• TABLE OF CONTENTS
HIDE
 Front Cover
 Title Page
 Table of Contents
 By way of introduction: Performance...
 On my way home from Puerto Rico,...
 Nueva Atlantida: El ultimo...
 From the stuttering island to a...
 "Imagination transform/transcend...
 'Dub poetry'?
 Big words as a form of popular...
 "I come from a place where breath,...
 Marie Chauvet and Edwidge Danticat:...
 "We are no longer la-bas": Immigration...
 Walcott's way: "Do you know where...
 The last of the Caribs
 Poems
 Poems
 Provocaciones para la presentacion...
 List of contributors
 Back Cover






Group Title: Sargasso (Río Piedras, San Juan, P.R.)
Title: Sargasso
ALL VOLUMES CITATION THUMBNAILS PAGE IMAGE ZOOMABLE
Full Citation
STANDARD VIEW MARC VIEW
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00096005/00026
 Material Information
Title: Sargasso
Uniform Title: Sargasso (Río Piedras, San Juan, P.R.)
Alternate Title: Sargazo
Sargasse
Abbreviated Title: Sargasso (Río Piedras San Juan P. R.)
Physical Description: v. : ; 28 cm.
Language: English
Creator: University of Puerto Rico (Ri´o Piedras Campus) -- Dept. of English
University of Puerto Rico (Río Piedras Campus) -- Dept. of English
Publisher: s.n.
Place of Publication: Ri´o Piedras P.R
Río Piedras, P.R
Publication Date: 1984-
Copyright Date: 1984
Frequency: twice a year[2002-]
two no. a year[ former 1984]
irregular[ former <1987>-2001]
semiannual
regular
 Subjects
Subject: Caribbean literature -- Periodicals   ( lcsh )
Caribbean literature -- History and criticism -- Periodicals   ( lcsh )
Puerto Rican literature -- Periodicals   ( lcsh )
Puerto Rican literature -- History and criticism -- Periodicals   ( lcsh )
Genre: review   ( marcgt )
periodical   ( marcgt )
Spatial Coverage: Puerto Rico
 Notes
Additional Physical Form: Also issued online.
Language: Chiefly English, with some French and Spanish.
Dates or Sequential Designation: Vol. 1, no. 1-no. 10 (2000) ; 2001-
Numbering Peculiarities: Volume designation dropped with no. 3; issue for 2001 lacks numbering; issues for 2002- called 2002, 1-
Issuing Body: Edited by the faculty and graduate students of the English Dept., University of Puerto Rico.
General Note: Title from cover.
General Note: Some issues have also distinctive titles.
General Note: Latest issue consulted: 2004-05,2.
General Note: Has occasional special issues.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00096005
Volume ID: VID00026
Source Institution: University of Puerto Rico
Holding Location: University of Puerto Rico
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 12797847
lccn - 85643628
issn - 1060-5533
alephbibnum - 002422411

Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Page i
        Page ii
    Title Page
        Page iii
        Page iv
    Table of Contents
        Page v
        Page vi
    By way of introduction: Performance and text in Caribbean literature and art
        Page vii
        Page viii
        Page ix
        Page x
        Page xi
        Page xii
        Page xiii
        Page xiv
    On my way home from Puerto Rico, preliminary musings (October 1997)
        Page 1
        Page 2
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
    Nueva Atlantida: El ultimo archipielago
        Page 7
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Page 10
        Page 11
        Page 12
        Page 13
        Page 14
        Page 15
        Page 16
        Page 17
        Page 18
    From the stuttering island to a region of one voice: A possible geocultural transformation of the Caribbean
        Page 19
        Page 20
        Page 21
        Page 22
        Page 23
        Page 24
        Page 25
        Page 26
        Page 27
        Page 28
        Page 29
    "Imagination transform/transcend into miracle": Text as performance in the poetry of Kamau Brathwaite
        Page 30
        Page 31
        Page 32
        Page 33
        Page 34
        Page 35
        Page 36
        Page 37
    'Dub poetry'?
        Page 38
        Page 39
        Page 40
        Page 41
        Page 42
        Page 43
        Page 44
        Page 45
        Page 46
        Page 47
    Big words as a form of popular oral culture: Sources and development
        Page 48
        Page 49
        Page 50
        Page 51
        Page 52
        Page 53
        Page 54
        Page 55
        Page 56
        Page 57
        Page 58
        Page 59
        Page 60
        Page 61
        Page 62
        Page 63
    "I come from a place where breath, eyes, and memory are one…": Ritual, memory, and the search for Homeplace in Edwidge Danticat's Breath, Eyes, Memory
        Page 64
        Page 65
        Page 66
        Page 67
        Page 68
        Page 69
        Page 70
        Page 71
        Page 72
        Page 73
        Page 74
        Page 75
    Marie Chauvet and Edwidge Danticat: Dramatic narratives or Haitian Danses Macabres
        Page 76
        Page 77
        Page 78
        Page 79
        Page 80
        Page 81
        Page 82
        Page 83
        Page 84
        Page 85
        Page 86
        Page 87
        Page 88
        Page 89
        Page 90
        Page 91
        Page 92
        Page 93
    "We are no longer la-bas": Immigration and gender differences in Liliane Devieux's Piano Bar
        Page 94
        Page 95
        Page 96
        Page 97
        Page 98
        Page 99
        Page 100
        Page 101
        Page 102
    Walcott's way: "Do you know where you are?" "At a crossroads in the moonlight."
        Page 103
        Page 104
        Page 105
        Page 106
        Page 107
        Page 108
        Page 109
        Page 110
        Page 111
        Page 112
        Page 113
        Page 114
    The last of the Caribs
        Page 115
        Page 116
        Page 117
        Page 118
        Page 119
        Page 120
        Page 121
        Page 122
        Page 123
        Page 124
    Poems
        Page 125
        Page 126
    Poems
        Page 127
        Page 128
        Page 129
        Page 130
        Page 131
        Page 132
        Page 133
    Provocaciones para la presentacion de la segunda edicion (ampliada) de The Repeating Island: the Caribbean and the Postmodern Perspective de Antonio Benitez Rojo
        Page 134
        Page 135
        Page 136
        Page 137
        Page 138
    List of contributors
        Page 139
        Page 140
    Back Cover
        Page 141
        Page 142
Full Text



PERFORMANCE AND TEXT IN
CARIBBEAN LITERATURE AND ART


LOWELL FIET
Editor


SPCA ISUE(199


SARGASSO'


000=000"w"
mmommommmammum.





SARGASSO







SARGASSO
Special Issue (1999)





PERFORMANCE AND TEXT
IN CARIBBEAN
LITERATURE AND ART



Edited by
Lowell Fiet







1997 National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute for
College and University Professors
Department of English
College of Humanities
University of Puerto Rico
Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico







Performance and Text in Caribbean Literature and Art
Sargasso, Special Issue (1999), edited by Lowell Fiet


Papers by participants and faculty of the National Endowment for the Humani-
ties 1997 Summer Institute for College and University Teachers "Performance
and Text in Caribbean Literature and Art" held at the University of Puerto Rico-
Rio Piedras Campus, June 9 to July 22, 1997.

This volume has been made possible by funding from the National Endowment
for the Humanities and technical support from the University of Puerto Rico.

Norman I. Maldonado, President of the University of Puerto Rico
George V. Hillyer, Chancellor, Rio Piedras Campus
Jos6 Luis Vega, Dean of Humanities

Sargasso, an independent arts and literature magazine edited at the Univer-
sity of Puerto Rico, publishes critical essays, interviews, book reviews, and
some poems and short stories. Sargasso particularly welcomes material writ-
ten by the people of the Caribbean and/or about the Caribbean. 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. All correspondence must in-
clude SASE.

Sargasso
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
Mae Teitelbaum, Proof Reader

Cover:"Yagrumo" de Rafil Ayala. Back: El festival de Santiago Ap6stol, Loiza,
Puerto Rico; photos 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 Performance and Text in Caribbean Literature and Art,
Sargasso, Special Issue (1999), as well as previous issues, are on deposit in the
Library of Congress. Filed August 2000.























Lowell Fiet


Judith Bettelheim


Antonio Benitez Rojo

Karen Koegler



June Bobb



Mervyn Morris

Peter Roberts


Carmen R. Gillespie




Mary Ann Gosser Esquilin


Table Contents

By way of introduction:
Performance and Text in
Caribbean Literature and Art ........................... vii

On My Way Home from Puerto Rico,
preliminary musings (October 1997) ............. 1

Nueva AtlAntida: El ultimo archipielago ........ 7

From the Stuttering Island to a Region
of One Voice: A Possible Geocultural
Transformation of the Caribbean ................... 19

"Imagination Transform/Transcend
into Miracle": Text as Performance in the
Poetry of Kamau Brathwaite ........................ 30

'Dub Poetry'? ................................ .................. 38

Big words as a form of popular oral
culture: sources and development ................. 48

"I come from a place where breath, eyes,
and memory are one...": Ritual, Memory,
and the Search for Homeplace in Edwidge
Danticat's Breath, Eyes, Memory ..................... 64

Marie Chauvet and Edwidge Danticat:
Dramatic Narratives or Haitian
Danses M acabres ................................ ............ 76






Berta Graciano



Lowell Fiet


David Updike

Kristin Ruth Bratt

Carlos R. Alberty
Fragoso,


"We are no longer la-bas": Immigration
and Gender Differences in Liliane
Devieux's Piano Bar ........................... ............ 94

Walcott's Way: "Do you know where you
are?" "At a crossroads in the moonlight." ...... 103

The Last of the Caribs (story)......................... 115

Poem s ................................................. .................. 125


Provocaciones para la presentaci6n de la
segunda edici6n (ampliada) de
The Repeating Island: the Caribbean
and the Postmodern Perspective
de Antonio Benitez Rojo .................................. 134


List of Contributors ......................................................... .................... 139
















By way of introduction:
Performance and Text in Caribbean
Literature and Art

Lowell Fiet *


The anthropologist's use of "text" and "performance" -religious ritu-
als, improvised verbal plays, poetry and "speechifying," popular mu-
sic, and festival arts of masquerade, song and dance-often proves
unsatisfactory to the artist and the literary critic, who have tradition-
ally seen social representations as folklore and only marginally related
to the project of creating serious literature and art. The 1997 National
Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute for College and Uni-
versity Professors "Performance and Text in Caribbean Literature and
Art," held from June 9 to July 22, 1997 on the Rio Piedras Campus of
the University of Puerto Rico, explored the interrelation of what Carib-
bean anthropology and popular culture studies identify as "texts" and
"performances" and the usually more privileged forms of literary and
artistic creation. Of particular interest were the theoretical issues these
intersections raise for formal Caribbean culture: what is the relation-
ship between the popular and consciously conceived formal art? be-
tween oral forms of expression and scribal or print literature? between
the anthropological and the critical and aesthetic as evaluative cat-
egories? between folklore and religious ritual and theatrical represen-
tation and performance? and between cultural expression in Creoles
or Patois and in standard European languages?
Caribbean culture has been inscribed in the European discourse of
difference and otherness from 1492 onwards -what is, perhaps, best


*University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus.






LOWELL FIET


recorded in Shakespeare's The Tempest as the difference between the
world of "nature" Caliban inherits and the "culture" Prospero imposes
on it. The principal issues explored by the Institute questioned the
supposed polarities of popular/formal, oral/scribal, anthropological/
artistic, Creole/standard, and Caliban's nature/Prospero's culture to
suggest their non-hierarchical reconfiguration as a cultural continuum
not unlike the idea of a linguistic continuum proposed by Mervyn
Alleyne and others to describe variations of language use in many Car-
ibbean societies. In those terms, perhaps, the creative energy inform-
ing contemporary Caribbean literary and performing arts comes not
so much, as has been suggested, from the tension between these (false?)
binaries as from the notion that in Caribbean culture the popular is
always already embedded in the formal, the oral in the scribal, and
even the most formal poetry of Derek Walcott never loses its toehold
in the oral expression of his native St. Lucia. In that sense as well, "per-
formance," as Institute scholar Antonio Benitez Rojo tells us, is always
already embedded in every Caribbean "text."
An example provides fuller illustration of the complexity of the rela-
tionship between the popular and the formal, between anthropologi-
cal and artistic performances and texts. Ra6l Ayala is now the master
mask-maker of Loiza Aldea, Puerto Rico. His father, Castor, until his
death several years ago, had so popularized the horned coconut husk
vejigante or trickster/diablo mask that it has become, probably, the
most characteristic symbol of Puerto Rico's Afro-Caribbean cultural
heritage. The son, Ra6l, also a conguero (conga drum player) in the
Ayala family's bomba dance and music group, as well as an economist
in the Government's Budget Office in San Juan, has transformed the
traditional mask, already acclaimed internationally and the subject of
formal art in the works of painters such as Carlos Raquel Rivera, into
visually astonishing original creations which are, in plastic terms, more
elaborate than their predecessors.
Ra6l Ayala's two-horned and long-mouthed "Mona Lisa," the many-
horned, toothed and smiling "Cumb6 de los Cocales," the Yin and Yang-
like face of "Yagrumo," and the brilliantly painted and bearded "Sol
Boricua" take the Loiza Aldea tradition of mask-making to a new level
of artistic expression. In so doing, they also come to symbolize the
Caribbean intersection of popular festival traditions and formal art.
These masks appear as natural on the streets of Loiza during the Festi-
val of Santiago (St. James) Ap6stol as they do in the Smithsonian or on
the walls of nearly any gallery or art museum in the world. Further-
more, they reflect intersecting texts: the "anthropological" text of the






BY WAY OF INTRODUCTION


escaping and returned image of St. James, the non official patron saint
of Loiza Aldea -the text of cultural resistance and racial identity-
and "literary" texts. For example, Francisco Arrivi's well-known play
Vejigantes (1958), explores issues of racial and cultural identity inside
Puerto Rican society. At the same time, the vejigantes of Rafil Ayala are
inscribed in a social text in which the traditional Afro-Caribbean char-
acter of Loiza Aldea confronts all the complexity of contemporary life
of North American urban centers: under- and unemployment, crack,
assault weapons, and drug murders are as much a part of daily life as
are palm forests (cocales), dancing and singing the music of bomba
and plena, and eating typical dishes of land crab (jueyes).
Variations of the vejigante mask become evident in the work of con-
temporary Puerto Rican theater groups as varied in form and tech-
nique as the "formal" or "aesthetic" mime-theater of the 1970s and 80s,
El Taller de Histriones (Mime Workshop) directed by dancer and mime
Gilda Navarra, the more experimental and socially conscious Teatreros
Ambulantes (Mobile Theater) formed by theater professor Rosa Luisa
MArquez and graphic artist Antonio Martorell in the 1980s, and the
mask-dance-theater of the mid-1990s, Agua, Sol y Sereno (Water, Sun,
and Night Air). The work of each group reflects local intensity as well
as more universal references in eclectic performances of texts that in-
corporate masks, visual image, stylized movement, and percussion.
Contemporary Puerto Rican writers such as Luis Rafael SAnchez (Ma-
cho Camacho's Beat) and Ana Lydia Vega (True and False Romances)
capture the sense of street life and everyday expression through the
use of popular and sometimes explicit language, social rituals such as
sexual flirting/taunting (piropos), and institutionalized conventions
such as traffic jams and television soap operas. In that sense, each
parallels Aim6 Cesaire's Caribbean appropriation of The Tempest as
Caliban's and not Prospero's magical book.
Similar examples extend to the rest of the Caribbean. In the 1930s
and 40s, folklorist Elsie Clews Parson collected popular African-origin
tales of Ti-Jean which explain the face of the Moon and span Martinique,
Guadeloupe, and St. Lucia. The myth of Ti-Jean and his confrontation
with the Devil surfaces in contemporary plays and novels by Simone
Schwarz-Bart (Guadeloupe), Ina Cesaire (Martinique) and Derek Walcott
(St. Lucia). Earl Lovelace's novel (and play) The Dragon Can't Dance is
a cultural critique of Trinidad's famous Carnival, whereas in The Wine
of Astonishment, Lovelace restores the history of Trinidad Spiritual
Baptists in much the same way as Jamaican Roger Mais had earlier
dignified the image of the spiritual Rastafarian in his novel Brother Man.






