A Call to Preserve Grenada’s Heritage

Dr Paula V Saunders, Associate Professor of Anthropology at CUNY, the City University of New York, USA. Photo CUNY

by Donella Hosten

The Institute for People’s Enlightenment in collaboration with the UWI Open Campus, Grenada hosted its annual Emancipation Day lecture on 31 July 2017, under the theme ‘The Plantation Landscape and Industrial Heritage of Grenada,’ in the run up to Emancipation Day.

Grenadian born Paula Saunders, a registered archaeologist and lecturer at the City University of New York was the guest speaker for this year’s lecture, held at Norton Hall on Church Street, St George’s.

In an exclusive interview before the lecture, Dr Saunders indicated that she would be focusing on the preservation of Grenada’s heritage – plantation landscape, architectural structures, cultural and natural heritage, including island’s rivers and beaches. “All of these things that are part of our heritage, need to be protected and preserved for future generations,” she said. Historically, persons used the beaches and rivers to wash, for healing purposes and rituals. Nowadays, some areas are used as dumping sites or for other purposes.

Saunders firmly believes that Grenadian identity formed on plantation spaces. Every part of Grenada’s culture and heritage stemmed from slavery; from the way foods are prepared, to the building of houses. She said foods such as breadfruit — which is used in Grenada’s national dish Oil Down — salted fish and smoked herring, were brought to Grenada to feed the slaves.

Saunders opined that oral traditions of storytelling, cultural dances and songs, need to be preserved and all need to be passed on. She mentioned Grenada’s Carnival celebrations, which is a big part of emancipation from slavery. According to her, persons need to know the significance of celebrating Emancipation Day on 1 August.

The Emancipation Act was passed on 1 August 1834. The Apprenticeship Period was the 4-year period between 1834 and 1838 when people were given the chance to transition from slavery into freedom.

Saunders stressed the importance of the word ‘Emancipation,’ positing that people need to ‘connect emancipation to slavery.’ “We are celebrating emancipation from slavery,” as slavery primarily existed on 90% of the island. “Every single person, no matter who you are, we all came from a plantation space.”

This part of Grenada’s heritage is seen during Carnival celebrations, where the use of masks mimic the Europeans’ masquerade and the masks they wore. The Jab Jab or Jab Molassie and Vieux Corps are just 2 groups of traditional mas (masquerade) with connections to emancipation. “We need to make the connections,” Saunders urged, as “it’s not just a great party, we need to reflect on why we celebrate.”

Saunders said the lecture would emphasise, ie the importance of the community — ‘We the People — taking charge of the heritage materials that we are living with, in the spaces where we saw our identities, traditions and practices develop.’ She hopes that her lecture will bring awareness to Grenadians, no matter where they are, about all the things that are part of their heritage. ‘At the end of it, what I’d like is for people to say is ‘what can I do?’ instead of simply agreeing with what is being said.

She also believes that policies ought to be put in place and enforced to protect Grenada’s heritage, because, “no matter who you are, no matter where you live, we all are surrounded by heritage.”

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