Historical Background

When slavery ended on Carriacou in 1834, the British slave owners quickly left the island as their cotton and sugar plantations were no longer profitable. The former slaves were then left on an isolated island only 7 miles long, and for generations their descendants carried on their traditional way of life with little interference from the outside world. Their neighbors on the much bigger island of Grenada, just 27 miles away, regarded them as backward, though, because of their many African traditions. But the Carriacouans cherished their little haven hidden away from the wider world; and by drawing on their island’s resources, they made their living from fishing, boat building, and trading, and took pride in their self-sufficiency. Even today, they have a strong sense of identity.

The Carriacouans are not the only West Indians who have preserved a good deal of their African heritage, of course. West Indians are known for their rich African-inspired rituals, songs, dances, crafts and storytelling. But the Carriacouans’ unusual degree of isolation after slavery ended puts them in a class of their own. Carriacouans still divide their island into “Nine Nations,” each claiming descent from a particular African tribe, and each with its own settlement area. During their Big Drum Dance, each “nation” proudly displays the singing, dancing and drumming of its own tribe. The Big Drum Dance is, thus, an ensemble of all the performances preserved by the island’s “Nine Nations.”

Although scholars knew about Carriacou’s Nine Nations, why the Temnes should be included among them has always been a mystery. Most of the Nine Nations ̶ including the Manding, Cromanti (Fante and Ashante), Igbo, and Kongo ̶ represent very large African tribes that numbered in the millions at the time of the Atlantic Slave Trade, and still today. But the Temnes are a small ethnic group by African standards, and when slave traders took away hundreds of thousands belonging to these much larger tribes, only a few thousand Temnes would have suffered that fate. Only a few Temnes should have wound up on Carriacou, and yet that tiny island is the only place in the Americas where the Temnes of Sierra Leone are still well remembered today. Until now, no one had solved that mystery; but working together, Martin and Opala have uncovered the likely origin of the Carriacou Temnes