UNiV~:.. I L -
Sargasso 10 (2000)
Sargasso, a journal of Caribbean literature, language, and culture edited at
the University of Puerto Rico, publishes critical essays, interviews, book
reviews, and some poems and short stories. Sargasso particularly
welcomes material written by and/or about the people of the Caribbean
region and its diaspora. Essays and critical studies submitted should
conform to the style of the MLA Handbook. Short stories should be no more
than 2,500 words in length, and poems should be kept to no more than
twenty to thirty lines. Submissions accepted in English, Spanish, or French.
All correspondence must include SASE.
P.O. Box 22831
University of Puerto Rico Station
San Juan, Puerto Rico 00931-2831
Lowell Fiet, Editor
Maria Cristina Rodriguez, Co-Editor
Maria Soledad Rodriguez, Co-Editor
Salinda Lewis, Editorial Assistant
Melanie Alfonso, Editorial Assistant
David Lizardi, Editorial Assistant
This volume has been made possible by funding from the Office of the
President of the University of Puerto Rico and the Rockefeller Foundation.
Jorge Sanchez, Interim President of the University of Puerto Rico
George V. Hillyer, Chancellor, Rio Piedras Campus
Jose Luis Vega, Dean of Humanities
Cover: Taller de mascaras, Comunidad Nueva Esperanza,
El Salvador, C.A.: photo L. Fiet
Opinions and views expressed in Sargasso are those of the individual authors and
are not necessarily shared by Sargasso's Editorial Committee. All rights return to
the authors. Copies of Sargasso 10 (2000), as well as previous issues, are on deposit
in the Library of Congress. Filed June 2001.
Ed itorial N o te ................................................................. ................. vii
T h ree P o e m s ..................................... ............................. ......... ....... 1
"Colonialism and the Supernatural in Tracey
M offat's Bedevil" ........................................................................... 5
"Casa de longaniza"................... ........ ................ 17
"Carnival Meets Dancehall: Winkler's Vision of Heaven
in The D uppy" ..... .......................................... ........................ 25
Linda Maria Rodriguez Guglielmoni
"International Affairs and the Sugar Industry: The Enslaved
Body in Colonial Cuba" ................................................. ................ 39
"C aliban G rieves" .................................. ...................... ................ 55
"Brathwaite at the Broken Place" ............................... ................. 71
vi TABLE CONTENTS
Peter A. Roberts (Review/Essay) Afro-Creole: Power,
Opposition and Play in the Caribbean by Richard D.E. Burton ........ 75
June D. Bobb
(Review of) The Art of Kamau Brathwaite
edited by Stewart Brown ......................................................... 88
Edgardo P&rez Montijo
(Review of) Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic
Perform ance by Joseph Roach ..................................... ................ 91
(Review of) All are Involved: The Art of Martin Carter
edited by Stewart Brown .............. ........................................ 94
Joan M. Fayer
(Review of) From Oral to Literate Culture: Colonial
Experience in the English West Indies by Peter A. Roberts .......... 98
Elsa Luciano Feal
(Review of) Caribbean Romances: The Politics of
Regional Representation edited by Belinda Edmondson ............. 101
(Review of) 'Is English We Speaking' and
Other Essays by Mervyn M orris. ............................... ................... 104
James D. Rivera Martinez
(Review of)Carnival, Canboulay and Calypso:
Traditions in the Making by John Cowley ...................................... 108
(Review of) Beating a Restless Drum: The Poetics of
Kamau Brathwaite and Derek Walcott by June D. Bobb ............... 113
Gerald Guinness replies to the review of Here and Elsewhere
(Sargasso 9) ........ ... .......... ... ........ ................... 116
List of Contributors .................................................... ....................... 119
Sargasso 10 is the final issue of the original "Sargasso" series that
began in 1984 and produced the ten regular issues and two special
issues -West Indian Literature and Its Political Context (1988) and
Performance and Text in Caribbean literature and Art (1999)- of the
journal. During much of that time, Sargasso was an independent venture
and, with the exceptions of this and the two special issues, received
no direct economic support from the University of Puerto Rico.
Although there were benefits, as a result we published fewer issues
than anticipated, and the photocopied text of most of the issues
reflected that lack of financial and human resources and infrastructure.
That situation changed from 1994 through 1999, when the College of
Humanities of the University of Puerto Rico housed the Rockefeller
Foundation-sponsored Caribbean 2000 residency site. Through its annual
symposium, Caribbean 2000 published four more polished volumes:
1996/7: (re)Definitions global/national/cultural/personal- of
1997/8: Speaking, Naming, Belonging: The Interplay of Language and
Identity in Caribbean Culture(s),
1998/9: A Gathering of Players and Poets: Voice and Performance in
Caribbean Culture(s), and
1999/0: Cultural(con)Fusion?: TransCaribbean Performance and
In large measure, the Caribbean 2000 books replaced Sargasso during
those years, and all Sargasso subscribers should have received copies
of those at no additional cost. If not, copies remain available and can
be requested through Sargasso's mailing address. Back issues of
Sargasso I through Sargasso 9 are limited and will be made available
only to libraries and other research institutions.
viii EDITORIAL NOTE
With the publication of Sargasso 2000: Concerning Lorna Goodison in
September 2001, Sargasso and the Caribbean 2000 series will officially
combine as the journal of the Ph.D. program in Caribbean Literature
and Language of the Department of English, College of Humanities,
University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras. As such, it will return to its
original objective of producing two issues per year. One issue will reflect
the Caribbean 2000/Doctoral Studies symposium held annually in
February-March at the University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras. The other
will follow the original notion of accepting scholarly and creative works
that address critical issues and points of contact and interchange in
the literary, linguistic, and cultural life of the Caribbean region.
Elaine Savory: Three Poems
your fasting voice
is cracked ice, distant,
at least a thousand miles
between your fleeing &
my warming up to life.
i write: you trapped fear
running north. i drifted south.
it is off-season here for
passion, when feeling might
block up a tired throat.
instead, i stare
at danish pastry loves, &
i write: once i desired
that you consume my good intentions.
now it is ripening time.
i sever heavy mangoes
from their golden fatness
*The New School University
2 ELAINE SAVORY
tongue their queasy end
so that i sleep in
heaps of lighted skins
bathe till i stain in juice.
moonlit nights, braiding the
silvered palms, i fail to mourn.
ELAINE SAVORY: THREE POEMS
Wishing the Fire: for Therese*
whatever her ancestors,
her blue eyes betray her.
she presses her pale skin
against the dusty window,
watching the dance, wanting
to dance, thinking of exile.
she does not speak their language
but she could bear them children.
she sways her hips, those
true, deliberate rebels.
she knows her tribe's cruelties,
hopes she has none, nothing
flowing predatory, silent in her blood.
she hopes an idea can simply be defeated.
when she can dance, she feels
no longer she & they, but one,
the dance which finds her body
makes all one. she is both honest
& self-seeking, & a hurt child
leaving home rather than ask.
what little her rebellion
matters, even to her.
yet here in her willingness
could she by dying end
the centuries of separation?
she wants this pain
the vivid living fire
presses it on her body, circles it,
asks that it consume her separation.
it is the one lover
who can bring her home.
"A Major character in Trinidadian dramatist Rawle Gibbons' play/, Lawah. She
is a French Creole girl who longs to join the jamettes, to find affiliation with African
identity in Trinidad in the late 19th century. Her death by burning helps rekindle
resistance to colonial authorities amongst the jamettes. (Reprinted here with
the permission of the author and The Caribbean Writer, where it first appeared. Ed.)
4 ELAINE SAVORY
Atlantic Ocean, Sunday Morning:
the great church-music of the ocean
carries the mystery of what we've lost,
we who beachcomb for coloured words to
shelve, polished or full of dust.
shells are so derelict without the sea
bring to water only what belongs to it
but what returns too easy falls stone
silent. i found myself a land creature of late
walled in with cautious words,
defended by flat lands, by being safe,
(yet nothing is anything against those waves).
for sea can come and get you
i know your beach in Lagos,
grey & the undertow is strong
laugh there or grieve &
the wind carries it straight
to where i'm standing.
the deepest feeling is the hardest word
i heard the breakers scream at Bathsheba
telling me, throw the dictionary out
as far as forgetting, watch
the bright consonants, soft vowels,
tear dumbly on razored coral.
my people have talked easy far too long
flattering the softness of a tourist coast.
our white sounds are cracked by denial
into dry dust, without the kernel of full memory.
this ocean bore the cold flames of slavers.
here in this furious water lie the words
to breach our white erasure of the past.
Colonialism and the Supernatural
in Tracey Moffat's Bedevil
When we talk about both modernism and postmodernism, we
are invoking a cultural terminology that began in the Hispanic
world and migrated into other cultures. In 1890, Nicaraguan
poet Ruben Dario wrote in a Guatemalan journal about a literary
encounter in Peru that initiated a self-conscious aesthetic program:
modernismo. Similarly, in 1934, Federico de Onis, a friend of Unamuno
and Ortega, published in Madrid an avant-garde anthology of poetry
that divided its contents into postmodernismo, works which muted the
more radical poetic energies of the time with lyric detail and ironic wit,
and the more formally radical ultramodernismo. De Onis' 1934 coinage
stood alone for twenty years until historian Arnold Toynbee, in his eighth
volume of A Study of History, referred to the European epoch following
the Franco-Prussian War as the 'post-modern age" (Anderson 3-5).
From these humble beginnings, a sizable body of literature and much
debate has arisen about this term "postmodern." What does it mean
to say we are beyond the modern? What has changed in our lives?
How is culture inflected differently? Perry Anderson, in his succinct
book The Origins of Postmodernity, offers a few helpful suggestions. He
contrasts three developments -social, technological and political-
that differentiate the modern from the postmodern. Socially, the modern
*Truman State University, Kirksville, Missouri
era saw the emergence of the bourgeoisie surrounded by the remnants
of the aristocratic and the agrarian. Modernism's clarion call, from
Baudelaire, was "6pater le bourgeoisie": avant-garde expression found
its structural place as explicitly anti-bourgeois. Today, on the other
hand, the bourgeois has disappeared in the sense that "nothing's
shocking" (to quote the rock band Jane's Addiction). When princesses
become starlets and Presidents become sleazeballs, when parents have
to explain about oral sex to their children so that they can follow current
events, we are witnessing a blurring of decorum quite different than
the clearer lines of nineteenth-century stratifications of class and taste
(Anderson 81, 86).
Secondly, the years of the modern saw a proliferation of technological
innovations that transformed everyday life: the ocean liner, the radio,
the cinema, the skyscraper, the automobile, the airplane. These
developments inspired artists to emulate their new logics and designs.
On the one hand, cinematic montage inspired (or at least reinforced)
poetic imagism and visual collage; on the other, the machine aesthetic
became the new value for movements like Futurism and Precisionism.
As poet William Carlos Williams said in his manifestos, "A poem is a
machine made out of words." By contrast (says Perry Anderson, again)
the postmodern era, after the scary palate-cleansing of atomic
weaponry, has been characterized by one dominant invention:
television. Merely invoking Princess Diana and Bill Clinton, as I did a
minute ago, shows us how radically this invention has transformed
the public sphere. Anderson has much to say about the contrast
between the banal aesthetics of the box itself and its torrential
unleashing of global images. Like the earlier technologies of modernism,
television has also inspired aesthetic emulation ranging from video art
to the accelerated juxtapositions of sampling and scratching in rap
and techno music, the literary cut-up methods of William Burroughs
and Mark Leyner, and much more besides (Anderson 81, 87-9).
Finally, modernist politics was characterized by political upheavals
widely expected, feared, realized: communist revolutions in Russia,
China, Cuba; soft socialism in New Deal America; fascism in Italy and
Germany. The postmodern era quickly saw the seeming "universal
triumph of capital"; and even more poignantly, "the cancellation of
political alternatives." As Frederic Jameson has noted, modernism
comes to an end when it has no antonyms (Anderson 81, 91-2). After
the collapse of the former Soviet Union, western economists, historians
and political scientists did not hesitate to make some rather millennial
claims. Most notoriously, Francis Fukuyama declared "the end of
COLONIALISM AND THE SUPERNATURAL IN TRACEY MOFFAT'S BEDEVIL I
history." Dialectical development had reached its aporia: the infinite
resilience of late capital.
Postcolonial theorist Homi K. Bhabha has persuasively argued in
books like The Location of Culture that the relationship between the
colonizer and the colonized anticipates the complexities of the
postmodern moment. For after all, what is postmodern politics if not a
global colonization by multinational capital, an expansion of the rough
draft of the colonial adventure? (Bhabha 173). More cynically, Perry
Anderson might attribute these resonances between postcolonial and
postmodern theory to the emergence of postcolonial theory not out of
Asia or Africa, but from the former White Dominions of New Zealand,
Australia and Canada:
Temporally, its advocates insist, postcolonial history is not confined
to the period since independence of states that were once colonies
-rather, it designates their entire experience since the moment of
colonization itself. Spatially, it is not restricted to lands conquered by
the West, but extends to those settled by it, so that by a perverse
logic, even the United States, the summit of neoimperialism itself,
becomes a postcolonial society in quest of its breachless identity.
Nobody here but us postmodern postcolonials, it seems.
I apologize for this abstract and highly condensed narrative, but I
wanted to get us to a version of the present, and a context for viewing
oppositional forces after their supposed silencing, both in general and
as manifest in the first film by an Australian aborigine (and aboriginal
woman), Tracey Moffat's 1993 film Bedevil.
Counterposing the spiritual and the forces of modernity and
postmodernity, it turns out, is nothing so very new. Arnold Toynbee,
again, at the end of A Study of History, thought the best way out of the
Cold War was not a New World Order, his second choice, but a new
universal, and hence syncretistic, global religion (the dream of the New
Age) (Anderson 6). Much later, postmodern architect Charles Jencks
expressed the hope that postmodern architecture could create "a
shared symbolic order of the kind that a religion provides" (in Anderson
24). If the Enlightenment project split science, morality and art -once
The neatness of Anderson's formulation is marred by his peculiar omission of
India. Such intellectuals as Gayatri Spivak and Homi K. Bhabha himself, to name
but a few, have surely made significant contributions to postcolonial theory!
fused in revealed religion- into autonomous spheres of value,
contemporaries dared to dream of a theological restoration.
From a postcolonial slant, the claims made for oppositional
spirituality, although significant, are more modest. Any recipient of
colonial practice knows that any potential (and seemingly mythic)
world religion is more likely to resemble the faith of the conqueror
than the conquered. What would Christianity have been without the
Emperor Constantine? Oppositional spirituality in postcolonial writing
often occurs under the auspices of magic realism, a slant toward the
beliefs of the many subcultures now applauded on the global cultural
stage. Instead of a full-blown syncretist theology, rather supernatural
effects: the improvisations of santeria and voudoun, the miracles of
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and that most minimal of spiritual effects, the
slightest transcendence of the secular quotidian: the ghost. Tracey
Moffat's Bedevil explores all the subversive potential of the ghost in its
Before I talk about the content of Moffat's film, though, I want to
address some of its stylistic choices, especially since they leap to the
eye of a first-time viewer. Tracey Moffat seems fully aware of the
paradoxes of her position, at least threefold. First, she is put in the
untenable position of a first global speaker for her ethnic identity in
the medium of film. Origins always impose undue weight on the
originator: she knows a certain element of her audience will watch
Bedevil to learn: what does an aboriginal woman want [us to see]?
Secondly, cinema is the tool of the master. It is, obviously enough, a
complex, non-aboriginal technology. From such a medium, what can
one expect? And finally, her choice of subject plays into the touristic
wish-fulfillment fantasies of the secular west. As her guide figure says
in "Choo Choo Choo Choo," "Wanta hear a spooky story?" She is
doomed to fulfill a certain narrative contract of desire by recounting
Her stylistic solution, basically, is to bite the hand that feeds her
and make certain that the pleasures of her film are as much as possible
guilty pleasures. By doing this, she also answers Frederic Jameson's
recent admonition that the visual pleasures of contemporary cinema,
its gestures toward beauty (for example, in such films as Kieslowski's
colors trilogy) are completely "meretricious" because of their
ensnarement in "the logic of commodity production" (in Anderson 110).
In Bedevil, Moffat foregrounds the meretriciousness of her gestures
toward visual beauty by subtly (and not so subtly) showing their
contamination with other codes. For example, the opening dance
COLONIALISM AND THE SUPERNATURAL IN TRACEY MOFFAT'S BEDEVIL 9
sequence with the credits -awash with bright colors and beautiful
moving bodies- eerily echoes the Maurice Binder title sequences of
James Bond films. The frenzied synthesizer music on the soundtrack
augments the castrating dimensions of her spectacle. Similarly, in the
"Mr. Chuck" sequence, the helicopter shots of the beach and antiseptic
soundtrack music echo a promotional tourist travelogue. Her sudden
juxtaposition of these saccharine visual massages with Rick's jail cell
in its squalor and muted palate exposes our complicity with the forces
of overdevelopment. Moffat's conspicuous use of soundstages for her
main actions of ghostly interaction also emphasizes the artificiality of
her visual pleasures, giving us a Brechtian alienation effect.
Moffat subverts cinematic pleasure in several other additional ways.
In her first two tales, she overtly considers in the film issues of cinema
and global tourism. In "Mr. Chuck," Rick eavesdrops upon the
construction of a "poxy cinema above that stinking swamp." In an action
we are invited to read as self-reflexive and iconic, Rick breaks into the
"Oasis" cinema, steals from the concession booth and ends up slashing
the seats -gestures worthy of Jean Luc Godard as expressions of
ideological ambivalence towards the medium of film. We have already
seen in "Choo Choo Choo Choo" how the narrative is set up initially as
a tale told by a tour guide. The gesture of the phantom train is performed
by a random group of passersby in the downtown area as the film crew
drives by in a truck. And most parodically, a cluttered backyard serves
as the setting for a cooking show where the queen of bush cuisine
prepares crawfish with a "simple Hollandaise." (If the ghost is the zero
degree of the religious, food is the zero degree of the exotic.) The ghost
story in this setting is inscribed as a self-conscious tourist shill.
And finally, Moffat removes easy pleasure by her approach to film
narrative itself. It is tempting, if problematic, to link her with some
general thematic tendencies of aboriginal aesthetics; to cite two, a
"transformational freedom" appropriate for a nomadically inclined
culture and a "twin sense of alienation and belonging" resultant from
the paradox of being resettled while knowing the dispossessed
landscape better than your usurpers do (Hodge and Mishra 413, 417).
In any case, her narratives have the non-Aristotelian features of the
walkabout: she provides the cinematic equivalent of oral tradition with
her digressions, deferrals and repetitions. Puzzling at first, they capture
the loose constructions of a storyteller who knows what they want to
impart but will breathlessly foreshadow and then loop back to the
familiar narrative. On a first viewing, at least, this is a pronounced
alienation effect. Bedevil, in effect, is designed for re-viewing. Once one
10 BOB MIELKE
knows the three stories as a whole (not that there aren't lingering
lacunae: why is Rick in jail in "Mr. Chuck," for example?), one can figure
out what piece in the narrative one is seeing and/or hearing on
subsequent screenings. As a result, the film creates a divided
community of viewers: the baffled global cinematic tourists who watch
it once, and the more committed viewers willing to engage the film on
its own prickly terms.
So much for just some of the challenging ways Moffat presents these
narratives: what about the ghost stories themselves? Despite the much-
vaunted end of dialectics, I think the overarching sequence of the three
tales is dialectical enough -when one keeps an eye on the ghosts. The
first tale, "Mr. Chuck" is about Rick's two encounters with the ghost of
an American G.I. Stationed on Brible Island in Queensland, he ostensibly
drove a tank into the swamp. The film's plot (vs. its story, to use a
distinction in film analysis: "story" is all the potential narrative, onscreen
or inferred; "plot" is strictly what occurs onscreen plus other nondiegetic
material such as film music, credits, epigraphs, etc.) begins with a shot
of the land. Water runs down sand; then we get some rich visuals of an
actual swamp (vs. the stage set of the swamp we will soon have). These
alluring visuals depicting Rick's first encounter with the ghost in the
swamp are negated, first by his narration from the jail cell (where we
hear a film camera or projector running), then by the oversweetened
and touristy beach shots already alluded to, and lastly by the Euro-
Australian narrator who gives us a strangely elliptical account of Rick
paralleling her coy whisper that, despite her appearance, she's seventy
years old. The paradigm throughout is that of a pleasing surface with
something more surprising and even sinister underneath, a perfect
emblem for the G.I. under the swamp. And I would argue, for the colonial
presence itself. I am reminded of another postcolonial filmmaker, the
Philippine director Kidlat Tahimik. In his film Perfumed Nightmare, a village
sage compares the unnatural sweetness of the chewing gum given out
by the G.I.s to an albino caribou. Something is out of joint in paradise.
The colonial incursion is presented both directly, through the
construction of the Oasis Cinema, and by displacement. Rick's abusive
family situation, I believe, is meant to stand in for -and reinforce-
the master/slave dialectics of the European presence. In any case, the
narrative comes to a climax with Rick's second encounter with the
dead soldier in the cinema. After examining a poster advertising a
sinister soldier (which could be a poster for this segment of Bedevil),
Rick breaks into the cinema and vandalizes it on several occasions. On
this climactic visit, his foot falls through the flimsy floorboards and he
COLONIALISM AND THE SUPERNATURAL IN TRACEY MOFFAT'S BEDEVIL
relates how the dead soldier grabbed him and licked his foot. It is a
moment of rank abjection and the terrors of the abyss: "it stank worse
than shit." Like all ghost stories, "Mr. Chuck" is about the return of the
repressed -here the presence of American troops on the island.
