Don't waste your time. Don't bother to
look for it in the history books. They won't tell you
anything because it happened long before Caribbean history
books were written. And that's why nobody knows for sure.
You can make a good guess however, that, plus or minus a
century or two, the first Grenadians came to the island
about two thousand years ago.
Archeological evidence suggests they
arrived about the time Julius Caesar and his Roman legions
successfully attacked Britain for the first time.
It was about that time, too, that Herod,
Governor of Galilee, was shaken by news given him the by
three Wise Men from the east. They predicted a King of the
Jews would be born in Bethlehem.
Whatever the exact date, archeological
research indicates these first Grenadians were Amerindians
of the Arawak tribe. They originated in South America and
there is an interesting theory concerning their settlement
These Arawaks were excellent seamen and
skillfully navigated the coastal waters of the mainland.
Those waters are known for their strong winds and tides, and
the theory is that some of these seamen were accidentally
swept out to sea, ending up hundreds of miles away on a
Like so many of today's visitors, they
found the beach and, indeed, the whole island, attractive
and spread the news. Others followed, paddling their dug-out
canoes northward from Trinidad. They established their first
village at the south end of Grenada, close to Point Salines
International Airport where the big jets touch down, and
called the island Camahogne.
These Arawaks, a quiet, peaceful people,
were agriculturists. They cultivated cassava, maize, sweet
potato and other crops They expanded through the island
setting up many other towns and villages, but their tranquil
life was brutally disrupted.
The Warlike Caribs
About 700 A.D., disaster struck. Grenada
was invaded by another Amerindian tribe, the warlike Caribs,
and the Arawaks didn't have a chance. The invaders swept
viciously through the entire island and no Arawak man was
spared. All were massacred. Then, all Arawak women and
children were rounded up to be the Carib's wives and slaves.
The descendants of these Arawak/Carib
Amerindians made up the Grenadian population when Columbus
sighted Grenada on 15th August 1498. But he did not see
them. He sailed past the island and these first Grenadians
remained undisturbed until 1609.
English Come and Go . . .
In that year, a party of Englishmen tried
to set up a colony and their's is an unhappy story. The
Caribs gave them a hard time. Many were killed and, because
of Carib harassment, it was impossible to establish
plantations which was the purpose of the settlement. The
existence of these pioneers was laced with terror and,
within a year, those few who survived were forced to abandon
About 30 years later, another attempt at
colonisation was made when a party of Frenchmen tried to
land. But, the Caribs had lost none of their traditional
fierceness. They attacked the would-be colonisers so
aggressively and the Frenchmen were glad to beat a hasty
The Caribs were a tough bunch. They were
a well-built, olive-skinned race with a certain brave swing
in their walk. High cheek bones were a characteristic with
almond shaped eyes and long black hair.
Some records say they were cannibals. It
is believed that, after defeat of their enemies, the
victorious Caribs would :"...eat part of the prisoners of
war while they were in triumph, which they rather did out of
malice, chewing only one mouthful and spitting it out again
But, there is also a positive side to
these people. They were ingenious hunters and invented a
unique way of catching wild ducks. A calabash (gourd) with
eye-holes was fitted over the hunter's head and he entered
the water up to his neck and waited patiently. Unwary birds,
unconscious of the danger lurking behind the drifting
calabash, were seized by the legs, dragged under water and
One of the problems of those days was
preservation of meat and the Caribs solved this in a manner
which has been preserved to today.
From the root of the cassava plant, these
Grenadian ancestors processed a liquid they called
"casareep". They discovered that, cooked in casareep, meat
will last indefinitely. Fresh supplies may be added, the
only requirement being that the pot be heated to boiling
point every day.
This kitchen technology has been handed
down from generation to generation, and casareep can now be
bought in the supermarkets. Meat cooked in casareep with
added pepper and other ingredients is the well-known
Grenadian "pepper-pot", and there are legends of family
pepper pots, started decades ago, being passed on to younger
generations as heirlooms.
French Come and Wage War . . . more
or less successfully
These first inhabitants were still in
possession of Grenada in 1650 when 200 Frenchmen arrived
from Martinique. This time, the Caribs were willing to sell
the island and the Frenchmen bought it at a bargain price.
They paid for it with a few knives and hatchets and with a
quantity of glass beads. And, for good measure, they threw
in a couple of bottles of brandy for the Carib
But this deal didn't stick. Whatever
alerted the Caribs to the unfairness of the business they
had done, they changed their mind within a year and wanted
to recover their island. So, they started a campaign of
terror against the settlers. Any Frenchman found in the
woods was killed and it became dangerous to travel into the
countryside. Matters went from bad to worse and the
Frenchmen realised that, if they were to continue to develop
their plantations, they had to do something.
That "something" turned out to be a
full-scale war against the Caribs. Boarding several boats in
St George's harbour, a contingent of about 100 Frenchmen
sailed up the west coast and attacked the Carib's strongest
fortified village which was perched at the top of a steep
The location of that village had been
well chosen. It had only one approach, and the Caribs did
not wait for the French to find it. They met their attackers
as they approached the beach at the foot of the mountain and
fought fiercely to prevent a landing. But their poisoned
arrows were no match for French firearms and they were
forced to retreat.
Even then they did not give up. Large
boulders and tree trunks were rolled down on the advancing
Frenchmen. This failed to stop them, however, and the
village was captured with great slaughter of the
This did not put an end to hostilities
and both sides continued to prepare for a decisive show
down. The French sent to Martinique for reinforcements while
the Caribs, regrouping on the east side of the island, were
strengthened by large numbers of their kind who poured in
from St Vincent.