X LOWELL FIET

Yoruba language and ritual appear in Afro-Cuban plays such as Eugenio
Hernandez's Maria Antonia and Gerardo Fulleda Le6n's Chago de Guisa.
They represent the extension of the earlier negrismo movement and
the work of its principal Cuban exponent, the mulatto poet Nicolas
Guill6n. Contemporary Afro-Cuban poet Nancy Morej6n claims Guillen
and negrismo as her principal artistic inheritance as well. The rhythms
of reggae's Rastafarian roots message find an extension in the "patwah"
or Jamaican English oral poems of "dub" poets such as Michael Smith,
Oku Onuora, Jean Binta Breeze, and Mutabaruka, but they also inform
"formal" poems by Kamau Brathwaite (Barbados), Lorna Goodison and
Institute scholar Mervyn Morris (Jamaica), and Derek Walcott (St.
Lucia). The full list of examples analyzed during the Institute is far
more extensive.
The analytical process began with theory, but whose theory? Criti-
cal theory, postmodern theory, postcolonial theory? The notion of
theory and/or theoretical issues is a slippery one in Caribbean socie-
ties. On the one hand, a term like "performance" -a fancy way of say-
ing "play mas'" or "teatro" (pretending) for most Caribbeans- is al-
ready a hybrid of new and old, present and past, experimentation and
tradition, informal (improvisation) and formal (theater) -a syncretic
concept much like the mestizo or creolized history of the Caribbean
itself- whereas, on the other hand, "text" (The Tempest is Shakepeare's
"book" in the anglophone Caribbean) denotes the privilege of literacy
so long denied to the vast majority. Such terms cause confusion in
societies where the urgency of life and issues of food, shelter, clothing,
potable water, sewage disposal, literacy, child birth, and so forth, al-
ways seem to overwhelm theories as such. Yet, that may be exactly
what Antonio Benitez Rojo, in The Repeating Island: The Caribbean and
the Postmodern Perspective (2nd ed. Durham and London: Duke UP,
1996), means when he describes the Caribbean as "performance": the
fluid, non-apocalyptic, chaotic, supersyncretic, polylinguistic "certain
manner" of a meta-archipelago which "shares the ideological proposi-
tions articulated in Europe only in declamatory terms..." (1-29).
The distrust of theory reflects a stronger belief in the body, in
physicality, in survival, which, since all but physical survival was of-
ten denied, is the history of the majority of the Caribbean's popula-
tion. The tropical vegetation has permitted subsistence -"poor never
die of hungry/in this pale blue dawn"- and perhaps that is why, in his
poem "Guns" (Third World Poems [Harlow, England: Longman, 1983,
47-48]), Afro-Caribbean poet and historian E. Kamau Brathwaite informs
us that "Hit is too early for guns/bombs won't explode the dew/ .. ./






BY WAY OF INTRODUCTION


machetes won't cut into the sweet/glitter of you/hit is too early." Even
against the backdrop of decades of oppression, the implications of radi-
cal theory, at least, seem drastic to the conservative, common sense,
survival-oriented citizens of the Caribbean region. Too many lives have
already been claimed by the Middle Passage, by slavery and inden-
ture, by hurricanes, by colonialism, by dictatorship, and by poverty,
unemployment, la migra, alcohol, crime, drugs, AIDS, and domestic
violence. Getting the body through the crisis alive and relatively
unscarred has always been more than half the battle.
To deal with the complexity presented by issues of performance
and text in Caribbean literature and art, postEurocentric/
postAfrocentric discourses such as Paul Gilroy's The Black Atlantic
(1993), Tejumola Olaniyan's Scars of Conquest/Masks of Resistance
(1995), and more importantly for the Institute, Joseph Roach's Cities of
the Dead (1996), and Richard D.E. Burton's Afro-Creole (1997) became
particularly useful. Yet most of the work of the Institute depended on
critical texts written from inside the experience of "Caribbeanness."
An incomplete list includes C.L.R. James' The Black Jacobins (1938;
1963), Frantz Fanon's Black Skin, White Masks (1952), Aim6 C6saire's
Discourse on Colonialism (1955), George Lamming's The Pleasures of
Exile (1960), Walter Rodney's Groundings with My Brothers (1971),
Caliban: Notes on the Culture of Our America (1972) by Robert Fernandez
Retamar, Jose Luis GonzAlez's The Four-Storied Country (1980), Edouard
Glissant's Caribbean Discourse (1981), Gordon K. Lewis' Main Currents
in Caribbean Thought (1983), Wilson Harris' The Womb of Space (1983),
Derek Walcott's essays "What the Twilight Said," "The Muse of His-
tory," and the Nobel speech "The Antilles: Fragments of Epic Memory"
(1970-1992), Gordon Rohlehr's "The Problem of the Problem of Form"
(1986), In Praise of Creoleness (1989) by Jean Bernab6, Patrick
Chamoiseau, and Raphael Confiant, and Antonio Benitez Rojo's The
Repeating Island (1989; 1996). These texts explore the transCaribbean
flow from pre-modern to Modern to post-modern, from pre-Columbian
to colonial to neo/postcolonial, from conquest to slavery and planta-
tions to the industrial and on to the postindustrial pleasure economy,
in order to rewrite the discourse of "difference" and "otherness"
through the analysis of the cultural creativity, resilience, language, and
performative virtuosity of Caliban.
I speak very generally, of course, which is dangerous but also the
nature of essays of this kind, and at some point or other, such "speechi-
fying," to use a good West Indian term, requires a reality check. Yet
performance is as much about theory as it is about experience. Theory






LOWELL FIET


and theater share the same etymological root, one meaning "to see,"
the other "a place for seeing" (I owe that observation to Institute scholar
Herbert Blau [The Audience, 1990]). Thus, even though strapped by
economic needs and often less aggressively experimental in artistic form
than European, North or South American counterparts, Caribbean cul-
tural performances -oral or scribal, informal or formal, social or aes-
thetic- (and studies of them) cannot ignore theoretical issues or their
relation to current critical discourses-whether postmodern,
postcolonial, or post-post- into which they are already inscribed.
The success of the 1997 NEH Summer Institute for College and Uni-
versity Teachers "Performance and Text in Caribbean Literature and
Art" depended on three extraordinary factors. The first was the excep-
tionally qualified and diverse group of 24 participants drawn from a
wide and varied range of US colleges and universities. Members of the
group continue to meet as panelists at regional conferences and sym-
posia and carry on where the Institute left off. Samples of their critical
and/or creative work form the largest part of this volume. The second
factor was the distinguished faculty of Institute scholars: Herbert Blau,
Antonio Benitez Rojo, Mervyn Morris, Peter Roberts, Judith Bettelheim,
Olive Senior, Marie-Denise Shelton, and Efrain Barradas. Finally, local
performers and professors made significant contributions to the Insti-
tute. Performances by Javier Cardona, Teresa Hernandez, Viveca
VAzquez, Te6filo Torres, and the remarkable production of Una de cal
y una de arena (One of Cement, Another of Sand) by Agua, Sol y Sereno
were of critical importance. The visit to mask-maker Rail Ayala's work-
shop in Loiza Aldea assumed a special symbolic dimension as the In-
stitute progressed. Talks by local professors Reinhard Sander, Maria
Cristina Rodriguez, Susan Homar, Rosa Luisa MArquez, Ivette L6pez,
and visiting Rockefeller scholar Catherine Den Tandt added significantly
to the theoretical scope of the Institute.
The first temptation was to resist simply saying that this collection
requires no introduction, that the essays speak for themselves and
that no sense of context is necessary to their reading. The second was
to say too much. I hope the above serves as a third or alternative
temptation. The volume represents less than half of the summer
Institute's members. Participation was strictly voluntary, and with
only two exceptions, faculty contributed at their own suggestion. Vir-
tually every essay, story or poem grew out of the experience of or
was presented during the Institute. However, some submissions
could not be published in their current form. Mervyn Morris' "'Dub
Poetry'?" appears in his book "Is English We Speaking" and Other








BY WAY OF INTRODUCTION xiii

Essays (Kingston, Jamaica: lan Randle Publishers, 1999) and is re-
printed here with their permission.
I want to thank everyone at the National Endowment for the Hu-
manities and, especially, program officer Tom Adams, for encourage-
ment and support. Janette Becerra, the Institute's co-director and ad-
ministrative assistant, deserves special commendation for her efforts
before, during, and after the Institute. Much of the credit for the Insti-
tute goes to my staff of graduate assistants for their work during the
institute. They include Annette GuevArez, Javier Enrique Avila, Vanessa
Arce, and Reginald Pierce. Ian Anthony Bethell and Yovanni Col6n also
made important contributions. Salinda Lewis and Mae Teitelbaum con-
tributed significantly to the preparation of this text.














On My Way Home from Puerto Rico,
preliminary musings (October 1997)

Judith Bettelheim*

his has happened to me many times before, yet each time I am

amazed at my luck and often smile to myself as the memories of
these experiences create an archive of stories inside my head.
On my way home to California from Puerto Rico in June [1997], I stopped
in New York to do some business. There were three exhibitions that I
wanted to see. I had anxiously been waiting for the Keith Haring retro-
spective which opened just a week before. There was to be a section
on Haring's work and interaction with the crowd at the Paradise Ga-
rage (a N.Y.C. performance space popular in the mid 1980s), and I had
done some research on Grace Jones' performances there. Jones and
Haring had collaborated on a few performances and videos. Part of my
research on the collision of performance strategies across the African
Diaspora includes commentary on Grace Jones and Josephine Baker,
suggesting that both artists employ references to Africa and African
Diaspora culture as an oppositional practice when deflecting the gaze
of the mainly white and most often male spectator. This links up with
my ongoing research on women's performances in the Caribbean. I
have been looking at formal, carnival performances by female sets,
often composed of prostitutes and/or corporate working units, such
as housekeepers, cooks, etc. I have also looked at the performances of
queens and priestesses within festivals or "on the battlefield" such as
the infamouss Jamaican Maroon military and religious leader Nanny,


* San Francisco State University






JUDITH BETTELHEIM


who could catch soldiers bullets between her thighs! Hmmm... Jones
and Baker did that each in her own way. Moore Town Maroons com-
memorate this famous spiritual leader with a yearly October festival.
Another show I saw was "The Living Tradition of Yup'ik Masks"; the
Yup'ik are an Eskimo group living in western Alaska. Aside from the
astounding static objects on display, the exhibition included marvelous
footage from the turn of the century and I was finally able to see the
performance context of this art. There was also footage from the 90s,
which gave an additional context for the masks' meaning and use in
today's society. While many of these masks have been published, this
was my first opportunity to translate the still photograph into a per-
formance context.
And then I saw the exhibition of Haitian paintings and video com-
mentary assembled from the collection of Jonathan Demme, the film-
maker, and curated by Edwidge Danticat, the novelist. In this vast exhi-
bition I discovered a Puerto Rican connection . what I mean is a
connection to the research I had engaged in during my tenure at the
NEH Institute at the University of Puerto Rico.
I was hoping to be able to do some fieldwork while in Puerto Rico. I
had hoped to be able to get away for at least one day and drive around
Guayama, an area that I first found out about in the late 1980s. In 1988
I saw an exhibition of photos and text at INTAR Latin American Gallery,
in NYC. Angel SuArez Rosado called his installation "Oro y Paz! Justicia,
Amor y Caridad", and he included his own photos of Spiritist
(Espiritismo) Centros and leaders from Guayama and Arroyo. Gold and
Peace are key words which often introduce Spiritist ceremonies.
Over the years I often referred to these photos when writing or lec-
turing on Afro-Caribbean performances and religions, particularly on
the importance of the character and image of the Indian (Native Ameri-
can). In Suarez' photos plaster cast statues of the Indian are centrally
positioned. One of the lectures I delivered at the NEH seminar delved
into the many manifestations of the Indian in Caribbean culture. Plas-
ter cast statues are used not only on Spiritist altars, but also for Palo
Monte practice in Cuba. (My current book project is on the art and
religion of Palo Monte, written in collaboration with the Cuban artist
Jos6 Bedia who incorporates Indian guides in his own work.)
In conjunction with my Caribbean work, I also have been research-
ing the Spiritual (aka Spiritualist) churches in New Orleans, where the
great Native American leader Black Hawk is venerated by African
American congregations. Michael Smith has published intriguing pho-
tographs of members of Mardi Gras Indian Bands (African Americans






ON MY WAY HOME FROM PUERTO RICO...


who perform in elaborate Indian costumes and compete in elaborate
rhymed verse reminiscent of Trinidad's Midnight Robbers) paying hom-
age to Black Hawk in Spiritual ceremonies. In fact Robber talk and In-
dian talk share performance parallels that constitute the aesthetic base
for African Diaspora cultural expression. The parallels between the
Centros of Puerto Rico and the Cuban Spiritist religion and the Black
Hawk movement in New Orleans might well be more Caribbean con-
nected than published sources indicate and I am currently preparing a
paper on this subject.
Another note here links up the many layers of my current research.
The "founding" of Black Hawk churches in New Orleans is commonly
attributed to Mother Leafy Anderson, a religious leader from Chicago
who moved to New Orleans in 1920. Although many elements of the
Spiritual faith predated her arrival, Mother Anderson's charismatic
personality and organizational skills clearly contributed to the grow-
ing popularity of the faith. Women formed) the core of parishioners in
these churches and also led them. The importance of these female
leaders links up with my research on women's leadership roles in Afro-
Caribbean performance and religions.
During the NEH seminar in Puerto Rico I made the acquaintance of
Mildred Rivera-Martinez, a Puerto Rican colleague whose family is from
Guayama. Rivera-Martinez had heard many stories about the practice
of "brujeria" there and knew of one family member, an aunt, who was
involved with the Espiritismo movement in Guayama. She eagerly sug-
gested we visit the area together on a free Sunday; we could meet fam-
ily members, and they could perhaps direct us to specific Centros or
neighborhoods.
As we exited the new autopista and drove toward one village where
Suarez had photographed, I began to smile. We were driving through
old sugar cane fields, and I knew we were in the right place. For the
next three hours Rivera-Martinez and I wandered from neighborhood
square to various houses, and finally to a more rural area west of
Guayama. There, we met a group of men, relaxing under the shade of a
tree, and we explained that I was an academic from California who was
interested in visiting Espiritismo Centros. For the next two to three
hours we visited various Centros; I met with the leaders, and I was
given permission to photograph certain altars. I am now writing an
article based on a most remarkable five hours of conversations with
different religious leaders in Guayama.
In order that the multiple layers of my research coalesce, let me
present a small narrative. Sunday June 29, 1997: I was invited inside






JUDITH BETTELHEIM


the Centro to talk to our host about his* practice, his altar and his
most important guides (guias). He talked with me about many of the
plaster cast statues, and explained the importance of the Indians (both
male and female). He then pointed to a goblet of water on the table in
front of the altar, saying that only he could touch the goblet. I said I
knew that because that is where the guides come down. He smiled
and commented, with a smile, that I was going to take his job; I knew
so much. I explained about what I teach in California, and the differ-
ent Caribbean religions that interest me. I believe that from that small
conversation, we began a relationship that will continue. (We have
been in touch since I left Puerto Rico, and I plan on continuing our
conversation.) After he and I completed our work in the Centro, we
went to the back porch of his home, to join his wife and my colleague
from the seminar. We started discussing Rivera-Martinez's research
and interest in Puerto Rican culture and then we were all invited to
enter his home.
He took us inside the house to show us photos and talk to us about
bomba drums and dancing, a great passion with him. We ended up
taking down his bomba drums, which were stacked in his son's room.
(His son lives in New Haven.) The drums are old and are made from
salt pork barrels and are very heavy. They were painted red and had
tight heads held on with small square wooden pegs. He explained that
he has danced and played the bomba since he was 15 years old. He
cannot dance any more, but plays. He says what he does is very authen-
tic and very different from what is done today in San Juan on stage, etc.
He explained that the real bomba is played by two men on one drum.
One sits astride the drum and plays the head, which is laying flat. The
other man squats at the back of the drum and hits the wood with two
sticks. (me-This is how kumina drums are played in Jamaica, and
how Kongo-derived drums are played all over the Afro-Americas).
He also explained the bomba dance. It is a couple dance, and the
couples line up in a double file. The woman is passed down the line of
male dancers. There is also a danced exchange with the drummer. The
woman holds her skirts high and does small steps. The man does per-
cussive larger lunging steps. I got up and tried to replicate the steps he
was describing, and then both he and his wife demonstrated a few


Until I complete the article based on this research, I have decided not to iden-
tify some of the individuals who made this work possible. I have consulted them,
and we are in agreement.






