Review of “The Gairy Movement…A History of Grenada 1947-1997” by George Griffith

bpI wish first to congratulate the author, Mr. George Griffith, for honoring his promise to former Prime Minister of Grenada, Dr. Eric Mathew Gairy; for sticking to his obligation, and after many years for publishing his book “The Gairy Movement…A History of Grenada, 1947-1997. I am not surprised. Griffith was the same who, when in Form VIB (prep form for Higher School Certificate class) of the Grenada Boys Secondary School spent the year going through classes in French up to Form VIB. In an age and place where mostly women learned to type, Griffith took typing lessons, and would often harangue us at games about his typing achievements. We preferred Cricket, Football and Athletics. Griffith’s choices laid the foundation to his becoming Gairy’s and Grenada High Commissioner to Canada.

This book is very well and interestingly written. There were times that I had to put I down, but I found myself eager to pick it up again. Reading it was easy, but the content was by no means light. The chronological approach allowed for the discerning of Gairy’s and very importantly, Grenada’ progress from administered colony to independent country, and the conflicts associated with the progress of the man and of the country. This avoided a lot of the cross references and back and forth movements usually found in books of this type.

While he was a high official of the Gairy administration, and consequently a supporter of Gairy, Griffith’s book is no apology for Gairy. In several places, he points out where he thought Gairy was wrong, failed, misread situations, autocratic, and was naive about some big things, for example, the UFO issue and the chess game of international politics – and Gairy’s ensuing disappointments countries he thought were his friends. But throughout, one gets the essence of Gairy’s mission (as he saw it), and his strong desire to show that little Grenada ‘did not have to sit on the porch but could run with the big dogs.’

And since then Grenada has run with the big dogs, with what I call its ‘vibrant fecundity’.

I was absent from Grenada during the latter half of Gairy’s involvement in politics, and his conflicts with the NJM. I really do not have a strong feel of those times. What this book has told me is about the difficulties of governing a small country, the conflicts likely to arise, and the great wave of a movement that shaped the country. I understand that generally speaking, when significant change is necessary, another wave comes, and that change is sometimes not without bloodshed.

I was present in the early half of Gairy’s movement. At twelve years old, living in the country, my first view of Gairy was of him arriving in my village, finding the biggest yard, and talking to agricultural laborers. I have never forgotten his refusing an invitation to go inside the house or to sit in a chair outside, preferring to sit in the kitchen on a log-seat ‘eating from the pot’. This in contrast to John Holly, British Police Commissioner or the then Administrator in a large black car speeding through village roads, as if chased; never stopping, at least in my village, to speak to the people. Gairy understood and spurred the aspirations of the workers, in verbal and tangible forms with his Union (GMMU) and political party (GULP). These not only helped the finances of rural people, but also empowered them to establish better social conditions for themselves, e.g. self-help housing. I remember a Sunday evening (significant) inauguration of some steps that Gairy had built in Dougaldston, Gouyave going down to the beach. A large crowd heard his say ‘remember that it is Uncle Gairy that made you stop jumping stone.’ And they walked away satisfied with this particular Sunday promenade, and rejoicing that Gairy had done a great deed, in their interest. It was things like these, I would conclude later, that gave Gairy a base solid 20% of votes in elections.

Gairy was a brilliant speaker (check his speeches in the book), and was always impeccably dressed. We may think the latter as a vanity, and it may well have been. However, I think this was one way that Gairy, as leader, kept himself from being overpowered by what I call the ‘proximity of supporters’; in short, keeping a breathing distance.