The crisis came when the Caribs,
considering themselves to have grown to a sufficiently large
number, resolved to take on their French enemies. They
decided they had become strong enough to capture the town
and fort which stood on a narrow neck of land then
separating the inner harbour from what is now the yacht
Eight hundred Caribs took on this
challenge. Armed with their poisoned arrows and with their
clubs, they stormed the approaches to the fort, and the
result was total disaster.
Waiting until the screaming Caribs were
almost up to the stockade around the fort, the French opened
up with their canon and small arms, releasing a
death-dealing shower of chain and grape shot together with
bullets from the small arms.
The dead and dying lay everywhere. The
ground before the fort was soaked in blood and it was then
that the French counter-attacked. Poisoned arrows and clubs
had no chance against French firearms in a pitched battle
and the outcome was inevitable. The small remnant of the
attackers was compelled to flee into the woods with the
Frenchmen in hot pursuit.
As far as the Frenchmen were concerned,
this had to be an action resulting in total extermination.
They had had enough of Carib harassment. They wanted to make
sure they had the island to themselves and they chased the
fleeing Caribs all the way to the northern tip of the island
until they cornered them on a towering headland overlooking
Of the original 800 attackers of the
fort, only some 40 now remained but, for them, surrender was
out of the question. Death was preferable to their fate at
the hands of the French. So, as the Frenchmen closed in on
them creeping through the bushes, guns at the ready, this
story came to a tragic end. The Caribs flung themselves over
the cliff and died in the swirling waters below.
The Frenchmen soon found, however, that
their troubles were not yet over. The dramatic death of the
forty fugitives did not mark the end of the war. There were
still Caribs in the island and they longed for their
revenge. They now knew better than to plan another attack on
the fort, but Grenada sat on a powder keg of hostility which
needed only a spark to set off the explosion.
That hostility existed throughout the
islands of the Eastern Caribbean and a series of unfortunate
incidents precipitated the inevitable confrontation.
First, a Frenchman, acting on unfounded
suspicion, flogged a Carib. Another, having had too much to
drink, picked a quarrel with a Carib Chief and would have
killed him if his pistol had not misfired. The final straw
came when a number of Caribs were tricked on board a vessel
in an attempt to carry them off as slaves.
This was too much for the Caribs to bear.
Everywhere, they vowed death to the white man and, in
Grenada, a general assembly decreed that every Frenchman was
to be massacred. But there would be no frontal onslaught
this time. The lesson had been learned. Instead, they would
be guerrilla warfare.
In these circumstances, the Caribs had a
distinct advantage, and this tactic may have had eventual
success. However, the Frenchmen were not prepared to
continue to live under these conditions. They would not sit
and be picked off one by one. Drastic action was required.
Leaving the fort quietly under cover of
darkness, a strong force surprised the east coast Carib
village at daybreak and launched a vicious attack.
Regardless of age or sex, they cut to pieces every Carib
they found. Vegetable gardens were uprooted, huts were razed
to the ground, canoes were seized and packs of bloodthirsty
settlers hunted the woods, ravines and mountains liquidating
any survivors of the massacre.
This bloody event marked the end of
resistance by Caribs living in Grenada but did not mark the
end of French troubles. Infuriated by the massacre, Caribs
from St Vincent and other islands made surprise raids on
outlying areas of the island. They killed every white person
they found and did as much damage as they could.
Again, the French resolved that positive
action was needed. Two ships were equipped and commissioned
to deal with the marauders and this proved to be the answer
to the problem. In a series of skirmishes, the Caribs were
so severely mauled they were forced to abandon the raids
and, at last, there was peace in Grenada.
When the well known Roman Catholic
priest, Pere Labat, visited Grenada in 1700, there were
still Caribs on the island. Labat was concerned to find a
few of them squatting on church lands in the St Mark's
district, but they posed no threat. Today in Grenada,
however, except for a quota of the mélange of blood
now flowing in Grenadian veins, there is no longer any
living evidence of the Caribs.
But there is archeological evidence of
their occupation. There are several petroglyphs, the most
important of which is at Mt Rich in St Patricks. Here, a
huge boulder is covered with scores of rock carvings. Some
show clear relationship to fertility symbolism but the
mystery of others is still to be unrivalled.
There are, too, many sites, complete with
kitchen middens, waiting to be scientifically excavated.
Some work has been done already, but there is no complete
island-wide plan to unlock the information waiting to be
unearthed. A definitive, all inclusive exploration of these
ancient Carib dwelling places is still to be done.
When that day comes, if archeological
finds excavated in South America and in other Caribbean
islands may be taken as an indication, fascinating material
will be recovered.
There will be painted potsherds, curious
beads, beautiful ornaments, incense burners and other
vessels used in religious ceremonies.. There will also be
unusual cooking utensils and ingenious shell tools, all
material which will tell the tale of a long-ago existence
difficult to visualise today.
Displayed, this material will be not only
an education to today's generation but a fitting memorial to
the first Grenadians.
[adapted for the Grenada's Story
web site: 15 September 2002.]
This web site is published and
promoted by Margaret
and Alister Hughes for the people
of Grenada, in the hope that the stories recounted here will
help to restore the heritage of Grenada to all.
This is a site for all Grenadians and
well wishers. We invite the active
support and assistance from all
Grenadians and wellwishers in order to preserve, defend and
promote the heritage of the country.