Grenadian Culture - The People Wants to Get Up

September 25, 2007

The Grenada of the New Jewel Movement is in cultural upheaval.
Grenadians have begun to examine
and to counter both the cultural re-
mains of colonial days and the re-
lentless cultural pressure from the
United States.
But something new has also be-
gun. You can hear it or see it in the
poetry, in the calypso, in dance or in
drama. Call it revolutionary culture.
Grenadians are voicing their anger
at past domination and are piecing
together a vision of the future they
The baggage of colonial days is
seen in a teacher's contempt for a
youngster's creole or in the stoical
sweating of a man properly wearing
a suit in 850 stickiness.
The cultural domination by the
United States is seen in the blond
smiling faces of Charlie's Angels on
the T-shirt of a black man.
It would be impossible to unbraid
all the historical strands that now
make up Grenada and neatly label
them colonial, neocolonial and
voila, Grenadian. What must be
started, as Amilcar Cabral, one of the
founders of the liberation move-
ments in the African Portuguese
colonies, said in a 1972 speech en-
titled "The Role of Culture in the
Liberation Struggle," is a sorting out
of the positive and negative ele-
ments in a culture.
No More Charlie's Angels
One of the main groups involved
in this sorting is Television Free Gre-
nada. Ironically and inspirationally it
is located at Sans Souci-the
former residence of Eric Gairy, the
labor leader turned dictator over-
thrown in 1979. The television
transmitter is in Gairy's old obeah
room, the walls still soot-stained
from offering candles. (Gairy turned
to the voodoo-like tradition of obeah
in his last years as a desperate way
to gain some support among the
older people of the island-and per-
haps as a way to soothe his own
Before Television Free Grenada,
says Elaine Baly, until recently
director of television, Grenadians
watched only rebroadcasts from
Trinidad or Barbados. They were
watching "Charlie's Angels" or
"The Odd Couple."
The programs came from the
United States and, to a lesser ex-
tent, from Great Britain. "I find that
U.S. programs are very imperialist
in outlook, and some of them are
very racist," Baly says. And they
idolize violence.
The role of Grenada's new televi-
sion, Baly continues, is to preserve
traditional Grenadian culture, to
Support for change comes from all age gr
"allow Grenadians to speak for
themselves, and to educate. She
gives an example of television at its
best. "The community of Birch
Grove completed its community
center, and television went out to
cover it. It was on the news, but the
people of that community couldn't
see it because no one had a televi-
sion set. So we organized an even-
ing, let everybody know, and took a
television monitor out there. We
showed them the news plus a
movie. They loved it; they want to
do this again."
The fact that a television crew
was able to cover the Birch Grove
event at all is because of Elaine Ba-
ly's philosophy of appropriate tech-
nology. The usual pattern when a
developing country wants to set up
a television system is that it turns to
the big systems in the United States,
Germany or France, she explains.
The big network advisers promote
the $90,000 cameras "which can't
go out into the bush where the peo-
ple are." Or they recommend a
mobile unit that is too large to
maneuver the roads.
Television Free Grenada uses
three-quarter-inch industrial equip-
ment. They have outfitted the com-
plete system for less than the cost
E 0,
NACLA Report 36update update update update
of one commercial camera. They
rely on small portable cameras:
"We can take the cameras to the
people rather than have them walk
into an imposing studio."
The emphasis is very much on the
average Grenadian, the people on
the street. "One of the crucial tasks
of television is to let people express
their opinions about whatever is go-
ing on here politically, socially,
culturally or economically. Grena-
dians resent being told what should
be going on here. Grenadians want
to hear from Grenadians."
English As A 2nd Language
Cultural modification or control
has been exercised in Grenada for
years through the system of educa-
tion. When Grenadians recount
schoolday stories, one prototypical
memory comes up again and again.
The youngster stands up in class to
retell Grandfather's story from the
night before. Grandfather's story
was in creole, so the child's retelling
is in creole. The child doesn't get
very far into the story before the
teacher interrupts to supply the
"proper English" terminology.