If "Mr. Chuck" is about overt hauntings from colonization -it's hard
to miss overdevelopment and a swamp cinema- "Choo Choo Choo
Choo" describes a more nuanced incursion of the colonial enterprise
with its folklorically archetypal account of a ghost train with a phantom
engineer. The train as a supernatural presence has a rich pedigree in
western intertextuality. But rather than stopping off at such way stations
as Walt Whitman ("To a Locomotive in Winter"), William Dean Howells
(The Shadow of a Dream, The Quality of Mercy), Leo Tolstoy (Anna
Karenina), or Frank Norris (The Octopus) (or, in film, Satyajit Ray's Pather
Panchali), I would prefer to go to the end of the line and visit briefly the
most obsessive book in western culture on the train, the little-known
psychoautobiography of William Ellery Leonard entitled The Locomotive
God. William Ellery Leonard was an English professor at the University
of Wisconsin who had a train phobia so profound that he lived out the
final years of his life in his office, unable to go home because the campus
area between lakes Menona and Mendota was bounded on all four sides
by railroad tracks which he was unable to cross. Here, for example,
is his recollection of his first childhood encounter with a train:
My eyeballs, transfixed in one stare, ache in their sockets.... To me at
a little more than two years, the Black Circle flashes a fiercely shaking
Face of infinite menace, more hideous and hostile than Gorgon-shield
or the squat demon in a Chinese temple, with gaping Jaws, flanked by
bulging jowls, to swallow me down, to eat me alive -and the Thing is
God. Coetaneous with the Face and Maw, a long lank Arm shoots out
low down from around the further side of the engine, with an end
half-spoon, half-claws, to scoop me up, to ladle me in! (Leonard 12)
Choo choo, choo choo. They hear him, but they can't see him.
In Moffat's second segment, this lost colonial specter of the
Locomotive God is restored to some of its former uncanniness and
menace, in part by juxtaposition with a much more contemporary
technological haunting, the UFOs or "Min Min lights" that the alcoholic
Mickey recounts seeing in his ramblings about the ghost train. By
contrast, the contemporary segments of the cooking show parody and
the promenade through town set a more comic tone. When a very real
and modern train rumbles through the background during the cooking
12 BOB MIELKE
show, the two worlds momentarily coalesce. But the memory of the ghost
train is rendered as very fantastical by the expressionist stage set that
forms the backdrop of the set, Tracey Moffat's jerky and artificial acting
style, and the comical synthesizer music that mimics the train's approach.
Arguably the most baffling moment in a puzzling film occurs in a stylized
flashback when the bush family is picking up groceries left by a real
train (?) and they suddenly find a baby on the tracks. They coo over it,
but do not seem to recognize it -although they eventually take it in.
This moment in the film lingers as puzzling allegory: a satiric comment
on how "babies just happen" in postcolonial settings? a contrastive
symbol of ownership and responsibility as opposed to the train's
delirious passing through? After all, the literal ghosts of this segment
are an engineer who hanged himself presumably out of guilt for running
over a blind girl (herself a second ghost at the end of the segment).
If there is a dialectical development from the specter of overt
colonialism to more covert colonial figurations between the first two
segments, the third tale ("Lovin' the Spin I'm In") offers the most
interesting iconography: a clear move from the ghostly presence as a
colonial one to its representation as an oppositional force TO the
postcolonial interlopers and developers. The segment begins with the
local owner of a property, Dmitri, attempting to sell it to two outsiders,
seemingly international businessmen, so that they can turn it into a
casino. It is a haunted building, though; tacked on its door are headlines
reading "Doomed Couple" and "Mystery Deaths." The ghosts in question
are an aboriginal couple, Minnie and Beba (Beba's mother Imelda still
lives in the building). The circumstances of the death remain
mysterious, although Minnie is clearly portrayed as a powerful witch
in the flashback sequences.
Dimitri's name is somewhat evocative. The Russian motif continues
when Dimitri attends a squatter's party the night before he evicts them.
A transvestite, who seems to have wandered into the film from The
Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, mutters to himself in an
adjacent room: "I'm not alone.... I am not having an affair with Trotsky."2
2 When he lights a candle and says "Adios," invoking the ghosts, we get a sharper
focus on the intertextuality. He is clearly Mexican artist Frida Kahlo in drag, significant
other of Marxist muralist Diego Rivera. Moffat's iconography simultaneously evokes
forces of resistance, including the queer as well as the revolutionary, and somewhat
undermines them. Is this Marx's history returning as farce? After all, this character
invites a comic response from much of the audience. Perhaps this is an open question
dependent upon the ideologies the viewer brings to the film.
COLONIALISM AND THE SUPERNATURAL IN TRACEY MOFFAT'S BEDEVIL
Dimitri's rollerblading son has a vision of the two dead lovers dancing,
which is possibly only a dream (he seems to be both in the dance
space and in bed moving in his sleep during this sequence). The next
day, Dimitri moves the squatters out. But when he finds the padlocked
door of the studio open, he goes inside -never to return. While we fail
to see his fate fully, we see him see the ghosts, then we observe the
two businessmen enter the space as well. They run out and try to get
away. But their car, seemingly possessed, turns only in circles matching
a clockwise traffic arrow. Viewed from above, the car inscribes a
mandala in the street. The segment ends, and so does the film. Clearly,
the supernatural is an oppositional force to development here -in
contrast to the first two segments.
Perhaps the readiest way to thematize this final sequence is to invoke
the opening sentence of "The Communist Manifesto": "A specter is
haunting Europe -the specter of communism." This specter has been
duly noted, most elaborately by Jacques Derrida in his book Specters
of Marx, which tackles Fukuyama's grandstanding with readings of the
ghost in Hamlet as well as the spectral tropes in Marx himself. Once
one gets attuned to these figurations of ghostly opposition, they recur
throughout postcolonialist textuality. To cite simply two instances by
way of illustration, consider Frantz Fanon's reference to "the zone of
occult instability where the people dwell" in The Wretched of the Earth
(in Bhabha 35, Bhabha's italics). Or, again, Guyanese writer Wilson
Harris discussing social transformation in the postcolonial world:
And if indeed therefore any real sense is to be made of material change
it can only occur with an acceptance of a concurrent void and with a
willingness to descend into that void wherein, as it were, one may
begin to come into confrontation with a spectre of invocation whose
freedom to participate in an alien territory and wilderness has become
a necessity for one's reason or salvation. (in Bhabha 38, my italics)
The best fictional handling of the ghostly as spiritual transformer I
have found to date is in Barbadian novelist George Lamming's 1960
novel Season of Adventure where the invocation of the spirits in the
drum ceremony provides a prelude to revolt.
I do not want to make excessive claims for these specters -be they
Lamming's, Harris', Fanon's, Marx's or Moffat's. It may simply be, as
Jean Baudrillard quipped in Simulations, that ideologies stabilize on
dualisms or binarisms. The self-congratulatory monologue of the
conqueror makes for rather dull and claustrophobic reading/listening/
viewing. We need to spin dialecticallyy), we have to spin, we love the
spin we are always already in -and who can tell the dancer from the
Let me conclude by addressing a few other issues this film raises
that have been noted by helpful audiences that I have read earlier
versions of this paper to. First, race. Throughout the film, the aboriginal
presence gets biologically muted. The characters in the first story seem
to be of purely aboriginal ancestry; in the second one, all the main
characters are Creole; in the third tale, there is only a trace of aboriginal
physiognomy in the mother and the son. So, paradoxically, the
supernatural exhibits the most oppositional force when the colonized
are a mere racial "trace" in the multi-ethnic present. This makes a kind
of sense: as the aborigines disappear, they swell the ranks of the
spectral, presumably -and displace the colonial ghosts that initially
held the stage when they were the restless spirits (for very different
But Moffat's pessimism is clear. The deck is stacked; the
oppositional forces are mere microsubversions against global capital.
There is a kind of uncongenial quiet despair to the film when all is said
and done, a critique that cannot see any non-ghostly praxis at the end
of the tunnel -but which does not turn that frustration into towering
(and empowering) rage. Political advice, of course, is an unfair request
to make of a filmmaker these days; it would also risk meretriciousness
(propaganda). Insofar as the film is unable to break through to rage,
however, it lacks the catharsis of, say, The Harder They Come. Audiences
I have screened this film for wonder whom Moffat is trying to reach. It
lacks the populist appeal of films such as Smoke Signals or The Harder
They Come. It seems "arty" like the films of the French New Wave, at
times gratuitously so given its subjects. It is a non-populist film about
the effects of colonization. Hence I am forced to conclude its real
audience is the colonizers, especially those liberally inclined and
aesthetically sophisticated. (At this point, I am reminded of Julie Dash's
Daughters of the Dust.) Bedevil is a bedeviled film; it carries the scars of
its conflicted production/director and embodies all of the antinomies
of Jameson's postmodern postcolonial: "Is global Difference the same
today as global Identity?" (Seeds 205). One should greet origins with
sympathy, however. When the oppressed begin to speak, the first
utterances are tentative -and haunted?
COLONIALISM AND THE SUPERNATURAL IN TRACEY MOFFAT'S BEDEVIL 15
Moffat, Tracey, Dir. Bedevil. Women Make Movies, 1993.
Anderson, Perry. The Origins of Postmodernity. London: Verso, 1998.
Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1994.
Derrida, Jacques. Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of
Mourning & the New International. Trans. Peggy Kamuf. London:
Hodge, Bob and Vijay Mishra. "Aboriginal Place." In The Post-Colonial
Studies Reader. Ed. Bill Ashcroft et al. London: Routledge, 1995.
Jameson, Frederic. The Seeds of Time. New York: Columbia University
Lamming, George. Season of Adventure. 1960. London: Allison & Busby,
Leonard, William Ellery. The Locomotive God. New York: Century, 1927.
Thanks to all who gave me wonderful feedback when I presented earlier versions
of this paper at the University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras and at the Third Wave
Feminisms Conference at Truman State University. Your suggestions and leads are
here, I hope. Special thanks to Lowell Fiet, Maria Cristina Rodriguez and Joanna
Casa de longaniza'
Ir de la sala al cuarto, del bafo al comedor y de ahi a la cocina. Un
recorrido rectilineo, unidireccional e inevitable. Para volver a cualquier
habitaci6n debes invertir la flecha y nunca pensar que a traves del
circulo puedes iniciar el viaje en el espacio domestico de una casa de
longaniza, donde los amantes son una estaci6n de paso, abiertos como
el sentarse a la mesa o encender la hornilla de la cocina. La casa de
longaniza es un espacio de promiscuidad y democracia donde las
puertas casi nunca se cierran.
ZVolver al rito?
ZVolver, retornar de nuestro angustiado mundo, de nuestra aldea de
microsoft y mass media a lo primitive de nuestro comportamiento en
tanto artificio y ritual?
ZQu6 sensaci6n la de esas constantes que retornan del hastio y el
ZC6mo saber el signififcado precise de la palabra progress en el
La idea de un teatro viviente que preconizaba el Living Theatre se
hace lejana, cuando la palabra grupo se vuelve ain mas dificil por
inaccesible, por temor al amor en plural, a la poligamia del colectivo.
Estoy en La Habana. Cada vez sobrevive con mis fuerza un teatro
imperfecto, inacabado, podria escribir teatro de aficionados,
tristemente barato pero sabio por vocaci6n, por deseo.
'Hemos hecho lo possible para mantener el format original del ensayo. Ed.
**Casa de las Americas, La Habana, Cuba.
18 NARA MANSUR
He visto El Arca, quinto espectaculo de Victor Varela y Teatro del
Obstaculo, discurso monocorde de Varela, angustiado "artor" -hombre
de teatro que cumple todas las funciones en el espectAculo: describe,
act6a y dirige- que no sabe otra vez a d6nde la nave va y es su condena:
El Arca cubana le quita el sueno. Victor Varela y Teatro del ObstAculo
han construido una partitura polis6mica, ambivalente-como caja
embarcaci6n vivienda flotante sepulcro tronco del cuerpo human sitio
desordenado especie de moluscos boca- donde el mensaje estA Ileno
de dolor, de arraigo a la patria en el sentido barbiano, en el sentido de
las dos puertas. "No quiero una patria constituida por una naci6n o
una ciudad. No lo creo. Sin embargo, necesito una patria" (...) "mi
patria se ha ensanchado. No estA hecha de tierra, de geografia. EstA
hecha de historic, de personas".'
Aparece el rito como acto de oficiantes, "aquella tierra de nadie que
estA entire la vida cotidiana y la situaci6n de espectaculo organizado".2
Aparece un espacio sagrado donde se habla de pure de tomate
ideol6gico, neuronas iluminadas por cuervos, un viento glacial que
vino despues de la caida del bloque socialist del Este, de amor
impossible, un amor que reescribe en esta nueva geografia el C6ntico
Espiritual, 1584, de San Juan de la Cruz,
A d6nde te escondiste amor
y me dejaste sin motivo
como el ciervo huiste
tan lejos que estas ido.3
y junto al poema, asuntos de telenovela, la aduana del aeropuerto, lo
extranjero y la cita al pasado reciente, el past perfect que desapareci6,
aunque el espectAculo no cese de entonar la canci6n Te quedards, como
uno de los tantos homenajes post que contiene -en este caso la mIsica
de Beny Mor6 y la canci6n cubana de los afios 50- y por el acto de fe
que entrafia, de compromise, tambiMn porque "todo trabajo colectivo
de puesta en escena es la ejecuci6n de un ritual"4 tanto en la producci6n
como en el orden del discurso.
Eugenio Barba, "el Pueblo del ritual", Conjunto, n.94, pp.84-91.
2 Eugenio Barba, idem.
3 Victor Varela, "El Arca", Gestos, n.22, nov. 1996, p.153.
4 Patrice Pavis, Diccionario del teatro, Edici6n Revolucionaria, La Habana, 1988,
CASA DE LONGANIZA
Vicente Revuelta viene a ser un ritual progenitor, madre y padre,
mater forever, alma, coraz6n y vida, que alimenta a artists y especta-
dores no s6lo desde su tradici6n cuerpo-mente sino tambi6n desde la
expresividad transesc6nica, desde una 6tica soluble en refresco ins-
tantAneo para vivir, para resistir y crecer en la Revoluci6n inacabada.
Ha sido Vicente uno de los que con mas fuerza ha llamado desde el
teatro cubano a ganar espacios temporales donde tratemos de despo-
jarnos de nuestra vida postiza, 61, un honest romAntico ante los injus-
tos horrores sociales que frenan la identidad humana, quien ha empu-
fiado la poesia cada vez para deshacer apariencias y expresar la imagi-
naci6n en su cuerpo, desde la espontaneidad y la investigaci6n. Para
61 la t6cnica del actor estA Ilena de eticidad, y con este comportamien-
to piensa producer grietas, fisuras en el vasto paisaje de la cotidianidad.
Vuelvo a El Arca: el lugar se llena de significados, antigua logia de
ancianos, demasiado calor, demasiado esfuerzo para tomar un 6mnibus,
farmacias sin bicarbonato y vitamin E; Joseph Beuys aparece desde
las notas al program, es el artist enjaulado, "el hombre como creador
de si mismo"; el recorrido de Teatro del ObstAculo se proyecta a trav6s
de sus espectAculos: se respira una Opera ciega como una premonici6n,
se siente La cuarta pared como una presencia supraracional, se palpa
la limpieza de Segismundo ex Marques, y el olvido al que fuimos
condenados como espectadores ausentes. El recorrido me hace pensar
en "las unidades simb61licas"5 que constituyen el rito, deliberadamente
polis6micas y multivocales. Pero todps hemos llegado a la direcci6n
correct: Ayestaran y 20 de Mayo, Cerro.
Pienso en El Arca como ritual de construcci6n del sujeto hombre
de teatro, como "experiencia de proyecci6n de lo que llama
Soy sentimental ante la idea de la artesania de la voluntad creadora.
Soy romAntica del sudor de los actors. Me da placer la sensaci6n entire
risa y llanto del espectAculo y c6mo la memorial reconstruye cada dia
pequefias lagunas de la misma memorial, y el process es de
reelaboraci6n infinita a trav6s de lectures, conversaciones en las que
El Arca se hace mas sabia.
s Roman Reyes, Terminologia Cientifico-Social, Aproximaci6n Critica, Anthropos,
Barcelona, 1988, p. 875.
S61o quiero afirmar mi propia duda, lo ambivalente del texto entire
mistico y grosero, y rehusar los cliches y significados visuales
afirmativos a priori. Ritual de lo estandarizado, realidad que te agobia
y te hace un lugar comfin mas. Antirritual por la voluntad de
transformaci6n y subversion que le es inherente.
La idea de la democracia se hace ostensible en este enunciado de
Artaud: "Tenemos derecho a decir lo que ya se dijo una vez, y aun lo
que no se dijo nunca, de un modo personal, inmediato, director, que
corresponda a la sensibilidad actual y sea comprensible para todos".
Y Varela, hijo del "principio que retorna", educado en esa tradici6n
viva, en esa tradici6n de los muertos, redactaba en 1988 las notas al
program de La cuarta pared, su primer espectaculo:
El rito, asociado a la idea de un viaje ambiguo, salvaje, orgiastico y
profano del actor que personifica a un personaje, de rechazo y pretexto
para un encuentro con el espectador, culmina con un encuentro de
si, no como ser cotidiano sino en calidad de su mas alta distinci6n,
la dimension de santo en la consagraci6n. Opuesto y paralelo, el
possible viaje del espectador al scenario, condicionado
hist6ricamente por el actor para que ocurra la ruptura de una barrera
mitica, a modo de elecci6n, reafirmara en caso de ruptura, una
transgresi6n que le convierte en c6mplice y adquiere el status de
elegido entire los iniciados. [...] El rito es un double viaje, no concebible
en la definici6n habitual metodol6gica para una praxis ritual pura,
sino dentro de los marcos de la acci6n teatral y las relaciones
Sin embargo, dicha transgresi6n no se puede explicar s6lo por la
manifestaci6n de la energia mAgica. El espectador se reconoce como
propio dentro de los acontecimientos critics de lo social. Esto le
permit concatenar signos, en su condici6n de coautor, que se ajustan
a la problemAtica de su context, y se siente llamado a encontrar dentro
del scenario un sitio c6smicamente seguro.
El sitio c6smicamente seguro retorna como la concepci6n de ritual
en cada espectaculo, como la poliespuma y el cart6n. El sitio
c6smicamente seguro- inspirado tal vez en "El sitio en que tan bien
se estA", un poema de Eliseo Diego de su primer libro, En la Calzada de
Jesus del Monte, 1949- vuelve a El Arca, texto y espectaculo que yo vi
como escritura esc6nica e instalaci6n de future. Eliseo describe,
CASA DE LONGANIZA
si alguien pregunta diganle
aqui no pasa nada, no es mas que la vida,
y usted tendra la culpa como un lio de trapos
si luego nos dijeran qu6 se hizo la tarde,
qu6 secret perdimos que ya no sabe,
que ya no sabe nada.7
Es con ElArca, el teatro, pienso que con una vocaci6n 6tica y political
impostergable, el que propone "elevarse por encima del nivel de la
realidad y encontrar un sitio c6smicamente seguro".
Si en 1988 Varela afirmaba que padeciamos de una insoportable
"seguridad" ahora reflexiona,
Por fin estamos hundidos.
Por fin no estamos
Elevarse por encima del nivel de la realidad y encontrar un sitio
c6smicamente seguro. Pero ahora Victor afiade a la frase casi de monje,
la charranada populista de la canci6n de salsa. Juan Formell compuso
La sandunguera, en la que le advierte a esta mujer fatal y manipuladora:
"sandunguera, ti te vas por encima del nivel, no te muevas mas asi que
se te va por encima la cintura". Hay una intenci6n de comunicaci6n
inmediata en la puesta en escena, el sitio c6smicamente seguro es
absolutamente terrenal y es nuestro deber encontrarlo, un reclamo
mistico -para decirlo con la canci6n de Miguel Matamoros- de
sobrevivencia, es nuestro deber persistir como humans, en esta tierra
la revoluci6n de la revoluci6n
la revoluci6n verdadera."
Eliseo Diego, Poesiu, Editorial Letras Cubanas, La Habana, 1983, p.60.
Victor Varela, Ob.cit., p.158.
22 NARA MANSUR
El espectaculo insisted en volverse hacia afuera como expansion de
la libertad interior,
A una expansion de la dimension humana y de
La posibilidad de encontrar ese sitio para proteger la especie es un
lugar imaginario con nieve o sin ella,
Estoy hablando de la imaginaci6n
de una imaginaci6n de nuevo tipo
y del concept ampliado de acci6n
para fundar una tierra dentro de los dominios
del Arca que no justifique su existencia."
Abrirnos hacia afuera es reinventar la historic, rehacer la revoluci6n
de la revoluci6n,
y en ella como portadores del amor
poblar la historic con corazones francos
que alcen la vista por encima de la devastaci6n
que tantas almas mediocres
El mensaje es absolutamente director y el ojo del actor busca el del
espectador. "El Arca se expone a su pfblico".13 Es una ceremonia en la
que se trae la nieve del polo al Mar de las Antillas, donde se mezcla un
texto de Pascal y el teatro vernaculo, Heiner Muller y la Biblia, y el
sentido puede ser cantar Besame much sin tener miedo de besarnos
y perdernos despues, el sentido 6ltimo es "encontrar la nueva moral
que expresa el conflict con la objetividad de una herida que sangra y
Ilega a donde tiene que llegar".14
Victor Varela, Ob. cit., p. 145.
: Alicia del Campo, "A manera de pr61logo:preguntas a Victor Varela", Gestos,
n.22, nov. 1996, p.130.
