Remembering the Revolution: The View from Tivoli, St. Andrew, March 2015

On March 12, 2015 there was a commemoration of the Grenada Revolution in the village of Tivoli, St. Andrews, in the north of the island. Prompting the March 12 event was the sense that Tivoli’s role in and contribution to the Grenada Revolution still has not been adequately recognized.

Livingston Krumah Nelson, Manager of the Tivoli Drummers, argues that the movement to reclaim Grenada existed in Tivoli prior to and independently of the formation of the New Jewel Movement.   He attributes this to Tivoli’s strong cultural identity that manifested itself as a resistance to outside domination and pride in its indigenous heritage. Thus, Grenada’s first night school was set up in Tivoli, and was a precursor to the Revolution’s much-lauded Center for Popular Education. The first agricultural cooperative was set up in the Tivoli area in 1972. And various community activities such as the maroon bound the community together. Thus Nelson holds that when the leaders of MAP and JEWEL (which merged to form the New Jewel Movement) came to Tivoli, “they did not start a movement; they met a movement.”

Moreover, according to Nelson, although Grenadians from the north of the island were integral to various missions in support of the Revolution, belonged to the People’s Liberation Army, and led the March 13 seizure of police stations at the airport, Grenville, Birchgrove, Tivoli, Montrose, Union, Hermitage, and Sauteurs, when the Revolution came to power, not one Tivoli member who took over those police stations was given a rank higher than sergeant in the People’s Revolutionary Army. Nor did they receive a significant number of the scholarships to Cuba, East Germany, and the USSR.

For Tivoli’s strong local identity and autonomous political culture were only partly assimilable to the goals of the Revolution. As Nelson points out, Tivoli was a place with some of the strongest support of the Revolution and some of the strongest resistance to it.   The marginalization of its identity and culture is reflected not only in the limited representation people from Tivoli gained in the NJM government, but also in subsequent scholarly writing on the Grenada Revolution. The so-called Tivoli Group, Rastas, and Muslims fit uneasily with most academic accounts. Falling outside the agendas of both pro- and anti-Revolution scholarship, they remain on its fringes.[1]

The fractures occur along the fault-lines of town and country, and Marxism-Leninism versus more broadly Left and anti-establishment politics. The fractures surfaced as early as February 1980, when workers took over the River Antoine Estate in St. Patrick against the wishes of the NJM government. Many of the Revolution’s detainees came from St. Andrew, St. Patrick, and Mt. Rich. Indeed, several of those whom Nelson honors by name in the opening lines of his poem “March 13, 1979” – Caldwell Taylor, Kennedy Budhlall, Mucho (Evan Bhola), Nada (Kenneth Budhlall) — who were key to the success of March 13, were later expelled from the Party or jailed by it, sometimes on the basis of a single question about the direction the Revolution was taking. Derisive references to “the Tivoli Group” and to Rastas as, variously, “marijuana mongoose,” “political cowboys,” “Nescafé revolutionaries,” “CIA plants,” and “lumpen elements” were part of a pattern of discrediting them.

In turn, many in the Tivoli area rejected what they saw as armchair revolutionaries from town who were devoid of strong cultural loyalties and who were advancing a bookish or formulaic Marxist-Leninism which had, as Nelson put it, people “changing their names from John and Desmond to Vladimir.”  He insists that these so-called “‘revolutionaries’  … were just imperialist stooges.” The fighters from the countryside understood themselves by contrast as indigenous rebels with a political ideology that, to borrow a line from one of Nelson’s poems, was “locally made.”

Suspicion of Party leaders’ actions and motivations during the Revolution years continues to run deep today, still surfacing intra-Left tensions within the Revolution and its memory. The tensions have not been helped by the marginalization of people from St. Patrick and St. Andrew in recent dialogues around reconciliation, apologies to detainees, and commemorations of March 13.

Flyer Grenada

Tivoli Drummers:

Livingston Krumah Nelson, “March 13, 1979”:

Livingston Krumah Nelson, “Locally Made”

This post was prompted by a comment by Livingston Krumah Nelson in the discussion period after my March 5 book launch at the Grenada National Museum, when he invited the audience to the March 12 event in Tivoli and explained the reasons for holding an event in Tivoli. He and I talked further on March 7; quotations attributed to him are drawn from that conversation.

[1]For significant exceptions, see Maurice Paterson, Rasta Prince Nna, and