, in the Parish of St. Andrew’s
, just up the road from the main town of Grenville
, is a unique place that sits at the intersection of two of the main themes of my research career: the cultures and histories of Indigenous Peoples of the Caribbean, and the political economy of US imperialist interventions. Both of these strands come together, in one specific spot: the old runway—still very much intact—at what was once Pearls Airport
. The airport is the subject of the short photo essay contained in the article titled, "Pearls before Swine
," from which the following sections were extracted.
|Aerial view of the runway at the old airport in Pearls.
....The old runway at Pearls is a place that is barely frequented by tourists; there were only two young American ladies doing a self-guided tour when we were there, but then again we were there during low season. On local tourist maps the image of the runway is accompanied by a label boasting of “Amerindian Sites,” except there is no museum in the vicinity, nor any tours or tour guides to take one to see these “sites”. The two American women we met were totally mystified by this apparent absence, and they had asked everyone they encountered, as we had, about where they were to go to see the Amerindian artifacts. None of the locals could (or would) give an answer.
What we did not realize, at least not at first, is that we were standing right on top of the artifacts: they were spread all around the borders of the runway, and in the heaps of soil piled up at the end of the runway by the beach, where British bulldozers pushed the soil when clearing land for the tarmac.
That then is the other, older history of Pearls: it was once a major Amerindian port, possibly the largest of its kind, connecting Indigenous communities spread across the Lesser Antilles. Some historians have described it as “the most important archaeological site in the Caribbean
”. Pearls had been occupied for at least seven centuries
, from 300 BC to 400 AD. Trinidad, just 80 miles to the south, and much larger, has nothing like Pearls in terms of the broad expanse of Amerindian artifacts covering such a large area, with always more artifacts
being uncovered at Pearls. I am not aware of the remnants of any “Amerindian port” in all of Trinidad, or Tobago for that matter.
The runway ends just feet from a long and wild beach, not the kind which would normally attract swimmers. The waters are pretty rough, with waves coming in fast and furious, from all angles. The humid air is thick with sea salt. The beach is “littered” with gorgeous pieces of sun-bleached driftwood. The beach shows a few signs of being used by locals for liming purposes: a small amount of discarded soft drink bottles, for example....
....what is also buried in Pearls is the Amerindian side of what could have been. Amerindian Grenada was a proud place, which for over 150 years—think of that astounding number—successfully drove off colonizing efforts by the British and French, and preserved Grenada as a Caribbean bastion of Indigenous freedom. It is a history that is both awesome and inspiring. In those encounters with the military superpowers of the time, Grenada was utterly victorious. This is one of the reasons I call the Caribs the original anti-imperialists of the modern world-system.
Amerindian Grenada was a green place of beauty, of people who knew how to live the good life and enjoy the free bounties of nature. Grenada is of course still ultra green, and Grenadians show all signs of knowing how to enjoy the good life regardless of any strife or troubles. Yet Amerindian Grenada was something different: their society was one without schools, prisons, offices, army bases, plantations, slavery, or money. Theirs was the peace to which we all claim to strive, but pretend to be unable to achieve, buried under mountains of corruption, addictions to all manner of artifice, and constrained by the daily authoritarianism that dominates our lives.
In terms of preserving or at least acknowledging the Amerindian past, it is true that the Grenada National Museum (the subject of essays to come), has made some efforts to advance local knowledge of Pearls’ Indigenous heritage, with special archaeological field trips for local schoolchildren
, assisted by the incredible Michael John
. Michael John, himself from Pearls, is a self-made archaeologist, with an apparently natural talent for spotting Amerindian artifacts. He is a man who is very likely of Carib descent and who also makes a living carving stone objects that look much like those one normally finds buried in the ground, those carved by his likely ancestors.
On the whole, however, what is being done to preserve and protect the memory of the Amerindians is far too little. Amerindian history is sometimes looted by tourists, some of whom possibly do not know that it is against the law to remove artifacts—but then again, nobody is enforcing the law. Suitcases and other travel items are not checked by the authorities when one flies out of Grenada, as they ought to be in all cases. Locals who claim to know nothing about “Amerindian sites” in the vicinity of the Pearls runway may be performing a very valuable service.