From The Amerindians to Independence

Sir Lawrence A Joseph

By Dr. Lawrence A. Joseph

From all appearances the island of Grenada was first inhabited by South American Indians called the Arawaks who were allegedly driven out by another set of Amerindians, called the Caribs around 1000 AD. They called the island Camerhogne. Evidence of their existence here in Grenada may be found in several parts of the island, and most notable are the Amerindian artefacts which have always shown up and continue to show up at Pearls in St. Andrew, and the Carib Stone in St. Patrick. A most magnificent mural located on Lowther’s Lane, in St. George’s has vividly captured the way of life of the Amerindians. All praises go to the artist of this mural.

The first European to have sighted Grenada is recognised as being the maritime adventurer, Christopher Columbus. He did so in 1498 during his third voyage to what was regarded as “the new world”. Subsequent to this an attempt to colonize the island was first made by the British in 1609 but they were repulsed by the indigenous Caribs. However in 1650 the first Europeans to settle were the French, who allegedly exterminated the Caribs in 1657.

In 1763, by the Treaty of Paris, Grenada, together with some of the other nearby islands, was ceded to Britain by the French. The island was subsequently lost to the French again in 1779 but was restored to the British by the Treaty of Versailles in 1783. During the period of European colonization, a plantation economy developed, based on labour from African slaves. The British abolished the slave trade in 1807, and the slaves received their emancipation in 1834. Following this, a form of indentured labour was organized with some citizens being brought in from India in an attempt to supplement the limited labour supply in the country.

In 1877, the British instituted a Crown Colony system of government with Executive power being placed in the hands of a British appointed Governor, who was answerable to the British government. He was assisted by nominated executive and legislative councils. With a few modifications, this system of government remained in place until about the year 1951. Well renowned Grenadian political scientist the late Dr. Patrick Emmanuel reported that “High property and income qualifications restricted the right to vote to the small socio-economic elite groups in the society. Even higher qualifications for elected membership made certain that only those persons in the top propertied and income brackets could gain access to the legislature as elected members”.

According to Dr. Emmanuel, the year 1951, saw “the beginning of the dismantling of the Crown Colony system” in Grenada. In that year, there were outbreaks of anti-elite violence and occurrences of general strikes, led by trade unionist Eric Matthew Gairy who established a mass based trade union movement and political party. Soon thereafter, all adults were entitled to participate in general elections, that is, universal adult suffrage was granted, and by 1956, elected members on the Executive Council were given the majority of seats, with ministerial port folios.

Associated Statehood with the United Kingdom was granted to the island in 1967, and Grenada shared a regional court together with other Associated States. Full Independent status was granted on 7 February 1974, when the Grenada Independence Order 1973 became effective. Sir Eric Mathew Gairy became the country’s first Prime Minister. The Independence Order was made by Her Majesty the Queen of the United Kingdom, by virtue and in the exercise of the powers vested in Her in that behalf by section 5(4) of the West Indies Act 1967.

The Independence Constitution is based on the Westminster type system of government. Parliament comprises the Queen represented by a Governor-General, a nominated Senate, and an elected House of Representatives. The government has the option of calling general elections at any time up to a five-year period. The written Constitution, inter alia, makes provisions for the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms, free and fair elections and a court system which is being shared by other regional states.

From the time of independence on 7 February 1974, constitutionalism was the order of the day. However, following a coup d’état on 13 March 1979, what was referred to as the People’s Revolutionary Government ruled the country for four and a half years until its demise on 19 October 1983. Following this, constitutionalism remained supreme with several general elections being held under this democratic system of government until the present time. This year, 2014, Grenada celebrates its 40th year of Independence. It is the hope of many that constitutionalism will continue to prevail for many more years to come.

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