ON MY WAY HOME FROM PUERTO RICo...


steps carefully, and slowly. They invited us to return sometime and
attend a "real bomba session". Rivera-Martinez then asked them to sing
some of the songs that were appropriate to this celebration, and she
and I noted that some of the words seemed to be in French, or at least
in a French Creole. I was returning to New York the next day, but Rivera-
Martinez asked permission to return with a video camera to tape both
the drumming and the songs. (We are currently working with this video.)
Anyway, on the plane ride to New York I began to read a novel I had
purchased in Puerto Rico. I again had to smile at myself; some things
are just meant to be. The novel is set in sugar cane country and the
central town is Guamani. In fact, on Sunday, July 29, we had had lunch
in an area called Guamani, in the hills just above Guayama. The novel,
Sweet Diamond Dust by Rosario Ferr6, illuminated many of the stories
I had heard that Sunday. In English the title refers to sugar, produced
on the haciendas surrounding Guayama. In Spanish the title is Maldito
Amor, named after a danza written by Morel Campos. Ferr6 writes: "a
danza which exemplifies better than any work I know the seigniorial
paradise of the sugarcane planters, without ever mentioning that the
greater part of the islanders lived in Hell".
But back to the beginning of this story in New York City:
At the Haitian exhibit I saw two particular paintings that were new to
me and that quickly took me full circle back to the cultural expressions
which I was researching. Both paintings illuminated part of the work I
had in progress and the fieldwork I had "squeezed in" in Guayama. One
"Dance Scene", by Wilmino Domond (c. 1949), was painted during the
period he was affiliated with the Centre d'Art in Port au Prince. Three
couples dance to the accompaniment of two drums and two vaksins.
The drums are built identically to the drum I saw at the Centro in
Guayama, although in this painting they are being played upright. And if
I can at all intuit the choreography of the couple dance, it is possibly
similar to the dance described as accompanying the bomba drums. HINT
. talk to some ethnomusicologists. Ask about this particular style of
drum; ask about this style of couple dance. Is there a possibility of Hai-
tian migrations to this area of Puerto Rico, and if so, when? Or is this
style of drum generically Kongo-derived? And the couple dance. In
Oriente Province, Cuba, this same style of dance is called Mas6n, prob-
ably related to Masonic rituals and Haitian migrations to Oriente. In the
painting, a flag with Masonic emblems juts into the picture plane from a
corner. Are there similar Masonic elements in Puerto Rican culture?
I actually let out a yelp in front of the next painting. The museum
guard came over to stare at me. I was sure he was wondering if the







JUDITH BETTELHEIM


spirits were about to descend. This painting, by Wilson Bigaud (1 No-
vember 1951), is of a carnival troupe. Ironically just days before, I
had shown Bigaud's self-portrait in my lecture on the Afro-Amerin-
dian during the NEH seminar. This later painting is titled "Self-Por-
trait in Carnival Costume," 1958, while the former is "Grouppe d'Africain
Carnaval d'Haiti". In both paintings the carnival participants are dressed
as American Indians, in a style loosely identified with Plains Indian
regalia. Why would Bigaud identify this troupe as "Africain"?
What I am currently sorting through are all the factors that might
add up to the possibility of an answers) to this question. For in the
Afro-Caribbean religions that I have been studying (remember, New
Orleans is a Caribbean city), the image of the Indian often refers to
things indigenous, to roots, to expressions of original ethnicities. In
post-Emancipation festival performances throughout the Caribbean,
the Afro-Caribbean performer was increasingly prohibited from play-
ing himself or herself, especially if this meant performing in what was
taken to be "African style costume and mask". Yet, this same performer
could masque as an Indian. By masquerading as Indian, black perform-
ers could circumvent local laws making it illegal for Blacks to wear
masks or to "celebrate in their own fashion". A Black could not per-
form as a powerful, prideful African American, or Afro-Jamaican, or
Afro-Haitian, but he could masquerade as a powerful and potentially
rebellious Indian. By playing with ethnicity, the black performer man-
aged to create a new tradition, one that endures till today in its popu-
larity and vitality. And the aesthetics of "Indian music and Indian dance",
as interpreted by the Afro- Caribbean, resemble a performative style
closely related to one he was/is intimately familiar with. Well, to tease
out the many other factors which unite these performance and cos-
tume modes will take another detailed article (in progress). For now
let me close by mentioning that certain African performers from the
Kongo also wore feathered headdresses and carried short staff-like
wood and fiber implements. Such a group of Kongo performers was
photographed in Havana in 1860. And the Afro-Caribbean religions
which venerate among their many spiritual guides the Amerindian also
derive in part from a strong Kongo base. The plot thickens.
So on my way home from Puerto Rico I stopped in New York to see
some special exhibitions, and I not only saw exciting art, but I ended
up with new insights for my own Caribbean research and notes for
another article.















Nueva Atldntida: El fltimo archipielago

Antonio Benitez Rojo*

E n estos tiempos en que los mapas de los paises se rehacen y en

las Naciones Unidas se barajan constantemente nuevas
delegaciones y banderas, es casi obligado reflexionar sobre geo-
grafia political. ZC6mo serA el mundo en el pr6ximo siglo? Sin duda
serA distinto al de hoy. Unos estados se desmembrarAn y otros se uni-
rAn entire si. Esto, naturalmente, no es nada nuevo. Aunque en esta
ocasi6n lo que podria ser distinto es el principio por el cual se Ileve a
cabo el juego de estira y encoge de las fronteras. A juzgar por las sefia-
les del present, ya no seran la ideologia y la political las que habran de
dar coherencia a un estado, sino las afinidades hist6ricas y culturales
dentro de la viabilidad econ6mica. Todo parece indicar que los afios
venideros se caracterizaran por la tendencia de los estados multina-
cionales a separarse en estados naciones o a articularse en repfiblicas
federadas. Paralelamente, a tono con el process de integraci6n que se
observa hoy principalmente en Europa, las parties del globo irAn en-
contrando formas avanzadas de asociaci6n y colaboraci6n. Asi, los
paises del mundo se separarAn de una manera para enseguida acer-
carse de otra. Pero, bien, de todo eso se ha hablado en la prensa con
abundancia, de modo que me concentrar6 en cierta parte del mundo
que, por su insignificancia territorial, suele ser olvidada por los
futur6logos y los grandes arquitectos de la globalizaci6n. Me refiero a
las Antillas. Naturalmente, como estamos en la epoca de la
cuantificaci6n, antes de viajar al future debemos ver qu6 aspect de
conjunto ofrecemos a la geografia del present.
ZQu6 importancia demogrifica y territorial tiene nuestro archipi61la-
go? De acuerdo con las proyecciones para el afio 2000 su poblaci6n


*Amherst College.






8 ANTONIO BEN(TEZ ROJO

entonces serA de 36,449,000 habitantes, que vivirAn distribuidos en un
territorio total de 218,708 kil6metros cuadrados. Podriamos agregar
que su pluralismo politico es considerablemente variado. La Rep6bli-
ca Dominicana se define como una "repiblica multipartidista," Cuba
como una rep6blica "unitaria y socialista" Puerto Rico como un "esta-
do libre asociado," Curazao como un "territorio no metropolitan de
los Paises Bajos," Martinica como un "departamento ultramarino de
Francia," las Islas Virgenes como territoriess no incorporados de los
Estados Unidos," San Crist6bal y Nevis constituyen una "rep6blica
federada," y Dominica es una "mancomunidad" islefia cuya forma de
gobierno bajo la Mancomunidad BritAnica es la de monarquia consti-
tucional. El pluralismo linguistico es tambi6n notable. Ademas del es-
pafiol, francs, ingl6s y holand6s, se hablan el hindi y el chino, asi como
diferentes formas dialectales criollas entire las que sobresalen el creole
de Haiti, el dialecto de Jamaica y el papiamento. Esta diversidad, por
supuesto, habla de la fragmentaci6n etnol6gica del archipielago, al cual
han contribuido social y culturalmente gentes de cuatro continents.
Como sabemos, a pesar de esta fragmentaci6n, en nuestro siglo sur-
gi6 un discurso cultural antillano el cual, rompiendo la vieja concep-
ci6n colonial, es decir, un grupo de islas dividido irreconciliablemente
en bloques linguiisticos, repar6 en ciertos patrons que se repetian
dentro del archipielago. Contribuyeron a este esfuerzo, entire otras,
las obras de Fernando Ortiz, Jean Price-Mars, Jacques Roumain, Jean-
Stephen Alexis, C. L. R. James, Aim6 C6saire, Luis Pales Matos, Emilio
Ballagas, NicolAs Guillen, Alejo Carpentier, Lydia Cabrera, Kamau
Brathwaite y Edouard Glissant. Si bien este discurso se habia centrado
en sus inicios en el important impact de la diAspora africana en las
distintas sociedades y cultures insulares, definiendo concepts tales
como el de transculturaci6n, el de mestizaje y el de lo real maravilloso
o realismo magico, en 6poca relativamente reciente expandi6 su base
referencial, incluyendo territories continentales con costas al Mar Ca-
ribe, asi como estudiando de conjunto el fen6meno sociocultural del
Area bajo el concept de lo criollo o de la criollizaci6n. Esta nueva
noci6n ya no s6lo se refiri6 al encuentro de pueblos europeos y africa-
nos en la region, sino ademas incluy6 el aporte de otros pueblos, en
primer lugar los amerindios y asiAticos. Paralelamente, la idea del Ca-
ribe, en tanto Area que presentaba caracteristicas propias, no s6lo se
generalize en el mundo, sino que suscit6 numerosas obras de carActer
hist6rico, econ6mico, sociol6gico y literario, entire otras las de Eric
Williams, Sidney Mintz, Manuel Moreno Fraginals, Arturo Morales
Carri6n, Juan Bosch y Franklin Knight. Ademas, se fundaron iniciati-






NUEVA ATLANTIDA: EL ULTIMO ARCHIPELAGO


vas de cooperaci6n econ6mica como CARIFTA y, posteriormente,
CARICOM. En lo que toca a las expresiones artisticas, se organizaron
los festivales de CARIFESTA. En esta etapa el discurso antillano, al ex-
pandirse, tom6 el nombre de discurso caribefo. MAs recientemente,
dicho discurso ha ampliado a6n mas sus referentes, buscando puntos
de conexi6n en gran parte del globo de acuerdo con ciertos principios
asociadores. Esta perspective se observa en varias obras de analisis
cultural y literario, como son The Womb of Space: The Cross-Cultural
Imagination, La isla que se repite: el Caribe y la perspective posmoderna,
Poetique de la relation y Eloge de la crdolite.
Luego de esta rApida mirada, debemos concluir que el discurso cul-
tural antillano, a pesar de su relative novedad, ha mostrado una clara
tendencia a la expansion. En lo que sigue, hablar6 de lo que a mi juicio
podria ser en el pr6ximo siglo un Area concrete de desarrollo discursivo,
sobre todo a los efectos prActicos de colaboraci6n regional dentro del
process de globalizaci6n que observamos hoy en el mundo. Me refie-
ro a las islas que, ademAs de las Antillas, se encuentran localizadas en
el Atlantico subtropical y tropical. Como este conjunto de islas no tie-
ne nombre, lo llamare Nueva AtlAntida, el ultimo archipi6lago.
A pesar de todo lo que se ha investigado y escrito sobre estas islas,
no conozco ninguna obra que las haya estudiado a fondo desde una
perspective de conjunto; es decir, una perspective que, si bien reco-
nozca un nimero de diferencias, busque acercamientos hist6ricos,
socioecon6micos o culturales dentro de este vasto y disperse territo-
rio insular que, de este a oeste y de norte a sur, abarca las Azores, las
Maderas, las Canarias, las Cabo Verde, Bioko (la antigua Fernando Po),
Santo TomAs y Principe, Santa Helena y Ascensi6n, las Bermudas, las
Bahamas, las Turcas y Caicos, las Caimanes, Cuba, Haiti, Repiblica
Dominicana, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, las Virgenes de Inglaterra, las Vir-
genes de los Estados Unidos, las Antillas Holandesas, Anguilla y
Montserrat, San Crist6bal y Nevis, Antigua y Barbuda, Guadalupe, Do-
minica, Martinica, Santa Lucia, San Vicente y las Granadinas, Barba-
dos, Granada, Trinidad y Tobago, Aruba, y San Andr6s y Providencia.
Las tierras de estas islas, en su conjunto, miden unos 270,000 kil6me-
tros cuadrados, mAs o menos el tamafo de Italia; su poblaci6n total
alcanza unos 44.000.000, cifra que supera a la de Espafia; su densidad
de poblaci6n es 163 habitantes por kil6metro cuadrado, la misma de
Suiza, de modo que Nueva AtlAntida se nos revela como un bien pro-
porcionado archipi6lago.
En este breve trabajo, mAs que intentar definir las analogias y dife-
rencias que existen entire estas islas, lo cual s6lo podria hacerse a






10 ANTONIO BENITEZ Rojo

partir de un detallado andlisis comparative, propondr6 algunos
lineamientos generals que ayudarian a la formaci6n de discursos dis-
ciplinarios que estudien globalmente este fragmentado territorio
oceAnico. Una vez fundado estos discursos, no seria extrafto que los
distintos estados y comunidades que coexisten hoy en esta zona del
AtlAntico, apenas sin conocerse mutuamente, acudan a alguna forma
de integraci6n. Las ventajas econ6micas, political y socioculturales
que se derivarian de ello serian enormes, sobre todo si se piensa a
largo alcance. ZCuAles fuentes de energia sucederan al petr61leo, al gas
y a los peligrosos reactors nucleares? El sol y el mar, dos recursos
cuyo nivel de disponibilidad en estas islas estA entire los primeros del
mundo. Una vez mas, como ocurri6 en la 6poca de la formaci6n de los
estados imperios, las islas del AtlAntico serAn frutas codiciadas, ya no
por su significaci6n mercantil sino por su importancia energ6tica. Lo
que antes fue plantaci6n esclavista y hoy es resort turistico, en el
future serA plant de energia alterna.
Claro, he echado mi imaginaci6n a navegar, pero aun cuando nada
de esto ocurra en el pr6ximo siglo, cualquier forma de asociaci6n
archipielagica habra de ser deseable. He mencionado el turismo, una
de las principles fuentes de riqueza en la inmensa mayoria de las is-
las. ZQu6 impide que se empiece por ahi? ZAcaso la benignidad del
invierno, el agua de mar, la brisa, el sol, las playas y las palmeras no
constituyen una comunidad de intereses? Pero ademas estan la pesca
y la agriculture, viejos renglones de exportaci6n que, unidos a otros
nuevos, como la explotaci6n de recursos minerales submarines, po-
drian servir de base a iniciativas de integraci6n econ6mica. Ya men-
cion6 CARIFESTA, y partiendo de esa experiencia, seria fAcil organizer
festivales de mtsica y danza, exhibiciones de arte y reuniones de es-
critores e intelectuales. Debo decir que en el pr6ximo mes de septiem-
bre [septiembre de 1997] el Centro AtlAntico de Arte Moderno, locali-
zado en Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, inaugurara una exposici6n inter-
nacional con el nombre de ISLAS, a la cual seguira un simposio donde
se hablara sobre la creaci6n artistic. .Qu6 impide que algo semejante
se organic en alguna de las Antillas? Si, es cierto que estamos aleja-
dos- y aqui me involucro personalmente a titulo de islefio atlAntico-,
pero la distancia que nos separa es menor que la que existe entire Nue-
va York y Honolulu, donde ondea la misma bandera. Tambi6n es cierto
que hablamos idiomas distintos, Zpero no se argument a0n que las di-
ferencias linguiisticas representan un obstaculo insalvable para la unifi-
caci6n de Europa, sin reparar en lo much que se ha conseguido inte-
grarla? Ademas, estA el caso del Caribe, cuyas islas redondearian el