CASA DE LONGANIZA
Transgredir nuestra cotidianidad, ser consciente de esta culturala
de los afectos" a la cual pertenecemos, construir una identidad
plurivoca sensual, conciliadora, que como la sandunguera rompa el
equilibrio, como el actor entrenado en sobrepasar su obstaculo, el
artificio que abandon su propia naturaleza, la demasiada bilirrubina
se emparientaron "la demasiada luz que forma otras paredes con el
polvo", para no agotar la poesia con la frase de moda, para no ser
graffiti barato o piropo sin elaborar.
Para celebrar el rito del encuentro y la comunicaci6n, ojo a ojo,
necesidad del espectador, necesidad de un mundo pre-expresivo del
actor, necesidad de tecnica y coraz6n, necesidad de ironizar nuestro
sentimentalismo, para seguir siendo sentimentales, con la intenci6n de
sacralizar, historizar la ceremonia o reuni6n de la vida, de la cotidianidad.
Para no seguir haciendo dietas y tenirnos el pelo con I'oreal, para
que la Plaza de la Revoluci6n sea del Che y de Cristo, porque el mensaje
de amor del Santo Padre no vale mAs que el de un hombre enamorado.
Me gusta el teatro porque es humilde, transcurre con absolute
modestia. Aspira a perseverar solamente en la memorial. El caracter
de lo efimero me hace no preferir el resultado, sino el hecho en si, la
idea, la interrelaci6n con el espectador, eso que transcurre de una
manera implacable. 0 pudiera decir, la ceremonia, el acto de ofrenda,
de entrega. Al final voy a terminar hablando de generosidad.
Victor Varela ve ElArca como "encuentro entire lo contemporaneo y
la tradici6n donde el bufo cubano, que estA en los origenes de nuestro
teatro, es reinventado y superado al enfrentarlo con las formas actuales
que en Teatro del ObstAculo se usan para contar-ocultar histories".15
Es un texto "tratado como cuerpo, atravesado por un hilo de tension"
lo que intensifica su posibilidad de emocionar, de conmover, de
"imprimir en 61 la sangre caliente del actor o darle un bafto de agua
fria, incluso ambos, como cuando hundimos un metal al rojo vivo en el
agua. El trabajo no s6lo constitute una puesta en ritmo en la voz del
15 lbid.,p. 129.
actor, tambien una puesta en temperature. Mi exploraci6n en este
campo -manifiesta Varela- se debe a que pertenezco a una cultural
del afecto donde no importa lo que se dice, sino c6mo se dice","' tal
vez porque "el Arca es una sola"17 y porque el se niega "a ser/ un
product legitimo del Arca".'
Creo en la posibilidad de que existira siempre un espacio vacio e
inexplorado para que el hombre de teatro que si tiene algo que decir
se disponga a organizer significados, y en la noche, en la suave estirpe
de la luna que todo lo vigila, se entregue no en acto de sacrificio sino
de vocaci6n y tecnica a los espacios infinitos, donde aguardan los
espectadores que lo convidan a su vez, a elevarse por encima del nivel
de El Arca y a no abandonar la luna que ilumina entire tantos muros,
una casa de longaniza.
Victor Varela, Ob.cit., p. 136.
ll Ibid., p.140.
Carnival Meets Dancehall:
Winkler's Vision of Heaven in The Duppy
T he Duppy is an outrageous representation of heaven. The
Transition from this life to the afterlife takes place not in a fiery
A c chariot but an overcrowded minibus; instead of sailing through
a tunnel towards heavenly lights one must squeeze through a culvert;
instead of sheep, angels and manna there are mangy dogs, thieving
gardener boys and tinned bully beef; instead of celibacy there is celebratory
sex; and most outrageous of all, God as Source of Light is actualised as a
peenywally. "What you going do next, grind de universe?" (130)
The question asked by an indignant moral voice in the text may
justifiably be redirected to Winkler, whose novels have increasingly
displayed an eagerness to attack normally taboo subjects such as race,
sexuality and religion with raucous irreverence. Indeed, the assertion
of the narrator Baps on the first page of the book -"I welcome this
opposition"- could easily be taken to be Winkler's motto.
Such outrageousness, presented in a package of off-the-wall humour,
has largely been responsible for the popularity of Winkler's other novels
-most notably The Lunatic. The Duppy proceeds at a similarly jaunty
pace. Unlike The Lunatic, however, The Duppy cannot as conveniently
be enjoyed as mere farce: not even the most cursory reading can ignore
the religious irreverence which may be seen by some to be
blasphemous. Winkler pushes outrageousness to a new extreme. To
what extent is this merely outrageousness for outrageousness's sake?
Winkler's heaven parallels the world as we know it in geographical
terms: there is Jamaican heaven, American heaven, French heaven,
and presumably the whole gamut of heavenly nations. But it is Jamaican
heaven which seems most outrageous -resembling earthly Jamaica
University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica
in its topography and populace- in nearly every way, in fact, except
that firstly, like other heavenly nations, there is no pain due to God's
universal law, "Thou shalt feel good no matter what" (92); and secondly,
unlike other heavenly nations, sexual inhibitions and restraint have
been replaced by freeness and female sexual aggressiveness, resulting
in abundant joyous mingling of hood and pumpum.
The narrator Baps, a conservative, middle-aged black countryside
shopkeeper with very firm ideas about what is decent and appropriate,
is at first not altogether comfortable with this Jamaican heaven, which
is a departure from all that he has been taught by established religion.
This is an out-of-order heaven, with no hell, no sheep ("heaven without
sheep was clearly out of order" ), no tunnel with sweet music, and
most annoyingly, with "decent people chuck-up with criminal" (13).
However, he soon begins to feel at home when he realises that, in
accordance with the heavenly principle of "what you want you get"
(20), he can continue to keep shop, drastically marking up goods and
imposing artificial shortages like any respectable Jamaican
entrepreneur, thereby being able to pursue his favourite pastime of
imposing "discipline and fiscal restraint" (18) on nasty, unruly, freeness-
seeking socialist ole negar. And although he is at first resistant to the
corpulent matrons who are quick to offer him a welcoming grind ("Angel
not supposed to be so meaty"), he soon recognizes the advantages
of a land in which "hood thrives and prospers" (31), "every wish or
whim is granted" (60) and there is "no harm, hurt, sorrow or regret.
All is joyful and fun"(61). God's peenywally appearance is a surprise
-"my upbringing had led me to expect a big and powerful Somebody
with meat on the bone and plenty muscle" (76)- but such surprise is
quickly superseded by his awe in coming face to face with the Almighty:
"Baps, you lucky son of a gun! Imagine, you, a humble, dirty-minded,
lowdown shopkeeper, and here God is flying beside your earhole and
chatting with you as if the two of you were best friend" (77).
There is only one heavenly principle to which Baps cannot become
reconciled: the preposterous notion that "there may be good in the
heart of all" (133), even the butu rabble known as ole negar. The issue
of the black Jamaican's distancing of himself from other black Jamaicans
resurfaces in all of Winkler's books, and here Baps is no different from
Winkler's other black protagonists. Despite all indications and lessons
from God to the contrary, he stubbornly clings to his prejudices. Such
prejudices of course amount to schizophrenic self-hatred, as Winkler
illustrates when Baps, having just died, sees his own body lying on the
floor and indignantly wonders if "some ole negar come and dead in my
CARNIVAL MEETS DANCEHALL: WINKLER'S VISION OF HEAVEN IN THE DuPPY 27
drawing room... without asking permission" (4). Baps heatedly points
out to God that "it is an act of colonialism to venture onto our shores
and try to gainsay what we Jamaicans know to be unshakeable truths
about the most degenerate members of our population" (14). Such a
delicious example of pompous colonialist posturing aside, the
institution of self-hatred is of course in itself one of the vilest acts of
When God and Baps decide to visit American heaven (Baps seeking,
like many Jamaicans, "the broadening of knowledge that comes with
foreign travel" ), God decides to travel in disguise as the ole negar
Egbert, much to Baps's distress and embarrassment. Egbert's
subsequent out-of-order behaviour, demonstrating his worship of "the
idols of rum, dancehall and canepiece pumpum" (134), actualises Baps's
prejudiced predictions; but Baps rejects God's claim that Egbert has
been constructed out of Baps's mind. When Baps reluctantly agrees to
be changed into Egbert so that he can "dwell inside the flesh and bone
of [his] own creation" (134), Egbert eventually transcends his supposed
ole negar limitations by nobly sacrificing his own safety in the interest
of God's. Although the diehard stubborn Baps refuses to acknowledge
this, the significance of the merging of Baps and Egbert is clear. Baps is
Egbert, and Egbert is Baps, and there is good in all men. By attacking
the identity crisis of black self-hatred, Winkler therefore succeeds in
subverting one of the more destructive relics of colonialist distortion.
(And by such subversion Winkler of course subverts his own whiteness,
as he has done in nearly all his novels.)
Baps eventually accepts the other terms of Jamaican heaven, but his
indoor parson, i.e. the inner voice that played the role of his conscience
on earth, certainly does not: "Dis peenywally is God? Where the golden
throne? Where de cherub? Where de hosts bawling hosanna?" (77). Or
as the parson scathingly notes elsewhere, "Dis heaven is a land of
pumpum and dumpling. I wonder if we in hell?" (57).
The indoor parson is much more comfortable with American heaven,
which satisfies more of the conventions of established Judaeo-Christian
teachings: angels float on clouds plunking harps and tending sheep,
everyone eats manna fallen from the sky instead of bully beef or
sardines, all residents have compulsorily had their hoods sheared or
pumpums caulked (so that "woe unto fornicators"  is an expression
of patriotism); and all residents are white -in fact, any visitors to
heavenly America staying longer than two weeks must have their skin
bleached. Not all the conventions of established religion are satisfied,
however: the indoor parson agrees with the disgruntled Americans
that "without a hell, there [is] no point in heaven" (119), that without
pain and suffering heaven is "a demented and unholy land" (89), that
"taking away pain and suffering ruin dere American way of life" (124),
that "this universe is not up to American standards" (146). The deprived
Americans try to compensate by celebrating Hell Day, complete with a
grand parade with "float after float show[ing] similar scenes of wicked
torture and cruelty that the sponsoring civic group thought belonged
in hell" (121). "Yes, sah! Now you talking!" bawls the indoor parson
(121). "Maybe God isn't moral, but America is!" snaps an irritated
Not surprisingly, the soft-spoken, humble, peace-loving God prefers
to reside in Jamaican heaven -which may be just as well since the
Americans have put a federal bounty on him because of his un-American
It soon becomes apparent that Winkler has set up a clear dichotomy:
Jamaican heaven (read Jamaica) is paradise; American heaven (read
America) is a madhouse. Jamaican heaven is full of innocent joy -
with Baps's pleasure at romping with God at cricket matches over the
Jamaican countryside being no more or less than his pleasure at going
for the quarter-century in a bed romp.
The American madhouse, on the other hand, full of hell-bent fanatics,
harp-plunking shepherds and baaing sheep, becomes more and more
ridiculous: "Kiss me neck! It drizzling bread crumb again" (114). Small
wonder that the ole negar Egbert is driven after a few short hours in
this land to wail, "Dis place weird!" (109), and to croak: "Baps!...I need
a white rum bad!" (108).
Egbert soon gets fed up with all the infernal eternal baaing and
eventually loses control: "Hush you rass mouth, ole sheep!" (112). As a
A robed shepherd stopped his harp-plunking and peered down at us
over the edge of his cloud. "Foreigner," he cried, wouldstt thou like to
sit on my cloud with me and my sheep?"
"Not a backside!" Egbert bawled. "...I am a Jamaican duppy! We
don't walk wid sheep, we curry them!" (112)
Winkler ridicules not only America, but also those Americans visiting
Jamaican heaven, all of whom are represented as being fanatical in
one way or another: from the group of university students who want
to stone God because He made the dinosaurs extinct ("Dinosaurs!"
Baps explodes. "You stone God because he clean de earth of a few
CARNIVAL MEETS DANCEHALL: WINKLER'S VISION OF HEAVEN IN THE DUPPY 29
nasty lizard?" ) to the American philosopher who refuses to
acknowledge that God or heaven exist except in his head and is viewed,
like his country of origin, as being "stark, raving mad" (79). The figure
of foreign interloper/destructive force brings to mind the doctor in
The Painted Canoe and Inga in The Lunatic, both of whom, however,
wreak much more havoc than the philosopher -whose greatest harm
is to become an increasing irritant to everyone (including the reader
and also, it appears, the author, who bumps him off somewhat abruptly
and unceremoniously by letting him be suddenly reborn).
By ridiculing America and Americans, by establishing, in contrast,
Jamaica as God's choice of heavenly location, Winkler makes
transparent at least one part of his agenda, one with which readers of
Going Home To Teach will be especially familiar: despite having spent
most of his life in America, Winkler has rejected the heartbeat of that
country, and regards nowhere but Jamaica as home.
Intertwined with this is another subversive strand, as suggested
earlier: Winkler's ridiculing of established Eurocentric, white
constructions of the afterlife, and of morality. It is a nun, it is revealed,
who first told Baps the lie about "shearing of hood at heavenly gate"
(32). When Baps asks God how He can be so relaxed about pumpum
after everything He wrote about it, God declares firmly, "I never wrote
a word about it."
"Den who wrote all dose harsh words againstt pumpum?"
God thought for a brief moment or so and said that He didn't really
know but that a long time ago there was a bearded chap who had
been bucked off a horse someplace in the Middle East...
"You talking 'bout St Paul on de road to Damascus!" my parson
bellowed with outrage. "Dat is blasphemy!"
He remembered now, God recalled dreamily. The fellow who
dropped off the horse and hit his head got up screeching against
"Some people call it dat," I said gloomily. (80)
Catholicism's anti-woman distortions are touched on elsewhere: when,
for example, Baps marvels that "when a Christian repent, de first thing
him give up is woman! Even if woman have nothing at all to do with
him criminality" and God's response is that it is "plain to him that [Baps]
had never attended Catholic school" (106).
At the end, when Baps has been granted a return stay on earth in
order to rescue his shops from disorderly stacking of goods and thiefing
maid and gardener boy, he asks God if He has any deep message that
He wants Baps to put in his forthcoming book about his life as a duppy:
God said, yes. We should stop all the fool-fool preaching against
"Is 'pumpum', not 'tom-tom'!"
Whatever. Stop all the fretting about it and be kind and loving to
one another. (178)
Such distortions are the principal, but by no means the only, ones:
lesser miscellaneous distortions include inaccuracies in the Bible
-for example, God's first creation was not light but stick, and after
stick came scratching with the stick (85). The reason God talks funny,
thingn' and 'thouing' and 'theeing' up the whole place, is because of
all the years of listening to Baptists and Holy Rollers (93). More critically,
Baps learns that violence supposedly perpetuated in God's name was
in fact done without proper authorisation. 'Out-of-order', then, takes
on new and deeper meaning...
The distortions of established religion are of course a legacy of co-
lonialism and are firmly ascribed hereto by Baps's lover, Miss B. When
he agrees to "an inspirational feel-up during the service when the spirit
moved her, but not while she clutched the hymnal" she hisses that
"this was a ridiculous colonial regulation" (55)... And when Baps is
firm that it is "either hood or hymnal, not both" he is fiercely rebuked
"for fostering a backward colonial mentality" (56). Such jabs at colo-
nialism by Winkler may seem partly tongue-in-cheek, but they echo,
however obliquely, the anti-colonialist views expressed explicitly in
Going Home To Teach. And, given America's assumption of the role of
evangelical leadership in the Caribbean in recent decades, not to men-
tion its overpowering of all other aspects of Caribbean life, Winkler's
entire anti-American position can be interpreted as anti-neo-colonialist.
In this regard Baps's pro-American indoor parson becomes more than
merely the voice of convention. The conflict between Baps and his parson
represents another equally insidious aspect of Baps's schizophrenia and
of the inner conflict of the colonised: the embracing of foreign values; the
rejecting of self for other; so that when Baps admits to God that "a parson
dwelled inside me" and God recommends that he "try exorcism" (78),
the implication of evil to be exorcised takes on special significance.
By injecting a defiantly rootsy black Jamaican consciousness into
the traditional Judaeo-Christian white representation of heaven, by
subverting established religion, by constructing a no-nonsense
CARNIVAL MEETS DANCEHALL: WINKLER'S VISION OF HEAVEN IN THE DiPPY 31
unpretentious alternative to traditional heavenly conceptions, Winkler
thereby overturns one of the most resilient bastions of colonialist and
neo-colonialist dominance in the Caribbean. Thus Winkler's challenge
of the Eurocentric religious construct is the ultimate subversion.
Such subversion becomes all the more intriguing when viewed in
the context of Winkler's evident fondness for blatant discussion of
normally censored body parts and bodily functions in The Duppy, a
fondness which has been well established in his other works. The
connection to Bakhtin's notions of the carnivalesque, albeit unintended
(Winkler says he has never heard of Bakhtin) is inescapable. Bakhtin's
celebration of the "flowering of a gay, affirmative, and militantly anti-
authoritarian attitude to life, founded upon a joyful acceptance of the
materiality of the body" (Dentith 66) certainly reminds one of Winkler,
as does the articulation of "an aesthetic which celebrates the anarchic,
body-based and grotesque elements of popular culture, and seeks to
mobilise them against the humourless seriousness of official culture"
(Dentith 66). Jamaican popular culture, especially dancehall culture,
can readily be described as anarchic, body-based and grotesque, and
its subversiveness has been explored by Carolyn Cooper in her book
Noises in The Blood. Cooper refers to the "vulgar body of Jamaican
popular culture" as "a subversive discourse of marginality and
vulgarity" (7) or as "a profoundly malicious cry to upset the existing
social order" (5), converting "a form of subordination into an
affirmation" (2). As she says, "hierarchy inversion is an important
project of these low-culture texts" (11).
Bakhtin focuses on the grotesque body in popular culture. In striking
contrast to the classical body with its 'perfect' physical proportions,
the grotesque body, full of protrusions and orifices, with exaggerated
genital organs and bowel functions, celebrates its imperfections.
Winkler has also consistently depicted grotesque exaggerations of the
human body in his works: from the hideously deformed Zachariah and
his ugly wife Carina in The Painted Canoe to the excessively corpulent
Father Huck and his equally capacious lover Missus Grandison in The
Great Yacht Race, and now in The Duppy, to a plethora of generously
apportioned elderly church sisters and eager-to-be-hospitable
respectable matrons like Miss B, who, when asked by Baps "why she
continues to resemble a breeding Red Poll cow when she could just as
easily look like better", growls in response that:
she happened to love herself black and fat, which was why she hadn't
availed herself of government bleaching and thinning. She boastfully
32 KIM ROBINSoN-WALCOTT
declared that she liked being beefy, loved her jelly belly, and was
perfectly content to perch on her stool and float on a tube of batty
She then challenges Baps to say that "a fatty woman wasn't a
comfortable smooth ride and better by far than any bony woman" (53),
which Baps is hard pressed to deny, given the fact that she brought
him to the point of ecstasy fifty-five times the previous night. "'I practise
fatty power!' she cockadoodledooe[s]" (54).
Such fatty power is hard to miss in Jamaican dancehalls, whose
generously apportioned, gold-bedecked queens emphasise and
exaggerate their protruding stomachs, jelly bellies, breasts and
buttocks, by adorning them in luminescent spandex, while dancehall
divas like Lady Saw proclaim their superior sexual prowess in a way
that reminds one very much of Miss B:
Mi waan wuk wid you
Mi ave di fatness inna mi clothes
An it waan you too...
Gi mi di wuk, boy, try no complain
Mek yuh groan an groan again an again...
Mi ave di grease to grease yuh waistline
When yuh done yuh come time after time...
(Lady Saw,"Wuk With You", from the Passion LP)
Pumpum does indeed rule: these powerful aggressive women of the
dancehalls attest to the reality that they are the ones who hold the
true power, not the men; they are the ones who have supported their
families, raised their children, and, as dramatically exemplified by the
higglers of the eighties, kept the Jamaican economy afloat. In all his
novels, Winkler's black women, who constantly call and call for the
shots, consistently reflect this reality of the precise location of power
in Jamaican culture. As discussed by Carolyn Cooper, Louise Bennett's
poems have long proclaimed this fact:
Look how long Jamaica oman
-Modder, sister, wife, sweetheart -
Outa road an eena yard deh pon
A dominate her part!
CARNIVAL MEETS DANCEHALL: WINKLER'S VISION OF HEAVEN IN THE DUi'Y 33
Neck an neck an foot an foot wid man
She buckle hole her own;
While man a call her 'so-so rib'
Oman a tun backbone!
(Selected Poems, 21-22)
Cooper's note that "[t]he speaker's disdainful allusion to the biblical
narrative of origins, conveys her contempt for a sanctimonious
patriarchal prejudice that dehumanises women in the name of religion"
(50) reminds one of the Judaeo-Christian distortions attacked by
Winkler in The Duppy.
Again, the church sisters who eagerly offer their services (before,
during and after service) to Baps in The Duppy, like Missus Grandison
in The Great Yacht Race who eventually succeeds in deflowering the
hapless Father Huck, are not merely a satirical comment on societal/
religious hypocrisy or a tool of satirical subversion for Winkler. They
are a reflection of real Jamaica, where sex and religion are not, and
have never been, incompatible. The sexual involvement of
fundamentalist church sisters with their male church leaders (who often
sound like Baps's indoor parson) has of course long been accepted as
a common, albeit scandalous, practice in Jamaica and elsewhere. But
sex need not undermine religious integrity; in many non-western
religions it has always been an integral part of religious ritual, and even
in the case of Catholicism, as Robert Antoni has suggested both directly
(in a seminar) and indirectly (in his novel Blessed Is The Fruit), religious
excitement and sexual excitement become indistinguishable, so that
'the agony and the ecstasy' takes on new meaning. Jamaican
popular culture has been recognizing this compatibility in recent
years, with figures like Lady Saw and, for a time, Capleton, espousing
carnality and spirituality with equal enthusiasm, and without public
censure. As Joe Pereira notes in his conference paper, "Babylon to
Vatican -Religion in the Dancehall":
Lady Saw,...top female DJ who continues to be undisputed queen of
sex lyrics, can sing a highly successful song of praise and thanks to
God ("Glory be to God") for her material advancement resulting from
those same "slackness" songs. In the midst of his album of sex lyrics,
"Gold", of 1991 Capleton sings a song "Bible fi dem", proclaiming his
religious righteousness. It is neither that these singers are being
inconsistent nor that they are being opportunist. Indeed, their
reconciliation of sex with spirituality is consistent with a value system
that does not dichotomize carnality and spirituality (Pereira 5).
