Carriacouians have rich traditions and customs passed through generations influenced by their African and European ancestors. There are so many cultural experiences to take in and memorable celebrations, be it as a witness to a traditional wedding or boat-launching event, watching the Big Drum Nation Dance or Shakespeare Mas, or taking part in All Saint Candle Lighting ‘Pass Play’ and Fishermen Birthday Celebrations.
In the village of Windward, sailing boats were built using traditional methods passed down by Scottish settlers in Carriacou. A number of initiatives have been put in place to encourage young people to learn the art of boat building by producing model boats, and the excitement of boat building is kept alive through the annual Carriacou Regatta held in the month of August.
Boat building and boat launching is a tradition taken very seriously in Carriacou. At boat launching events, goats and sheep are sacrificed. Their blood and holy water are sprinkled onto the boats and a priest blesses it in a naming ceremony. Children chosen to be Godchildren of the boat are dressed in bright colors and line the deck. After the ceremony, the shoals are cut down and everyone pulls the ropes to launch the boat into the sea.
In addition to Carriacou Regatta, there is Tombstone Feast, known to our people as ‘Saraca’. When someone dies, young men go out on donkeys chanting ‘Sake tan pale lot, who hear tell the others Mr. so-and-so dead’. At the wake, which can be up to 7 days before the burial, hymns are sung and bush tea is served to mourners. The term ‘Happy Hour’ is now more commonly used, and alcoholic and canned beverages are served instead. A stone feast occurs three years after someone has died with a tombstone bearing information of the deceased’s name, date of birth and death. It is then installed when relatives travel from overseas to be part of the Saraca feast.
The people of Carriacou celebrate the believed African tribes they originated from through music and dance. The names of these tribes are Ibo, Congo, Temne, Mandinka, Chamba and Kromati. The ‘Big Drum Dance’ or ‘Nation Dance’ of Carriacou is widely celebrated alongside other performances known as the Kalenda, Juba, Belair, Granbelair, Hallecud and Bongo, which are danced at weddings, boat launchings, tombstone feasts and Maroons.
The three symbolic drums are made from small wooden rum kegs painted red, with a drum surface made from goatskin. The treble drum, which is the largest, is placed in the centre, with small bass drums on each side. These are all played with open palms while women shake Shac Shacs (organic instrument) and sing. People are encouraged to sing along and dance to the rhythmic sounds of the drum.
The Quadrille Dance, which originates from France, is usually performed in the village of L’Esterre and is the second most popular dance in Carriacou.
The Maroon festival is an important aspect of life in Carriacou. During a ‘Maroon’ villagers come together and cook traditional foods and partake in the big ‘Big Drum Dance’. The annual Maroon and String Band Music Festival is a three-day event of activities that showcase a display of local food, crafts, music and dance. The entire island comes together to make it a fun-filled event and it is deemed a major visitor attraction.
Carnival in Carriacou is still very traditional. On the eve of Carnival Tuesday, revellers partake in a traditional mas called ‘Pierrot’, known as ‘ShortKnee’ in Grenada. It is a masquerade that mimics the customs of plantation owners. Revellers dressed in brightly-coloured clothing, white facemasks and knee-length socks have face-offs by reciting passages from Shakespeare. Each reveller carries a bullwhip and if the passages are recited incorrectly, it results in a strike with the bullwhip.
A trip to Grenada is never complete without a trip to Carriacou. This island’s charm is its laidback rejuvenating respite from the fast paced world and the deeply rooted traditions that are cherished by its citizens. Carriacou (Karry-a-cou) which means “Isle of Reefs” is just 90 minutes by ferry, or 20 minutes by plane from the mainland Grenada.