NUEVA ATLANTIDA: EL OLTIMO ARCHIPELAGO 1 1

extreme suroeste de Nueva AtlAntida. Los studios caribefios, si bien
cada vez disfrutan de mayor interns dentro y fuera del area de las Anti-
llas, se iniciaron hace apenas unas d6cadas. Hasta entonces a nadie se
le habia ocurrido pensar que pueblos colonizados por espafioles, por-
tugueses, franceses, ingleses, holandeses, daneses, suecos y norteame-
ricanos, pudieran tener cosas en comun. Sin embargo, hoy es obvio que
las tenian. Asi las cosas, hay que concluir que Nueva AtlAntida no s6lo
es possible, sino probable. Pasar6 entonces a enumerar algunos puntos
que pueden contribuir a la formaci6n de discursos integradores.
No es casual que proponga el nombre de Nueva AtlAntida a nuestro
archipi6lago. Nada como un buen mito de fundaci6n para consolidar
identidades, y hay que concluir que el de la legendaria AtlAntida nos
viene como anillo al dedo. Si en el future lo reclamamos o no, sera
cosa nuestra, aunque me permit observer que no hay mito territorial
que lo supere en prestigio y en poesia. Eso sin contar con que, quin
sabe, a lo mejor en el pr6ximo milenio se prueba que despues de todo
Plat6n tenia raz6n, y fueron nuestros antecesores los que llevaron a
los mayas el canon de la pirAmide.
De todos los discursos disciplinarios, no cabe duda que los de las
ciencias naturales, la arqueologia, y la historic son de los que mas cuen-
tan a los efectos de buscar raices en el pasado comfn. Si alguna em-
presa fructifera tienen por delante los gobiernos de nuestras islas, es
proveer fondos para investigaciones botdnicas y zool6gicas,
excavaciones arqueol6gicas y rastreos de documents coloniales en
los archives del mundo. Hay que considerar que nuestras respectivas
floras y faunas enriquecieron la dieta y la medicine, y nuestras espe-
cies aut6ctonas, desde el drago hasta la iguana, hicieron crecer el co-
nocimiento de la naturaleza. Si vamos a nuestras poblaciones aborige-
nes, vemos que tuvieron una cosa en com6n: al moment de ser colo-
nizadas por Europa, todas tenian tipos de cultural neolitica. Habria que
estudiar estas cultures comparativamente y llegar a conclusions de
conjunto: cual fue su aporte a la humanidad, qu6 es lo que queda hoy
de ellas, empezando por la toponimia y terminando por el gofio y el
tabaco. N6tese que aunque tales pueblos no existan en la actualidad y
no tengan que ver etnol6gicamente con muchos de nosotros, su con-
tribuci6n gen6tica ain estA present en parte de la poblaci6n; a los
prop6sitos de un discurso geneal6gico-nacionalista, ellos somos no-
sotros, y gracias a ellos es que podemos reclamar alguna legitimidad
de origenes sobre la tierra y la naturaleza.
Vayamos ahora a la historic, cuya mejor forma de presentarla
seria a traves de grandes capitulos temAticos. Parte de nuestras islas






ANTONIO BENITEZ ROJO


estaban pobladas por aborigenes, y parte estaban deshabitadas al
moment de ser descubiertas. Empecemos por las primeras, es decir,
por el primer capitulo de lo que seria nuestra historic comin. Aqui
observamos enseguida que sus respectivas conquistas y colonizacio-
nes, a lo largo de los siglos XV, XVI y XVII, fueron asombrosamente
semejantes, independientemente de las naciones que las llevaron a
cabo. De entrada hubo incomprensi6n por ambas parties. En ciertas
islas los europeos fueron tomados por dioses, y en otras se acus6 a los
nativos de no tener alma. Resueltos estos aspects de la fe, los islefios
combatieron a los invasores a pedradas y garrotazos, hasta que preva-
leci6 el cafi6n, el arcabuz, la coraza, la pica y la espada. Los vencidos
fueron esclavizados o repartidos o encomendados o avasallados; mu-
chos murieron de penalidades y enfermedades europeas, y los sobre-
vivientes fueron bautizados con nombres de santos y reconocidos como
suibditos. En realidad, sibditos de segunda clase: a pesar de haber
sobrevivido el paso de la Edad de Piedra al Renacimiento, lo cual su-
puso para toda una generaci6n un salto de siete mil afos, jams se les
perdon6 que no comprendieran bien las epistemas de la civilizaci6n
occidental y no supieran distinguir entire el romdnico y el g6tico.
El segundo capitulo de nuestra historic trataria sobre la organiza-
ci6n de la vida colonial, y tambien presentaria sorprendentes analo-
gias: explotaci6n de los recursos naturales con fines de exportaci6n
atlantica, construcci6n de pueblos con casas de piedra, traslado de
instituciones, colonos, yeguas, vacas, gallinas y cultivos, e implantaci6n
de una burocracia colonial. El tercer capitulo describiria los inicios
del trafico commercial atlantico, los monopolies mercantiles ib6ricos
vis-a-vis las compafias inglesas, francesas y holandesas, el trafico le-
gal e illegal de esclavos africanos y el desarrollo de la plantaci6n
esclavista. A continuaci6n se relacionarian los distintos tipos de planta-
ciones, prestAndosele particular atenci6n a la de cafia de azucar; se se-
guiria su curso desde el 1452, fecha en que se introdujo en las Maderas
desde Sicilia, pasando luego a las Azores, las Cabo Verde y las Canarias,
de donde Col6n la tom6 para introducirla en La Espafiola, siendo lleva-
da enseguida a Puerto Rico, Jamaica y Cuba, y mas tarde a Trinidad,
Barbados y al resto de las Antillas Menores. Naturalmente, a menor can-
tidad de indigenas y a mayor nimero de plantaciones, mayor importa-
ci6n de esclavos negros. Eventualmente esto traeria consecuencias
socioculturales, las cuales explorariamos en el capitulo cinco, pues el
cuarto trataria sobre la guerra maritima, el corso y la pirateria.
Como se sabe, desde las Azores hasta Santa Helena y Ascensi6n,
nuestras islas, ademas de colonies y provincias perif6ricas, sirvieron






NUEVA ATLANTIDA: EL ILTIMO ARCHIPELAGO


de posiciones militares a las potencias de Europa y de frecuente bo-
tin-y aun de base de operaciones-a corsarios, bucaneros y pirates.
En sus aguas combatieron los almirantes y capitanes mis notables del
mundo: desde Menendez de Aviles y el Marqu6s de Santa Cruz, hasta
Hawkins, Drake, Leclerc, Hein, Morgan, Surcouf, Nelson y Rodney. El
rol isleflo en la expansion military y commercial de Europa fue de una
importancia crucial, y no se exageraria si se afirmara que nuestras
costas y bahias proveyeron no s6lo el espacio de desarrollo de la eco-
nomia atlantica sino tambien el de su protecci6n. Basta hacer una lista
de los viejos castillos, fuertes y murallas que, desde las Azores hasta
Santa Helena, a6n se alzan en nuestros puertos para comprender las
amenazas militares que nos rodearon durante cuatro siglos. Pero ade-
m~s de la guerra maritima, hubo otra plaga que nos amenaz6 constan-
temente: los pirates. Hay que concluir que si nuestras islas no hubie-
ran existido, la historic del corso y la pirateria no pasaria de ser un
folleto de veinte paginas y no se habrian escrito La isla del tesoro, El
capitdn Bloody, El corsario negro. El capitulo podria terminar con la
derrota de Napole6n y su destierro en Santa Helena, aunque si estuvie-
ra en mis manos hacerlo, lo llevaria hasta la llamada Guerra Hispano-
americana, como sabemos una guerra de rapifia, que es el tipo de gue-
rra que mas se acerca a la pirateria.
Como dije, el capitulo quinto podria dedicarse a las caracteristi-
cas de nuestras sociedades perif6ricas, incluyendo el surgimiento de
una cultural local y la popularidad del contrabando como alternative
econ6mica. Podria extenderse hasta el primer cuarto de siglo XIX, 6poca
en que en la mayoria de las islas ya se habian desarrollado distintas
formas de cultural criolla y se habia generalizado en la poblaci6n un
sentimiento de pertenencia y de desolado orgullo patrio. Primeramen-
te se hablaria de las grandes diferencias que siempre separaron a las
sociedades islefias de las de sus respectivas metropolis o centros ad-
ministrativos. Como bien sabemos, estas diferencias fueron-y aun
son- de orden politico, econ6mico, tecnol6gico, social y etnol6gico.
Naturalmente, por si mismas las diferencias no son ni buenas ni malas,
s6lo que para nosotros no fueron nunca buenas por nuestra condici6n
de colonies y provincias de segundo orden. Hubo acumulaci6n mer-
cantil y revoluci6n industrial en las metropolis, pero en nuestro archi-
pielago no se pas6 del contrabando y de las plantaciones de carfa de
azuicar, de vides, de tabaco, de afiil, de cafetos, de cocos, de platanos y
de otras frutas- economic que hoy continuamos si bien apoyada por
plantaciones de hotels y restaurants para turistas. Pasemos ahora
al tema de la cultural.






14 ANTONIO BENITEZ ROJO

Bien mirado, no es un disparate decir que la cultural francesa no
existe, aunque no seria recomendable gritarlo en la Plaza de la Con-
cordia o a la sombra del Arco de Triunfo. Lo que Ilamamos cultural
francesa o espafiola o inglesa, no es un sistema homog6neo; es un sis-
tema heterog6neo de cultures nacionales, regionales y locales que son
diferentes entire si, tan diferentes que tanto en Francia como en Espa-
fia y en el llamado Reino Unido hay movimientos separatists. Digo
esto para defender con un ejemplo practice la necesaria heterogeneidad
que habria de tener el sistema cultural de Nueva Atlantida. No obstan-
te, me apresuro a decir que dentro del desorden de esta heterogeneidad,
habria diferencias que se repetirian de una isla a otra, dandole una
extrafia coherencia cultural al archipielago. Esta curiosa coherencia
se haria evidence al constatar que en el territorio insular la cultural
traida por los primeros colonizadores, quienes quiera que estos ha-
yan sido, experiment cambios que la habrian de hacer 6nica. Estos
cambios ocurrieron gracias al encuentro de agents culturales de dis-
tinta procedencia en cada una de las islas. Tomar6 como ejemplo la
isla de Cuba, que es la que mejor conozco. Si dij6ramos que la cultural
cubana es product de la contribuci6n de aborigenes, espafioles y afri-
canos, estariamos diciendo verdad, pero una verdad a medias, insufi-
ciente para explicar las particularidades de la cultural cubana con res-
pecto a las de Tenerife, Rep6blica Dominicana y Puerto Rico, donde
tambien hubo aborigenes, colonizaci6n espafiola y esclavitud africa-
na. En el caso de Cuba hay que tener en cuenta que, a diferencia de
otras Antillas Mayores, habia tres sistemas culturales aborigenes, uno
procedente de Centroamerica y dos de la Guayana Venezolana. Por
otra parte, decimos espaholes sin reparar en que jams ha habido una
sola naci6n espafiola sino varias, asunto que s6lo muy recientemente
se ha reconocido por el gobierno central. Bien, en Cuba se tuvo una
buena muestra, pues concurrieron andaluces, extremefios, castella-
nos, vascos, aragoneses, asturianos, gallegos, y tambi6n muchos ca-
narios, al punto que la literature cubana no fue fundada por un cubano
sino por Silvestre de Balboa, nacido en Gran Canaria. Quiero decir con
esto que, al contrario de Espafia, donde estas nacionalidades estaban
separadas regionalmente, en Cuba- y claro en Puerto Rico y en RepI-
blica Dominicana- jams lo estuvieron. Esto origin alli, desde muy
temprano, un sincretismo cultural de base ib6rica que no existia en la
Peninsula. Algo semejante puede decirse de la contribuci6n africana.
En la Cuba actual se reconocen fuertes components de las cultures
Bantu, Yoruba y Efik, los cuales, al relacionarse con los europeos, pro-
dujeron la habanera, el danz6n, el son, la conga, la rumba, el bolero






NUEVA ATLANTIDA: EL ULTIMO ARCHIPELAGO 1b

cubano, el mambo, el cha-cha-cha, la salsa y el llamado jazz latino, asi
como la mfsica sinf6nica de Roldan y de Caturla, la poesia de Guilln y
de Ballegas, y el arte de Wilfredo Lam. En Puerto Rico el numero de
esclavos no fue tan crecido y el aporte africano fue menor. Sin embar-
go, hubo una inmigraci6n corsa que no ocurri6 en Cuba, mientras que
en esta hubo una apreciable entrada de chinos, yucatecos y franceses,
que no sucedi6 en aqu6lla. Asi, tanto Cuba como cada una de las islas
del archipi6lago, tiene su propia historic cultural que contar. Sin em-
bargo, a pesar de esta fragmentaci6n, hay un aspect comin a todos
los sistemas culturales islefios: su complejidad atlAntica.
El capitulo siguiente trataria de la complejisima historic political
del archipi6lago y de la lucha por el mejoramiento social. Aqui esta-
rian representadas todas las rebeliones, levantamientos, guerras y re-
voluciones; todas las intervenciones y ocupaciones, con sus corres-
pondientes cambios de bandera; la resistencia popular a todas las dic-
taduras militares y no militares; tambien se ofreceria una vision critical
del incomplete process de descolonizaci6n que se inici6 despu6s de
la Segunda Guerra Mundial, asi como del surgimiento de nuevas for-
mas de nacionalismo en nuestras islas.
Sin perjuicio de que existan otros capitulos, el pen61ltimo de ellos
tendria como prop6sito mostrar las viejas relaciones que existen en-
tre nuestros pueblos, asi como su impact sociocultural. Particular
interns tiene la emigraci6n canaria al Caribe y su contribuci6n a la
misica campesina de Cuba y Puerto Rico. Muchisima importancia tie-
ne el exilio en Cuba de gente que huia de la Revoluci6n Haitiana. Fue-
ron m6sicos del antiguo Saint Domingue los que Ilevaron a Santiago de
Cuba la m6sica que alli se conoci6 -y ahn se conoce- como tumba
francesa y cocoy6; tambien fueron ellos los que introdujeron la c6lula
ritmica denominada cinquillo, la cual contribuy6 tanto a la danza cu-
bana como a la habanera. Y claro, mas tarde tenemos la participaci6n
de patriots puertorriquefios y dominicanos en la independencia de
Cuba, desde Hostos y Betances hasta MAximo G6mez, que fuera gene-
ral en jefe de las fuerzas revolucionarias.
El uiltimo capitulo lo dedicaria a describir, tanto en el piano perso-
nal como institutional, nuestras conexiones con el resto del mundo, y
viceversa. Tomemos, por ejemplo, el caso de Bolivar. En primer lugar
estA un document escrito en el Caribe, la llamada Carta de Jamaica,
que es sin duda su mas profunda y acabada reflexi6n sobre la lucha
independentista. Pero ya en el terreno prActico, estA la ayuda haitiana
y, sobre todo, el consejo dado por el president Pktion de que no po-
dria ganar la guerra si no le concedia la libertad a los esclavos. Otro






