By Terry Noel
It is quite normal and prudent for any civilised society to preserve, promote and harness its history for the benefit of its people and future generations despite how painful and surreal it may be. If we lack the ability to do it then who will do it for us? Moreover, preserving and promoting one’s history will eventually and ultimately instil self-pride and self-worth among our people with the drive to motivate our citizens and move our country forward.
According to Marcus Garvey, “a people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots”. It is from this very historical past that a nation draw its strength, courage, and the enthusiasm as its people aspire to be resilient which will most definitely help to shape a more positive consciousness for the benefit of our nation in general.
Unfortunately though, Grenada seems to ignore the great contribution and significance of its revolutionary history. For instance, in 1796, Julien Fédon who led one of the Caribbean’s greatest rebellion, a rebellion according to scholars which came closest to replicating the Haitian revolution, was never given heroic status for his heroic efforts. Not even a plaque or a monument was erected in his honour. In contrast, in Barbados, amidst the naming of places and buildings, they have went further to erect statues and monuments throughout the country to honour most of their heroes and former leaders since the many historians there understand the importance and significance of maintaining and promoting their history, with the view to inspire a generation and future generations, being proud of their nationhood.
However, unlike Grenada, Barbados never had a revolution, but in 1816, like many other Caribbean countries, it had experienced a slave revolt called the Bussa Rebellion. An African born slave named Bussa led the rebellion and died in battle. Despite the rebellion only lasting for 3 days and quickly put down by the British, Barbadians proclaimed Bussa a national hero and unveiled a statue monument along with the naming of a roundabout in his honour. On the other hand, in Grenada, Julien Fédon who led a slave rebellion in 1796, and had controlled the island for 14 months straight — is unable to receive such an accolade. Regrettably, Grenada has not yet come to that realisation and pays little or no attention to preserving its revolutionary heritage.
Lately, there has been a lot of talk about the construction of the new Parliament Building which was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. One wonders who will finance this worthwhile project since the Australian government had reneged on its goodwill gesture to finance the construction. This has no doubt come with growing speculation that the Australian government changed its mind on financing the project due to a lack of trust of the elected government. However, my issues are not so much to do with the information as it pertains to the reneging of the Australian government in financing the project, but more so about the site chosen for the rebuilding of the project itself. And, although I am not against the construction of the Parliament Building, something that is long overdue, the site chosen for the building in my view is inappropriate and a disgrace, since it involves the demolishing of the former residence of the former Prime Minister, Maurice Bishop, at Mt Wheldale, St George.
While credit must be given to the former Minister of Sports Patrick Simons, for initiating the naming of roundabouts, and stands at the National Stadium after sports personalities, it appears as though that certain governments officials take very little interest in preserving, promoting and maintaining our history and in so doing, contribute to the destruction of our rich history. It has been declared that the new site chosen for the construction of the new parliament building will be at the former residence of the great revolutionary leader, Maurice Bishop, at Mt Wheldale, St George. Are we on a campaign to destroy our revolutionary past?
Bishop’s Residence, likewise Fort George/Fort Rupert, bears a huge chunk of Grenada’s revolutionary history, and every effort should be made to preserve them — eventually making them heritage sites. It means therefore, that this important historical building which was once the residence of the former revolutionary leader – which should be restored and preserved to its original form – will eventually be demolished to accommodate the erecting of the new Parliament Building. This significant historical building played a significant role during the collapse of the People’s Revolutionary Government where Maurice Bishop and Jacqueline Creft were placed under house arrest by a faction of the Central Committee loyal to Bernard Coard. In fact, it was at this very same residence that the Grenadian masses, on learning that their popular leader was under house arrest, descended and invaded the compound during a mass protest following a series of demonstrations across the country in a successful bid to release their comrade leader along with Jacqueline Creft.
Historically, since the beginning of our civilisation, Grenadians had constructed a unique history with a revolutionary consciousness rooted in our veins. Since the struggle of the Caribs’ resistance against the French who, rather than subduing themselves to the colonial power, chose to commit suicide and leap to their deaths at Leapers Hill, Sauteurs, St Patrick. Then, in 1795, the Fédon Rebellion, and later in 1979, the Grenada Revolution led by Maurice Bishop, being the only country in the English-speaking Caribbean to execute revolution which eventually coincided with the Cold War. This should not be taken lightly and is worth shouting.