Creole in school was definitely
not acceptable. And since lan-
guage is a carrier of culture, the
message to the children was clear:
their culture was not acceptable.
Now, however, creole is beginning
to be encouraged in the classroom
and English treated as a second
language. The change is coming
through a national teacher educa-
tion project (NISTEP).
"We are trying to teach teachers
to be respectful of creole, not to
squash the children and make them
quiet," says Merle Hodge, one of the
main coordinators of the project.
NISTEP is trying to introduce
classroom teachers to the struc-
tures of creole so that they can
recognize areas of interference with
English. NISTEP's goal too is to
convince teachers to give creole a
respected place in the language
arts curriculum-especially in
drama, poetry and story-telling.
A System Designed To Kill
Caribbean self-contempt for
language, culture and blackness is
the ideological legacy of slavery,
colonialism and neo-colonialism.
Resistance to it did not begin, of
course, with the New Jewel Move-
ment in Grenada. What is happen-
ing now carries on from the Fedon
Rebellion (1795-96), from Rasta-
farianism and from the Black Power
"The Black Caribbean has been
deprived of dignity and has always
been in search of that," says Jacob
Ross-a poet, linguist, cultural an-
thropologist and now, with some
frustration, an administrator.
Jacob Ross is very much a sym-
bol of New Jewel Grenada: highly
talented, university educated
abroad, and running 14 hours a day
on nervous energy and political ex-
citement. Ross is the administrative
coordinator in the Department of
Culture of the People's Revolution-
ary Government.
In conversation Ross refers often
to Walter Rodney, the Guyanese
historian and Marxist assassinated
in 1980. "Rodney said that the
greatest miracle is the survival of
the Caribbean man-because he
was in a system designed to kill."
Slaves had to learn mechanisms
to live through that hell. "Our history
is full of rebellion and of flight. This is
fundamental. This is part of our
For Grenada, one of the heroes of
rebellion is Julien Fedon. The
rebellion of the Freedom Fighters
was waged jointly by the French
and free blacks. For 15 months,
they withstood attacks from the
British, who had regained posses-
sion of Grenada in the Treaty of Ver-
sailles. Fedon and the rebels gained
control of the entire island except
They stirring up all kinds of strife
trying to make man lose their life
man we en tell them how to run
their own affairs or their government
but they so fresh to tell we
just what we need and what friends
to keep
but they never want to realize
it is we are the ones who fighting to
We en want no fight, we en want no
just leave we alone let we build we
but if they continue to destabilize
tell them is fire, fire, fire.
So many times we try to strive
but obstacles just seems to rise
for many years we had to
scrunt for a meal and place to live
well where were they to help we
in them days of need no one took
but now as the country start to strive
every Tom, Dick, and Harry want to
rule we life.
They get up tight cause we unite
they want to stir us up to fight
those imperialist puppets
wants to see us fall back to the dogs
but we are strong and no how
they could keep us down, down on
the ground
and though some ah we may fight
and die
Grenada will rise no matter what they
Some news media in the area
find great pleasure in propaganda
they always spreading all sorts
of bad rumors about Grenada
but when it comes to speaking
about the truth, they were mute
but we are a united one
a model to the rest of the Caribbean.
George Peters
SeptlOct 1962
37update update update update
for the capital, St. George's. The
British responded by sending out a
fleet surrounding Fedon's camps,
and finally defeated the exhausted
Creole too was a form of rebel-
lion, Ross adds. "We rebelled
against the language of our mas-
ters. We learned just enough to
communicate; the rest we retained
for ourselves." And the same held
true for religion. The slave first and
later the black people living under
the colonial system may have been
outwardly Christian. But shango
and obeah, forms of spiritual beliefs
brought from Africa, were very alive
beneath the surface.
The Power of the Drums
"We needed something to be-
lieve in and hold onto," Jacob Ross
stresses. "Many people were look-
ing for the same thing in Rastafarianism."