16 ANTONIO BENITEz ROJO

hecho interesante es el suceso de la goleta Amistad, buque capturado
en Cuba en 1839 por los esclavos que transportaba. Despu6s de mu-
chos dias de navegaci6n, laAmistad lleg6 a aguas de Long Island, don-
de fue capturada por guardacostas norteamericanos. Sigui6 un largo y
complejo process judicial que estuvo a punto de romper las relacio-
nes entire Espafia y los Estados Unidos. La opinion public favorecia la
idea de que no se devolvieran los esclavos a Cuba, sino que se les
transportara a su patria en Africa, que fue lo que finalmente ocurri6.
Gracias a este sonado caso, se organizaron las primeras sociedades
antiesclavistas en los Estados Unidos y se le dio forma al abolicionismo
nortefo. El suceso de la Amistad fue tan hist6ricamente significativo
que, en los festejos del bicentenario de los Estados Unidos, se cons-
truy6 una replica del buque para que figurara junto a otras de impor-
tancia national. Piensese tambi&n en las valiosas contribuciones de
Arthur Schomburg, Claude McKay y Marcus Garvey al movimiento a
favor del negro en los Estados Unidos. Quiza debieran incluirse aqui
figures relacionadas con las letras, desde Alonso Ramirez, el de los
infortunios plagiados por Sigiienza y G6ngora, hasta Derek Walcott,
premio Nobel de literature. Aunque, pensAndolo bien, este capitulo
seria tan extenso, que seria preferible publicarlo independientemente
en forma de libro, es decir, una suerte de Who's Who dedicado a la
gente que ha contribuido a las esferas de las ciencias, la investigaci6n,
la political, el advance social, las artes, la literature, el entretenimiento y
los deportes, con alg6n descubrimiento, creaci6n o simplemente con
su celebridad, desde DAmaso P&rez Prado, el rey del mambo, hasta
Daniel Santos, el inquieto anacobero; desde Kid GavilAn, creador del
bolo punch, hasta Felix B. Cafiet, autor de El derecho de nacery funda-
dor de la telenovela latinoamericana.
En realidad, nuestro Who's Who in New Atlantis seria una obra
tan voluminosa como la guia de telefono de la ciudad de Nueva York.
Las entradas mAs antiguas, naturalmente, corresponderian al legenda-
rio rey Tinerfe y a los menceyes de las Canarias, y en el Caribe, ademas
de Anacaona y Hatuey, habria que incluir a un taino an6nimo que se-
guramente influy6 en el pensamiento de fray Bartolom6 de las Casas.
Como se sabe, el papA de las Casas fue con Col6n en su segundo viaje,
y regres6 a Sevilla con un joven indigena que comparti6 su vida con el
joven Bartolom6. iQu6 casualidad! El inico cronista que se compade-
ci6 autenticamente de nuestros indios, fue tambien el 6nico que ha-
bia tenido en su juventud la experiencia de convivir con un indio.
Luego estA el caso de Francis Drake y el negro Diego. Si bien el mun-
do reconoce la hazafia de Drake de haber dado la vuelta al mundo,






NUEVA ATLANTIDA: EL ULTIMO ARCHII'IELAGO


nadie repara en Diego, el joven cimarr6n que lo acompafi6 en el viaje.
Para los que no conozcan los detalles, debo afiadir que Diego, por su
voluntad, embarc6 con Drake al este fondear en una pequefia isla al
norte del istmo de Panama. Fue Diego quien le sirvi6 a Drake de tra-
ductor, y mis tarde, quien le ensef6 a hablar este idioma. Se sabe que
entire ambos hombres surgi6 una verdadera amistad, y que Diego vivi6
en Inglaterra como hombre libre. Tambien hay un cubano an6nimo
que me gustaria incluir en nuestro Who's Who. Si leemos Las encanta-
das, de Herman Melville, encontraremos ahi su singular historic. Este
cubano, que debi6 haber prestado a Sim6n Bolivar algunos servicios,
recibi6 de este como premio la gobernaci6n de las islas GalApagos.
Claro, eso y nada era casi lo mismo, puesto que las GalApagos no s6lo
estaban deshabitadas entonces sino que su tierra cultivable era
escasisima. El cubano, sin duda hombre con gran poder de convic-
ci6n, fue al Callao y reclut6 algunas prostitutes y maleantes para colo-
nizar la isla mayor. Se le ocurri6 que sembrar papas podia ser un buen
negocio, pues asi podria venderselas a los buques que pasaban por
los alrededores. Segfin Melville, el cubano mantenia el orden en la plan-
taci6n a trav6s de una cuadrilla de feroces mastines. Disgustados los
colonos con el tirAnico trato que recibian, se decidieron por la insu-
rrecci6n. Sigui6 una batalla campal entire perros y colonos, siendo ven-
cidos los primeros. Forzado a retirarse, el cubano se fue al Callao, don-
de ejerci6 la profesi6n de barbero. ZQui6n fue ese cubano que quiso
trasladar la plantaci6n esclavista de su pais a las GalApagos? Nadie lo
sabe, aunque sin duda su nombre puede averiguarse con un minimo
de investigaci6n. Recuerdo que hace afios, cuando comentaba este
asunto con Carpentier como algo ins61lito, me dijo, "bueno, chico, piensa
que el Ciltimo descendiente de los Pale6logos, los emperadores de
Bizancio, muri6 sembrando pifias en las Barbados."
Por iltimo, quisiera tocar un aspect que nos une a los novo atlan-
ticos y nos diferencia de otras idiosincracias, un aspect que oscila
entire lo sicol6gico y lo antropol6gico, y que tiene que ver con nuestra
condici6n de islefos. El eterno paisaje del mar nos ha hecho mirar
hacia afuera, hacia el horizonte, es decir, ser un pueblo extrovertido,
sonriente y generoso con el forastero. Esto no es nada nuevo, pues
millares de ingleses, franceses y alemanes lo han reconocido en sus
libros de viaje. Pero hay algo mas dificil de observer que tambien es
muy nuestro. Una tristeza secret, que rara vez compartimos, pro-
ducto de nuestro aislamiento microc6smico, de nuestra soledad en
medio de tanto sol y tanto turista. Es esta inconformidad de nAufra-
go la que siempre nos ha empujado a abandonar las islas en busca de






18 ANTONIO BENITEZ RoJO

otras tierras mis amplias, mis pobladas, mis ricas; capitals cientifi-
cas y tecnol6gicas donde se nos ocurre que pasan cosas de importan-
cia may6scula. Con el tiempo nos desencantamos y viene la nostalgia
del mar y de la brisa, de las modestas catedrales, de las fachadas ba-
rrocas y los cafiones herrumbrosos, de las palmeras y el carnaval. A
veces morimos sin regresar, y eso es triste. Y es que, para no exiliarnos,
necesitamos la idea de que pertenecemos a una gran patria, de que no
navegamos solos; necesitamos la certidumbre de que individualmen-
te hemos hecho parte de una gran historic y cultural colectivas; nece-
sitamos, en fin, saber mas de nosotros mismos, los Pueblos del Mar.
















From the Stuttering Island to a Region of One Voice:
A Possible Geocultural Transformation
of the Caribbean

Karen Koegler*

There was this pond in the village
and little boys, he heard till he was sick,
were not allowed too near.
Unfathomable pool, they said,
that swallowed man and animals just so;
and in its depths, old people said,
swam galliwasps and nameless horrors;
bright boys keep away.
Though drawn so hard by prohibitions,
the small boy, fixed in fear,
kept off;
till one wet summer, grass growing lush,
paths muddy, slippery, he found himself
there at the fabled edge.
The brooding pond was dark.
Sudden, escaping cloud, the sun
Came bright; and, shimmering in guilt,
he saw his own face peering from the pool.

-Mervyn Morris, "The Pond"
From the depths of "The Pond" emerges the most appropriate meta-
phor for the Caribbean region. It has been there all along: the sea
itself, the inescapable geographic dimension of Caribbeanness.


University of Kentucky.






KAREN KOEGLER


The Caribbean has been viewed as American Mediterranean, buffer
lake, backyard pond. In its past lie "nameless horrors" for it was the
pool that "swallowed men and animals," Morris' "galliwasps" echoing
the cries of the galley slaves. The small boy finds himself at the "fabled
edge," as the Caribbean was fable before it was fact. Cartographers
charted its islands as the second spice archipelago on the edge of ex-
ploration, on the edge of continental-sized landmasses. The small boy,
a state unto himself, looks into the Caribbean in search of
Caribbeanness and sees only his own face, each island's particular
presence, peering back from the pool.
While particularism has been abetted by the fragmented physical
geography of the region, a definition of Caribbean identity as "unity in
diversity" or hybridity no longer satisfies because political paralysis
has accompanied cultural particularism. Through various spatialized
metaphors-from backyard to basin-a political identity for the re-
gion has been captured and a people immobilized. North Americans
still see Caribbean societies as "startlingly small in scale, archaic, poor,
and poky" (Mintz 1974:37). In global geopolitical considerations, the
islands do not so much repeat themselves as stutter.
Regions are constructs and regional identity is constructed from
within and without. There has been a tendency to conflate Caribbean
narrative spaces with metaphors used in the social sciences. Both can
inform each other; neither can substitute for the other. Caribbean writ-
ing is a body of literature. The Caribbean is a real place, circumscribed
by the body of water. Both figure in the manufacture of identity. Poems
and stories from the Caribbean can destabilize and unsettle established
social science "truths" about the region, but, on balance, are not them-
selves documentary. The hallmark instability of Caribbean literary iden-
tities underscores the dilemma of constructing regional identities. While
such packaging of place stems from an ingrained human tendency to
make order of the earth's surface, regional divisions are not neutral;
regions are constructed from partisan vantages and the very act of
construction fossilizes their dynamism. For example, in the 1980s the
Caribbean became a "basin" for U.S. policy in order to conceptually
link the islands to Central America (Sutton 1993). The basin was con-
structed militarily around the larger theme of vulnerability with the
internal security of island states linked to the national security of the
United States, while the attendant vulnerabilities of underdevelop-
ment, natural hazard, environmental degradation, and American he-
gemony (Griffith 1995) were ignored. Nevertheless, geographers per-
sist in generating regional labels because regions are useful; they






FROM THE STUTTERING ISLAND TO A REGION OF ONE VOICE


occupy a middle ground of utility somewhere between the myth of
continents and the obsolescence of states.
Caribbean literati attempting to construct an authentic Caribbean
identity confront the same paradox. That the Caribbean states form
an interior periphery-their location central, their geopolitical status
marginal-and that their populations continue to experience an "iden-
tity crisis" is acknowledged by Caribbean writers' celebration of what
Bhabha calls 'the third space' of cultural practices and historical nar-
ratives (1994:217). The Caribbean functions not as a unified culture
area but as a societal area (Mintz 1974) with common structural in-
equalities bequeathed from the plantation era (Hagelberg 1985, Gallo-
way 1985). Maryse Cond6, among others, has criticized the narrow-
ness of the canon wherein everything is framed by this legacy: the
empire writes back to the metropole, denouncing political and social
conditions bequeathed from slavery and colonial oppression (Lindahl
1996). The trap of such "realistic" postcolonial writing is that it, too, is
illusory; "even one of the most prominent themes in the postcolonial
genre, the search for identity, has to be decoded, transformed, and
rewritten" (Lindahl 1996:107).
While acknowledging the fragmented nature of the region's physical
geography and the hollow center provided by the plantation as a sys-
tem, is it possible to move beyond the rhetoric of colonial and
neocolonial blaming to reconfigure the region so that traits constructed
as limitations are reworked as assets? Can the Caribbean region justify
a claim to a unique colonial heritage? How does the legacy of
particularism consort with the plantation as a disorganizing motif?
Further, then, how does the region assume a new identity, melding
mappings from cultural studies with those of the social sciences?
A new world was not discovered in the Caribbean, but was soon
invented (Roach 1996: 4). The inventing continues. The Antilles, a ter-
rain of archipelagos within archipelagos, become "a machine of spume"
in Benitez-Rojo's conception (1996:4), an island bridge connecting North
and South America. Though the islands uncurl with the powerful ges-
ture of the arm of God in Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel (Kurlansky
1992:x), the Antilles are not the region's connective tissue. Just as Cen-
tral America operates more as barrier between two seas than as bridge
between two continents, the arc of islands in the Caribbean mocks any
mapping as stepping stones.
"The litany of islands,/the rosary of archipelagoes" (Walcott, "A Sea-
Chantey") deflect attention from the spaces between, the interstices.
The narrative has been misplaced: it lies in the spaces between. The






KAREN KOEGLER


region's geopolitical identity formed from a history of transit and check-
points. Since the Monroe Doctrine, American geopolitical perception
has framed the islands as guarding a series of passages; military bases
established by the United States mirror the gibraltars established by
the Northern Europeans in the era of piracy. The region is currently
scripted in American foreign policy as a series of flows, both favored
and undesirable: streams of tourists, migrants, offshore capital, nar-
cotics, remittances, and cruise ship garbage.
Put simply, the islands are defined, within and without, by the sea
that surrounds them. That continues to be their gene pool. Their in-
habitants, as Benitez-Rojo has proclaimed in one of his three paradigms,
are the People of the Sea. The sea is "an inescapable presence" in the
work of the region's most prominent voices (Hirsch 1997:109) and in-
dicative of a return to "the Inside"-the body, the mother, the home-
in Latin American women's writing (Didier 1981 in Lobo 1996:163).
Rather than viewing the islands and the sea as the backdrop for the
performance of Caribbean identities, the landscapes should be read
as simultaneously about cultural unity and cultural difference: real lo-
cales as well as liminal space.

The Case for Caribbean Exceptionalism

In their art, music, and literature, Caribbean peoples claim a unique
position with regard to the violence of European colonization (Walcott
in Benitez-Rojo 1996:300-303). Is this stance justified in that European
outreach extended to all land masses and seas, touching the lives of
virtually everyone on earth? Is there a special legacy of the plantation
as an organizing/disorganizing motif? The observation that some of
Europe's empires were "originally acquired absentmindedly" (Seeley,
quoted in Said 1994) has some resonance here. Initially, astute analy-
sis of space by the Northern Europeans revealed the logic of strategi-
cally-placed forces on an island or two to interrupt the tracery of the
flota. Bligh and other ships' captains brought cane that swelled to fore-
arm size and the creation of an invented world began. The archipelago
became the industrial world's dessert tray, the big fix to stimulate Eu-
rope's weary working class.
Several taxonomies have been proposed to describe changes in the
lands tributary to Europe. Colonies of settlement are often juxtaposed
with colonies of conquest(Dominguez and Dominguez, 1981:11).
Knight(1978) distinguished between colonies of settlement in North
America and colonies of exploitation in Latin America: families who






FROM THE STUTTERING ISLAND TO A REGION OF ONE VOICE 23

wanted farms counterpoised with men who wanted estates. This
binarism occludes the complexity of resistance in the landscape. A tri-
partite tiering proposed by Ribiero (1970, quoted in Benitez-Rojo
1996:319) divides the indigenous population in Latin America into pueblos
testimonios, the great civilizations which eventually experienced a de-
mographic rebound; pueblos nuevos in Brazil, the Guianas, and the Anti-
lles, where labor was transplanted from Europe, Asia, and Africa in the
face of population collapse or flight; and pueblos trasplatados, in North
America and the Southern Cone, where the Europeans settled in and the
indigenous population relocated to less hospitable terrain. Augelli's ear-
lier(1962) mainland-rimland framework for Middle America pioneered
this distinction, dividing the region into highland Euro-Amerindian haci-
enda landscapes and insular Euro-African plantation landscapes in a
mapping that marries the tierra caliente lands of the Yucatan, Belize and
other Central American coasts to the islands.