In fact, scholars argued that the end of the Cold War did not just end with the fall of Communism in the Soviet Union in 1991, but started with the collapse of the Grenada Revolution on 25 October 1983, as the US sought to dominate the world. According to Wendy Grenade, “In hindsight, the United States was unjustifiably hostile to Grenada. It uses its power against a small state as one of its tactics in its larger strategy to reclaim US pre-eminence in the world.” In other words, Grenada found itself entangled with international politics between the world’s two super powers which gives even more support to the importance of documenting and preserving our rich history.
However, in going forward, Grenada needs to create linkages between our revolutionary past and the tourism sector. This in itself could give an added boost to our tourism industry. Preserving or recreating the former Prime Minister’s residence to its original form, showcasing the rooms where Bishop and Creft were under house arrest can certainly add to our tourism product, where tourists and ordinary Grenadians can visit on a regular basis. In addition, a special museum should be established to showcase our revolutionary past and to highlight weapons such as the Soviet BTR Tanks that were used to massacre demonstrators at Fort George/Fort Rupert; those used in the US invasion, as well as other weapons that were used during the revolutionary period such as the anti-aircraft guns, etc. While most Caribbean countries compete in the same tourism market, other than Haiti and Cuba, Grenada has something extraordinary and different to offer than the rest, which is our revolutionary past.
Additionally, the upper floor of Fort George/Fort Rupert — the exact site of the execution should be transformed into a shrine as a form of respect to our fallen comrades. Having a plaque pinned to a wall with names of the deceased is just not enough to honour our heroes who gave their lives in order to prevent a civil war which could have resulted in a further bloodbath and the countless killing of innocent Grenadians. In fact, the wall against which Bishop and others were lined up during the execution should be symbolic to the Grenadian people. This wall should be of vital importance and should be treated with some level of reverence. It should mean what the Wailing Wall means to the Israeli people and the Berlin Wall means to the German people. Over the years very little was done or even said about these historic places. Maybe the time is right for Grenadians to get involved to make a change.
Nevertheless, credit must be given to the young reporter from the GBN Television who for the first time, never having seen before, reported on the dilapidated condition of the former Prime Minister’s residence, at Mt Wheldale. His story revealed that the house in question was abandoned over the years with no attention or maintenance work whatsoever and was left in ruins. In fact, it is so dilapidated that trees and vines can be seen growing inside and outside the building itself. Is this the kind of legacy we intend to leave for our children and grandchildren?
What is even more interesting, is that organisations such as the Grenada National Trust and The Willie Redhead Foundation – that are responsible for promoting and maintaining our heritage – apparently remain silent or refuse to address these issues. Therefore, since these organisations remain silent on these pertinent issues, it is incumbent on us now as concerned citizens to take charge and take matters into our own hands and lead the fight, rather than allow our history to fade away and eventually be forgotten.
In hindsight, it will be remis of me to ignore the barbarity, callousness, hurt and pain associated with the revolution, especially at its culmination and its tragic demise which, no doubt, has left a devastating stain on the Grenadian psyche where many had preferred to distance themselves from the topic in order to heal, which is understandable — but this does not give credence to turning a blind eye to our revolutionary history. The mere fact that it has happened means that it is part of our history and cannot be ignored. It is important that we properly document it and embrace it as part and parcel of our history. We can use our revolutionary past to our advantage by linking it to our tourism industry which will most definitely add to the tourism product, thereby enhancing our economy on the long run giving it and added boost. Three decades have passed for grieving and healing and we need to move on. Forgetting our past is definitely not the ideal thing to do. Moreover, it should be mandatory that the Grenada Revolution be a part of the secondary school curriculum and be taught at all levels if we are serious about saving our heritage.
Terry Noel has a BA in History with Political Science from The University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus Barbados; and a former Vice-President of the Historical Society at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, Barbados.