We recall God's denial to Baps, mentioned earlier, that He never wrote
a word about pumpum, and His perplexity at mankind's preoccupation
with it. The sexual eagerness of Miss B et al. is conveyed as healthy
and innocent. Carolyn Cooper refers to a so-called "vulgar Port Royal
ditty" named "Me Know No Law, Me Know No Sin", and points out that:
[W]e can trace its genealogy in that vibrant tradition of contemporary
Jamaican dancehall music in which women, in the spirit of the persona
of that song, vigorously celebrate their freedom from the constraints
of law and sin: echoes in the native bone (Cooper 22).
For Bakhtin, the grotesque body is "a body in the act of becoming"
(Rabelais and his World, 317): "it represents either the fertile depths or
the convexities of procreation and conception" (RW 339). From a
carnivalesque perspective, the prominence given to sex and the
relevant tools for sex in Winkler's novels then becomes a signifier for
Winkler's affirmation of the cycle of life, as opposed to merely an
affirmation of the joys of shedding one's misguided inhibitions. As Baps
points out, if all grinding ceased then "de whole population [would]
perish" (84). Certainly all Winkler's works have displayed what Wayne
Brown in his discussion of The Lunatic has called a "scandalous joie de
vivre". And as we recall the scene in The Lunatic where Aloysius
attempts to grind the ground, this seemingly absurd act may then
transcend its limitations, becoming replete with the symbolism of a
desperate yearning for renewal and regeneration as Aloysius seeks to
plant his seed in the womb of the fertile Mother Earth.
For Bakhtin, "the essential principle of grotesque realism is
degradation" (RW 19), but this degradation is not merely negative, but
rather ambivalent, linked to regeneration and renewal. In Jamaican
dancehall culture, too, some of the more blatantly degrading lyrics are
often ambivalent, for example:
Hol up yu han, cause yu arm smell good...
Dem de gyal, dem no bathe, dem wipe up
An come a dancehall, an dem a jump up
An dem a wain up, and dem sweat up
An den di frowsy scent it start come up
("Gyal Man" by Johnny P, quoted in Cooper 155)
Once one gets past any initial revulsion, the listener can regard these
lyrics simply as an exhortation for good hygiene. Winkler, however,
CARNIVAL MEETS DANCEHALL: WINKLER'S VISION OF HEAVEN IN THE DIqI'Y 35
often seems unambivalent in his use of such tools of degradation.
Alongside an abundance of hood, pumpum and "roly-poly batty flesh"
(45) are numerous less fond references to batty, batty hole and the
gaseous emissions from such an orifice. "New York on earth is a sinkhole
of human wastes, with...air so dirty that it curdles in the crowded
streets like a fart at a tea party" (108). Given Winkler's seemingly
unambivalent position with regard to America, such negativity is not
On the other hand, when Baps gets an opportunity to play God his
first plan is to create a fart-free woman. "I don't care what anybody
say, a farting woman is a hardship on creation" (155). He institutes a
ritual where he subjects his followers to the ultimate degradation: batty-
kissing during worship. To his disgust, they comply, "no matter what
trouble and woe I visited upon them, for they had no free will" (162).
This ritual remains in place until Baps, "weary of the nasty batty-kissing
brutes" (162), institutes free will -and batty-kissing occasionally turns
into subversive batty-biting. Indeed, in such instances of references to
body parts and bodily functions, subversive batty-biting (as opposed
to batty-kissing which one would be hard-pressed to envisage the
author engaging in) seems to be Winkler's main motive- in other words
such a discourse of vulgarity reads simply as Winkler's desire to shock,
to interrogate established values, to proclaim in his 'politics of noise'
a carnival of clashing world views- high/refined versus low/vulgar.
So when Baps flies innocently naked through heaven, the indoor
parson's indignant screeching that he is "exposing de purity of starlight
to nasty batty hole" (130) could speak for a conservative reader's view
of The Duppy as a whole. Yet this is surely an act of supreme liberation
and connection with the cosmos for Baps; and Baps's guess that the
leaves of The Duppy may be used "to wipe batty" (141) extends way
beyond Baps's assumption of the reader's adverse reaction to a positive
portrayal of ole negar, to Winkler's presumed anticipation of an outraged
public reaction to his entire out-of-order, but celestially down-to-earth,
representation of the afterlife.
However negative Winkler's.references to batty may be, those to
hood and pumpum are unadulteratedly delighted, and delightful. And
it is hood and pumpum which are the pivotal tropes around which The
Duppy ultimately revolves. God's message to mortals -"stop fretting
about pumpum and be kind and loving" (178)- may be deeper than
Baps first realises because pumpum and all that it represents (i.e. the
positive forces of regeneration described by Bakhtin) have been
marginalised and suppressed by modern culture since the Renaissance.
Natural joy and spontaneity have been replaced by a "uniform, fixed,
hierarchical world view" (Dentith 79). What is real has been distorted
by elite regulation. Hypocrisy abounds. God's plea is for the shouldisms
that have been distorted by mankind to be rejected, for "a lot of should
leads to principle and principle leads to murder" (131). Rather, God calls
for tolerance and recognition that there is "good in the heart of all" (133)
-because, as God says, "all things are me, and I am all things" (165).
Long before we have reached the end of The Duppy, Baps's, and
seemingly Winkler's, affection and respect for the simplicity and
goodness of the humble, self-effacing Almighty have been imparted to
us as readers. So that The Duppy's final message, found in its last line,
is but confirmation of what we already know: Mankind has "more to
fear from man than from God" (183).
Finally, then, The Duppy satisfies the essential criterion of
carnivalised writing by "[taking] life for a joke" (93); by projecting the
"positive regenerating force of carnival laughter" (Dentith 72); by
representing, as Bakhtin says, "the culture of folk humour...that
reflects] the struggle against cosmic terror and creates] the image of
the gay, material bodily cosmos, ever-growing and self-renewing" (RW
340); by creating a world in which "terror is conquered by laughter"
Carnival meets dancehall: in its representation of "the vulgar body
of Jamaican popular culture," the culture of folk humour, and as
subversion of authority, be it the overturning of conservative Eurocentric
religious teachings or of American culture or of colonial distortions of
identity, The Duppy is undoubtedly successful. But its most lingering
success lies in its affirmation not only of God, but of life itself.
CARNIVAL MEETS DANCEHALL: WINKLER'S VISION OF HEAVEN IN THE DuPPY 37
Antoni, Robert. Blessed Is The Fruit. New York: Henry Holt, 1997.
Seminar discussion, 16th Annual Conference of West Indian
Literature, University of Miami, 1997.
Bakhtin, Mikhail. Rabelais And His World. Translated by Helene Iswolsky.
Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984.
Brown, Wayne. "A Naipaullian Fable" in his column "In Our Time" in
the Trinidad Express, April 26, 1989.
Cooper, Carolyn. Noises In The Blood. Orality, Gender and the 'Vulgar'
Body of Jamaican Popular Culture. Warwick University Caribbean
Studies. London and Basingstoke: MacMillan Caribbean, 1993.
Dentith, Simon. Bakhtinian Thought: An Introductory Reader. Critical
Readers in Theory and Practice. London and New York: Routledge,
Pereira, Joe. "Babylon to Vatican-Religion in the Dancehall".
Unpublished paper presented at 16th Annual Conference on West
Indian Literature, University of Miami, 1997.
Winkler, Anthony C. The Duppy. Kingston: Kingston Publishers, 1997.
Going Home To Teach. Kingston: Kingston Publishers, 1995.
The Great Yacht Race. Kingston: Kingston Publishers, 1992.
The Lunatic. Kingston: Kingston Publishers, 1987.
The Painted Canoe. Kingston: Kingston Publishers, 1983.
Conversation with the author, July 1997.
International Affairs and the Sugar Industry:
The Enslaved Body in Colonial Cuba
Linda Maria Rodriguez Guglielmoni*
he 19th century in Latin America may be defined as a time of
nation building. The new nations had to legitimize themselves
and their concerns were translated by writers into novels that
explored national identities. As part of this intellectual exploration,
the authors of these former colonies wrote about the customs, ethnic
backgrounds, and history of their people; thus, the historical novel
arose in Latin America. Often, as Doris Sommer suggests, the writers
were more ideal than realistic:
In the epistemological gaps that the non-science of history leaves open,
narrators could project an ideal future based on an ideal national
Facts and accuracy were not the priority then; instead, it was to produce
a national literature, independent of European models, which would
teach the people about their own customs and history. Bartolom6 Mitre,
historian and one-time president of Argentina, insisted on the
importance of the novel for the emerging nations of America. In his
own novel Soledad (1847) he writes in the prologue:
*University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguiez Campus.
I Doris Sommer, "How Romance Can Love Us To Death," The Historical Novel in
Latin America: A Symposium, Ed. Daniel Balderston (Gaithersburg, MD: Ediciones
Hispamerica, 1986): 49.
LINDA MARIA RODRIGUEz GUGLIELMONI
...quisieramos que la novela echase profundas raices en el suelo virgen
de la America. El pueblo ignora su historic, sus costumbres apenas
formadas no han sido filos6ficamente estudiadas, y las ideas y
sentimientos modificados por el modo de ser politico y social no han
sido presentadas bajo formas vivas y animadas copiadas de la
sociedad en que vivimos. La novela popularizaria nuestra historic
echando mano de los sucesos de la conquista, de la 6poca colonial, y
de los recuerdos de la guerra de la independencia.2
In the Caribbean we encounter a similar case. As in South America
the 19th-century Caribbean saw groups of citizens emerge who desired
reform and, ultimately, independence. At this time many of the Car-
ibbean colonies began to change socially and economically. Haiti
had achieved independence in 1804, of course. However, many of
the Dutch and English colonies had been over-exploited and had
moved into an economic cycle of recession. The British had offi-
cially ended the slave trade in 1808 and abolished slavery in their
colonies in 1833. Other countries made the trade illegal early in the
century: Denmark in 1802, Sweden in 1813, and France in 1814. Sla-
very was finally abolished in the French and Dutch colonies in 1848
and 1863, respectively; but this did not mean better treatment for
the ex-slaves, or their participation in government. Furthermore, the
decay in the other Caribbean colonies actually was translated into
more wealth for Cuba. It was after 1830 that Cuba became known as
the "jewel in the Spanish Crown."3 Thus when Gertrudis G6mez de
Avellaneda was growing up in Cuba, she must have been surrounded
by a community that was full of economic and social activity. In the
following pages, we will explore what this activity meant for
Avellaneda and her literary work.4
2 Bartolome Mitre, Soledad (Documents Section, 4th Series, Tome 1, 4) Buenos
Aires: Imprenta de la Universidad, 1928) 94-95.
3 Franklin W Knight, The Caribbean: The Genesis of a Fragmented Nationalism
(New York: Oxford UP, 1978) 87.
4 For a bibliography of works by Gertrudis G6mez de Avellaneda, translations,
and articles about her, see: Hugh A. Harter, "Gertrudis G6mez de Avellaneda,"
Spanish American Women Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Source Book (New York:
Greenwood P, 1990) 222-25.
INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS AND THE SUGAR INDUSTRY
La Avellaneda: Early Feminist and Social Reformer
Gertrudis G6mez de Avellaneda was born in 1814, the same year in
which Walter Scott's Waverly was published in Great Britain.' She was
born in Puerto Principe, an inland town in Cuba. Avellaneda's father
was a seaman in charge of international shipping, and the port, Cubitas,
which served Puerto Principe received ships from New York, Boston,
and other American and European cities.
About the education Avellaneda might have received Polly F. Harrison
writes, "There was no formal education available to Cuban women until
the late 19th century. Those who did acquire some education were
autodidacts or tutored at home."' Nevertheless, Avellaneda herself tells
us in her autobiography that she was a precocious child who loved
reading and who put on plays with her girlfriends. When her drama
books were taken away from her, she started writing and acting out
her own plays.7 Avellaneda showed a strong will of character from her
early years. At sixteen she broke an engagement that had been arranged
by her grandfather when she was only thirteen. It is said that she caused
a scandal in her native Puerto Principe since all necessary preparations
had been made for the wedding. She remembers it in her
autobiographical writing as: "casa, ajuar, dispensa, todo estaba
preparado."8 She goes on to declare that she wished to live "a la
romintica" and had not married not because of "fanatismo de
libertad....sino por no haber hallado al hombre que le inspirara..."..
She did eventually marry twice and was twice widowed.
Throughout her work there appears an enduring emphasis on the
place of women in society and a general concern with public reform.
She openly attacks marriage, and in a letter to the Spanish writer Juan
Valera writes about it as follows:
I For a discussion of connections between Walter Scott and Avellaneda's work
see: Linda Maria Rodriguez, "Historical Narratives in the Caribbean:.Women Giving
Voice to History," diss., The U of Michigan, 1994.
1 Polly F. Harrison, "Images and Exile: the Cuban Woman and her Poetry," Revista/
Review Interamericana 4 (Summer 1974): 187-88.
7 See: Carmen Bravo-Villasante, Una vida romdntica: La Avellaneda (Madrid:
Ediciones Cultura Hispanica, 1986) 18-9.
8 Rosa Valdes-Cruz, "En torno a la tolerancia de pensamiento de la Avellaneda,"
Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos: Revista Mensual de Cultura Hispdnica 380 (1982):463.
9 Valdes-Cruz 463-64.
42 LINDA MARIA RODRIGUEZ GUGLIELMONI
El matrimonio es un mal necesario del cual pueden sacarse muchos
bienes. Yo lo consider a mi modo, y a mi modo lo abrazaria ... con la
bendici6n del cura o sin ella: poco me importaria; para mi el
matrimonio garantizado por los hombres o garantizado por la
reciproca fe de los contrayentes unicamente, no tiene mis diferencia
sino que uno es mas piblico y el otro mis solemne ... el uno es mAs
social y el otro mas individual.'"
In her novel Dos mujeres, she writes, "la mujer es siempre victim en
sus asociaciones con el hombre." In this same novel, one of her
protagonists, Carlos, speaks of marriage and the desire for divorce thus:
"Los hombres nos han encadenado con vinculos eternos y tO, pobre
Angel, seras victim, como yo, de sus tirAnicas y absurdas
instituciones."" She criticizes penal institutions, calling them "inmensos
receptaculos..., en los que no ha penetrado jamAs ni la luz de la
instrucci6n ni el bAlsamo del consuelo". And in condemning the death
penalty, she writes: "Los legisladores han buscado en la muerte del
cuerpo del criminal la destrucci6n del crime, pero se han engafiado: el
crime no puede destruirse sino regenerando el alma, inmortal y
perceptible."12 In Sab, as in Guatimozin, she criticizes the abuses of the
Spanish conquest and speaks of the heroism and nobility of the Indians.
These concerns with abuse, oppression, and the loss of liberty, which
appear in Sab and Guatimozin, are also present in the author's poetry.
Harrison has noted that Avellaneda's poetry is full of images of victors
crushing the conquered; so too, of representations of dependence and
defiance expressed through images of chains and scepters. In addition,
Harrison, as others that have studied Avellaneda's life, states that even
"geographically she was a misfit" since she felt Cuban but spent most
of her life in Spain."3
In Spain, Avellaneda was critically praised, but suffered the injustice
of being rejected by the Spanish Royal Academy. About this incident
Avellaneda wrote in a letter:
'" Beth Miller, "Gertrude the Great: Avellaneda, Nineteenth- Century Feminist,"
Women in Hispanic Literature: Icons and Fallen Idols (Berkeley: U of California P, 1983):
12 Valdes-Cruz 467.
13 Harrison 189.
INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS AND THE SUGAR IN)USTRn 43
Soy acaso el funico escritor de Espafa que jams ha alcanzado de
ningin Gobierno distinci6n ni recompensa (sic) grande o chica. Mi
sexo ha sido un eterno obstfculo a la buena voluntad que algunos
Ministros me han manifestado, y mi amor propio herido ha tenido,
sin embargo, que aceptar como buenas las razones que, fundAindose
siempre en mi falta de barbas, se han servido alegar."'
Nevertheless, her stay in Spain permitted her ample access to literary
circles and books, such as Rousseau's La Nouvelle Hiloise, Bernardin
de Saint-Pierre's Paul et Virginie, and Chateaubriand's Atala which in
part inspired her to write.15 Let us now turn to Sab and see what feminist
ideals and social reforms Avellaneda spoke for in her first novel and
how this novel reflects the history of the Caribbean.
The Fate of the Slave in 19th Century Cuba
Sab The Anti-establishment Novel
The 19th century Cuban novel, Sab, was Gertrudis G6mez de
Avellaneda's first novel written at a very early age and it was her most
controversial work. The novel was banned from Cuba because of its
portrayal of slavery in Cuba and its antislavery message. It was also
subversive since it equated the slavery of the African with the situation
of women in 19th century society. In order to speak about the "fate" of
the slave as portrayed in Avellaneda's novel, we will discuss the
meaning of the word "slave" in Sab. This is a word which takes a fourfold
meaning in this text. The novel requires that we ask, "Who is the slave
in Cuba in the 19th century? Is it the West Africans brought by force to
Cuba, the mulattoes born as slaves because of the ley del vientre, the
criollos forced to live under Spanish domination, or the woman forced
to marry and forever serve her husband?"1'
14 Nelly E. Santos, "Las ideas feministas de Gertrudis G6mez de Avellaneda,"
Homenaje a Gertrudis G6mez de Avellaneda: Memorias del simposio en el centenario
de su muerte (Miami: Ediciones Universal, 1981) 137.
1' Bravo-Villasante 32. For more on the influence of French authors in Sab see,
Alberto J. Carlos, "Ren6, Werther y La Nouvelle Heloise en la primera novela de la
Avellaneda," Revista Iberoamericana 31.60 (July-Dec, 1965): 223-38.
16 Ley del vientre or law of the belly considered any child born to a slave woman
as property of the mother's owner. Criollo refers to the descendants of European
parents born in the Spanish territories in the American continent and the Caribbean.
LINDA MAWdA Roi)RfGUEz GUGLIELMONI
Avellaneda's novel, Sab, begins with the words "veinte afios hace,
poco mds o menos"(it has been twenty years, more or less)."7 The
1841 date of publication of the novel would place the action around
1820. Circa this date, specifically in 1817, a treaty for the abolition of
the slave trade was agreed upon between Spain and England. Under
the terms of the treaty England agreed to pay Spain S400,000 and Spain
agreed to declare the importation of slaves into Cuba illegal as of 1821.'1
The 1817 Treaty did not result in the termination of the importation of
slaves into Cuba since Spain did not intend to end the slave trade.
Julia Moreno Garcia has noted about the 1817 Treaty in her article, "El
abolicionismo en la political international," that while England was
adamant about putting the treaty into effect and keeping Spain to its
word, Spain had no intention of keeping to the terms of the treaty.19
Behind Spain's failure to abide by the 1817 Treaty were economic
reasons. As Jean-Jacques Dessalines declared Haitian independence
in 1804, Cuba was about to be launched as the foremost center of sugar
production in the Caribbean. While Cuba produced only 10,000 tons of
sugar in 1774 by 1882 it produced 595,000 tons. (See Figure 1, 52 below.)2"
During the 19th century the increasing production of sugar in Cuba
generated an increasing need for labor and this need was met, generally,
by importing more and more slaves. (See Table 1 and Figure 2, 52-53
below.) Spain knew that if it ended slavery while the economy in Cuba
17 Gertrudis G6mez de Avellaneda, Sab, ed. Mary Cruz (La Habana, Cuba: Instituto
Cubano del Libro, 1973) 131. All quotations of this book are from this edition and
translations are mine. For a published English translation of Sab see: Gertrudis
G6mez de Avellaneda, Sub and Autobiography, trans. and ed. Nina M. Scott (Austin:
U of Texas P, 1993).
"8 Franklin W. Knight, The Caribbean. The Genesis of a Fragmented Nationalism
(NY: Oxford UP, 1978): 128.
19 Julia Moreno Garcia, "El abolicionismo en la political international," Estudios
sobre la abolici6n de la esclavitud (Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones
Cientificas, 1986). On page 154 Moreno Garcia states: "Si la opinion inglesa, en
general, es favorable al tratado, la opinion en Cuba es totalmente contraria a el.
pues se piensa que este es premature, impolitico, perjudicial e inoportuno al firmarse
en un moment en que Cuba estA empezando a desarrollarse agricolamente en
gran escala y basaba su prosperidad en la mano de obra esclava. La actitud de
ambos paises respect al tratado es, igualmente, diferente. Gran Bretafia esta
decidida a cumplirlo y que se cumpla. Espafna acepta el tratado por conveniencia y
prestigio diplomAtico, pero no tiene intenci6n de cumplirlo."
2" Sources of data for Figure 1: Tables 3 and 5 from Franklin W. Knight, The
Caribbean. The Genesis of a Fragmented Nationalism (NY: Oxford UP, 1978): 237-240.
INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS AND THE SUGAR INDUSTRY 45
demanded slaves it would mean an uprising and perhaps the loss of
the island. In fact, when the 1817 Treaty was to come into effect, in the
year 1821, the slave trading activities in Cuba increased thanks to the
geography of the island and the complicity of the colonial authorities.21
Even by 1835, when a second treaty between Spain and England was
signed, the slave trade situation had not changed. As can be seen from
Table 1 and Figure 2 (53 below) between 1815 and 1839 more slaves
were imported into Cuba per year than at any other time. The Cuban
oligarchy continued to pressure Spain with threats of revolution. The
result was that Cuba became in the 19th century the foremost center
for sugar production and the importation of slaves in the Caribbean.
Yet, once plantations began to prosper, Cuba changed. Civil liberties
suffered under renewed slave trade. The slaves suffered from more
legal and social persecution. Large-scale landowners started to prosper
but the civil liberties of the criollos themselves suffered. The Cuban
antislavery novels of this period, such as Cirilo Villaverde's Cecilia
Valdes, Anselmo Suarez's Francisco, and Jose Ram6n Betancourt's El
negro Francisco, portray this era of Cuban history.22 Schulman states
in his article, "The Portrait of the Slave," that these texts:
...cannot be divorced from the history of the period. It seems to us
especially significant, for example, that they first appeared in 1838,
the year which, according to Ramiro Guerra, signaled the defeat,
dispersal and, ultimately, the silence of the liberals and reformists of
the island. Their growing fears of personal reprisals for acts of
opposition or even thoughts of disconformity in the face of ever more
restrictive colonial edicts gave rise to a generational concern for
human freedom whose expression was sometimes veiled, at times
distorted, in order to escape the vigilant eye of the viceroyal censors.23
21 Moreno Garcia 154.
22 For further readings about the Cuban antislavery novel see: William Luis, "La
novela antiesclavista: texto, context y escritura," Cuadernos Americanos 236.3
(1981): 103-116; William Luis, "Cecilia Valdes: el nacimiento de una novela
antiesclavista," Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos 451-52 (1988): 187-93; Salvador Bueno,
"La narrative antiesclavista en Cuba de 1835 a 1839," Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos
451-52 (1988): 169-86; Ivan A. Schulman, "Reflections on Cuba and Its Antislavery
Literature," Secolas Annals 7 (1976).
23 Ivan A. Schulman, "The Portrait of the Slave: Ideology and Aesthetics in the
Cuban Antislavery Novel," Comparative Perspectives of Slavery in New World
Plantation Societies. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 292, Eds. Vera
Rubin and Arthur Tuden. (NY: New York Academy of Sciences, 1977): 356.
L[NDA MAWfA ROD14GUEz GUGLIELMONI
As early as 1825 the criollos started to suffer very strict oppressive
measures. Banishment was common, the theater and press were under
censorship, popular assemblies, juntas (committees for political
purposes), juries, independent tribunals, the right to vote, and the right
to bear arms were forbidden. It is in this atmosphere that the antislavery
novel appears in Cuba to offer a "countercolonial statement in support
of human liberty."21 At some level, the criollos saw their own fate
reflected in that of the slave. In sum, it was out of the dissatisfaction
with the political atmosphere, and a growing sense of nationalism, that
the Cuban antislavery novel emerged.
This is the historical background to Avellaneda's Sab, a novel which
portrays and criticizes the situation of Cuba's society in the 19th
century. In fact, Avellaneda's depiction of slavery was so clear and
poignant that her novel was considered subversive by the Spanish
authorities and was banned from Cuba. In 1844, Sab together with
another of Avellaneda's novel, Dos mujeres, was denied entry into Cuba
by the Censor Regio de Imprenta, Hilario de Cisneros (Royal Print
Censor). Of Sab, Cisneros declared that it "contained a doctrine
subversive to the system of slavery in the island and contrary to morals
and good customs."''" In the following pages, we will further explore
how Avellaneda portrays the fate of the slave in 19th century Cuba.
First of all, let us discuss the identity of the slave Sab. Sab is the
product of the process known in the Caribbean as blanqueamiento or
whitening. His mother was an African slave and his father was a
Caucasian. Sab says that his mother was a princess from the Congo
and speaks about her as if he were white: "A pesar de su color era mi
madre hermosa" (138) (In spite of her color my mother was beautiful).
We can deduce that the character Sab has internalized white beauty
standards since he uses the expression a pesar de su color (in spite of
her color) to speak about his mother's good looks.
The color of skin was in the 19th century Caribbean, and it is still
now, of great importance. Much attention was paid not only to skin
color, but also facial features and hair quality in order to determine if a
person was white or of African descent. This preoccupation with color
24 Schulman 357.
2* Schulman 362. For more about this see: "Expediente donde se decreta la
retenci6n (y reembarque) de dos obras de Gertrudis G6mez de Avellaneda por
contener doctrinas subversivas y contrarias a la moral." Boletin delArchivo Nacional
40 (1941): 103 and ss.
INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS AND THE SUGAR INDUSTRY
is reflected in Avellaneda's book. Avellaneda gives us the following
description of Sab:
Era el recien Ilegado un joven de alta estatura y regulars proporciones,
pero de una fisonomia particular. No parecia un criollo blanco,
tampoco era negro ni podia cre&rsele descendiente de los primeros
habitadores de las Antillas. Su rostro presentaba un compuesto
singular en que se descubria el cruzamiento de dos razas diversas, y
en que se amalgamaban, por decirlo asi, los rasgos de la casta africana
con los de la europea, sin ser no obstante un mulato perfect.
Era su color de un blanco amarillento con cierto fondo oscuro; su
ancha frente se veia medio cubierta con mechones desiguales de un
pelo negro y lustroso como las alas del cuervo; su nariz era aguilefla
pero sus labios gruesos y amoratados denotaban su procedencia
(The newly arrived was a tall, regularly proportioned youngster, but of
a particular physiognomy. He did not look like a white criollo, neither
was he black nor could he be believed to be a descendant of the first
inhabitants of the Antilles. His face showed a singular makeup in which
could be discovered the cross between two different races, and in which
were amalgamated, so to speak, the characteristics of the African lineage
with the European, being not withstanding a perfect mulatto.
He was of a yellowish white with a certain dark essence; his broad
forehead could be seen half covered with uneven tufts of dark shiny
hair like the wings of the crow; his nose was aquiline but his thick and
dark lips indicated his African descent.)
In the Caribbean, the detailed observation of people to ascertain
their racial heritage is something that continues even today. Sidney W.
Mintz has said of this situation:
...the slave trade eventuated in the "Africanization" of the Caribbean
region, culturally as well as genetically. While the question of "racial"
identity-who is "black" and who is not-is surely one of the most
vexing in the interpretation of Caribbean social structure... 1'
11 Sidney W. Mintz, "The Caribbean Region," Daedalus 103.2 (Spring, 1974): 49.
For a general overview of the issue of color in the Caribbean see, H. Hoetink, "'Race'
and Color in the Caribbean," Caribbean Contours (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP,
LINDAx MAR(A RoD14;uEz GuG;LIELMON]
Avellaneda's book reflects this problem of racial identity. Sab, who
appears more white than black, is a slave in 19th century Cuba because
he was born of a slave woman and the ley del uientre applied to him.27
This law made any child born of a slave woman also a slave, in spite of
the fact that some of these children were the sons and daughters of
European and white criollo masters.
Sab is not only the product of the whitening process, he is also the
product of a western education. He knows how to read and write
Spanish because Carlota, Sab's criolla mistress, shared her school
lessons with him. Sab states about this situation:
Con ella aprendi a leer y a escribir, porque nunca quiso recibir lecci6n
alguna sin que estuviese a su lado su pobre mulato Sab. Por ella cobr6
afici6n a la lectura, sus libros y aun los de su padre han estado siempre
a mi disposici6n, han sido mi recreo en estos piramos, aunque
tambien muchas veces han suscitado en mi alma ideas aflictivas y
amargas cavilaciones. (139)
(With her I learned to read and write, because she never wanted to
receive any lesson without her poor mulatto Sab being at her side.
Because of her I became fond of reading, her books and even those of
her father have always been at my disposition, they have been my
entertainment in this wilderness, even though they have also many
times provoked in my soul distressing ideas and bitter pondering.)
In fact, throughout the novel Sab suffers from troubling ideas that lead
him to question the position to which society has relegated him. We
must not be surprised that the fictional character Sab knows how to
read and write, and that by writing the final document of the novel,
Sab, he gives authority to the text and the telling of his life story."'
There were slaves in 19th century Cuba who were literate and
accomplished writers. Such was the case of Juan Francisco Manzano
who was the son of a free mulatto and a female slave. He published
two poetry collections, Poesias Liricas (1821) and Flores pasajeras
(1830), and his autobiography Apuntes autobiogrdficos, commissioned
by Del Monte in 1835. In 1836 Manzano read his poem "Mis treinta aflos"
in one of Domingo Del Montes's literary tertulias (social gathering) and
this group of antislavery writers bought Manzano his freedom that same
27 Mary Cruz 328.
21 For more on this interpretation see, Doris Sommer, "Sab c'est moi," Hispuamrica:
Revista de literature 48 (1987): 25-37.
INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS AND THE SUGAR INDUSTRY
year. During the Escalera Conspiracy of 1844, Manzano was jailed and
tortured. After this he never published again.29
It is by means of Sab's own power of discourse that Avellaneda gives
us a poignant illustration of the cruelty and injustice of the slavery
system. Avellaneda allows Sab to speak at length of the terrible life
suffered by the slaves:
Bajo este cielo de fuego el esclavo casi desnudo trabaja toda la mafiana
sin descanso, y a la hora terrible del mediodia, jadeando, abrumado
bajo el peso de la lefia y de la canfa que conduce sobre sus espaldas, y
abrasado por los rayos del sol que tuesta sus cutis, Ilega el infeliz a
gozar todos los placeres que tiene para 61 la vida: dos horas de sueno y
una escasa raci6n. Cuando la noche viene con sus brisas y sus sombras
a consolar a la tierra abrasada, y toda la naturaleza descansa, el esclavo
va a regar con su sudor y con sus lIgrimas al recinto donde la noche no
tiene sombras, ni la brisa frescura: porque alli el fuego de la lefia ha
sustituido al fuego del sol, y el infeliz negro, girando sin cesar en torno
de la mAquina que arranca a la caria su dulce jugo, y de las calderas de
metal en las que este jugo se convierte en miel a la acci6n del fuego, ve
pasar horas tras horas, y el sol que torna le encuentra todavia alli...
iAh! si; es un cruel especticulo la vista de la humanidad degradada, de
hombres convertidos en brutos, que Ilevan en su frente la marca de la
esclavitud y en su alma la desesperaci6n del infierno. (135-36)
(Below this sky of fire the slave nearly naked works all morning without
rest, and at the terrible hour of midday, panting, overwhelmed by the
weight of timber and the sugar cane which he carries on his shoulders,
and consumed by the sun's rays that burn his skin, the unhappy one
arrives to enjoy all the pleasures that life has for him: two hours of
sleep and a mere ration. When night arrives with its breezes and
shadows to console the burnt earth, and all nature rests, the slave
goes to sprinkle with his sweat and tears to that place where night
has no shadows, nor the breeze freshness: because there the fire of
the wood has substituted the fire of the sun, and the unhappy black,
turning without stop around the machine that tears out from the sugar
cane its sweet juice, and from the metal cauldrons in which this juice
becomes honey from the action of the fire, sees go by hour by hour,
and the sun that returns still sees him there... Oh! yes; it is a cruel
29 Manzano's writings greatly influenced Cuba's 19"' century antislavery novels.
See: Bueno's "La narrative antiesclavista en Cuba de 1835 a 1839," Cuadernos
Hispanoamericanos 451-52 (1988): 169-86.
LINDA MARIA RODR(GUEZ GU(GLIELMONI
spectacle the view of humanity degraded, of men converted in brutes,
that carry on their foreheads the mark of slavery and in their souls
the desperation of hell.)
Sab did not exaggerate in his description of the hard and incessant
labor that slaves were forced to carry out. One of the books found on
Cuban plantations was the Balance Sheets of the Sugar Harvest. This
book reveals that there were no days of rest for the slaves, "all
biologically available hours being employed in production," and if no
productive work was available, any other work was devised for them
to keep them busy. In this manner no friendships could develop among
the slaves and no rebellious conspiracies could be worked out. The
slaves worked 16-18 hours a day during harvest time and 14-16 hours
at other times.30 Even if Avellaneda's descriptions of the suffering of
the slaves may seem gentle by today's standards, we must not forget
that her book was prohibited in Cuba in its entirety. It was a dangerous
The novel was a dangerous antiestablishment document not only
because of its antislavery message but also because it was an early
feminist text. In Avellaneda's novel the social position of the woman is
compared to the situation of the slave in that same society. In the text
the association between the two is stated by Sab like this:
iOh, las mujeres! ipobres y ciegas victims! Como los esclavos, ellas
arrastran pacientemente su cadena y bajan la cabeza bajo el yugo de
las leyes humans. Sin otra guia que su coraz6n ignorante y cr6dulo
eligen un duefo para toda la vida. El esclavo, al menos, puede cambiar
de amo, puede esperar que juntando oro comprara algfin dia su
libertad: pero la mujer, cuando levanta sus manos enflaquecidas y su
frente ultrajada, para pedir libertad, oye al monstruo de voz sepulcral
que le grita en la tumba. (316)
(Oh, women! Poor and blind victims! Like the slaves, they patiently
carry their chain and lower their head under the yoke of human laws.
Without any other guide than their ignorant and gullible hearts they
choose an owner for life. The slave, at least, can change owner, can
hope that amassing gold one day may buy his freedom: but woman,
when she raises her bony hands and her humiliated forehead, to ask
3I Manuel Moreno Fraginals, "Africa in Cuba: A Quantitative Analysis of the African
Population in the Island of Cuba," Comparative Perspectives on Slavery in New World
Plantation Societies. Annals of the New York Academy of Science 292 (1977): 199-200
INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS AND THE SUGAR INDUSTRY
for liberty, she hears the monster of sepulchral voice that screams at
her from the tomb.)
It is Sab, at the fringe of society, who dares to voice the comparison of
women with slaves. In Slave Women in Caribbean Society: 1650-1838, Bush
speaks about the problem of gender during the era of slavery. Bush writes
that "the slave woman was subordinate to all men and hence suffered
sexual as well as economic oppression," and furthermore, that her "white
European counterpart fared little better than she did herself.""'
Avellaneda was one of the first, if not the first, to use the analogy of
white women as slaves in Cuba. The comparison was used later in the
19th century by other Cuban feminists such as Ana Betancourt de Mora.
Avellaneda even considered women to be more imprisoned than African
slaves because, as Sab stated above, slaves could buy their freedom but
women had to remain married until death. As has been stated before,
the analogy of marriage as slavery was one that preoccupied Avellaneda
and making this concern clear she wrote, "una mujer que engafia a un
marido es una esclava que engafia a su duefio" (a woman who betrays
her husband is a slave who betrays her owner).:2
Then, what is the meaning of the word "slave" in Avellaneda's Sab.
Who is the slave in Cuba in the 19th century? Is it the West Africans
brought by force to Cuba, the mulattoes born as slaves in the island,
the criollos forced to live under Spanish domination, or the woman
forced to marry and forever serve her husband? As we stated before,
the word "slave" takes a fourfold meaning in the text so that the answer
to the question, "Who is the slave in Cuba in the 19th century?" would
be the Africans, the mulattoes, the Spanish criollos, and women of all
colors. And what was the fate of these slaves according to Avellaneda?
Africans and Sab, as a descendant of Africans, had to serve their masters
until death. Sab could have left the family he worked for or he could
have led the other slaves in a revolution but chose not to perhaps
because of his emotional and psychological attachment to the family.
The two female protagonists of the novel, Carlota and Teresa, also
become victims of the society they live in. Teresa enters a convent
because she has no inheritance and therefore cannot attract the man
she loves. On the other hand, Carlota marries an Englishman who is
only interested in her inheritance and her family's property. Eventually
31 Barbara Bush, Slave Women in Caribbean Society: 1650-1838 (Bloomington:
Indiana UP, 1990) 8.
32 Margarita Pefia, "Tres aspects de la obra de Gertrudis G6mez de Avellaneda,
"Didlogos: Artes/Letras/Ciencias Humanas 83 (Sept- Oct, 1978):32.
LINDA MARA Roin~icvEz GtjG;LIELMONI
her husband usurps her entire family's estate leaving her sisters
penniless. Carlota becomes doubly victimized as a woman and as a
criolla. She as a native Cuban and as a symbol for Cuba is exploited for
the enrichment of Europeans who do not appreciate the land for its
beauty but only for its capacity to produce economic wealth.
In conclusion, with her novel Sab Avellaneda created an important
precursor of the antislavery and feminist movement in Cuba. Avellaneda
also denounced the forces of colonialism in her novel. Sab should not be
dismissed as a sentimental love story. It is a feminist story within an
abolitionist text. Avellaneda simply worked within the context that she knew
best, that is, the colonial repressive society of early 19th century Cuba.
Table 1: Forced Immigration of Africans Into Cuba33
Year Number of Africans
Until 1789 138,000
1870 and after 3000
"Table I and Figure 2 based on data from: Manuel Moreno Fraginals, "Africa in Cuba:
A Quantitative Analysis of the African Population in the Island of Cuba," Comparative
Perspectives on Slavery in New World Plantation Societies. Annals of the New York
Academy of Science 292 (1977): 189. Numbers are rounded to the nearest thousand.
INTERNATIONAL AFFA\IS ANI) THE SUGAR INDUSTRY
1780 1800 1820 1840 1860 1880
Policy End of official |
1800 1820 1840 1860
Brathwaite, Kamau. Middle Passages. New York: New Directions: 1992,1993.
Brathwaite, Kamau. Trench Town Rock. Providence, RI.: Lost Roads Publishers, 1994.
Brathwaite, Edward Kamau. X/Self. New York: Oxford U P, 1987.
Brathwaite, Kamau. The Zea Mexican Diary. Madison, WI: U of Wisconsin P, 1993.
First to possess his books.
day of fire dreadful day
day for which all sufferers pray
grant me patience with thy plenty
grant me vengeance with thy word
-Kamau Brathwaite, "Irae"
Kamau Brathwaite is probably less familiar to readers in the U.S.
than Derek Walcott and V.S. Naipaul, the other two members of
what might be called the Caribbean literary triumvirate.
Nevertheless, Brathwaite has recently begun to find an audience, as
evidenced by the release of an unofficial text of selected poems, Middle
Passages, as well as The Zea Mexican Diary and Trench Town Rock
published in the U.S. Brathwaite is widely known as a historian-the
author of The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica (1971) and
Contradictory Omens: Cultural Diversity and Integration in the Caribbean
(1974). His poetry openly exhibits an expertise in the history of his
*Allegheny College, Meadville, Pennsylvania
culture and its origins, as well as the influence of his years as an
education officer in Ghana, where he received the name Kamau under
which he writes today. Like Walcott and Naipaul, Brathwaite received
much of his formal education outside of the West Indies, but his
return there and subsequent reliance on Creole as the essential
language of his experience and expression set him apart from the
other two, whose works are more easily fit into a non-Caribbean
literary canon. At least superficially, Brathwaite's poetry is far less
accessible to readers outside of his archipelago, although his use
of "Nation Language"-Creole and Rastafarian constructs in
particular- earns him great popularity among African Diaspora
communities in North America.
Marrying Caribbean musical forms (calypso and reggae in
particular) to an inheritance of African oral tradition, Brathwaite's
poems are elaborately stylish, resonant, repetitious, and alliterative,
packed with infectious lines one might find careening off the bass of a
sound system, chanted by Linton Kwesi Johnson or Mutabaruka. On
paper, the poems guillotine "standard English": he engages word-play,
intentional misspelling and respelling, dramatic and manipulative
lineation, computer graphics, and a plethora of word-combinations,
cultural slang, sounds, and rhymes that emerge in a "Creolization" of
the language of the British. These freedoms, on which the energy of
most of his poems depend, are for Brathwaite necessary aspects of
Caribbean literature and language as much as they are natural
responses to what he sees as the central inheritance of the West Indies:
the history and legacy of slavery. His lines are steeped in recognition
captured in one of his most famous sentences: "it was in language that
the slave was perhaps most successfully imprisoned by his master,
and it was in his (mis-)use of it that he perhaps most effectively
rebelled." The poems continue, critics have commonly pointed out,
where Caliban left off, reminding Prospero, "You taught me language,
and my profit on't/Is, I know how to curse."
If these characteristics are not enough to confound readers more
comfortable with Walcott's masterly hexameter or Naipaul's
crystalline Brahmanic prose, Brathwaite's poems also integrate a
catalogue of places and cultural figures as various as Angelo
Solimann Africanus, Massacuriman, Kwame Nkrumah, Ras
Makonnen, Toussaint, Quetzalcoatl, Cap Hatien, and Yemajaa in a
muralistic style that is at times overwhelming and elusive. Consider this
stanza from "Stone":
tourists let inwards by the sweeper at the market gate
rush in and shoot us with their latest nikons and many of our men
are lured away to work at chipping ice in sin
cinnati cutting the canal at christopher
columbus place in panama to scraping braille off battleships
blind grey green waters under
bellies: vieques porto bello choc guantanamo bahia 0
black cat nanny nanahemmaa do not desert us now don't let the
harmattan come riding high in here...
