By Kamille D. Whittaker
As the spiced rum starts to flow at Crown Heights Rum Shop in an interior village in Grenada, earnest negotiations ensue among a small consort of men and women: Whether they will Jab Jab for J’ouvert; whether the costumes have been procured or paid down; whether they will go all out, or a notch below this year, as opposed to last; and how they plan to rest and dry out in the days preceding the endless fêtes. Because once carnival – Spicemas — comes in August, there is no rest or quarter for the weary. There’s a whole year to prepare and practice, after all.
Sometimes, there are quiet gripes by the elderly about what they say the youth have “turned carnival into.” But, there is an unspoken social contract – you play mas and fête until you don’t, and when you stop, you let the youth – an ambiguous classification on the island, to be sure — have their run.
Besides — the energy around carnival, at night and by day, is undeniably electric.
For Grenada, strong and affable, there is no grace period in its courtship – no interval of insecurities where doubts creep in. Like a confident and content lover, it is everything it purports to be – and as such, you can take it or leave it. But you’ll want no parts of the latter.
The contemporary part of its own history – as was the colonial plight of most Caribbean islands — plays out like a lover’s quarrel between Britain and France.
Control of the islands that make up Grenada including Carriacou and Petite Martinique, volleyed back and forth between Great Britain and France in the 18th century, with the British ultimately prevailing. In 1795, Fédon’s Rebellion, inspired by the Haitian Revolution nearly succeeded, but was crushed with significant military intervention. Slavery was abolished in the 1830s and over a century later, Grenada achieved its political independence from Britain in 1974.
And throughout all the back and forth, the Grenadian Jab Jab remained as a symbol of the island’s link to Africa and the Diaspora during carnival as with Haiti, where there is the Lanse Kod, and in Trinidad the Jab Molassie. In all iterations, the masqueraders paint themselves black with Cannes Brulees or “burnt cane” and act out the metaphorical machinations of a people with its collective mind stayed on freedom.
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