01 May 2015


Positioned northeast of Venezuela and southwest of St. Vincent lies the island of Grenada, also known as the Island of Spice. They have nutmeg, mace (made from the outside of the nutmeg seed), cinnamon, clove, ginger and cocoa. Nutmeg was introduced to the island in 1843 when a merchant ship bound for England from the West Indies left some nutmeg trees behind to start production in competition with the Dutch who controlled the world market for mace and nutmeg at that time. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the island changed hands several times between the French and British before the British got ownership in the Treaty of Versailles.
Clint saves the day
In 1974, Grenada was granted independence from the Crown with Eric Gairy as Prime Minister, but opposition to his rule soon broke out in the form of the New Jewel Movement, a leftist-leaning organization which favored Marx and Lenin. Five years after the island's independence, the NJM's leader, Maurice Bishop, launched a paramilitary attack on the government. Bishop then installed himself as Prime Minister, suspended the constitution and established relations with Cuba, the USSR and other communist countries. Over the next few years, other high ranking members of the New Jewel Movement, to include Deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard, a hardline communist, did not think Bishop was moving the island fast enough into a communist type of government, so they led their own revolution backed by the Grenadian Army. Bishop was put under house arrest, but soon escaped. When he tried to regain power, Coard's regime put Bishop and seven other Bishop officials, to include the pregnant Minister of Education, against the wall in Ft. Rupert and shot them. Not really a strong selling point for American tourism at the time.

U.S. Marine helicopter near abandoned Soviet
anti-aircraft weapon during the invasion
A military government was formed and the army declared a four-day curfew. Anyone violating the curfew by leaving their house would be shot. This government lasted six days. Seems that this particular way-to-the-left government caused President Ronald Reagan to have some grave concerns. The fact that the newly-built, extra-long runway the Cuban engineers had just constructed could be feasible for communist military activities inside the U.S. hemisphere didn't help the situation. Operation Urgent Fury went into action and as we all know from the movie Heartbreak Ridge, Clint Eastwood as Gunny Highway, won the war and rescued the medical students. The United Nations General Assembly was not impressed, calling the action a violation of international law. In the end, the Grenada constitution was restored, 17 members of the New Jewel Movement were incarcerated in Richmond Hill Prison and the ugly Americans went home, now returning on cruise ships to boost the island's economy.

Interesting Grenada Facts

Don't confuse the pronunciation of Grenada with Grenada. While the spelling is the same, the island country is pronounced Grenade-ah, while the city in Spain is pronounced Gra-nah-dah.

And, there's a couple of local slang terms you might enjoy knowing. One is "going up to the mahoganies" and the other is "liming."

In earlier years, mahogany trees were planted on both sides of the road leading up to Richmond Hill prison on the top of a ridge overlooking the harbor town of St. George. Thus when someone was being sent to prison, it was said that he was going up to the mahoganies. Those trees are all gone now, but the prison buildings still remain.

As we drove inland through mountain communities, we would often see from one to five men lounging against a building. This activity on Grenada is called "liming" and since the unemployment rate runs about 30%, we saw several instances of liming, usually around a rum house where moonshine was made. The official definition is any leisure activity entailing the sharing of food and drink and the telling of tall stories, jokes and gossip, providing the activity has no explicit purpose other than itself. Some say the term came from the old days when British sailors, known as limeys, stood around outside of rum shops while on shore leave.

French capture Grenada from the land side
Lastly, Grenada has a backwards facing fort. Seems that in one of the early battles for possession of the island, French forces came into St. George from the land side, over the mountains rather than sailing into the harbor. Since the British were expecting a naval attack, their cannons were facing the wrong way. Learning from their easy victory, the French then built Fort Frederick up on the mountain ridge as a backwards facing fort where their cannons were aimed inland while a different fort down slope covered the harbor.


  1. Nice column, R.T.

    One of my favorite islands. Grand Anse beach is one of the finest in the Caribbean. It is nice to start out at the almond tree half way up the beach -- literally, a huge tree that everyone, tourists and locals alike, congregate at -- and then walk south to the end of the beach, about one mile, for a cocktail at the bar of the Flamboyant Hotel.

    Thee island also has one of the best guides you will find in the Caribbean -- Mandoo. Google him if you are headed there and do anything he suggests. He will meet you at the airport, dressed completely in white.

    When we first visited the island, back in 1986, villagers were still hawking t-shirts with a picture of Ronald Reagan on them over the caption "He got here just in time." We thought about buying one but then reality set in. I mean, really, where would I ever wear that??

  2. I never made it to Grenada, but I have nutmeg from St. Vincent's. Some day maybe I'll get that far down the Caribbean...

  3. I haven't made it to Grenada either, but it now sounds like a place to visit. Thanks, RT.


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