I am intrigued about how people’s lives are so intertwined, supporting the idea that we are in fact One even if we hold different views and would fight each other for them. This book told me that Gairy and Bishop had fairly similar aspirations, impact, and qualities. They were both great orators, and lead mass movements. Gairy was called ‘communist’ by the Grenadian politicians and landholders of the day. Gairy called Bishop and his people ‘communists’; they called themselves Marxist-Leninist. They were both autocratic, and saw their intelligence and knowledge as validation. They both arrived at the cusp of change, and they led the change – one empowering agricultural laborers, the other empowering the youth of a generation later. Change, incidentally, always brings upheaval, sometimes bloody ones (there is always a price to pay for change). Both men desired to govern Grenada, the country, one to make Grenada count on the world scene; the other to develop Grenada as the first coup-validated country, and as the first Marxist-Leninist state, in the English speaking Caribbean. Lastly, they were both naïve in chess-game of international politics, one disappointed at times at lack of outside support for his views (from countries considered ‘friends’); the other bullishly pushing headlong into opposition from countries that faced the same coup prospects. It must really have pained Gairy to hear the ‘Iron Lady’s’ comment the she would not sit with him in the OECS fora, even when he was Prime Minister.

I strongly recommend this book to the casual reader, and for use in schools, libraries and Universities. One count against the book is that its price is somewhat high. This would certainly take it out of the financial range of a large number of potential readers. So I do hope that the author and his publishers could make its acquisition more easily available, perhaps by providing it in another, less expensive format.
Dr. Winston J. Phillips
1/26/15
Author: The Grenada Boys Secondary School Hostel….. Reminiscing on a Boarding School Life in Grenada (2010).

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2 Responses to Review of “The Gairy Movement…A History of Grenada 1947-1997” by George Griffith

  1. Collis A (Tony) DeCoteau says:

    An important book like Griffith’s “The Gairy Movement ….” was added to the documenting of Grenadian history, but I won’t be surprised that few like myself were even aware of its existence. If only there was a common forum that’s popularly accepted where our Grenadian authors’ works could be publicized. So many hidden talents!
    Therefore thank you Bobby for the review.

    Now using your review as a guide, I am pleased that George “Snobees” Griffith did not praise nor defame Gairy way beyond what he was actually in life. Gairy came at a time when the Grenadian agricultural workers were longing for deliverance from the “bondage” in which they were held by the estate owners, and the then ruling class. Not unlike the Biblical Moses, Gairy with his “common folk touch” emerged as “the chosen one” to tap into their discontent and lead them to a new era where you would hear Gouyave women saying “ees Uncle dat make me know steppins (nylon panties).” Consequently it was no surprise to hear them say “if Uncle put a crappo (frog) to run in Gouyave, ah still voting for it.” Here was a leader who understood, felt and captured the pulse of those he wanted to serve and capitalized on it to become the agricultural workers’ messiah.

    Sir Eric Matthew “Uncle” Gairy’s problem was that he never realized or perhaps accepted, that a new set of dynamics was taking hold of Grenada. While he understood all too well the first winds of changing in the 1950’s (let’s call it Janet), he completely missed those winds that blew twenty years later the 70’s (let’s call it Ivan). The focus was fast becoming the aspirations of the children of those same agricultural workers and others whose dreams were fundamentally different from those of their fathers and mothers. No longer was the voting population dominated by hitherto folks who could barely read and write. Their children who they did all they could to have a better life via secondary and increasingly tertiary education, were making demands that Gairy stupidly ignored or plainly could not deal with. It was in that atmosphere that another Moses had to emerge to save the populace from the previous savior, Gairy, the hero of their forefathers! The new savior came in the form of Maurice Bishop, and it was “deja vous all over again.”

    Bobby, I hope Griffith will take your suggestion seriously so that the price would soon be reduced to allow “poor folks” like me to obtain our own copies. When that’s done, I too will have my copy and hopefully agree with what your glowing review told us.

    **Collis DeCoteau is another Grenadian, and author of the book entitled “A Place Called Gouyave”

    • admin says:

      Collis, you raise an interesting point. I see irony in the fact that the the Revolution was carried on the shoulders of sons, daughters, and grandchildren of the rural people who were ’emancipated and empowered’ by the Gairy Movement. But maybe that too is part of the circularity of life and human relationships. Bobby.

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