Grenada is one of the smallest independent countries in the western hemisphere. Known as the Spice island, it is the world’s second-largest producer of nutmeg after Indonesia and a significant producer of mace, cinnamon, ginger and cloves. It also boasts beautiful scenery with fertile valleys, rainforests and mountain lakes.
English is the official language of the country, but many Grenadians speak patois, a dialect that combines English words with elements of French and African languages.
Most of Grenada’s population is black, having descended from African slaves, and there is a large minority of mixed raced people. There are also small minorities of East Indians, descendants of indentured labourers brought to replace the freed slaves; descendants of the old French and British settlers; and more-recent immigrants from North America and Europe.
The country’s cuisine reflects a variety of influences: Amerindian, African, French, British, and East Indian. The national dish is called oildown and is a combination of breadfruit, coconut milk, turmeric, dumplings, callaloo and salted meat such as saltfish, smoked herring or salt beef. The meal is cooked in coconut milk until it is completely absorbed. A popular breakfast drink on the island is cocoa tea, made from local cocoa and spices.
Before the 14th century, Grenada was settled by Caribs, who displaced the earlier population of Arawaks. The island was sighted by Christopher Columbus on 15 August 1498, when he sailed past the island without landing and gave it the name Concepción. However, passing Spanish sailors thought its lush green hills reminded them of a region in Spain called Andalusia so they rejected this name in favour of Granada. The French later called it La Grenade, and the British followed suit, changing Grenade to Grenada
European settlement was slow to follow, due to the fierce resistance of the warlike Caribs, although Britain and France, in particular, competed for control. In 1605 British merchants attempted to form a settlement, but the Caribs forced them to leave.
The French launched more intensive attacks and by 1674, they had killed the Caribs and gained control of the island. By 1753, the island was a flourishing French colony, with 100 sugar mills and 12,000 enslaved Africans working the industry.
France formally relinquished Grenada to Britain in 1763 by the Treaty of Paris. In 1779 it was recaptured by the French, but it was restored to Britain in 1783.
In the late 18th century, the British introduced the cultivation of cocoa, cotton and nutmeg and imported large numbers of slaves from Africa to work the plantations. During 1795 and 1796, when French policy favoured the abolition of slavery, a rebellion against British rule occurred, led by a French planter and supported by the French in Martinique. The rebels massacred a number of the British, including the lieutenant governor, but the uprising was crushed. The emancipation of the slaves finally took effect in 1833. By then, the slave population had reached 24,000.
Grenada was headquarters of the British Windward Islands government from 1885 until 1958 when Grenada joined the West Indies Federation. The federation ended in 1962. On 3 March 1967, the island became a self-governing state in association with the United Kingdom.
In the general election of August 1967, the Grenada United Labour Party defeated the Grenada National Party and took office under the premiership of Eric Matthew Gairy.
In the early 1970s, Premier Gairy announced that he intended to seek Grenada’s independence from Britain. Mr Gairy was facing opposition inside and outside of parliament from his political rivals who objected to his style of leadership.
The leadership of both the Grenada National Party of Herbert Blaize and the New Jewel Movement of Maurice Bishop had their reservations about Mr Gairy’s independence plans. They made those reservations known when discussions opened with Britain on the path to independence for Grenada. Despite the objections and an eventual boycott of the ongoing talks with Britain by the opponents, Mr Gairy persevered and Britain granted Grenada independence on 7 February 1974.
Grenada continued to practise an adapted Westminster parliamentary system based on the British model with a governor-general appointed by and representing the British monarch and a prime minister who is both leader of the majority party and the head of government.
Opposition to Gairy’s rule continued to mount. On 13 March 1979, while Gairy was out of the country, the New Jewel Movement staged a bloodless coup, proclaimed a People’s Revolutionary Government, and named their leader, Maurice Bishop, as prime minister. The new government faced opposition from Western nations because of its socialist principles and the substantial aid it had received from Cuba, but it embarked on a program to rebuild the economy, which had been left in disarray by Gairy.
The People’s Revolutionary Government administration was ended in October 1983 by a military coup, during which Bishop was killed.
This coup provided a pretext for a US invasion of the island on 25 October, when US President Ronald Reagan sent thousands of US troops to ‘liberate’ the island, claiming that the Cubans were constructing an airbase. Free elections were established a year later and have continued since then.
In September 2004, Hurricane Ivan wreaked havoc in Grenada, causing the deaths of at least 39 people and wiping out most of the country’s agriculture-based economic infrastructure and much of its tourism facilities. In 2005, hurricane Emily did further damage to the agricultural industry.
The agricultural sector has gradually recovered from the hurricanes but the economic situation in Grenada is fragile. Agriculture and tourism are the most important sectors of the economy, although fishing and agriculturally based industries are becoming more significant.
Poverty in Grenada has been a struggle for decades. Increasing numbers of Grenada’s younger population are staying away from the agriculture industry because of its perceived instability. They generally prefer careers in the tourism industry but many lack the professional skills they need.
The government is making strides to alleviate many of the issues that stem from or cause poverty in Grenada.