The phrase, “Lest We Forget” is synonymous with World War II, soldiers are celebrated for their bravery and the suffering they endured.
With this celebration, the citizens of primarily Europe and North America are reminded of the suffering they endured and so are reluctant to repeat the same horrors. The Jews remember the Holocaust and its horrors so that they would never allow themselves to endure such suffering. As Grenadians of the black race, we endured the Transatlantic Slave Trade with its past horrors and present-day racism. In 2018 the President of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo stated, “We will work together to make sure that never again will we allow a handful of people with superior technology to walk into Africa, seize our peoples and sell them into slavery.” Currently, our children see the race riots on television and social media as a race experience, widespread racism and other injustices, but are parents having a discussion about the reasons behind the occurrences.
At 25 years of age on 1 August 2021 (Emancipation Day), my son stated, “I never knew there was a black holocaust.” Well, what do I say? I said to myself, he is old enough to google slavery on his own. And this gets even more complex as he is bi-racial. What do we teach our children, how do we teach them? I, as a black Grenadian, have failed to fulfill my role to educate my son about the intricacies of slavery, our Grenadian culture and history. I called my police friend and asked if he taught his children about slavery and he stated that she knows more about it because it is taught at the schools. Kudos to the teachers and other educators for being instrumental in teaching the children about our culture, history and heritage.
The Oxford Reference (dictionary) defines culture as such: “The way of life of a people, including their attitudes, values, beliefs, arts, sciences, modes of perception, and habits of thought and activity.” What comes to mind when one thinks of the words, “Grenadian culture?” To be honest, as I grow older I realise that my knowledge of our Grenadian culture and history is deficient. So, I am on a personal quest to learn about our collective culture and history.
My friend Osei, a native of Ghana recently asked what is the Grenadian culture and what is there to see or do in Grenada which is unique and special in regards to our slavery heritage? I hope he would visit soon to experience our wonderful culture and history on a slavery heritage tour. Mandoo Seales of Grenada Tours stated that Grenada has a vast range of historic and culturally significant locales including the town of Saint George with its historical buildings and picturesque Carenage which he calls the “Saint-Tropez of the Caribbean.”
In 2019 the Ghana Tourism Authority introduced the “Year of Return” campaign, inviting individuals in the diaspora to return to Ghana to visit, live and invest. The collective children of Ghana, dispersed in the far-flung corners of the world were asked to “return home to Ghana”. With this they saw an increase in slavery heritage tourism, now a boon for local tour operators. As we celebrate “carnival” let us with jubilation and reverence remember the true meaning of the season. Emancipation from slavery, the physical shackles are gone and as a global society, we should never allow ourselves as a collective group to stoop to such depravity.
Individuals such as Meschida Philip, the Founder and Managing Director of the 12°N61°W Film Festival (1261 Film Festival) believes Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique have a rich vault of untapped cultural stories which needs to be documented and shared with the next generation of Grenadians and the world. In relation to promoting our tri-island culture, she stated, “all of our programmes at 1261 Film Festival are geared towards promoting, emerging and seasoned Grenadian filmmakers, storytellers and other creatives both locally and in our diaspora on a global market.” Mprojekts Creative Group, the production company behind the 1261 Film Festival has launched the Grenada Filmmakers Incentives Programme (GFIP). GFIP provides festival-related support for Grenadian creatives partly in thanks to the UNESCO funding received for the 1261 Film Festival to promote arts and culture in the tri-island state. A core pillar of the 1261 Film Festival is industry upskilling; thus, the collaboration with TAMCC wherein students from various art-related fields intern with the festival and gain real-world experience in production and events. Interns such as Amondell Sampson, a production assistant intern specialising in film marketing and distribution stated that she views the festival as an opportunity to gain real-world experience and develop her creative skills.
Meschida believes that the film industry is unique and builds on the interplay between all other sectors to generate a creative economy by providing job opportunities from different sectors. This includes construction (set building and design), hospitality (hotels, catering), agriculture (farm produce), finance (budget and accounting), fashion (costume design), computer technology (digital design, robotics, animation, special effects, coding, editing, etc.) to transport and health (set nurse or doctor for each production site). Even computer gamers are needed in this new dimension of the film industry.
This year, she expects the 1261 Film Festival, a hybrid edition, to boost awareness for local creatives and Grenada globally through a cultural tourism lens. Thus, further strengthening an international pathway where visitors and locals are motivated to discover and experience our cultural heritage while fostering resource-sharing relationships and artistic collaboration to support the local creative community.
The holidays we celebrate, do we know their meaning in relation to chattel slavery? New Year’s Day, a day we currently celebrate, was known as “Hiring Day” for slaves, a day of fear, dread and separation. Slaves were rented out on that day thus: “That’s where that sayin’ comes from that what you do on New Year’s Day you’ll be doin’ all the rest of the year…” Today, that day is celebrated and usher in new beginnings. Thus, with each New Year we need to remember the historic significance and remember how blessed we are, so each new resolution should be held in reverence as we now have the ability to chose our actions for the rest of the calendar year.
We Grenadians like to “party”, as they say “jab for life”, but what is the historical meaning of jab jab? Jab jab appears to be grounded in defiance; defiance of slave masters, defiance of authority, a fight for freedom. Can we “green” jab jab where instead of the old oil we go back to the tradition of using molasses. Jab Jab go be sweet like sugar…ummm…please wait until post Covid-19 to play and sweeten up the jab jab.