A Continuum of European Colonization

The nature of European expansion created a continuum of experi-
ences (Fig. 1) that reflect the givens of climate and soil coupled with
European environmental perception. Europeans founded colonies of
settlement in areas where the environment resonated with their prior
experience. The mild, mid-latitude climates, graded C in Koppen's
schema, with seasonal changes and good soils are found in precious
few locations: Europe principally, as well as parts of Australia, all of
New Zealand, the eastern United States, the southern cone of South
America, South Africa, China, and Japan. Though blocked from the two
Asian domains, in the other temperate zones the Europeans founded
colonies of replication, naming places down under New South Wales
and Victoria and painting acacias and eucalyptus like northern
hardwoods. The colonizing impulse was justified through "the myth of
emptiness" (Blaut 1993:15) as native peoples were viewed as figures in
a landscape, not shapers of that landscape. Europeans operated from
the Lockean vantage of improvement: indigenous peoples were not
really using the land anyway; or they had no concept of private prop-
erty; or they had an emptiness of spirit and rationality. Where native
populations were large, as in the mineralized highlands of the New
World, Europeans established colonies of conquest where they could
insert themselves into pyramidal social structures, reusing Amerin-
dian labor and tribute obligations, much as they built their churches
on understories of Mayan, Aztec, and Incan masonry. In other densely






KAREN KOEGLER


settled areas, the mode of penetration was nodal, with trading posts
and ports acting as points of attachment-similar to Roach's articula-
tion of the circum-Atlantic world. These areas, in Africa, Southeast Asia,
and China, were colonies of dominance where the European influence
was penetrating or veneered, but never supplanting. Though restricted
to segregated zones, the indigenous population and its culture re-
mained, altered but not extinguished.
What is unique about the Caribbean experience is that everything
changed: the land use system, the mode of production, the crops, the
tools, and, importantly, the people, who were transplanted to the area
to join an interlocking system of profitability and efficiency. The plan-
tations were factories in the fields. The islands became colonies of pro-
duction. (See table on page 29.)

Crevices in the Colonies of Production

As colonies of production, the Caribbean region is an invented world.
The inventing and reinventing continues. Resistance to the imperial
states' remaking of Antillean places can be seen in the strong carto-
graphic impulse in Caribbean poetry-particularly the recapture of
the physical world through naming. In "Names" Walcott intones: "My
race began as the sea began,/with no nouns." Many Caribbean poets
have turned to a kind of desperate "renaming" of fruits and birds and
trees to reclaim some lost Edenic time period of origins.
Another manifestation of this interest in a precolonial past is the
appropriation of Arawak and Carib geneologies. Despite the attempt
to resurrect the Amerindian past, this population was extinguished
and its traces in the cultural landscape largely obliterated. Current
self-identification as "indio" by Caribbean peoples (Roberts 1997) may
blunt racial disharmony in Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Dominican Re-
public, but the practice operates as the ultimate fictive kinship, bor-
rowing a heritage by projection from the civilizations of Mesoamerica.
For, as Mintz has noted, "the very search for the 'origins' of cultural
forms may itself be part of social maneuver"(1974:19). The celebration
of Amerindian continuity in Caribbean literature creates an
"embeddedness" for a transplanted population:

The Creole feeling that everything in the New World is newly made,
that even after centuries that themselves remain interlopers not re-
ally at home in it, is mitigated by borrowing Amerindian traits, Amer-
indian myths, Amerindian arts (Lowenthal 1990:225).






FROM THE STUTTERING ISLAND TO A REGION OF ONE VOICE 25

The colonies of production could be resisted in the undisciplined
spaces and times outside the system. Slaves retreated to what Olwig
dubbed 'the crevices,' the temporal and spatial interstices of planta-
tion culture where community could be created: uncultivated lands
beyond the fields, cane breaks, the Sabbath, the carnival, the market,
the docks. Unfortunately, cultural traditions which "emerged in the
margins of colonial regimes, and frequently in opposition to them," do
not "easily support national entities which are the heirs of the former
colonial order" (Olwig 1993:364).
Contradictions are built into Caribbean societies -hence Benitez-
Rojo's characterization of the region as modern and postmodern, prod-
uct of industrial capitalism yet peripheral to its fruits, with a mestizaje
fluidity that defeats binarisms. Politically the region is a mosaic of rem-
nants. These are marooned societies with strong identities, paralyzed
by their particularism. Through the diasporas, Caribbean peoples live
in the metropolis and themselves become sites in an increasingly
ungrounded world. The Caribbean, then, is post-modern having only
briefly experienced the political modernity of the state system.
How does the Caribbean re-imagine itself? Reconstructing to some
primeval Edenic past with indio roots in the Dominican Republic, em-
bracing Spanish as a tool of resistance to neo-colonialism in Puerto
Rico, or re-creolizing in reaction to political alienation in Martinique
(Schnepel 1993:256), seem to be backward glances. As GonzAlez sug-
gests in The Four-Storeyed Country (1984), Caribbean identity is not to
be found in the past or even in the present, but is to be constructed in
the future and constructed politically. The countries cannot deny their
physical geography: they share the pond.
Since insularity has fostered particularism in the past, the region
must be reconceptualized as a region of the sea. Further, the constraints
of both the colonial history and the narrow resource base can be
reconfigured as assets in the new world order. Rather than viewing
linguistic diversity as divisive, for example, the Caribbean can be re-
worked as a multi-lingual region. Puerto Rico as a country of English
and Spanish speakers, then, is poised to interact with the United States,
the Commonwealth countries, and the Spanish-speaking "big islands"
(GonzAlez 1984). Though the rhetoric of race remains problematic, the
fluidity of daily interaction looks like another model for the rest of the
world. Further, while acknowledging different endowments among the
islands in terms of resources-metallic minerals in Cuba, bauxite in
Jamaica, oil in Trinidad-it is all too evident that these are precarious
environments for human habitation. The ecosystems are fragile. Fresh





26 KAREN KOEGLER

water is an issue. Waste disposal is an issue. Energy is an issue. Sover-
eignty over the sea itself is an issue (Fig. 2). But, again, these very
constraints are challenges to creating sustainable societies. Cuba trum-
pets that it is in the midst of a "Special Period" in a time of peace, but,
in a sense, all the islands are always in a special period.
The problem of Caribbean identity resembles similar problems of
definition in many societies, given the pace of change in the post-In-
dustrial capitalist world. The smallness of the islands and the narrow-
ness of their resource bases suggest that national sovereignty cannot
cope with interregional flows, that some sort of political federation-
long anticipated, previously imperfectly implemented-is in order. For,
as a scale, as Marshall notes, "the national in the Caribbean has been
outflanked" (1996:448). If national integration can be achieved by het-
erogeneous populations, island states can maintain nationality while
acknowledging a regional identity through federation. A federation
without obliteration. A federation in advance of ecological collapse.
More and more cultures around the world now share an
uprootedness, a sense of exile in the home territory. As Europe moves
toward a borderless labor market, transboundary refugee camps
destabilize central African states, and the world moves toward a state
of crdolit6, the geographical dislocations of the Caribbean prefigure
new possibilities. Veterans of island-to-island movement and
outmigration, Caribbean peoples "...grow up with a firm expectation
that they will one day experience foreign cultures, learn to get along in
other people's languages, and participate in work and leisure in unfa-
miliar social settings" (Mintz and Price 1985:9). Caribbean peoples as-
sume a portable nationality. The significance of Benitez-Rojo's subtitle
should not be overlooked: the Caribbean is postmodern because its
peoples have a longer history of creating "home" and place through
culture. In a world increasingly without moorings where place identity
must be constructed, community imagined, and federation painfully
brokered, the Caribbean could be a geocultural model. As long estab-
lished nation-states become obsolete, their imagined unities shatter-
ing, the Caribbean becomes the Old World-a model of liminal experi-
ence-and Europe, the new, inexperienced region.






FROM THE STUTTERING ISLAND TO A REGION OF ONE VOICE


REFERENCES

Augelli, John P. The Rimland-Mainland Concept of Culture Areas in Middle
America, Annals of the Association of American Geographers
52(1962):119-129.
Benitez-Rojo, Antonio. The Repeating Island: The Caribbean and the
Postmodern Perspective. 2nd ed. Trans. James E. Maraniss. Durham
and London, Duke University Press, 1996.
Bhabha, H. The Location of Culture. New York and London: Routledge, 1994.
Blaut, J.M. The Colonizer's Model of the World: Geographical Diffusionism
and Eurocentric History. New York and London: Guilford, 1993.
Dominguez, V. R. and J. I Dominguez. The Caribbean: Its Implications for the
United States. New York: Foreign Policy Association, 1981.
Galloway, J.H. Tradition and Innovation in the American Sugar Industry, c.
1500-1800: An Explanation. Annals of the Association of American Ge-
ographers 75(1985):334-351.
Gonzalez, Jos6 Luis. The Four-Storeyed Country and other Essays. Puerto
Rico: Huracan, 1984.
Griffith, I. L. Caribbean security: retrospect and prospect. Latin American
Research Review 30(1995):3-32.
Hagelberg, G. B. Sugar in the Caribbean: Turning Sunshine into Money: 85-
126. In Caribbean Contours, ed. S. Mintz and S. Price. Baltimore and
London: Johns Hopkins, 1985.
Hirsch, Edward. Derek Walcott. Wilson Quarterly 21(1997):109-114.
Knight, Franklin W. The Caribbean: The Genesis of a Fragmented National-
ism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978.
Kurlansky, M. A Continent of Islands: Searching for the Caribbean Destiny.
Reading, Mass: Addison-Wesley, 1992.
Lindahl, Folke. Rewriting the Caribbean:identity crisis as literature: 87-109.
Challenging Boundaries: Global Flows, Territorial Identities, ed. M.J.
Shapiro and H.R. Alker. Minneapolis and London: University of Min-
nesota Press, 1996.
Lobo, Luiza. Sonia Coutinho revisits the city: 163-178. In Latin American
Women's Writing, ed. A.B. Jones and C. Davies. Oxford: Clarendon Press,
1996.
Lowenthal, David. Degradation and celebration: Caribbean environments
and indigenes. Journal of Historical Geography 16(1990): 223-229.
Marshall, D.D. From the triangular trade to (N)AFTA: a neostructuralist in-
sight into missed Caribbean opportunities. Third World Quarterly
17(1996): 427-453.





KAREN KOEGLER


Mintz, Sidney W. Caribbean Transformations. Baltimore and London: Johns
Hopkins Press, 1974.
Mintz, Sidney W. and Sally Price. Introduction: 3-11. In Caribbean Contours.
Baltimore and London: John Hopkins, 1985.
Olwig, K.F. Defining the national in the transnational:cultural identity in the
Afro-Caribbean diaspora. Ethnos 58(1993):361-376.
Roach, Joseph. Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance. New York:
Columbia University Press, 1996.
Roberts, Peter. The (Re)construction of the concept of 'Indio' in the Na-
tional Identities of Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico:
99-120. In Caribbean 2000: Regional and/or National Definitions, Identi-
ties, and Cultures, ed. Lowell Fiet and Janette Becerra. San Juan: Uni-
versity of Puerto Rico, 1997.
Said, Edward. Culture and Imperialism. New York: Vintage, 1994.
Schnepel, E.M. The other tongue, the other voice:language and gender in
the French Caribbean. Ethnic Groups 10(1993):243-268.
Sutton, Paul. The politics of small state security in the Caribbean: 1-32. In
Size and Survival:the Politics of Security in the Caribbean and the Pa-
cific, ed. P. Sutton and A. Payne. London: Frank Cass, 1993.








FROM THE STUTTERING ISLAND TO A REGION OF ONE VOICE


LL z
o
00



O C
On
0 ir


-0 -0 '
EE

50)0
C O

Wco-
w IL


C

0
1L 0

r- .LU cu L c
(-) M H 'o0









OO o 16 .-I

0 D 5 (D Eo

0 0 o .o / .u ._ o


C N
Z <


0



E E
=L cr cc


Zc
0)



COC^
0

u- 2


Cl)
0 m)
c c
0 0
a OCC o N
0o C 5 "
13: E
c -.-, __1


zo

00
0 :J

U oc















"Imagination Transform/Transcend into Miracle":
Text as Performance in the Poetry of
Kamau Brathwaite

June Bobb*


This essay explores the lived drama of the poetic world of Kamau
Brathwaite's The Zea Mexican Diary (1993).' In the imaginary landscape
Brathwaite creates, all the realities of human existence: life, death, pri-
vate and public violence, the repetitions of daily survival and rare
moments of inner peace are all acted out in the theater of his imagina-
tion. The poetic text for Brathwaite becomes a performance space, a
space of utterance and act where, according to Victor Turner, "life it-
self now becomes a mirror held up to art, and the living now perform
their lives."2 Brathwaite actively enters into both the ancestral world
of myth and the real world of memory and remembered history. On
this journey which for him is both personal and communal, historical
fragments are explored; past and present experiences are refashioned,
and individual and national identities are removed from the realm of
the mechanical thus entering consciously into the world of the crea-
tive. Edouard Glissant views this journey as one of "conscious research,"
the result of which is the creation of "a collective effervescence" which
if the artist "more or less succeeds, makes critical thought possible; if
he succeeds completely, he can inspire."3



Queens College of The City University of New York
'Kamau Brathwaite, The Zea Mexican Diary, Madison: Wisconsin UP, 1993.
2 Victor Turner, "Are there universals of performance in myth, ritual, and drama?"
By Means of Performance: Intercultural Studies of Theatre and Ritual, eds. Richard
Schechner and Willa Appel (New York: Cambridge UP, 1990): 17.
Edouard Glissant, Caribbean Discourse, trans. Michael Dash (Charlottesville:
UP of Virginia, 1989): 236.






"IMAGINATION TRANSFORM/TRANSCEND INTO MIRACLE" 31

In The Zea Mexican Diary, Brathwaite embarks on a desperate jour-
ney in search of personal and artistic truth. Faced with the death of his
wife, he descends into a long dark night of the soul. Ranging from ini-
tial disbelief, guilt and terror to a feeling that he has been abandoned
by community, Brathwaite attempts to find meaning in the tragedy that
has befallen him. The poet enters the world of the numinous and the
corporeal, discovers the point at which they meet, and there creates a
space of recovery. The reader as audience is entrapped in the tragic
theater of the poet's world, and gazes at the poet as he turns his gaze
upon his dying wife. The audience is involved in two deaths, for as
Herbert Blau suggests, in every performance "someone is dying in front
of your eyes."4 The physical death of the poet's wife is paralleled by
the poet's psychic death. Immediately, however, the physical death
enters the realm of the ceremonial. Doris Brathwaite is no longer po-
et's wife/helper or buffer in an often alien world. She transcends the
physical world and becomes divine muse and inspiration and "like the
osun bird in Yoruba imagination, transform[s]/transcend[s] ... into a
miracle" (ZMD 25).
As The Zea Mexican Diary begins, Brathwaite, having been told of his
wife's terminal illness, withdraws into a place of remembrance. He tries
to piece his world whole with personal memories. However, the more
he struggles to create a sense of normalcy and a physical space which
will serve as a place of containment, the more the tension, the uncer-
tainty and his personal isolation increases: "Lord, why do we love? Why
do we break our hearts" (ZMD 27)? He wants to "reach her, touch her,
heal her...save her" (ZMD 39). As time passes, he is forced to confront
the disintegration of the flesh, ...the sudden appearance of the rhabid/
sarcoma manifested in the thighs" (ZMD 42) and "the whole bottom half
of one lung already gone & she has a fever" (ZMD 50). Brathwaite's visual/
video language mirrors the starkness of physical decay.
Video style is the poet's use of various computer fonts and different
sizes of type that move far beyond the conventional representation of
words on a page. Brathwaite describes what he is doing as "trying to
create word sculpture on the page, word sculpture in the ear."5 This


4 Herbert Blau, "Universals of performance; or amortizing play," By Means of
Performance: Intercultural Studies of Theatre and Ritual, eds. Richard Schechner and
Willa Appel (New York: Cambridge UP, 1990) 267.
5 This quotation is taken from the back cover of Brathwaite's DreamStories (Es-
sex: Longman, 1994).