Readers less familiar with these histories are held at a distance, like
tourists, while being drawn by the animated insistence of Brathwaite's
language breaking across the page; Wading into X/Self leaves one feeling
the same ignorance and frustration encountered during a first
immersion in "The Waste Land" or Pound's "Cantos", and Brathwaite's
poems also share the Modernist infatuation for bricolage and prophetic
declaration. If Eliot's Anglican posturing would represent all that
Brathwaite abhors and seeks to subvert, the nineteen pages of NOTES
for X/Self ironically resemble Eliot's pretentious endnotes. Perhaps
anticipating our bewilderment, he offers a disclaimer:
The poetry of X/Self is based on a culture that is personal-i-man/
Caribbean-and multifarious, with the learning and education that
this implies. Because Caribbean culture has been so cruelly neglected
both by the Caribbean itself, and by the rest of the world (except for
spot/check and catch-ups via cricket and reggae), my references...may
appear mysterious, meaningless even, to both Caribbean and non-
Caribbean readers. So the notes... which I hope are helpful, but which
I provide with great reluctance, since the irony is that they may suggest
the poetry is so obscure in itself that it has to be lighted up; is so
lame, that it has to have a crutch; and (most hurtful of all) that it is
bookish, academic, 'history.' Which therefore makes my magic realism,
the dub riddims and nation language and calibanisms appear
contradictory: how could these things come from a learned treatise? The
impression, in other words, is that I write the poems from the notes,
when in fact I have to dig these notes from fragments, glimpses, partial
memories...and the only satisfaction I get is the fascination of watching
the counter-point emerge of 'fact' versus the 'fiction' of the poetry...
Indeed, the contradictions in Brathwaite's work and the collision of
prose historical "fact" and oral "nation language" poetry fuel its force
and urgency. X/Self is a learned treatise, without doubt. Here is a poet
who is as comfortable integrating Marley's lyrics into his poems as he
is "re-mixing" thirteenth-century Latin hymns. This suggests an odd
predicament for a poet preoccupied with "nation language": For whom
are these poems exclusive? Since the poems are clearly meant to
operate simultaneously in widely divergent frames of reference, the
prose notes are at times helpful to rescue the poems from obscurity
and pretension. This is a poetry of admirable risks. Brathwaite's best
poems are carefully orchestrated to elude a 'pretentious' or academic
audience; the learned subject matter, the didactic and cerebral, are
mediated by an incorrigible wit and an outrageously defiant tone. These
poems operate according to their own rules, offering alternate, re-mixed
versions of history in an elastic and adaptable Caribbean vernacular.
The third book in a trilogy including Mother Poem (1977) and Sun
Poem (1982), X/Self (1987) begins in the Roman Empire and charts the
search for affirmation and cultural identity in the wake of Western
Imperialism. Composed of disjointed epistles, historical reportage, and
an array of commentaries, the book strives to construct a
"disequilibrium" between the world of "Euro-imperialist/Christine
mercantilist" history, metaphorically centered on Mont Blanc, and the
submerged, too often undocumented history of African and Diaspora
"wound whole/absence," centered on Kilimanjaro. Restoring the African
mountain's grandeur and transplanting it in the Caribbean becomes
the book's central purpose. Brathwaite replaces Naipaul's infamous
"history of West Indian futility" with a mythical history of African and
West Indian heroism and actuality. The chronicle of Emperors,
conquests, and power that has traditionally been called "History"
cracks under the pressure of Brathwaite's scrutiny and a different story
emerges as X/Self, "young caliban howling for his tongue," voices the
mantric refrain, "Rome burns/ and our slavery begins."
This unnamed self navigates the imperial world as a tour guide,
pointing out Mont Blanc as it ascends in a tremor of combustible
enjambment, "in the alps/ oven of europe/ glacier of god/ chads
opposite," while identifying for us the mountain's place in a mock-heroic
tale of conquest and destruction. What exactly was created by the great
European empires? Art, yes, but artistic achievement cowers beneath
other, more sinister creations:
industry was envisioned here in the indomitable glitter
it out proportions the parthenon
CALIBAN GRIEVES 59
the colosseum is not to be compared with it
nor dome nor london bridge bernini bronze nor donatello marble
there is more wealth here than with the bankers of amsterdam
more power than in any boulder dam of heaven
volt crackle and electricity it has invented
buchenwald nagasaki and napalm
it is the frozen first atomic bomb
Moments of exaggerated grandeur are frequent in this book, but they
are tempered by brooding solemnity, the knowledge of dire
consequences. Mockery and irony only go so far to relieve X/Self of
the terror of his visions: A millennium of blame might be projected on
to the mountain, but metaphors, in the end, offer minimal consolation.
While another jeremiad will prove useless, one must also survive a
different temptation: The retreat into the opposite of poetry-silence-
which is equally terrifying. In the literature of the United States, this is
the moment of Whitman and Emerson, that is, the critical post-colonial
moment, in which the artist recognizes newness in the world, and the
need for a new language to name it, a new philosophy and art.
Literature and nationalism inevitably collide here; in poetry, the
personal lyric bears the burden of public declaration, celebration,
expansion, as in "Song of Myself." Brathwaite's trilogy is ambitious
because in it he considers the difficulties of constructing a Caribbean
version of this song. The variety of monologues and "voices"
incorporated into X/Self underlines the sense of inclusive anonymity
suggested by the title of this third book. And since "nation language" is
a vernacular, the reader must decide to which nation it belongs -no
easy feat in an archipelago consisting of twenty-three separate political
entities. Important differences between Whitman's America and
Brathwaite's Caribbean make such a project all the more perplexing.
In the post-colonial (pre-imperial) United States, a seemingly endless
frontier accompanied Whitman's expansive self, and the settlers
displaced themselves by choice, for their own profit (while, of course,
displacing others). In the post-colonial Caribbean, the frontier consists
of water, not land, an element of separation, not unity, as the islands are
again divided by language and politics. Displacements were brutal,
forced, serving the interests of slave owners. The dilemma, as
Brathwaite's "Shaman" puts it, replying to reggae's patron saint of protest:
i just can't get/up stand/up stand/up for i rights bob
marley in this ya ghetto too much live i now in this wild evil
world of axles wrecked gear boxes scatter/pillar levers
the huge red silent pain of dead. fish dead. car screams
their lobster sponges dried out breathe
ing rasp & rust and rasspan angles banggalang & booming babylon
Indeed, poverty and depression, remaining symptoms of the futility
Naipaul saw everywhere in 1967, might stunt one's impulse for
But there is a hopeful corollary to the obliterations of history if the
poet can look beyond the present to rename and reconstruct a vision
of past and present. While the title's "X" suggests an obliteration of
identity, of the memories and geneology necessary to name oneself, it
also leaves room for arbitrary selfhood, the endless possibilities for
creating personality. An algebraic variable, an illiterate's signature,
the location of buried treasure, "X" also marks the spot for the
reaffirmation of every self in the Caribbean. And at the same time, X
leaves open the possibilities for disguise, keeping identity out of reach
for as long as it is necessary to ventriloquize and curse. Thus, the narrator
of this book has provided the necessary space to be a confounding jester,
a trickster spirit capable of puckish transformations and verbal wit, a
truly Whitmanian and expandable self. This is a voice perfectly suited to
a poet who has chosen to write in the first language of his inheritance
and meanwhile to corrupt the conventions of grammar and spelling of
that other English contained in Prospero's books.
Although it would be a disservice to the work to attempt to classify
X/Self according to anything other than its own peculiarities, it is also
important to acknowledge the position of this book in the new literature
of the global human condition of this century: migrancy. Like other
narratives of post-colonial political and psychic anxiety (the most
famous including Walcott's Omeros, Rushdie's The Satanic Verses and
Naipaul's In A Free State), Brathwaite's trilogy maps the migrations of
a fragmented self in an increasingly fragmented world. This new New
World is not characterized by the imperial paradigms of the past, but
by confusion and displacement. It is difficult not to read X/Self in
terms of these politics, the disjunctive Diaspora narrative, its cultural
double-visions, and its schizophrenic utterances, but it is important
CALIBAN GRIEVES 61
to consider these terms as they apply generally to the poetics of self
and place applicable to all poetry.
Brathwaite's ability to reform a written language and project a voice
at once national and personal has been enhanced by an unlikely tool:
the computer. His first book with an American publisher, Middle
Passages, consists of a bouquet of earlier poems revised and relineated
in what he calls "Sycorax video style." As if keeping pace with new
developments in sorcery, Brathwaite transforms the anonymity of
Prospero's technology into a visual voice by literally processing words,
manipulating the size and shape of individual letters and phrases to
conform to the dynamics of a personal timbre. Now the illiterate's "x"
rewrites itself as X'; the anonymous "x" in "x/self" is replaced by the
signature of the author. Sycorax adds to Brathwaite's power to
"mwangle" English into a distinctly personal voice and it gives him a
new instrument with which to "version" his own poems.
Thus, the program transforms a poem like "X/Self's Xth Letters from
the Thirteen Provinces" from X/Self into "Letter Sycorax" in Middle
Passages. Despite minor variations, the texts are the same, but the
previous title, reeking of selflessness, is renamed purposefully: the
poem is both a letter written by Caliban to mamma Sycorax and a
version of that earlier letter represented and confidently revised in
Sycorax style. Both are addressed
i writing you dis letter/wha?
guess what! pun a computer o/kay?
like i jine de mercantilists!
well not quite!
and both versions attempt to answer the question "Why a calling it x?"
The voice of the mischievous typist rhetorically quips "a doan writely
know," but eventually confesses:
but is like what i trying to sen/seh &
seh about muse/
in computer &
learning prospero language &
*Although there is an approximation in size, no attempt has been made here or in
subsequent quoted passages to replicate Brathwaite's fonts. Ed.
62 CHRISTOPHER BAKKEN
not fe dem/not fe dem
de way caliban
but fe we
for not one a we should responsible if prospero get curse
wid im own
As Shakespeare's Caliban was able to adapt Prospero's language to
curse his oppressor, so Brathwaite finds a muse and a rebellious voice
in the technology of "de mercantilists." Here is a modern Caliban able
to challenge the fate which technology might imply for the "computer
illiterate" of the world. But if the earlier Caliban directed his cursing at
Prospero, Brathwaite's Caliban redirects his impertinence away from
him, recognizing that his cursing "fe a-we" can generate a poetry which
rises above personal defiance to become "nation language," cultural
expression rooted not in spite and resentment (though that is part of
it), but from a productive impulse to speak and be heard in one's own
language. This critical seizure of the linguistic magic, the ability to
"curse" with one's "cursor," abrogates Prospero's ownership of Caliban.
Though the magician will become wrathful, he is able to control only
the blips of his own screen. The tongue of the computer can be as
skillfully manipulated by Caliban. The books have shifted hands, so to
speak, according to the new demands of this century.
But how does a poet primarily concerned with nation language
respond to the Caribbean imperatives suggested by Naipaul -to create
something out of nothing- in his own life? How does an ostensibly public
poet break a cultural and spiritual silence that would threaten his own
existence? Just as he was completing X/Self in 1986, the need to document
private experiences gained dramatic urgency. As he puts it, attempting
to give an objective introduction to The Zea Mexican Diary:
When EKB came face to face with the unimaginable news
26 May that his wife Doris Monica
was terminally ill he started an ms diary which he kept
helplessly & spasmodically until she died on her birthday
7 September after which to the day of her Tree Planting 12 October
during what he calls The Time of Salt he wrote a series of
Letters to Mary Morgan his sister
In this book, an edited collection of that manuscript, the poet's public
concerns are dramatically internalized: the diary represents a
personal quest for wholeness despite the annihilations of grief.
Brathwaite's ability to use language is threatened at every step, so
that even to describe a brief sequence of events becomes an exercise
of survival. In such a labor, the evasive self of the poems and its jesting
anonymity might prove perilous for a poet fighting to scratch his way
back to a redemptive knowledge of himself, his culture, and most of all,
his dying wife.
The issue of silence is central to the diary from the start. Mexican,
his wife, is diagnosed with lung cancer, but both doctor and husband
decide to keep the information from her until she is healthy enough
to know the severity of her condition. Thus, in the published form
(an artful presentation of diary notes, letters, and eulogies) the
reader is party to an insidious secret: We agonize along with
Brathwaite as he listens to his wife's persistent cough, unable to
prevent her from "planning planting looking forward," all the time
"wondering what is wrong." Until Mexican knows the truth, the diary
entries vent the husband's conscience, and he turns to his computer
again and again, every few hours, to find solace. These entries have
the profound urgency of words that demand to be written, but now
it is a mournful prose, not poetry, that allows the poet to speak. In
the author's attempt to slow the passage of time, to draw it out, to
document every thought, Brathwaite abandons the efficiency that
characterizes his poems for an intentionally sluggish narrative
device. The method, even if unconscious, is evasive: Mexican's
knowledge of her own disease, like his acknowledgment of it, might
only speed up a process that has already begun its inevitable
As he arrives home to hear that his wife has finally died after weeks
of deterioration, this cathartic device fails him -a complex attachment
to language offers little salvation in the end:
What's happening &
she started to say Nothing then
said [simply] She's gone
[like that and i think turned away from the
door] and i must have said When
-like STUPID/ in increasing cleft & shock
& silence there are no WORDS for this
The simplicity of human speech and the simple inability to speak,
lineated and dramatically emphasized in Sycorax style, cracks the
storyteller's frame as artfulness gives way to artless grief. Moments
like this in The Zea Mexican Diary look suspiciously like poetry (as
does most of the book -white page often occupying as much space as
the fragmented lines printed there), but they read with a poignant
immediacy more akin to fictional prose. Even when the lines do not
sprawl from margin to margin, the narrative is so rooted in an exacting
temporal sequence that a prosaic timbre dominates. The calculated
leaps a poet makes from stanza to stanza are abandoned in an attempt
to account for every step of intricate thought.
In this way, the diaries are meditative and often remarkably calm,
as if Brathwaite is watching himself think while also watching himself
write the nearly impossible. Like all diaries, this one is outwardly self-
conscious, at times sentimental, but The Zea Mexican Diary is also
self-critical at its core, saturated with guilt. The labor of coming to
terms with grief is arduous, but gradual; the meditations become
increasingly high-pitched and spiritual as Brathwaite considers the
terrible consequences of his own past infidelities:
How God has come to punish me not cherishing enough:
the long nights I sometimes/ too too often surely/ was a-
way/ the smell of other muses on my breath/ the tales
she must have heard the agonies of doubt/ selfdoubt her
love might well have tried to justify Xplain/Xplain away
forgive & must have caused her generosity to hide &
harbour like a pearl inside her heart/her hurt until it
built itself into this tumour and how I feel Olorun/God
has now withdrawn from me because I did not preciate
its gifts of ashe: the always possibility: creative cross-
roads: open doors: Mawa Ogou the Eshu/Legba: loas
The syntax is as fragmented as his tortured conscience. One could
easily argue that this is a prose poem, but here the diagonal slashes
operate as punctuation marks, not line breaks. The prose does not
aspire to poetry out of a desire for grand or eloquent statement, but
out of a desire to enjamb the units of thought since the act of moving
all the way to the margin is itself an act of realization and terror, though
imperative. A desire to escape what Wallace Stevens calls "the pressures
of reality," to escape into the supreme fictions of poetry, is constantly
at odds with the need to speak plainly, to adhere to reality even if that
means a confession of selfish guilt or, even worse, acknowledgment of
the grave vision of his dead wife's body before him, "stretched there
on the bed...as beautiful & as desirable as ever." This is not merely a
question of aesthetics; Kamau Brathwaite is on trial in this book, serving
as his own jury, his own Inquisition, confessing:
the agonies of wrenching it out right the doubts and temptations of
the devils) that beset while all that struggle is in progress -the terror
of the mirror held up by one's own self up to one's own broken
nature...the dub dub dub from one's own self & test & question: IS
the terrible wrestle to convey the truth since there is always the tempt-
tation/the seduction to allow the word to lead you on to something
else to falsify or make it easier on yrself
So the prose diary becomes a long poem of poetic process. While
there is nothing to save Brathwaite from himself, nor from the negations
of grief, the cathartic act of continually attaching language to
circumstance is at least a partial consolation during the long, pregnant
pauses he must allow for in the process of healing himself. He must
wait, as he responds to one friend, until:
the word become
again a God
here are his
66 CHRISTOPHER BAKKEN
here is his crutch
and his satchel
here is his hoe and
his rude implements
on this ground
on this broken
Of course the loss is irreplaceable, but for a poet the art of losing is
answered best by Elizabeth Bishop's parenthetical command: "Write
it!"; the writing of the diary is at least a way of tilling the soil for a future
As letters of condolence from friends and family begin to arrive, the
diary engages other issues. Mexican's own status as a cultural figure
(she helped create the Caribbean Artists Movement in London and
ran the publishing cooperative Savacou), her importance as "the perfect
wife of/for the poet", make it imperative for Kamau to consider his
central position in the social grieving process. He is quick to realize
that his community, its African and obeah rites, offer little solace to
"the widow's Other... the widower," to men, who are excluded from
the culture of grief: "im is suppose to cope ('real man' na cry etc etc
etc)/ & stan up pun im onetwo feess" Brathwaite is remarkably candid
and critical, evaluating stereotypes and failures of the folk culture which
he has painstakingly celebrated in historical studies and elaborate
sequences of poetry. His friends are suddenly unwilling to see him as a
poet, or to address him as Kamau, his poetic name. These criticisms
bring him directly to the heart of a creative crisis, what he calls the
"unprotected sources of the poetry":
...the hinterland of symbol tuned & turned to salt... That I did not, felt
I cd not, place it first & foremost (as it shd be) is the CROSS & CRUX
of the PROBLEM Has always been. People, I fear (& that inc my own
family) prefer to see me, sign me in, as lecture, professor, History,
University, Academie, okay? but Kamau? poet? What a way things
begin to get dicey & apologetic in this area! As if, as Derek Walcott put
it some time ago, a (nigger) poet is twice the world's joke. As if you
have no right to writing...
CALIBAN GRIEVES 67
The remaining sections of the diary sequence strive to move the artist
closer and closer to ANYANEANYANE, or "The Awakening," the ability
to find peace with himself and with his community, reconciliations
which coalesce in a tree-planting ritual attended by Brathwaite's closest
friends. Prose passages slowly become more effervescent, leading up
to a magnificently rendered scene, infused with metaphorical
constructions and heightened diction, in which he describes his
amazement at the appearance of Mexican's ashes:
it wasn't wood-ash-white but a kind of... pink/brown w/ white flecks
in it -like coral sand w/ little clips of fingernails of shells & conchs &
perhaps crab in there... the sand and sea & time our origins But a
little larger & sharper & grittier than sand which really has been rolled
around by whale & wheel of wave & plankton
The poet's return to language and to the community for which he is a
spokesman brings the diary full circle, the ritual of grieving partially
The Zea Mexican Diary is certainly accessible to a large reading
audience. For many authors this is not always a blessing, but the
immediacy and grace of the writing throughout this book, and the
author's willingness to embrace the sentimentality and pathos
appropriate to his subject, while resisting his tendency for obscurity,
make this Brathwaite's true jeremiad and his most powerful work to
date. As such, it is an appropriate memorial to Mexican and a poignant
record of communal grief that extends beyond the borders of these
diaries and the culture in which its difficult drama transpires.
This trend toward clarity continues into his most recent book, Trench
Town Rock, also an autobiographical account of events which seem to
resist the artist's habit of escaping into the imagination. Like The Zea
Mexican Diary, this book is a willful attempt to create some order out
of overwhelming disorder. Broken into six vaguely chronological
sections, Trench Town Rock achieves its force through the juxtaposition
of a radio interview, a poem, a parable, brief newspaper articles,
commentary and graphic first-person accounts, beginning when the
author is weakenedd by gunshatt" at 2:45 in his Kingston apartment
complex to witness the murder of four people, including a policeman.
One of the most violent cities in the Americas, Kingston is a disaster of
post-colonial urbanization. This is Brathwaite's attempt (as the title of
section three suggests) to place "Kingston in the kingdom of this
world," to gain perspective on the chaos that threatens to destroy not
only the artist but a whole society.
68 CHRISTOPHER BAKKEN
The narrative that opens the book is quick and brutal, displayed in
what by now seems characteristic: Brathwaite typography, with
particularly shocking details and dialogues splayed boisterously across
the page. The rendering of this violence is appropriately disjointed,
infused with irony and allusions which allow Brathwaite to comment
like a Greek chorus without disturbing our sense of dramatic action,
as when he describes the comic arrival of authorities to the crime scene:
Eventually three soldiers in full battledress of olive
Leaves. The ariels of their walkie-talkies bending the
Night sky skye like breeze like bamboos...and like
Ants, it sadly seemed...their cars to car/casses...
Except that ants are never late as these now
were too late although they came, their wel-
come rumbling in-so many now- I had not
thought death had undone so many- & even then their
radios were blaring out...three men on Hope Road
armed and dangerous...a door kick-off at Stannpipe...
another traffic axe...& all the other rapes & burns &
murthers taking place all over Kingston in the king-
dom of this world...
Part of what lends such energy to passages like this, and what draws
us in so effortlessly is our sense of Brathwaite's almost journalistic
concern to document reality and to take flight into the poetics of word-
play and satire and thereby make sense of the turmoil around him. As
Brathwaite must again respond to both the demands of his society
and his own confused rage, a mixture of poetry and prose -his own
hybrid collision of the two- is best suited to address the public and
After his own Marley Manor apartment is broken into by two gunmen
who tie him up and steal (among other things) Mexican's wedding ring,
he pauses to instruct the reader directly:
Events that I here chronicle personwise or foolish cd have been
recorded in various degrees -some less intense, some as you know
far far more so- for other Caribbean countries & beyond. See Achebe,
see Soyinka, see Biko, see Jackson, see Morislav Holub, see the Diary
ofAnna Frank, see Sun Yat Sun, see all the Disappeared of S America-
see see see until yu bline
The last command is followed by a smattering of horrors introduced
with apocryphal headlines, including: HUMAN SCAVENGERS LOOT
DEATH CAR (spectators fight over the shoes and lipstick of a woman
killed in a traffic accident) and CHOPPING OFF PEOPLES DREAMS (man
chops off a woman's arm with a machete, removes a bracelet and throws
the arm away).