Carnival season, although not allowed due to Covid-19 is upon us and how many individuals play traditional mas? With the true meaning of carnival to celebrate the end of chattel slavery, we can assume that the slaves celebrated with dances such as quadrille, bélé, lancers, maypole dance, stick dancing, vecko, moko jumbie, heal and toe, piqué etc.
Storytelling, pekong (giving talk), extempo (pekong through song), rituals such as saraka, religious festivals as Shango, tombstone laying and dancing of the cake at weddings were common events. Musical instruments including the “big drums”, shac shac, cocoa lute, gourd/bollie, tamboo bamboo, beating of the hoe, square box, bamboo flute, melody on the saw and other stringed instruments were used. Games such as pound stone, hide and seek, ship sail, coup, Oware (Warri), spinning top, kite flying (cocoa rickie), diamond, spinning top, pitch marbles, polish pan roller, cartwheel (sec), zig, Kalenda (stick fighting) were common.
The music genre of soca and calypso as we know today stems from the same thread of music created during the era of slavery. Ajamu, Black Wizard, Mr Killa and all our local artists have continued this tradition we hold so dear. In regards to our traditional culture, Hollice Mapp, Mr. Killa stated, “Culture is passed down, and those with the knowledge, the elders have a responsibility to teach and pass down that knowledge. We need to reinject our traditional culture back into our society. When would our children be able to hear the drums to raise their skin and feel the music in their soul?”
We in Grenada are defined by our food, now a “foodie” nation with bragging rights as the world’s first culinary capital. Every opportunity is a time to fete, eat, drink and be merry with a lot of spice. We are so blessed in Grenada with rich volcanic soil, sun and just the right amount of rain that everything grows. The reality is that the younger generation as opposed to drinking tannia log for breakfast, are eating cereal. My son as a child ate cou cou, callaloo and fish for lunch with fresh lime juice. Now, our children eat pizza, macaroni, Ramen noodles (has anyone checked the ingredient list of these products?) and drink soda. Friday is usually, “pizza day” for children as opposed to being fed the ubiquitous, “oil down”.
“Kenke” a local Ghana dish is known as “conkie” in Grenada. We added spice and coconut milk to spice it up for we are Grenada, the “Spice of the Caribbean, Isle of Spice, Spice Isle!” This week, my parents came together and taught me how to make conkie. On 1 August 2021, Emancipation Day, I attended a foodfest and saw lasagna, served with stewed turkey wings. I must admit there was a pot of oil down. I asked for the corn fish, fried breadfruit, green fig, conkie, roast bakes, fried cou cou, roast breadfruit, provision, and the woman skin up she face oui. The reality is that if we adopt a policy of eating local, we would be helping to sustain local agriculture and climate change. More individuals should be encouraged to plant their own food to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goal to end hunger and increase food security. Every Friday should be “national food day”, where we all strive to eat a local, traditional dish to remember our heritage and culture.
Several of our ancestors who were transported to Grenada belonged to the Yoruba tribes with their own religious beliefs. Our traditional religions were demonised, Shango was banned. Even today various individuals in Grenada look down on purveyors of the Shango religion. Are we now to take a closer look at our traditional religion as a means to develop a deeper cultural and historical understanding of who we are as a people? Would this help us as a people to respect the religions of other groups such as Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Jews and other religious faiths so that with a deeper understanding, we live in harmony?
Culturally and historically, we as a people used slavery to spur the quest to always be the very best in whatever endeavour we undertake. From a very young age our children are taught what is meant to be Grenadian, the need to always strive to excel, respect our collective heritage and culture. Education was seen as a vehicle to never be vulnerable because being vulnerable meant that one can succumb to the whims of a more superior people or individual. I look around and the opportunities for progress are endless in Grenada as we are blessed with so much. Generations aback, there was the continuous strife for improvement and this has been engrained in our culture and with each generation. The reality is that we as a people, as a race, as individuals, are the ones who should determine which adjectives are used to define us. This is based on our collective actions, values and beliefs which begin with each of us as individuals.
What does it mean to be Grenadian? Lest we forget that in recent history our forefathers started off as chattel slaves wretched from the motherland, Africa. We need to acknowledge that despite our challenges we have come a very long way and the journey would always continue in our collective quest to live up to our motto, “Ever conscious of God, we aspire, build and advance as one people.” As individuals and as a collective unit our lexicon should include descriptive traits such as integrity, hardworking, honest, genuine, progressive, innovative, accomplished, brilliant, courageous, creative, distinguished, efficient, friendly, independent, powerful, positive, principled, proud, respected, trustworthy and the list is exhaustive.
Above, I have highlighted these specific words of Nana Akufo-Addo “We will work together” and “superior technology” for their plain meaning. We are all Grenadians and the need to come together as a collective whether residing in Grenada or the diaspora to improve our collective lives should always be paramount. We now have an Office of Diaspora Affairs, so call, get connected and contribute to building Grenada. If we find disharmony in religion, politics, personal beliefs, race, status, employment then let us come together for what is good for Grenada. What I have come to realise is that we each have our own perception of what is “right” which is subjective, thus to get along we need to look at matters from an objective perspective and put country first. Each of us in our own little way must and should ensure our individual actions help to build Grenada only for love of country.
Tricia Simon is an Attorney-at-Law called to the bar in the State of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique and the Province of Ontario, Canada.