Rastafarianism was one of the
movements that had profound sym-
bolic and psychological impact in
Grenada. The other was the Black
Power movement. Granted, it orig-
inated in the United States, says
Ross, but it found fertile ground in
the Caribbean. Ross remembers
his secondary school years in the
early seventies: "Kids were reading
[Stokely] Carmichael, Malcolm X,
Angela Davis. They were identify-
ing with the struggles in Africa.
They would learn the speeches of
Martin Luther King and Malcolm X
and recite them to drums."
Eric Gairy sensed the power of
the drums. Many Grenadians now
tell of police crashing into rooms or
seizing upon groups in the streets to
destroy the drums.
With the New Jewel Movement,
the destroying of the drums was
over. The poetry, the music and the
drumming that had been clandes-
tine moved out into the open. More
than that, the people's cultural ex-
pressions were now encouraged.
"We have to reconstruct the
psyche of our people," says Jacob
Ross. To begin nation-building we
must restore our pride. This is a cul-
tural issue: we have to begin look-
ing inwards, not outwards. We see
culture as a tool for liberation-lib-
eration doesn't just come with the
gun, but with the understanding of
One of the clearest voices now
speaking openly for the Grenadian
experience is poet Garvin Nantam-
bu. He will undoubtedly become a
folk hero or cultural star. When he
walks through a crowd at a rally,
one senses an appreciative rustle.
On stage, he has presence. His
poetry is direct, unambiguous,
sometimes angry.
He started writing in 1978, at the
age of 13, inspired by an anti-Gairy
cultural group and by the progres-
sive lyrics in reggae. His poetry
comes from everyday living. "At
times an experience with a person
prompts me-to write, or the exper-
ience of a people. I write about the
global struggle against the common
There is no tradition of poetry in
Grenada, he says. "It's a new way
of expressing ourselves, and it is
gaining momentum." His own pop-
ularity started after he had read a
few of his poems at public meet-
ings. Now people come up to him
and show him what they have writ-
ten. "Their verses are simple, but it
is beautiful-they are trying to
reflect their ordinary way of life. It in-
spires me to write."
Bypassing Grenadian Music
The Grenadian experience also
comes through, not surprisingly, in
calypso. Of course, calypso has
long been a political statement set
to music. But its strength has been
in Trinidad. Mighty Sparrow, born in
Grenada, went to Trinidad to make
his politically satirical music. Now
Grenada listens to "Innocent
Blood," "Struggle for Freedom,"
and "Blackman See Yourself."
George Peters was crowned ca-
lypso king in Grenada's 1980 Carni-
val for his song "Destabilizers." His
calypso name is Survivor, "be-
cause I lived to see the revolution."
His band is, amazingly, the police
band. (He has been with the police
force for eight years-with an inter-
ruption when he was kicked out for
his outspokenness during the worst
of the Gairy repression, to when he
was rehired by the PRG.)
He talks about the changes in the
band's music as a symbol of the
changes in Grenada. The police
band dutifully produced tunes im-
ported from England, he recounts.
"We didn't even think we were by-
passing the music of our people."
Then their repertoire expanded to
include U.S. pop tunes, "but we still
didn't see our music."
With the political changes came a
musical convulsion. "Now we al-
most don't want to play classical
music. We want to play our own.
We look at calypso as a messenger
of the people, getting the informa-
tion of the day, putting it into song
and giving it back."
The process Survivor speaks
about is happening in popular
theater, in dance, in the visual arts.
The government is helping by spon-
soring exchanges, exhibitions, per-
formances and publications. But it
is the ordinary Grenadians-office
workers, teachers, accountants,
farmers, students, unemployed
young people-who are carrying
the surge forward. Whether it is the
billboard saying "Women Step For-
ward" or the painting of Grenadian
martyrs on a street wall in Gouyave,
there is something palpable hap-
Survivor put it simply: "In culture,
the people wants to get up."

Tags: Grenada, cultural renewal, TV, bilingual, New Jewel Movement

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