If our century is cursed with one evil, Brathwaite suggests, it is a
conditioned, selective blindness to the violence of modern life, which
is nearly the same as an acceptance of it. This is the same lethargic
denial and dream encouraged by numerous Caribbean Tourist Boards,
accepted by the tourists and exacerbated, lived, perhaps desperately,
by the citizens of the Caribbean. In Trench Town Rock, the act of seeing
becomes a political act, accompanying a refusal to remain passive in
those observations, even if one's only action is to record painstakingly
the predation, futility and despair which threaten once again to
characterize the Caribbean archipelago. The documentation of these
events is blatantly artful (though not, one hesitates to admit,
unbelievable), but it allows Kamau Brathwaite to fulfill a role which
poets have been fulfilling since Homer: to provide commentary on the
human ingenuity to maim and kill.
The poetry of X/Self was not designed to capture immediately
pressing realities -be it the death of the poet's wife or the demise of
the city, the country in which he lives- despite its expansive catalog
of heroics. Trench Town Rock, with volatile infusions of journalism and
chat, shock and song, keeps its eyes on the world and its tongue in its
cheek. Brathwaite is at once a visionary and a social critic, and this
short book contains the ingredients of what might be the Caribbean's
premier satirical poetry. In the violent images which close his
penultimate chapter, he leaves us seeing, his apocalyptic imagination
Near where I write this a man is training dogs to guard you or to kill
you seen? He stands in naked smoke in his ran/shack/le yard of
galvanize & cast-off wood & kennels, a long whip in his weathered
hand. his jackboots on. the animal like tied to him by leash & lash &
violence, he grieves the dog an order & it dis/obeys. he hits it wham
The leashed dog howls like human baby in its terror. sparks squinting
from its lurid tearless eye of error. wham wham wham wham.
70 CHRISTOPHER BAKKEN
command. the salivating canine howls & leaps & tries to break away.
the black whip turns it back & almost breaks its back. it howls again &
staggers almost grovels as the Man commands. until the thin bitch
whimpers. tail comes down. & falls. till in that silent yard. only the
Brathwaite at the Broken Place
"the terror of the mirror held up by one's own self up to one's broken
nature." (The Zea Mexican Diary, 151).
"for me, the history of catastrophe, the coming to grips with a person
bitten by those ratchets; that archetypal labourer; ruined by that greed;
requires a literature of catastrophe to hold a broken mirror up to broken
nature." ("Metaphors for Underdevelopment: A Proem for Hernan Cortez,"
"the history of catastrophe requires such a literature to hold a/broken
mirror up to broken/nature." (Contemporary Poets, 94).
"how each of us manages to make more evident his own resistance. For
that is the way a man comes to core. By way of, the discovery of, his own
resistance. (It is also, mark you, the way a poet -at least-makes himself
of USE to society." (Olson, 5).
Throughout The Zea Mexican Diary, Kamau Brathwaite's account
of his wife Zea's last months dying of cancer, Brathwaite is forced
by her dying to accept "there are no WORDS for this." (Zea, 91).
The poet, whose business is to coin words, find the words we need to
live by, comes up against it: those words he (and we) live by seem like
so much pretension:
But words, Kamau, are not enough...(Zea,139)
words are not working right now. (Zea, 132)
72 ROBERT BUCKEYE
The type itself reveals this agitation, the fear and doubt and pain. It
shifts to boldface, then back to italic, changes size, font. As if language
itself squirms under his scrutiny and transforms itself at will to avoid
detection, escape responsibility, acknowledge its lie:
the terrible wrestle to convey the truth since there is
always the temptation/the seduction to allow the word
to lead you on to something else to falsify or make it
easier on yrself or because of pressure..." (Zea, 151)
Unable to be at the memorial service for Zea, Brathwaite can only
sit outside, and while he sits, he hears a woman's voice from inside
read, like a prayer, words from his own book, Islands, "So on this ground/
write." (Zea, 133).
It is a talisman of Brathwaite's, and we may see it as the lifelong
work of his writing, as these two other books, Roots, a collection of
essays first published by Casa Las Americas in 1986, and Barbajan
Poems, at once autobiography, history, argument and bibliography
illustrate clearly. In Roots, Brathwaite establishes the formal basis for
his own writing through consideration of antecedents, possibilities and
models in Caribbean culture from slavery onward. Barbajan Poems gives
us the material out of which the formal essays of Roots come. It includes
details of Brathwaite's own life; Caribbean history; notes, asides,
reminders; bibliographies, appendices; critical theory, mythology; his
own poetry as demonstration. "If," Brathwaite notes, "you feel that he/
she has something important to say, then you've got to be concerned
with the whole thing." (Barbajan, 364).
Brathwaite's project here is immense, and it argues, first of all, that
the enterprise the poet engages in is never insular nor just personal
(self-expression) and, secondly, that the ground the poet stands on
must be the same as that of his community/nation. He must cease to
be an exile, colonial, bohemian, underground, avant garde. "This
means," Brathwaite writes, "there must be some kind of internal
solidarity that requires investigation. Not investigation in an arid,
scientific and sociological sense, but investigation into the total sense
of recognizing what is our own." ("Message to Grenada...," 394). From
this perspective, the tradition of the individual talent is meaningful
only in a bourgeois European context.
For Brathwaite, this means, first of all, his right to write; to have, as
he says elsewhere, his rightful place at the table, that question central
to all those not to the manor born: "As if, as Derek Walcott put it some
BRATHWAITE AT THE BROKEN PLACE 73
time ago, a (nigger) poet is twice the world's joke. As if you have no
right to writing." (Zea, 149).
To be able to do this, the poet in the Caribbean must unlearn what
he as a child of colonialization has learned. Thus Brathwaite has to
leave Barbados before he can be a poet there, and his voyage out takes
him to Cambridge and Ghana -his middle passage- before his return.
Schooling, Walter Benjamin reminds us, needs to be understood in
relation to deschooling, and in Roots and Barbajan Poems Brathwaite
tells this story and lays out an alternative tradition to the Anglo-Saxon
one, which includes, among other things, African and Caribbean folk
traditions and culture; jazz, blues, calypso, reggae; negritude, marroner.
The titles of many oft he essays give us the drift: "Jazz and the West
Indian Novel," "The African Presence in Caribbean Literature." If
Brathwaite's poetry has also continued to be influenced by his Little
and Big England education, including the enduring influence of T. S. Eliot
and other modernists, by colonial history and the geography of an
archipelago world, it is, first and foremost, a poetry determined from
below, by a dependence on the people, the folk, call them what you will,
whose song and speech is determined by "their own breath patterns
rather than on paraphernalia like books and museums." (Roots, 273).
In Brathwaite's terms:
black and blue notes
"an English like
or a shout,
or a machine-gun,
or a wind,
or a wave." (Roots, 266)
There is something else. We must return to where we began. In
Buch her Konige, Klaus Theweleit reads the story of Orpheus and
Eurydice against the grain-"the organizing paradigm of the producing
couple"-and argues that the male artist, at least the stereotypical male
artist, turns woman into his instrument only to cast her aside later, as
Orpheus leaves Eurydice in hell in order to be able to sing about his
experience later. "Art climbs over corpses, no matter whose, to keep
going." (Theweleit, 82).
74 ROBERT BUCKEYE
Zea was for Brathwaite the perfect poet's wife, at once muse, helpmate,
the audience he wrote for: "She made it possible." (Zea, 152). After her
death, there seems no purpose to poetry, "Who will be there to write
them for?" (Zea, 149). As much as he loves her, as much as his poetry
comes from and for love, as much as his poetry comes from her love,
Brathwaite cannot escape a guilt he is honest enough to acknowledge:
he fears he used her, forced her to sacrifice her life for his poetry; and in
addition, that his infidelities may have caused her cancer.
Thus the ground, the ravaged ground, Brathwaite must write from.
To find the words to do so, knowing they fail us but knowing also that
they are all we have. It is here, only here, at the broken place, that we
can be whole again, that we can, Olson argues, find resistance, reach
core. "It is the wreckage of what surrounds me," Frantz Fanon writes,
"that provides the foundation for my virility" (Fanon, 211). This story
of Kamau Brathwaite, though it be his story, is also ours. "As long as
there is something like experience," Avital Ronell writes, "it is not
entirely mine" (Ronell, ix). The ravaged ground and wreckage.
Brathwaite, Kamau. Barbajan Poems. New York: Savacou North, 1994.
"Message to Grenada: an Interview with Edward Brathwaite."
Race and Class XXII:4(1981): 389-394.
"Metaphors for Underdevelopment: A Proem for Hernan
Cortez." New England Review and Bread Loaf Quarterly VII:4
(Summer 1985): 453-78.
Roots. Ann Arbor, MI: U of Michigan P, 1993.
[Untitled] Contemporary Poets. Chicago and London: St. James
Press, 1991: 94.
The Zea Mexican Diary. Madison, WI: U of Wisconsin P, 1993.
Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks. New York: Grove Press, 1968.
Olson, Charles. I, Maximus, of Gloucester, to You." Origin I (Spring 1951): 1-7.
Ronell, Avital. Finitude's Score; Essays for the End of the Millennium.
Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska, 1994.
Theweleit, Klaus. "The King and I." Artforum XXX:1(September 1994):
Richard D.E. Burton.
Afro-Creole: Power, Opposition and Play in the Caribbean.
Cornell University Press, 1997.
he title Afro-Creole is nowhere explicitly defined even if it is
discussed extensively. It has as its point of departure the
descendants of Africans and its place of location is the Caribbean
islands. Burton seems to be using it as a 'modern' term, based on 'Afro-
American', where Creole is broader than 'West Indian' and more suitable
than 'Caribbean', which standing on its own does not usually refer to
people. He has to go beyond 'West Indian' because he includes Haiti as
a part of his geographical space. Burton uses the Introduction of his
book to explain what it is about and how it is structured. Two of the
statements he makes about the book are:
Afro-Creole is best seen, therefore, as a mosaic of themes, images,
and ideas, but like creole culture itself it is an "unstable mosaic"
(Confiant 1993:116), and I have not tried to impose order or pattern
where they do not appear to exist, or to fit every piece of the argument
into a single all-embracing conclusion. I have throughout preferred
suggestiveness to completeness and paradox to affirmation or
negation. (p. 12)
This, as I imagine is now clear, is a wide-ranging book, but I should
stress that it is not a survey of Afro-Caribbean culture but rather an
argument, or a series of linked arguments, concerning some of its salient
features, primarily religion, festivities, and the general phenomenon of
play. (p. 10) These are explanations by this British professor of French
of his book about the 'Caribbean'. It would seem from this, if one wanted
to be a nasty critic, as if he jotted down many things according to his
own imagination, used many academic words to do so, made no in-
depth analysis of anything and took a position on nothing. This is not
the case, however. One of the intentions in these statements is to
convince the reader that the book has a wide geographical coverage,
which in reality it does not.
Afro-Creole relates primarily to Jamaica (more than two thirds of the
book and almost all of the primary sources referred to on pp. 271-2 are
evidence of this), with some concession to Trinidad and less to Haiti.
The author makes no claim to great knowledge about Antigua,
Barbados, Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, St. Vincent, Montserrat, Nevis,
Anguilla, or Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, and he
says little about the French islands. Unfortunately, in this respect, he
follows the tradition of many of his countrymen who believe that the
West Indies is Jamaica, exemplified by Jamaican and, by extension, the
West Indian (p. 163); Jamaican (and by implication West Indian) (p.
165). This leads to misrepresentations, as for example when he says:
"Few West Indian cultural forms are more complex in their origins,
evolution, and meaning than Jonkonnu, and few are more important"
(p. 65) and then when he goes on to present the Jonkonnu as the
quintessential image of the Creole:
All this the Jonkonnu both embodies and mocks in his dress: like the
grotesque Janus mask he wears on his back, he is in Scott's brilliant
expression "a sort of living Antithesis," an antithesis of order,
wholeness, and harmony, a patchwork being, an assemblage of
borrowed bits and pieces who nonetheless contrives to be uniquely
and ineffably himself in a word, a Creole. (p. 80)
For his image to be convincing it must be applicable to the West
Indies (at least) generally, but the only West Indian islands besides
Jamaica where Burton indirectly (that is, by referring to Craton 1995)
locates manifestations of Jonkonnu are St. Kitts and Nevis. His view
and image would have made more sense if West Indian was replaced
by Jamaican, and this holds true for many other instances of the use of
the term West Indian.
Even the chapter titled The Carnival Complex is misleading, and his
explanation of the term makes it worse. He says:
Hence the chapter's title is not "Trinidad Carnival" but "The Carnival
Complex" -in other words, the various strands of "normal"
Trinidadian social and cultural life that knit together to form a nexus
of particular intensity during carnival time.
The problem is that he immediately goes off to the island of
Providencia (Columbia) to discuss Crab Antics, then he returns to
Jamaica to discuss male and female culture spheres, then he discusses
Abrahams' Man-of-Words whom Abrahams did not locate in Trinidad,
then he discusses West Indian cricket and nobody would regard
Trinidad as the heart of this (in spite of C.L.R. James). So, it is really
only about half of the chapter that deals with the images of Trinidad -
stickfighting, calypso and carnival.
Besides being a popular British vision, the presentation of the
Caribbean in the image of Jamaica is the result of the fact that in Jamaica
it is easier to see clearly and describe colourfully the themes of power
and opposition that Burton has selected as two of the main themes of
his book. Trinidad presents an ideal scene to illustrate play (i.e.
Carnival, calypso, stickfighting), the other main theme chosen by
Burton. Haiti presents the same kind of opportunity for the relationship
between religion/supernatural beliefs (i.e. voudou) and politics. The
examples are therefore selected in such a way that it is difficult for
them not to confirm the themes identified and the central (Anancy-
type) image of (lack of) power running through the book.
Burton relies heavily on secondary sources throughout his book,
some of which are contentious, to build up his images of various topics.
In the early pages, for example, his depiction of the social and linguistic
situation in the 1655-1700 period in Jamaica (pp. 15-16) is based on
D'Costa and Lalla 1990, Patterson 1967, Alleyne 1988, Le Page and
Tabouret-Keller 1985, and Fleischmann 1993. Not only is there an
obvious problem in using these secondary sources but also, for effect,
in not using them accurately or in using them to make a new point. For
example, Burton (p. 17) says:
...it is already clear by 1700 that a key role would devolve on the
important minority -perhaps as much as a quarter of "Barbardian"
(sic) slaves who, in Patterson's words, "were already seasoned and
were well placed, both historically and socially, to impose their own
patterns of behavior and speech on the creole slave society which
was then in its nuclear stage" (1967:142)
Patterson had actually said (p. 142) eastern Caribbean slaves, but
more importantly he had said (p. 135):
It is therefore important to note that the Barbadian planters, unlike
their Jamaican counterparts, tended to buy almost all their slaves
from the Royal African Company, which, in turn, meant that the
greatest single source of their slaves was the Gold Coast ...
From all this it may be inferred that Gold Coast Negroes formed the
largest single group of slaves in the island during the crucial first twenty
years of its British occupation when the Creole slave society was being
laid down. The fact, too, that they were already seasoned slaves meant
that they were more valuable, in the eyes of the whites, than the other
slaves coming directly from Africa, and, as such, they may well have
monopolized all the influential slave posts in the slave community. Not
only, therefore, have Patterson's Coromantins (or Gold Coast negroes)
become Burton's Barbadians but also Patterson's suggestion about
their influence has become almost a fact. Note, furthermore, the
position in the linguistic hierarchy which Burton gives for Jamaica that
the "Barbadian" slaves hold:
(1) the official language of the colonizers
(2) the dialects/languages of indentured laborers
(3) the dialect of the "Creolian" or "Barbadian" slaves and of the
emerging colored class, probably not far removed from (2) above
(4) the Portuguese of the important Jewish community
(5) the Afro-Arawak, Afro-Hispanic, and perhaps Afro-Portuguese
of the Maroon communities
(6) African languages
(7) the emerging Creole(s) (Burton, pp. 16-7)
One gets little sense of this diverse social and linguistic situation
from the primary sources, e.g. Ward 1700, Sloane 1707 or Leslie 1739/
40. In addition, the unproven connection between the eastern Caribbean
and Jamaica does nothing to support the image of Jamaica as
representative of Creole across the Caribbean. In general, the use of
secondary sources throughout the book moves it nearer to literary
criticism than to social and political analysis.
The main themes of the book are given as power, opposition and
play and the main thesis that runs through the book is summed up in
To summarize and repeat: the myth of the rod both expresses and
conceals the fact that Power in Jamaica is ultimately other, and that
even when the colonized receives or seizes a part or version of that
Power, he remains essentially within the colonialist worldview or mind-
set. It is, in short, extremely difficult for the formerly enslaved to
escape the mental habits of slavery. (p.152)
One may feel that Burton, suffering and smarting from the pain of
the successive defeats of the English cricket team at the hands of the
West Indies, intends to get his own back with this book, for he likens
many of the national and acclaimed figures in the West Indies to Anancy,
regarding their 'achievements' as doing nothing more than confirming
and strengthening the colonialist power structure.
In discussing the notion of opposition especially during the period
of slavery, Burton makes a terminological distinction between
opposition and resistance. He adopts Michael de Certeau's definition
of the terms opposition and resistance to make a categorical distinction
between 'physical', 'outside the system', violent reaction and
'psychological', 'within the system', non-violent reaction to slavery by
the slaves themselves -the 'inside' vs. 'outside' contrast continues as
an image throughout the book. This academic distinction is not
problematic in itself, but becomes so according to what Burton attaches
it to, as for instance, when Craton's view (1982:25) there was no such
creature as a genuinely docile slave (Burton, p. 49) is attached to it, to
give the impression that all slaves indulged in opposition and resistance.
Even though the slaves' maneuverings are said by Burton, correctly
so, to have consolidated the power structure of the society, there is a
tendency to glorify their actions and apparent intelligence in their
reactions to slavery as if Montaigne and Rousseau's 'noble (Indian)
savage' was succeeded in the Caribbean by the noble and intelligent
(African) slave. Note, for example, the statements:
Whatever he says or does, and even if he says or does nothing, Lewis's
room for maneuver is impeded by the vastly superior maneuverability
of his slaves ... (p. 57)
... it is precisely the cultivation of such tractability that enables them
to oppose slavery (again in de Certeau's sense) every hour of the
day, every day of the week, every week of the year. (p. 59)
One must assume that there was a 'continuum' of intelligence among
slaves, as there is among all people, including Jamaicans, and that many
slaves accepted their status with resignation, some house (coloured)
slaves even with positive feelings, and that many slaves did not know
how to resist slavery. In addition, as is well known, 'slavery'of some
type was a part of the structure of some of the societies that the slaves
had come from in Africa, which meant that it was not as shocking and
repugnant to them as is suggested. In other words, the power structure
was also strengthened by compliance, in no small measure related to
the products of miscegenation, i.e. the colour continuum, as well as
the social hierarchy. The following incident from 1676, involving the
very Barbadian/Coromantee slaves that were said by Patterson to have
been taken to Jamaica, can in no way illustrate opposition or resistance
... Anna a house Negro woman belonging to Justice Hall, overhearing
a young Cormantee Negro about 18 years of age, and also belonging
to Justice Hall, as he was working near the Garden, and discoursing
with another Cormantee Negro working with him, told him plainly, He
would have no hand in killing the baccararoes or white folks; and that
he would tell his master. All which the aforesaid Negro woman (being
then accidentally in the garden) over-heard ... Which she no sooner
understood, but went immediately to her master and mistris, and
discovered the whole truth of what she heard, saying withal, That it
was great pity so good people as her master and mistriss were, should
be destroyed ...
... at first seventeen were found guilty and executed, (viz) Six burnt
alive, and eleven beheaded, their bodies being dragged through the
streets, at Spikes a pleasant port-town in that island, and were
afterwards burnt with those burnt alive. (Great Newes from the
Barbados 1676, p. 9)
This was not an isolated case of 'betrayal' and it shows quite clearly
that the social hierarchy and privilege system that was put in place
helped to set the slaves against each other and assure the preservation
of the power structure. To look at it another way, the culture, actions
and identity of the slaves were not always in opposition to those of the
master. It would have been difficult for Caribbean society to survive
and westernize itself if there were universal and unrelenting opposition
between the groups in the society. Accommodation would have to be
seen as just as important as opposition. accommodation it was that
facilitated the process of acculturation/deculturation.
Burton's Afro-Creole is essentially about extended images and as such
it is a very artistic and neatly woven text. For instance, he likens the
slaves' maneuverings to the actions of the trickster Anancy as well
as to West Indian cricketers and to the actions of 20th century political/
labour leaders in that they all end up reinforcing the power structure.
It is somewhat ironic, though, that the political resisters -Sam Sharpe,
Paul Bogle, Maurice Bishop -who were made of different moral
and ideological material entirely (p. 65) were terminated early in
their political lives, whereas the Anancy figures in West Indian
politics -Alexander Bustamante, Eric Gairy, and "Buzz" Butler (p.
65)- were 'successful' in theirs and lived to a ripe old age. It does say
something for Anancy tactics, and one may ask Burton how is it possible
for a small person to change the power structure in a big world? In any
case, not everyone would agree that the three labour leaders identified
did nothing to change the power structure in their respective islands
or that they reinforced it.