JUNE BOBB


style enables Brathwaite to conquer new territory and shatter con-
ventional lines of demarcation between word and action. As he explains
it, "the miracle of that electronic screen means that the spoken word
can become visible."6 Words become palpable, and the visual theat-
rics, the signs and symbols appearing on the page add to the imme-
diacy and the intensity of the moment. It is this intensity Anne Walmsley
recognizes and describes:

The words of The Zea Mexican Diary...become a performance; they
sing on every page: narrative as a recitative, expressed emotion
as a lyric aria, dialogue as a duet, spaces as silent pauses. The
varied typefaces and fonts orchestrate the words, signifying here
a trombone, there a flute. Brathwaite has been a pioneer of per-
formance poetry. His video style seems now to present perform-
ance on the page.7

The intensity of Brathwaite's video style in The Zea Mexican Diary,
barely masks his own anger at the destruction of the flesh. But as con-
summate director, even as he resists the reality of the present moment.
he moves the physical disintegration he narrates out of the realm ol
the personal into the existential tragedy of human existence. He is
everyman and his grief becomes ceremonial and very much a poetic
creation.
In the very lonely space the poet occupies, he attempts to ex-
plode the barriers enclosing the self, to grasp the unknown and to re-
capture, however briefly, the security and wholeness that his relation-
ship with his wife provided. This becomes increasingly impossible:
"...we who love look on w/out [sufficient] faith & understanding & so
the hope gets less / the dream gets tarnished & heaven weaker weaker
weaker" (ZMD 61). In the text, the print becomes smaller and smaller
as hope peters out. Such visual ingenuity mirrors Brathwaite's per-
sonal world of despair, and is an integral part of the ritual of the poem.
Brathwaite formalizes his private pain, his suffering and his uncertainty
of self; but the public stance does not move the poet out of his private
hell, nor does it offer comfort. His language becomes sparse and in-
tense, and creates an effective barrier between the poet and his world:



6 Kamau Brathwaite, interview with Stewart Brown, Kyk-Over-Al 40 (Dec. 1989): 87.
7 Anne Walmsley, "Her Stem Singing: Kamau Brathwaite's Zea Mexican Diary: 7
Sept 1926 7 Sept 1986," World Literature Today 68.4 (Autumn 1994): 748-749.






"IMAGINATION TRANSFORM/TRANSCEND INTO MIRACLE" 33

..I came to reach far out far
out in space and into the very wound & darkness of
ourselves out there/ far out/ deep down in/side...
out there...And it seemed as if I might win...
was winning...if only I cd find the strength...
the certitude...that power of the miracle...
ice cold heat...lava of icicle...pure freedom
of my very breath/ our breathing origines... [ZMD 43]

The arbitrary splitting of words, the use of oxymoron, and ellipsis
create a duality of emotional meaning. Brathwaite is hurling downwards
into an emotional abyss. The poetic text becomes as the critic Stewart
Brown describes it, a "script for performance."8 The poet's words leap
off the page coming into sound and meaning, naming his grief and hint-
ing at a fragile hope. Brathwaite, in a 1989 interview with Stewart Brown
notes, that "people have the impression that [he's] performing when
in fact they are actually dealing with poetry as they ought to, that is,
the poetry is singing in their ears."9 Text becomes character, and lan-
guage exerts its peculiar order upon Brathwaite's dramatic universe.
As the text unfolds, the poet clings tenaciously to a slim shred of hope
that the rootedness of relationship will overcome the degeneration of
the flesh. What is seen here is the poet's entry into a performance
space where the imminent death of his wife is significant and is trans-
formed into the universal experience of separation, loss and reconcili-
ation evoking the poet's cri de coeur:

If she should die go from me now why why why
why I know I will not only lose my life my love my love -
my very very very friend -and there are o too few of these I
may forever lose the light the light the open doors [ZMD 78]

Brathwaite directs the page of his text as if it were a stage. The type-
script imitates the volume, depth and magnitude of his lament.
This song of painful lamentation functions as the prelude for the


SStewart Brown, "'Writing in Light': Orality-thru-typography, Kamau Brathwaite's
Sycorax Video Style," The Pressures of the Text: Orality, Texts and the Telling of
Tales, ed. Stewart Brown (Birmingham: U of Birmingham, Centre of West African
Studies, 1995): 132.
9 Kamau Brathwaite, interview with Stewart Brown, Kyk-Over-Al 40 (Dec. 1989): 90.






34 JUNE BOBB

Diary's Sunday 7 September 1986 entry, the day of Doris Brathwaite's
death. The section is entitled Middle Passages. According to Gordon
Rohlehr, "Middle Passage [is] a metaphor of [Brathwaite's] private jour-
ney as straitened subject."10 Ultimately, the poet survives the journey
by moving beyond the body to the spiritual spaces where feelings lie,
carrying "the pain that troughs within [him] as [he] walk[s] towards
the silence" (ZMD 94). On this journey, it is the enactment of ritual that
offers the poet protection and the possibility of healing. This occurs in
two ways. First, on a physical level, the poet involves himself in tasks
that force him to continue functioning; for example, he covers his wife's
body with "the adinkra cloth," and finds some comfort in words of
prayer: "...the words / didn't much matter... but the weight of their mean-
ing was heavy li / ke stones...coming out of me unrolled away from
deep deep / down & dungeon" (ZMD 98).
The dramatic world of Brathwaite's poetry is inspirited by his
creation of rituals which attempt, as Wole Soyinka puts it in another
context, "to parallel...the experiences or intuitions of man in that far
more disturbing environment which he variously describes as void,
emptiness or infinity."" The creation of rituals is an attempt to control
this space upon which the poet attempts to inscribe the self. At this
point in the poem, broken words and syllables fall like weighted stone.
The poem itself becomes ceremony, a formal enactment of the ritual of
pain, and, as a result, a certain splendor emanates from the poem. By
adopting such a ceremonial stance, pain becomes imaginative, creative,
and openly expressive. It becomes mythic and public, a part of all hu-
man experience. The poet/protagonist is no longer alienated from com-
munity existing only in the lonely space of his imagination. He enters
directly into a metaphysical world where regeneration is possible.
The Diary's final section moves the protagonist into the center of
community. The poet acknowledges both the protection and aliena-
tion generated by the communal experience. The lyrical drama of the
poem is interrupted by prosaic presence. While the poet welcomes
the comfort of community, he is repelled by some of the ways of the
folk: "Miss Mac has turned all the beds / out &yr chairs over up at Irish
T / so that you won't able to come ba / ck to harm us!!" (116). The
thought that his wife could be an instrument of evil is repulsive.


"'Gordon Rohlehr, "Dream Journeys," World Literature Today (Autumn 1994): 766.
Wole Soyinka, Myth, Literature and the African World (Cambridge: Cambridge
UP, 1976): 39-40.






"IMAGINATION TRANSFORM/TRANSCEND INTO MIRACLE"


Brathwaite also struggles with intense feelings of abandonment. He
feels abandoned by family, particularly his sister, Mary, his friends and
those in the University community: "A circle has been broken & I / &
what was once the friends & / people of the cycle/circle have so / dis-
integrated/ centre gone/things / fall a/part things fall a/part" (131). He
feels constantly under attack by those who fail to understand "the thou-
sand hour days or years / you have to spend upon the pound or /
poem of the flesh to make it into LIG / HT' (130).
Brathwaite in didactic mode uses the stage of his text to address
the misconception that poetry is an esoteric exercise, largely useless
in a crassly materialistic modern society. He meditates on the poet as
a subterranean figure emerging from the depths only when he is
awarded a prize, gives a reading, or has a "launching." He explores the
feelings of uncertainty and self-doubt that attend the life of the vision-
ary: "the 40 days in the wilderness of waiting for vision the agonies of
wrenching it out right" and "the terrible wrestle to convey the truth"
(151). Yet, even this extended digression is haunted by the poet's ever
present feeling of desperation at his wife's loss. This loss he equates
with the loss of his creative inspiration: "She was my wife/the perfect
poet's wife I mean the perfect / wife of/for the poet" (152), and "the
very marrows/ narrows of my life & lo /ve" (180). The conscious splic-
ing of lig / ht and lo / ve visually evokes the cruel separation from his
wife's light and love. The poet cannot "say/sew" them together again.
Fearful that he will never write again, he is full of dread. All this is
compounded by what he describes as the "marginaliz[ation]" of men,
and the society's inability to offer them "comfort."
Ultimately, Brathwaite does find comfort. The tortured self at the
heart of The Zea Mexican Diary finds solace in the rituals of commu-
nity. The tree planting ceremony returns the poet to the circle of hu-
manity. In a revisioning of the Christian sacrament of communion and
the penitential ritual of Ash Wednesday, the poet writes: "I put some of
the ashes on my tongue & swallowed her" (199). Before the ashes are
"poured into the planting of her tulip tree," the poet "touched the ashes
w/[his] middle-finger tip & placed what was stuck there upon the fore-
head ... of the four, [participants in the burial ceremony] embracing
each one" (199). In Brathwaite's enactment of transubstantiation, he is
priest, his wife the divine. By eating of the body, he is transformed. At
this point, he moves beyond a sense of human need and now can min-
ister to the community. These acts symbolize shared grief and unity as
well as individual penitence and responsibility. In the freedom of his
imagination, Brathwaite is at one with his wife. She is divine; he has






JUNE BOBB


consumed her, and this fosters a new consciousness. Existing at ease
at the crossroads between spirit and world, the poet now spans worlds
of pain and despair as well as worlds of exhilaration and self-discov-
ery. At this point before the final ritual act of recovery, the poet in-
vokes words from the poem, "V&v'":

...the Word becomes
again a god
and walks
among us -
look -
here are his
rags
here is his crutch
and his satchel
of dreams
here is his hoe and
his rude implements
on this ground
on this broken
ground [140-142]

Here Brathwaite conjures up Legba, the lame god of the crossroads.
At this moment he is suspended in a tenuous space between destruc-
tion and recovery, a space where nothing is predictable. He is at the
place where the forces of life and death, destruction and creation meet.12
It is also hallowed ground, a gathering place of spirits. With Legba pre-
siding, this sanctified spot is a fitting one for the tree planting cer-
emony where the planted stalk of the tulip tree "vibrated there in the
sunlight like music like the string of life it had become" (ZMD 206).
Doris Brathwaite is no longer with him, but having experienced the
moment of ultimate transformation, the poet is transfigured and rec-
ognizes both the power of the self and the nature of his own poetic
task. As Sandra Pouchet Paquet puts it, "Doris's death becomes a crea-
tive act. Grief becomes a process of [divine] creation."13


12 Kamau Brathwaite, "The Caribbean at the Crossroads," Frederick
Douglass Centennial Lecture, Queens College (CUNY), New York, 22 Feb. 1995.
13 Sandra Pouchet Paquet, "Introduction," Kamau Brathwaite, The
Zea Mexican Diary (Madison: Wisconsin UP, 1993): xi.





"IMAGINATION TRANSFORM/TRANSCEND INTO MIRACLE" 37

In The Zea Mexican Diary, Kamau Brathwaite reenacts his per-
sonal agony, which by an act of dramatic transcendence becomes
mythic. The poet's agony is not reduced, but it is channeled through
rituals and enters the world of ceremony in the imaginary landscape
he creates. Brathwaite recognizes the power of communion and com-
munity, and while the poem remains tragic, the agony at the heart of
the poem is transformede] into miracle," a public miracle of the tran-
scendence of the human spirit.
















'Dub Poetry'?*

Mervyn Morris**

he word 'dub' in 'dub poetry' is borrowed from recording tech-
nology, where it refers to the activity of adding and/or remov-
ing sounds. 'Dub poetry', which is written to be performed, in-
corporates a music beat, often a reggae beat. Often, but not always, the
performance is done to the accompaniment of music, recorded or live.
Dub poetry is usually, but not always, written in Jamaican language; in
Jamaican creole/dialect/vernacular/nation language. By extension, it may
be written in the informal language of people from anywhere. Most often
it is politically focused, attacking oppression and injustice. Though the
ideal context for dub poetry is the live performance, it also makes itself
available in various other ways: on radio, on television, in audio record-
ings, video recordings and on film. Many dub poets also publish books.'
'Dub poetry'. The term is prefigured in a 1976 article by Linton Kwesi
Johnson, who writes: 'The "dub-lyricist" is the dj turned poet. He intones
his lyrics rather than sings them. Dub-lyricism is a new form of (oral)
music-poetry, wherein the lyricist overdubs rhythmic phrases on to the
rhythm background of a popular song. Dub-lyricists include poets like Big
Youth, I Roy, U Roy, Dillinger, Shorty the President, Prince Jazzbo and
others'.2 But though he knows their immediate context is dub music, Linton
calls the artists simply poets. In similar spirit, the persona of 'Street 66',
in Linton's Dread Beat and Blood (1975), refers to 'the mitey poet I Roy'.3


Reprinted with the permission of the author and lan Randle Publishers, King-
ston, Jamaica.
**University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica.
I See Mervyn Morris, 'People Speech', in Reggae Internationaled. Stephen Davis and
Peter Simon (New York: Rogner & Bernhard, 1982; London: Thames & Hudson, 1983),
pp. 189-191. Also, as 'People Speech: Some Dub Poets', in Race Today Review 1983, Vol.
14 No. 5, pp. 150-157; and in The Black Nation Vol. 4 No. 1, Summer/Fall 1984, pp. 38-42.
2 Linton Kwesi Johnson, 'Jamaican Rebel Music', Race and Class, XVII, 4(1976), p.398.
3 Dread Beat and Blood (London: Bogle L'Ouverture, 1975), p. 19.
38






"DUB POETRY?" 39

In his own creative writing, by 1973 Johnson was beginning to be
known as a poet often in tune with reggae rhythms. I remember hear-
ing him read in London:

night number one was in BRIXTON:
SOFRANO B sound system
was a beating out a rhythm with a fire,
coming doun his reggae-reggae wire;
it was a sound shaking doun your spinal column,
a bad music tearing up your flesh;
and the rebels them start a fighting,
the yout them jus turn wild.
it's war amongst the rebels:
madness... madness... war.4

Before he ever heard of Linton Johnson, Oku Onuora had been trav-
elling a similar road.5 Like Linton he was inspired by Jamaican popular
music and the poets who wrote the lyrics, especially Bob Marley and
the Wailers.6 He knew that poets might perform their work to musical
accompaniment, as was happening at the Yard Theatre organized by
Marina Omowale Maxwell and Kamau Brathwaite.7 Living in Jamaica
in the late 1960s, Oku was also influenced by Black American trends,
including a proliferation of poet-performers who were steeped in the
rhythms of Black music. He read and/or listened to some of them, in-
cluding The Last Poets and Gil Scott-Heron. He discovered the poetry
of Langston Hughes, which he often adduced as a model.


