enabling the wealthiest 4% of adult Grenadians to vote.
In 1950, Eric Gairy founded the Grenada United Labour Party, initially as a trades union, which led the 1951 general strike for better working conditions. This sparked great unrest—so many buildings were set ablaze that the disturbances became known as the ‘red sky’ days—and the British authorities had to call in military reinforcements to help regain control of the situation. On October 10, 1951, Grenada held its first general elections on the basis of universal adult suffrage. Gairy’s Party won 6 of the 8 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 from British rule was granted on 7 February 1974 under the leadership of Eric Gairy, who became the first Prime Minister of Grenada.
A large majority of Grenadine citizens (82%) are descendants of the African slaves brought by the English and French; few of the indigenous Carib and Arawak population survived the incident at Sauteurs. Here, most of the remaining Caribs jumped off a 40-meter-tall cliff, later named Caribs’ Leap, to their deaths in 1651 rather than face domination by the conquering French. “Sauteurs” is French for “leapers.” Indentured workers from India were brought to Grenada mainly from the North Indian states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh between May 1, 1857 – January 10, 1885. Today, Grenadians of Indian descent comprise the second largest ethnic group. There is also a small community of French and English descendants. The rest of the population is of mixed descent (13%).
Grenada, like many of the Caribbean islands is subject to continual migration, with a large number of young people wanting to leave the island to seek life elsewhere. With 110,000 people living in Grenada, estimates and census data suggest that there are at least that number of Grenadian-born people in other parts of the Caribbean (such as Barbados and Trinidad) and at least that number again in First World countries. Popular migration points for Grenadians further north include New York City, Toronto, the United Kingdom (in particular, London and Yorkshire) and sometimes Montreal, or as far south as Australia. This means that only around a third of those born in Grenada still live there.
The official language, English, is used in the government, but Grenadian Creole is considered the lingua franca of the island. There are two types of Grenadian Creole, Grenadian Creole English (which is dominant) and Grenadian Creole French (spoken by between 10%-20% of the population). Although French influence on Grenadian culture is much less visible than on other Caribbean islands, surnames and place names in French remain, and the everyday language is laced with French words.
An important aspect of the Grenadian culture is the tradition of story telling, with folk tales bearing both African and French influences. The character, Anancy, 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 Diablesse, a well-dressed she-devil, and Ligaroo (from Loup Garoux), a werewolf.
French influence is found in the well seasoned spicy food and styles of cooking similar to those found in New Orleans, and, like New Orleans, some French architecture has survived from the 18th century. Island culture is heavily influenced by the African roots of most of the Grenadians, but Indian influence is also seen with dhal puri, rotis, Indian sweets, cassava, and curries in the cuisine.
The oil down is the national dish of Grenada. The name refers to the fact that the dish is cooked in coconut milk 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, pigs’ feet, salt beef and chicken, dumplings made from flour, and vegetables like breadfruit, green banana, yam, and potatoes. Callaloo leaves are sometimes used to retain the steam and for extra flavor. This recipe is adapted from one on the official government web site.
I’m not sure I trust politicians to teach me how to cook, but the recipe seems sound. I have not made this yet because of my inability to get crucial ingredients, such as breadfruit and callaloo, in Buenos Aires. They are reasonably easy to find canned in the First World in places with large Caribbean immigrant populations, although what passes for callaloo varies from island to island in the Caribbean.
Dasheen refers to the whole taro plant, tubers (taro) and leaves (callaloo). The original recipe was not clearly written so I had to rewrite most of it (among other things the dasheen was mentioned in the ingredients list, but not in the instructions!). Don’t let civil servants write recipes! As you can imagine there are as many variants of boil down as there are cooks. There is a saying in Grenada, “Cooking is just like religion. Recipes don’t make a cook any more than sermons make a saint.” There is a video at the end of the recipe for another take on oil down suitable for North American and European cooks. The flour dumplings are akin to dumplings in the south of the U.S., that is, flour and water pasta.
Grenadian Oil Down
8-10 young dasheen tops, chopped
1 sprig celery, chive, and thyme
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
2 green peppers chopped
1 lb flour dumplings
2 tsps tumeric
½ lb salt meat (pre-soaked overnight)
1 large breadfruit
2 cups coconut milk
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
1 whole hot chile
Wash and peel the breadfruit. Cut it into 8 sections and cut away the center.
Wash and scrape the meat. Cut it into bite-sized pieces and rinse it in lime juice and water.
Put all the ingredients into a large stock pot. Simmer partially covered until the meat and vegetables are tender and the coconut milk is completely reduced.