There is no reference to 'post-colonial' theory that explains identity,
actions and behaviours as creative reaction against the 'mother
country', what Gikandi 1996 explains as follows:
By the same token, I argue that the colonized cannot continue to be
conceived as victims of a triumphant Englishness imposing its rule
and civility on its radical other; on the contrary, the colonial space
was to reconstitute itself in response to the imposition of Englishness;
in inventing itself, the colonial space would also reinvent the structure
and meaning of the core terms of Englishness, including Shakespeare
and cricket. (Gikandi 1996: xviii)
In Burton's conception, there is really no 'inventing' or 'reinventing':
the 'Afro-Creole', especially as an opposerr' operates within the power
structure and does little to change it or himself, and so is defined within
it. This is said quite clearly about the Jamaican in the post-1838 and
But, even in its pre-1860 heyday, the peasant culture of Jamaica was
double-edged in its meaning, for if it was an act of resistance -or
more precisely of opposition- to the plantation and its values, it was
also as Sidney Mintz has stressed (1974:155), simultaneously "an act
of westernization" as well, which drew the ex-slaves deeper into the
values of the dominant culture even as it gave them resources to
withstand the pressures and challenges of freedom. (p. 96)
In saying that the ex-slaves were drawn deeper into the values of
the dominant culture, there is no concession to their creativity.
In his use of religion to discuss his main thesis, Burton starts out by
asking the question (which is rhetorical for him in view of his general
How far has Jamaican religion, in its multiple forms, stimulated protest
against the status quo? And how far has it reinforced the existing
situation by diverting discontents into one or another "spiritual"
In answering this question (i.e. in supporting the latter view), Burton
contrasts Afro-Christianity with Euro-Christianity, saying:
The Afro-Christianity of the ex-slaves and their black ministers
contained a multiplicity of elements -dancing and drumming,
"prophesying," speaking in tongues, spirit worship, trance, and
possession- that were inimical to the Euro-Christianity of the white
missionaries. However, it is very misleading to suggest that speaking
in tongues, spirit worship, trance, and possession are African forms
of Christianity and not European forms of Christianity.
Note the following from Croese 1696:
These Men are called Quakers in the English Language. Which Name
was given 'em by their mocking Enemies as a note of Ignominy and
Contempt, for that when they are about contemplating Sacred things,
that same very moment that the Spirit overtakes 'em, through the
commotion of their Minds, and agitation of their Bodies, they presently
fall a trembling, throwing themselves on the ground, oft-times froathing
at the mouth, and scrieching with a horrible noise. (p. 5)
... so that ever since they have been known all over England by the
Name of Quakers. (p. 34)
Furthermore, Croese 1696 points out quite clearly:
In this same Fiftieth Year Elizabeth Hooton, born and living in Not-
tingham, a Woman pretty far advanced in Years, was the first of her Sex
among the Quakers who attempted to imitate Men, and Preach, which
she now (in this Year) commenced. After her Example, many of her Sex
had the confidence to undertake the same Office. This Woman afterwards
went with George Fox into New-England, where she wholly devoted her
self to this Work; and after having suffered many Affronts from that Peo-
ple, went into Jamaica, and there she finished her Life. (p. 37)
Croese's words demonstrate quite clearly (i) that what Burton is
calling Afro-Christianity is also very English; (ii) that the Quakers were
in Jamaica spreading their form of Christianity from the earliest days
of Jamaica as an English colony; and (iii) since the Quakers/Shakers
(Shaker Baptists) focused mainly on the slaves, it would be very
difficult to distinguish absolutely in Jamaica between Afro- Christianity
and the Euro-Christianity of the white missionaries.
Burton, within his main thesis, proposes a "Good White Man" or
"Powerful White Man" cult to explain the reactions of slaves to Monk
Lewis in 1816, of ex-slaves to Sir Lionel Smith, the Governor of Jamaica
in 1839, and of Jamaicans and others to white or near-white populist
politicians ... (Cipriani, Bustamante, Michael Manley, Edward Seaga)
(p. 107) in the 20th century. He links the cult of the "Powerful White
Man" to the Christian God by saying:
Linked to the image of White Massa, White Governor, and White
King or Queen, the White God continued to hold Quashie and
perhaps still more Quasheba in his thrall, even as he inspired them
to assert themselves over and against the negative image Whites had
of them. (p. 107)
Yet, the same description that he quotes from Phillippo 1969:254-56
and the same 'cult' that he is suggesting are virtually identical to the
reactions of Rastafarians on the arrival in Jamaica in 1966 of Haile
Selassie. Burton would have to refine his analysis therefore to sustain
the "Powerful White Man" image, as well as his argument that
Rastafarianism is a new and radically anti-Christian religion (p. 107). It
seems difficult to sustain an argument, as he tries to do, that Ras Tafari
in Jamaica was/is a hieratic emperor, more white than black (p. 140),
and to argue that every charismatic leader who is treated with adoration
is an extension of the "Powerful White Man", and that Marcus Garvey
is the first secular prophet (p. 142) in the same vein.
In his discussion of the theme play, Burton makes too much of the
word itself, suggesting that its meaning from the start had some special
significance for the slaves or that they had a preference for this word:
Not for nothing did the slaves call any day away from canefield or mill
a "play-day". (p. 172)
The problem with this suggestion is that it is misleading -"play-
day" was a normal English word, meaning A day given up to play; a day
exempted from work; especially a school holiday (Oxford English
Dictionary), a word attested from as early as 1601. It is equally unlikely
that it was the slaves who gave the name "plays" to the weekend
gatherings at which they danced, drank ... (p. 172), even if they later
became attached to the word. Note, as an interesting comparison, the
following observation in Lagarde and Michard:
Ce JEU (le mot signifie drame, et plus tard, il s'appliquera aussi aux
premieres comedies: nous disons encore jouer une piece, et nous
parlons du jeu des acteurs) ... (1964:154)
Lagarde and Michard do not accuse the French peasants or others
of having a special attraction to the word jeu.
In using the game of cricket as another illustration of play and of his
main thesis, Burton argues that:
Thus, although the West Indian victories over England in 1950 may
well have the "anticolonial" meaning widely ascribed them, the plainly
visceral need felt by West Indians, thirty years and more after formal
independence, that their cricketers continue to humiliate the ex-
colonizers match after match, series after series, could equally be
read as evidence not of their liberation but of their enduring thralldom
to the colonial mind-set. (p. 186)
While there is undeniable truth in this argument, Burton would also
have to concede that West Indians got equal pleasure in humiliating
Australia and causing the Australian captain to resign in tears. To be
more precise, the colonial mind-set would have to highlight race as
the major motivating factor in West Indian cricket and not simply former
master versus former slave, because for West Indians (as a team) all
the other teams they play against are racially different from them.
In extending his image of stickfighting to cricket, Burton cites from
the Trinidad Guardian a piece which shows how the stickfighters/
batonniers practised to quicken their reactions and steady their nerves
and then he goes on to say:
It was a remarkable description and suggests a continuity between
the art of the batonnier and that of the batsman, as though, with
stickfighting virtually outlawed and driven underground, the ex-
kalinda kings took over the archetypal game of their colonial master
... (p. 177)
This may be a very interesting and picturesque extension of an image
from stickfighting to cricket, but it bears little relation to historical
reality, seeing that Trinidad produced none of the great batsmen of
West Indian cricket.
In his discussion of calypso as one of the main examples of play and
to support his main theses, Burton says:
On the one hand, the calypsonian readily and scathingly attacks
subordinate figures ... On the other, he usually leaves untouched the
supreme embodiment of power (the governor before independence,
the prime minister thereafter) ...
This is clearly not so; Sparrow's Solomon/Get to hell outa here and
Phillip, my dear and Gypsy's The Sinking Ship clearly contradict this.
Furthermore, to keep on the good side of modern feminists, Burton
consistently attacks what he sees as the insufferable phallocratic world
of the traditional calypso. (He also used Carolyn Cooper's analyses to
break down 'male-oriented' rhetoric of Rastafarianism and reggae
songs.) However, it seems as if he takes the words of the calypsos
literally and fails to come to terms with the tongue-in-cheek nature of
some of them. For example, he cites Sparrow's "Black up dey eye, bruise
up dey knee/And they will love you eternally" as an example of this. He
does not pay attention to the fact that when Sparrow actually sings the
calypso, at the very end he says "And they will leave you eternally".
So, even if male calypsonians try to get their way with words, there is
always the knowledge among the crowd that this is merely 'play' and
that in many cases verbal assertions of male control reflect the actual
powerlessness and marginalization of the male in West Indian society.
Throughout the book there are many misleading suggestions that
many things that 'Afro-Creoles'did were African responses rather than
European or just human responses. The false distinction between Afro-
Christianity and Euro-Christianity has already been pointed out.
Another example of this occurs in the section Names of Kings (pp.230-
9), a section that introduces the notion of hierarchy in Haitian religion
and politics. Burton says (p. 232):
Maroon societies too were organised along aristocratic-military lines,
with the various "colonels" and "captains" commonly adopting "the
names of gentlemen of the island" ...
The earlier use of the aristocratic-military titles "colonels" and
"captains" by white, European leaders in the early colonies was not
indicative of any military structure they merely wanted to make
themselves seem important, as Biet 1664:294 notes:
... il faut remarquer que les maistres des plantations, portent tous le
titre de Capitaines ou de Colonels ...
It is not clear that title and name adoption was any different among
the Maroon leaders and others. Furthermore, appropriating the names
of the powerful (p. 232) in the French West Indies was a response to an
edict from the French King which forbade non-whites from adopting
the names of whites, as they had been doing/forced to do, and
encouraged them to use the names of Africans. Instead they chose the
names of classical figures in order not to comply with the edict, the
intention of which was to maintain a sharp distinction between white
and non-white. The starting-point of Burton's argument, that the
adoption of titles and names was some kind of reinvention of African
monarchy or establishment of a hierarchical structure, is therefore not
Another example of a supposed African retention occurs in the
discussion of the iconography of Caribbean carnival and cult when
Burton makes the following statement:
This preoccupation with the head and with headgear clearly goes back
to slavery and, beyond that, to religious traditions and practices of
Africa. (p. 245)
The head and headgear are important to all human beings and in all
human cultures (e.g. the hat to the church-going European woman;
the turban to the Sikh; the skull cap to the Jew). To make them
particularly significant to the African is difficult to sustain. Special
importance cannot therefore be attributed to the headgear of the
Jonkonnu and consequently to the importance of the Jonkonnu in
'Caribbean' culture for this reason.
Another example of the false linking of Creole features to a specifically
African origin occurs in his linking Vodou and Shango to theatre. Note
the following from Lagarde and Michard 1964:153, speaking of French
and Greek theatre, which Burton knows about:
L'origine de ce theatre est liturgique: il s'agit d'abord d'une simple
illsutration du culte, donn6e par des prCtres ou des moines pendant
les offices de Noel, de l'Epiphanie et de Pdques. Donc chez nous
comme dans la Grace antique, le theatre naTt du culte.
So, too, the similarities between the physical spaces in religious rites/
ceremonies/performances and the layout of the theatre in the Caribbean
are not specifically African in nature and origin.
Burton ends his book by re-stating his main thesis again in different
West Indian popular culture appears to combine a perpetual
rebelliousness with an inability to effect lasting changes in the
structure of power it rebels against ...
The only possible saviours of Caribbean society that he sees on the
horizon are women (i.e. the growing cultural and educational strength
of women [p. 267]). There is no explanation of how Caribbean women
are 'inherently' different from Caribbean men culturally and
educationally. One may conclude by using one of the multitude of
comments from other people that Burton uses:
Carnival requires of its masqueraders, dancers, and singers only that
they be "role serious, not real serious". (p. 218)
In the case of Burton, as a critic of Caribbean society in his book
Afro-Creole, which is a creative construct of images using some
Caribbean raw material but mostly other people's analyses of the
Caribbean, one may replace Carnival in the quotation with criticism.
As a creative construct Afro-Creole is very interesting and readable; as
serious social and political analysis it is often inaccurate and weak.
Peter A, Roberts
University of the West Indies,
Cave Hill, Barbados
Biet, Antoine. 1664. Voyage de la France Equinoxiale en I'isle de Cayenne,
entrepris par les Francois en I'ann&e M.DCLII. Devise en trois Livres.
Croese, Gerard. 1696. The General History of the Quakers. London.
Gikandi, Simon. 1996. Maps of Englishness: Writing identity in the culture
of colonialism. New York: Columbia University Press.
Great Newes from the Barbados. Or a true and faithful account of the
Grand Conspiracy of the Negroes against the English and the happy
discovery of the same with the number of those who were burned
alive, beheaded, and otherwise executed for their horrid crimes with
a short description of that plantation. 1676. London: L. Curtis.
Lagarde, Andr6 and Laurent Michard. 1964. Moyen Age: Les grands
auteurs frangais du programme. Paris: Bordas.
Patterson, Orlando. 1967. The Sociology of Slavery. Jamaica: Sangsters.
Stewart Brown, editor.
The Art of Kamau Brathwaite.
Wales: Seren, Poetry Wales Press Ltd, 1995.
In his introduction to The Art of Kamau Brathwaite, Stewart Brown
states that "Kamau Brathwaite is arguably the most original poet
yet to emerge from the Caribbean." This collection of essays, the
first of its kind devoted exclusively to the work of Brathwaite, is a
testament to his originality of thought and language as well as the range
and depth of his work. Poets and critics from Mervyn Morris to Gordon
Rohlehr explore Brathwaite's consciousness as he excavates a tortured
past and a history practically erased by the Caribbean's encounter
with the realities of slavery and colonization. What the essays capture
is the power of Brathwaite's poetic journey, the development of his
poetic consciousness and his radical experimentation with rhythms
and language, moving from his early reproduction of drum sounds,
syncopated rhythms and improvisations, to his current most radical
engagement with the transforming possibilities of the computer which
he calls his "video style."
While the essayists represented in this collection span the Caribbean,
North America and Britain, all are deeply aware of the Caribbean's
fragmented reality and Kamau Brathwaite's important work on pan-
Caribbean identity and language formation. The essays are framed by
Nathaniel Mackey's interview with Brathwaite, and Brathwaite's
important poem/essay/cultural/historical explication, "Metaphors of
Underdevelopment: A Proem for Hernan Cortez." Both interview and
essay address Brathwaite's current thinking, and his unique application
of the term "magical realism" to his poetry in particular, and the
literature of the Anglophone Caribbean in general. For Brathwaite,
"metaphors interlock and interweave and interpenetrate each other,
so that increasingly you have a seamless ... kind of poetry, increasing
without punctuation, where images inform, flow and influence each
other" (22). He defines magical realism as "the transformation of reality
into [a] prism of imagination and light" (22). The essays in this collection
capture the seamlessness and the transformative possibilities of Kamau
J. Edward Chamberlin, as he examines Brathwaite's language, and
his use of nation language, comments on its subversive, resistance as
well as its pan-Caribbean possibilities. Maureen Warner-Lewis, aware
of Africa as negative presence in Caribbean literature and history,
argues that Brathwaite "seeks to deconstruct the ignorance and
negative images of Africa-factors which have led to the excision of
Africa from paradigms of West Atlantic history and culture" (53). She
looks at ways in which the poet utilizes African religious customs and
rituals to inspirit a Caribbean identity. Glyne A. Griffith's essay, "Kamau
Brathwaite as Cultural Critic," focuses on the poet as cultural historian
and critic and looks at ways in which the poet's work is firmly grounded
in an African/Caribbean sensibility.
In "Brathwaite and Jazz," Louis Jamies points out Brathwaite's long
standing interest in jazz and how it becomes in his poetry an expression
of the historical and cultural experience of black people of the diaspora.
Shifting from an exploration of jazz in Brathwaite's early trilogy The
Arriuants, to commentary on his latest works in which the poet
harnesses the technological capabilities of the computer employing
what he calls his "video-style," James suggests that "Brathwaite pushes
to the limits the jazz concept in poetry to express the cycle of
destitution and protest of Caribbean peoples" (73).
Essays by Bridget Jones, "'The unity is submarine': aspects of a pan-
Caribbean consciousness in the work of Kamau Brathwaite," and Anne
Walmsley's "A Sense of Community: Kamau Brathwaite and the
Caribbean Artists Movement" both celebrate Brathwaite's deep
commitment to a pan-Caribbean movement. Jones in exploring the
poet's pan-Caribbean consciousness, recognizes his rootedness in the
landscape and seascape of the islands and the way in which his
imagination is possessed by the mythology of the African experience.
Walmsley's essay further demonstrates Brathwaite's role as a poet of
community. In presenting Brathwaite's involvement in the Caribbean
Artists Movement and the specific ways in which he is responsible for
the development of other Caribbean writers and artists, Walmsley
highlights Brathwaite's deeply rooted vision of Caribbean
consciousness, the totality of community and the role of the artist in
bringing such a vision to reality.
This collection of essays is very well-organized. The opening essays
in the volume contextualize Brathwaite's work, and are excellent and
necessary reading for the uninitiated while providing valuable insights
into the art and consciousness of the poet for scholars and students of
Caribbean poetry. These essays are followed by a number of essays
devoted to the analysis of Brathwaite's major works. Mervyn Morris
presents a detailed reading of The Arrivants showing how the poet
"charts a set of overlapping journeys to, from and within the New World
and Africa, acknowledging achievement and some painful realities,
examining self and community, past and present" (129). In "Wringing
the Word," Nathaniel Mackey examines the development of Brathwaite's
growing obsession with harnessing language, and his experimentation
with what Mackey calls "wordscape" which he defines as "language
thematized and acted upon." He traces the development of this new
movement from its early steps in The Arrivants to the bolder more
emphatic wrestling with word/sound and graphic experimentation seen
in the second trilogy.
Gordon Rohlehr, whose seminal text Pathfinder has long been central
to studies of Brathwaite, in his essay "The Rehumanization of History,"
considers the totality of Brathwaite's poetic imagination and looks at the
interconnectedness of his concepts of "Spirit, Apocalypse and Revolution."
He discusses Brathwaite's concept of nam, "the utter inner self." Rohlehr
delves beneath the chaotic physical world Brathwaite creates as a
background to the demonization of spirit and self; he enters the poet's
world of creation and destruction while at the same time demonstrating
Brathwaite's real sense of the fragility and resilience of the human spirit.
Moving from The Arrivants to X/Self, Rohlehr examines the poet's
apocalyptic vision and its roots in Brathwaite's idealistic belief in a grand
rebellion of oppressed peoples resulting in the creation of a new society.
But these beliefs exist only in the imaginary landscapes of the poet's
world; reality always intrudes, and history does not support a vision of
the possible. Yet, Rohlehr reads Brathwaite as a poet of redemption.
The final essay in the collection, Elaine Savory's, "Returning to
Sycorax/Prospero's Response," is an acknowledgement of Brathwaite's
extraordinary contribution to Caribbean arts and letters, his profound
sense of the power and passion of the word, and his determination to
bend and stretch and shape language to represent the experiences of
a Caribbean culture and history that are so much a part of his psyche.
Savory discusses Brathwaite and the problematic of publishing and
his engagement with a new muse, Sycorax, the "muse in the computer."
Savory views the computer as "the transformative medium by which
[Brathwaite] is finally reunited with his cultural source" (230).
The Art ofKamau Brathwaite is a very fine collection of essays which
foregrounds the radically innovative and deeply political poetic world
of Kamau Brathwaite, and it does much to celebrate the range and
depth of his work and his wildly creative imagination.
Queens College, CUNY
Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance.
New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.
Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance is a book about the
entanglement of the present and the past, and how rituals and
performance help culture re-create itself in a constant process of
selective remembering and forgetting. Joseph Roach has engaged in a
provocative and erudite exploration of how culture is invented and
how performances serve at the same time to affirm and -to deny
fundamental aspects of cultural identity. He looks at the way in which
all attempts to define culture and identity in the circum-Atlantic rim,
the area of encounter among Europe, Africa and America, constitute a
concerted effort to establish selfhood by rejecting certain aspects of
culture, and by inventing others. Roach defines performance in its
broadest sense to include from "stage plays to sacred rites, from
carnivals to the invisible rituals of everyday life" (XI).
Joseph Roach, professor at Tulane when he wrote Cities of the Dead
and now at Yale, is a leading figure in the field of performance history,
theory and criticism. In this book, he "takes up the three-sided
relationship between memory, performance and substitution." By
memory, he refers to the collective memory of the people that populate
a given area. Performance refers to something that does not exist, but
continuously strives to become a substitute for something that does.
Substitution is the process by which one cultural tradition is replaced
by another through performance. Roach also refers to this as
Roach uses-eighteenth century London and New Orleans as points
of departure for his study. These two cities he places at the center of
the colonial rivalry between France and England, and also at the
crossroads of the intimate connection of these two powers with
Amerindians and Africans. In other words, the relationships that
develop in these two cities constitute a major player in the creation of
the circum-Atlantic world, specifically the Caribbean, where for Roach
"a New World was not discovered..., but one was truly invented there"
(4). He begins his study with the period when the cultural and economic
interplay, with all of its force and violence, provoked the problems of
self-definition and identification among the people that were pushed
into contact with each other.
Drawing from a myriad of performances, Roach's study proceeds
neither chronologically nor thematically. Using the Foucaultian
methodology of incorporating all aspects of cultural manifestations,
he ventures into anthropology, law, history, literature, theater studies,
painting and even sports, in his search for the clues of the bits of
memory embedded, although sometimes hidden, in a wide range of
His method depends on "genealogies of performance', the
questioning of the transmission of history in official records and the
public enactment of memory through performance. He applies "three
principles that govern the practices of memory and show how
genealogies of performance may be analyzed: kinesthetic imagination,
vortices of behavior, and displaced transmission" (26). By kinesthetic
imagination, he means the bodily display of imagination by means of
performance. This performance may be a formal production of a play,
a religious ritual or simply behavior in social activities. According to
Roach, these gestures and modes of behavior carry within them the
embodiment of a collective and deeply ingrained sense of memory.
Vortices of behavior are those locations where society finds the space
to reproduce these instances of collective memory: the theater, the
market place, the cemetery, any place "of cultural self-invention through