by John Angus Martin, A-Z of Grenada Heritage
On this day, 30 May 1650, over 40 Amerindians jumped to their deaths at Sauteurs, St Patrick, preferring death instead of surrender to the French.
The events that led to the “leap” off the hill at Sauteurs are shrouded in a tale of war, colonization, love, revenge, greed, deceit and genocide, and have been subjected to centuries of mythology. The story begins with the Island Carib Thomas, who having been rejected by Chief Duquesne’s daughter, killed her brother and ran away to Martinique. While in Martinique, Thomas informed Governor Du Parquet that he could “deliver” the Island Caribs of Grenada because he knew of their secret meeting place. On 30 May 1650 a force of 60 men, under the cover of darkness, surprised the Island Caribs in a cabet or “long house,” situated on a hill overlooking the sea, and began a bloody slaughter. As many as 40 Island Caribs may have plunged several hundred feet to their deaths. Rather than offer an inglorious surrender to the French, the Island Caribs committed an act that has left them a legacy remembered today as a symbol of resistance to European domination. The hill from which they leapt bore the French name Le Morne des Sauteurs: “Hill of Leapers/Jumpers,” and was later affixed to the town that developed around the small bay.
A number of writers seem to think that this bloody attack against the Island Caribs represented the annihilation of their population on Grenada, but they survived into the mid-1700s in much reduced circumstances. Symbolically, though, the Leapers’ Hill incident was the turning point in the Island Carib struggle against the French in the latter’s favor.
The site attracts visitors who are probably awed by this ultimate act of self-sacrifice, but the outcome nonetheless evokes sadness and anger. It has inspired poets, film makers, singers and artists who feel compelled to retell this tragic tale. For centuries the solitary hill represented a natural monument, but was superseded in 2007 by a marble plaque. It is rather ironic that the new monument, in attempting to honour the sacrifice of the Island Caribs, chose a Christian crucifix as part of its symbolism. For a people who fought against European cultural imperialism and died defending their culture, this monument is probably not the most fitting. But monuments are not always for the dead, but the living.