By Simon P. Green
ST GEORGE’S, Grenada -- When one decides to visit Grenada for Spicemas try not to limit your experience to just the official guide presented by the official organizers of the major competitions and shows for the season; to get the full experience one must be adventurous; you have to seek out the “nooks and crannies” and find the liming spots all over the country where the locals go to really celebrate.
As you traverse the island also keep an open mind, though some the stereotypes may have some accuracy -- like the view that Grenadians are laid back and not the “fetaholics” like some of our neighbouring islanders – you will soon find out what the main national addiction is for the carnival season.
Grenada has a unique feature of having two carnivals annually, the first being the pre-Lenten carnival in February on the island of Carriacou, and the other being Spicemas; celebrated around the Emancipation commemoration dates in August. In the year 2013 Spicemas; once again proved to the world that it’s one of the safest carnivals on earth and presented an array of uniqueness and awesomeness which may seem as a total misfit anywhere else in the world, but in Grenada it made perfect sense.
One of the new features of the carnival season for Spicemas were the rise of the rural communities in creating some very exciting places to fete, with names like Cow Pen, Goat Pen, Crab Hole, etc., these were the places which seem to have had an attraction which many locals and visitors found irresistible. The genesis of these names is left to the imagination but don’t be daunted by your first impulse to dismiss it; these hangouts have become the venues of choice for the real partygoers or as Grenadians call them “the real gettoners.”
Even if you may not find the lure or attraction in these Grenadianized names; the drive and sometimes hike to these places is an unforgettable experience. There you will meet the Grenadians in their boldest and most unpretentious demeanors, a bit different from the urbanites around the capital city; total strangers will offer you all kinds of beverages, food, and you will socialize as if you had a long history of family connections with them, that’s the charm of rural Grenada!
And don’t worry you would not be deprived of seeing your favorite soca artistes and entertainers; whether its Lizard Man, Mr.Killa, Talpree, or Lavaman or some of female soca divas of the season you will find them in a Pen or a Hole on any given night.
The actual reason why these places have grown so much in popularity this carnival season is still being debated, but one theory is that “the convention never seems to work in Grenada”; Grenada has always been a society which rebelled against the establishment. Historically the people of this tri-island state have had a tradition of being defiant, teasing and “making picong”, for example they did that by keeping the creole names of the places in the rural communities even when the British tried hopelessly to Anglicize the island after it was returned to them by the French.
Grenadian ancestors were not easy to enslave, they sabotaged estates, conspired with mischief-makers and created places like Bwa Ne`g Mawon (Forest of the Runaway slaves), they supported Julien Fedon, and the loved and supported Maurice Bishop; Grenadians are attracted to revolutionary experiences.
Given this history, maybe this new emergence of the rustic, outdoor party places on abandons estates, ruins of great houses and riverside coves are unconscious expressions by the descendants of slaves in rural communities re-taking the carnival back to its roots in the country side.
If one was to probe even deeper we may even find that the very location of some of these spaces and their relevance to the emancipation struggle and the agrarian history of the island of Grenada adds further credence and significance to the Spicemas experience.
Is there a co-incident that in these very neighborhoods is where the majority, if not entirely, all the traditional masquerades such as the Vekou, Shortknee, and Jab Jab (Black) originate? And while the fancy mas creators are mostly in the town of St. Georges; and they are struggling to get persons to play “pretty mas”; over the past few years, Vekou, Shortknee, and Jab Jab bands are increasing in numbers and variety; and they continue to be a major fascination with visitors and locals both in Grenada and the diaspora. It is no wonder why Grenada boast of being the Jab Jab capital of the world where the king of the Jab Jab nation, Talpree sits and reigns.
The experience of Spicemas 2013 in an odd way grounded the fact that Grenada’s carnival continues to have a strong rural influence, and the people and unique cultures in those communities have a strong influence on the creative talents in the Spicemas. This year once again the growth and popularity of the Jouvert in the country side got high praises by revelers and onlookers; Sauteurs in St Patricks, La Tante St Davids, and Gouyave; the Jouvert has become almost an all day experience for “last lap” Tuesday, even after the officially approved Jouvert will have been finished on Monday in the capital, St George’s – this is defiance, this is revolutionary and this is Spicemas… and Jouvert is Grenada’s addiction!