By Hudson George
After the destruction of Isle Of Spice in 1955 by Hurricane Janet, the Janet house(s) became a popular building structure in the Tri Island State of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique. The house got its name “Janet House” because of the time it was built and the purpose it was built for. It was built to shelter homeless people, who lost their original homes during the hurricane disaster. According to what my father told me about the Janet- House, is that the lumber that was used to build the houses came from Surinam, (Dutch Guiana), South America. During that period of Grenada’s history, the late popular leader Sir Eric Gairy was the leader of the country. Although Gairy political strength and power came from the working class, there was some bourgeoisie in the GULP
party, who had some power and influence. These upper class GULP were corrupted, so they gave some of the houses to their friends and family, while the people who needed shelter the most were deprived. (Grenada always has this class problem)
The Janet house was an open “cepulka”. Everything in one; as Grenadians would say: ” All in one” A sort of ‘Jupa’ kind of house. After the houses were built , people had a problem living in them, because the wood or board had an unpleasant odor…A stink smell. A Grenadian comrade told me that some people were not able to get a Janet-House because they were living on the estate property and the estate owners did not want them to build wall pillars on their lands. (A Janet-House was built on four concrete pillars pined to foundation running board) For example, in Hermitage, I can remember there was some Janet-Houses, but people who had middle class houses and middle class life style owned the majority of them. Some of these people were descendants of the plantocrats. So they were using the Janet-House as a “Bucan” to store their agriculture products, such as nutmeg, mace, cinnamon and clove. (Hermitage has lots of spices)
My father also told me that these plantocrat people were the middle class GULP who took these ‘Janet Houses’, although they were not homeless. Therefore, they robed the victims of the hurricane. He also told me that Sir Eric Gairy promised the people better houses with room and hall separated, by saying: ” I will give you houses with privacy so that the children won’t see what daddy and mommy doing in the night” However, Sir Eric Gairy never fulfilled his promise. In spite of all those political and social problems in relation to the Janet-House, the building becomes part of our history. People used to say that the Janet-House is very strong, but anytime you break it and rebuild it somewhere else, it never looks the same again. (visible spaces usually appear between the groove and tongue of the board and reflection of the bedroom lights become visible at night)
There is also cultural history tied to the Janet-House. For example, one of the baddest Shortknee mas band in Grenada (In the Mt Fendue-Mt Rich area in St Patrick) was called Janet. The brothers were tough. Real Bajohn! They had their belly. “Janet Shortknee” had warriors such as Vance Best and Dandoray. Vance was the fastest razor man Grenada ever had. Before you say: “Jack Robinson” Vance would give you about fifty razor cuts. The reason why the band was called Janet, is because one of the bajhon inherited a Janet-House from his fore-parents and all the ‘bajohn’ used to congregate in that Janet-house as a community centre. They used to cook people fowl, make fish broth and tannia log in the house. So they called their Shortknee band “Janet”. Those days, for a young man to play Shortknee with “Janet band”, he had to be a criminal. His resume must be a prison sentence or the prerequisite.
As a young boy growing up in Hermitage, St. Patrick, I remember when Janet Shortknee took over the Hermitage police station and beat up the police. Vance cut a policeman’s belt with his razor. If the police were not wearing his thick belt, the razor would have cut his belly. That was the first time I saw civilian with so much guns. (This is why I believe the Shortknee spirit played a part in the Grenada revolution) Janet Shortknee waved their guns and feloto in the air and sing the song: “Six O’ Clock gone already, Rose Hill mas dam had to come. If Ah did know was so, any dam thing could of happen.” Those days Janet and Rose Hill had the baddest Shortknee mas in Grenada. (Most of Janet Shortknee members were from Mt Rich Village. But there were rumours that Rose Hill Shortknee had stole some dynamite on the construction site in Bathway, where the Canadians were building houses. Plus they had guns too and they were taller. So the Janet-House is really part of our history. Although its real purposes were to shelter the homeless, the bourgeoisie and Shortknee used it as bucan and community centre. Even today, our young men are still using the Janet-House as a place to socialised, sleep and ‘snick’ in their girl-friends at night when their parents are sleeping in the family house.
There is also stories about how the Janet-House was a good habitat for bed bugs. Most Grenadians who lived in Janet-Houses prior to the hurricane would tell stories about bed bug hiding in the crevice of the board. When night comes and they turned of the kerosene light, those bed bug used to come out. During their sleep, those bed-bug used to bite them and drink their blood like vampire. They say when children peeing in bed, the bed bug used to be more vicious and numerous.
Those days people used to sing a song: “Bug O Bug O, Bug O in the island”