4 From 'Five Nights of Bleeding', Dread Beat and Blood, p. 15.
51 first met Oku Onuora (who was then Orlando Wong) late in 1975. After he had
shown me several reggae-influenced poems he had written, I introduced him to
poems by Linton Johnson.
6 'My greatest influence was Bob Marley and the Wailers.' In Christian Habekost
ed., Dub Poetry: 19 Poets from England and Jamaica (Neustadt: Michael Schwinn,
1986), p. 128.
7 Kamau Brathwaite has suggested the likely connection: '[M]y reading and
public lectures must have influenced, in some way, the development of "dub". In
the sixties we had Yard Theatre with Marina Omowale Maxwell in Jamaica and I
was reading many of my poems with Count Ossie on drums.' Nathaniel Mackey,
'An Interview with Kamau Brathwaite', in Stewart Brown ed., The Art of Kamau
Brathwaite (Bridgend: Seren Books, 1995), p. 27. The interview took place on April
5, 1990.






MERVYN MORRIS


The term 'dub poetry' was promoted in Jamaica early in 1979 to
identify work then being presented often at the School of Drama -
by Oku himself, Mikey Smith and Noel Walcott.8 Initially Oku defined
dub poetry as related to reggae rhythms. The dub poem, he said, 'is
not merely putting a piece of poem pon a reggae rhythm hence when
the poem is read without any reggae rhythm (so to speak) backing,
one can distinctly hear the reggae rhythm coming out of the poem.'9
Later he took the position that the music rhythms need not be reggae:
so 'dub poetry' would be poetry into which music rhythms have been
dubbed, so to speak. But that would allow in all sorts of people, includ-
ing Edith Sitwell.10 So, according to Christian Habekost in Verbal Riddim
(1993), a substantially informative book, Oku now 'sees dub poetry as
a form of poetry that can absorb and incorporate any kind of black
musical rhythm' (emphasis mine).11 Since the definition, even as re-
vised, mainly related to the form of 'dub poetry', it has been extended
to cover political content, to prescribe attitudes. At a public discus-
sion in January 1986 Oku Onuora said: 'Dub poetry simply mean to
take out and to put in, but more fi put in more than anything else. We
take out the little isms, the little English ism and the little highfalutin
business and the little penta-metre... that is what dub poetry mean. It's
dubbing out the little penta-metre and the little highfalutin business and
dubbing in the rootsical, yard, basic rhythm that I-an-I know. Using the
language, using the body. It also mean to dub out the isms and schisms
and to dub consciousness into the people-dem head. That's dub po-
etry.'12 Similarly, as reported by Aduga Onuora in 1986, 'The aim and
purpose of what I'm doing is to dub out the unconconsciousness out of
the people head, and to dub een consciousness.'13


8 See Orlando Wong [Oku Onuora], Echo (Kingston: Sangster's, 1977), Michael
Smith, It A Come (London: Race Today, 1986), and -for Noel Walcott poems-
Edward Kamau Brathwaite ed., New Poets from Jamaica (Kingston: Savacou 14/15,
1979), pp. 91-95.
9 Oku Onuora interviewed by Mervyn Morris, September 16, 1981.
10 Edith Sitwell, 'Facade' (with music by William Walton).
I' Christian Habekost, Verbal Riddim: The Politics and Aesthetics of African-Carib-
bean Dub Poetry (Amsterdam-Atlanta: Editions Rodopi B.V, 1993), p. 4.
12 Oku Onuora at the Jamaica School of Drama, January 17, 1986. Cf. Kamau
Brathwaite, History of the Voice (London: New Beacon Books, 1984), which talks
about 'nation language... that, in fact, largely ignores the pentameter' (p. 13) and
mentions '(t]he tyranny of the pentametre' (p. 30, footnote 40).
13 Verbal Riddim p. 4. Quoted from a 1986 research paper by Adugo, who was
then married to Oku Onuora.






'DUB POETRY'?


Some of the leading 'dub poets' prefer not to be called by that
name. They consider that it limits them or puts them down. They
may want to use some music that isn't really black, or to draw on
no music at all. They may want to write some poems they would
not care to perform. They want the freedom to explore a range of
human concerns, and display a range of attitudes. Consistent with
his description of the dj lyricists as 'poets', Linton Johnson says
'I've always seen myself as a poet full stop.'14 Mutabaruka, simi-
larly, says 'My poetry is just: poetry.'15 Jean Binta Breeze remarks:
'I'd rather say I am a poet and write some dub poems than say I am
a dub poet.'16 Habekost, heavily invested in the term, implies they
are ungrateful to a banner which has helped to market them. As
though there is a pattern of individualistic selfishness among achiev-
ers such as these -in fact it's quite the opposite- Habekost argues
for collective political action, to storm the barricades for dub
poetry.

At the beginning of the 1980s, when a number of poets started
to receive international attention and the media promoted the
term dub poetry, the opportunity was missed to take advantage
of this situation....The slogan 'Unity is Strength,' a phrase be-
loved of radical black artists, was unable to gain currency among
the dub poets.

As we have seen, such an absence of collective awareness has not
hampered the success of individual dub poets; but it has certainly
militated against the general recognition of the art form among the
literary and academic establishment. The cultural elite tended to en-
dorse dub poets who denied what they were doing and insisted on
being 'poets' without the allegedly pejorative specificier of 'dub.' It
was easier to accommodate the political and stylistic 'threat' of a hand-
ful of individuals than a potentially general assault by a united group
of determined artists.17



14 Interviewed by Neil Spencer, New Musical Express, March 17, 1984. Verbal
Riddim, p. 3.
15 Interviewed by Habekost, 1986. Verbal Riddim p. 3.
16 Interviewed by Habekost, 1985. Verbal Riddim p. 47.
17 Pp. 43-44.






MERVYN MORRIS


Members of the 'cultural elite' sometimes also of 'the academic
establishment'8 are charged with offences inimical to 'general rec-
ognition of the art form'. Some, valorizing complexity, have seemed to
be dissing dub poetry; some have censured work they consider weak
or meretricious; some have seemed eager to blunt the political force
of dub poetry by relating it to other areas of performance poetry or,
worse, '[s]ubsuming it under the rather vague and generalizing term
"poetry"'.19
Let us look at examples. In a 1988 issue of Jamaica Journal Victor
Chang reviewed Dub Poetry: 19 Poets from England and Jamaica, the
pioneer anthology edited by Christian Habekost.20 Since Chang's gen-
eralizing comments are specifically related to the samples Habekost
put in front of him, anyone disturbed by the review should be sen-
tenced to read the whole of the book it notices. It is the Habekost an-
thology that has provoked observations such as these which trouble
dub poetry enthusiasts. Chang writes (the emphases are mine):

The notion... that poems are elevated to 'artistic impressions' by
means of 'useless metaphors' is strange.... What we are left with, after
shearing all the 'useless metaphors' away, is language that 'is simple
and clear to get the meaning and message across to anyone'[p.18].
There we have clearly stated both the strength and the weakness of
Dub Poetry. It is a poetry of statement, shouted at you from the plat-
form: it is very public poetry, poetry for 'performance' in truth. Its
strengths lie in shrill denunciation and protest, polarized stances,
confrontational postures... Dub poetry seldom strays from this ap-
proach. When it tries another tack, such as love poetry, it doesn't
quite come off....


18 See, for example, pp. 22, 30, 48 ('certain members of the academy'). Also on p.
48 Lillian Allen, the Toronto-based dub poet, is quoted as saying 'the academics are
too enthusiastically mean-spirited' and bemoaning 'the enthusiastic negativity par-
ticularly from the black academian bourgeo[i]sie.' That final phrase turns up, more
plausibly, as 'black academia and the bourgeoisie' in the Habekost interview 'tran-
scribed and edited by Gordon Collier' in Caribbean Writers: Between Orality and
Writing ed. Marlies Glaser & Marion Pausch (Amsterdam-Atlanta: Rodopi, 1994) p.
59. In Caribbean Writers the interview, cited in Verbal Riddim as 1989, is dated June
15, 1990.
19 P. 3.
20 Jamaica Journal Vol. 21 No. 3, August-October 1988, pp. 49-52. Chang reviews
the Habekost anthology and From Our Yard: Jamaican Poetry Since Independence
edited by Pamela Mordecai.






'DUB POETRY'?


[W]hile dub poetry covers a range of topics, its tonal range as rep-
resented here is essentially limited: protesting, threatening, accusa-
tory. And we need to recognize this. I am not saying that this poetry
does not have its value or that it should be like traditional poetry. I
merely want to suggest that we cannot often expect any subtlety of
approach, anything that is inward-looking, musing, quiet, reflective,
tender, delicate, registering a complexity of position or feeling.2'

Gordon Rohlehr sees more that can be positive in 'dub poetry', but
also firmly indicates how bad it can sometimes be. In his Introduction
to Voiceprint he writes, succinctly: 'Dub poetry at its worst is a kind of
tedious jabber to a monotonous rhythm. At its best it is the intelligent
appropriation of the manipulatory techniques of the DJ for purposes
of personal and communal signification.'22
In an essay mainly on work by Mikey Smith and Jean Binta Breeze which
she admires Carolyn Cooper mentions Benjamin Zephaniah, a candidate
for Professor of Poetry at Oxford University in 1989, running against Seamus
Heaney and others. She quotes the Guardian of May 20, 1989:

[Heaney's] strongest competition comes from the Somerset-based
poet, author and translator, Charles Sisson, and the Rastafarian dub-
poet, Benjamin Zephaniah, whose work includes a New Year Rap for
the Guardian with the prophetic lines:

And when it comes to Nuclear Arms
Where does Neil Kinnock stand?
And where's that Marxist Theory
Dat dey told us dey had planned?

Cooper comments: 'Pure greeting card doggerel, despite its clairvoy-
ance. Intriguingly... Zephaniah is the only entrant whose work is allowed
to speak for itself'.23 Habekost deems the lines "in no way representa-
tive of Zephaniah's work in general"24, but their rhythmic obviousness
seems to me typical of early Zephaniah, as in 'Me Love Me Mudder':


21 P. 50.
22 Voiceprint. An Anthology of Oral and Related Poetry ed. Stewart Brown, Mervyn
Morris and Gordon Rohlehr (Harlow: Longman, 1989), p. 18. See also Gordon Rohlehr,
The Shape of That Hurt and other essays (Port-of-Spain: Longman Trinidad, 1992), p. 182.
23 Carolyn Cooper, Noises in the Blood. Orality, Gender and the 'Vulgar' Body of
Jamaican Popular Culture (London: Macmillan Caribbean, 1993), p. 72.
24 Verbal Riddim p. 77.






44 MERVYN MORRIS

Me love me mudder an me mudder love me
We come so far from over de sea
We hear dat de streets were paved wid gold
Sometimes it hot sometimes it cold
Me love me mudder an me mudder love me
We try to live in harmony
You might know her as Valerie
But to me she is my mummy25

Though the collection City Psalms is an improvement on The Dread
Affair, a case for Zephaniah as a rewarding poet must surely rest on his
performance skills. Here are some lines from City Psalms:

Dis poetry is wid me when I gu to me bed
It gets into me Dreadlocks
It lingers around me head
Dis poetry goes wid me as I pedal me bike
I've tried Shakespeare, Respect due dere
But dis is the stuff I like.

Dis poetry is not afraid of going ina book
Still dis poetry need ears fe hear an eyes fe hav a look
Dis poetry is Verbal Riddim, no big words involved
An if I hav a problem de riddim gets it solved26

Zephaniah poses a difficult problem of assessment. He is the star of
Verbal Riddim, repeatedly approved for political seriousness and com-
munication skills. There is plenty of evidence that he connects with
audiences. But the words tend to seem inadequate except when he is
clearly having a laugh; and even if one listens to recordings and looks
at videos, there will still be crucial performance elements missing: the
interactive occasion, the living audience, the rhetoric of a charismatic
presence. Habekost makes him sound extraordinary (if you go for ki-
netic excitement): 'Benjamin Zephaniah... became popular with the
thrilling presentation of his "Dis Policeman keeps on kicking me to
death," during which he turned into a bouncing bundle of high-kicking


25 Notes in Us an Dem (Island Records, 1990). For another version see Benjamin
Zephaniah, The Dread Affair: Collected Poems (London: Arena/Arrow Books, 1985),
p. 36.
26 Benjamin Zephaniah, 'Dis Poetry', in City Psalms (Newcastle upon Tyne:
Bloodaxe Books, 1992), p. 12.






'DUB POETRY'?


boots, facial distortions and flying dreadlocks.'27 If, as some people
say Habekost and others the words are transcended or trans-
formed in performance, it is not enough to read or hear about details;
we need to share an occasion we can discuss.
Habekost undervalues the performance potential of stillness. Less
than a page after quoting a valuable observation by Walter Ong ('In
oral verbalization, particularly public verbalization, absolute motion-
lessness is itself a powerful gesture'), he notes that '[n]ot all good dub
poets are equally good performers' and that Linton Johnson 'remains
very static.' Johnson, he writes, 'is... capitalizing on the reserve bor-
dering on diffidence that holds him back from histrionic expression:
his frozen appearance is the deliberate attempt to let the words speak
for themselves, undisturbed by additional performative means that
might divert the audience's attention.'28
Is there really an attempt 'to let the words speak for themselves'? In
performing them Johnson, though relatively still, is a visual focus, made
more compelling by his trademark hat; and his voice (with variations
in rhythm, phrasing, volume, texture) is of critical importance. He makes
performance choices.
Words, nevertheless, and our attitudes to them, are the heart of the mat-
ter, the site of contention between dub poetry's true believers and those of
us applauding only some of the talent. Offered Mikey Smith's 'Me Cyaan
Believe It', for example, or Linton Johnson's 'Reggae fi Dada', or Jean Binta
Breeze's 'Riddym Ravings'29, we can enjoy the value-added of performance.
For though everybody knows that dub poetry is meant to be performed,
and though some poems are most fully realized in performance, people
who enjoy poetry (and not only 'dub poetry') tend to be biased in fa-
vour of poems that offer riches before and after, not only during or be-
cause of, performance. They privilege the word. Like Gordon Rohlehr we
are drawn to 'the more complex abstracts from experience, in preference
to simple statement of it', we need 'to feel that a writer is trying to use
language imaginatively any language in which he chooses to write.'30


27 Verbal Riddim p. 100.
28 Verbal Riddim p. 100.
29 Michael Smith, ItA Come (London: Race Today, 1986), pp. 13-15. Linton Kwesi
Johnson, Ting an Times (Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe Books, 1991), pp. 34-36.
Jean Binta Breeze, Riddym Ravings (London: Race Today, 1988), pp. 58-61.
30 Gordon Rohlehr, in 'West Indian Poetry: Some Problems of Assessment', first
published in Tapia No. 20 (August 29, 1970). See Gordon Rohlehr, My Strangled City
and other essays (Port-of-Spain: Longman Trinidad, 1992), p. 111.






MERVYN MORRIS


That language is sometimes standard English, as in 'I Write About',
by Oku Onuora.31

You ask: Why do you write
so much about blood, sweat & tears?
Don't you write about trees, flowers,
birds, love?

Yes

I write about trees -
trees with withered branches
& severed roots

I write about flowers -
flowers on graves

I write about birds -
caged birds struggling

I write about love -
love for destruction
of oppression

The persona has been accused of being militant (but may be stand-
ing firm against evil, as the Churchill echo implies).32 The poem is a
rhetorical rebuke to the notion that poets should be writing only of the
joys of nature. In the last four stanzas each first line flatters the en-
quirer to deceive seeming to agree with the programme proposed,
only to subvert it in succeeding lines. The trees are symbols of human
distress, withered for lack of nourishment, cut off from their roots (im-
plying, in black Jamaica, Africa). The flowers on graves suggest at least
two possibilities. They may be dead flowers, as in wreaths laid there
during a funeral. But they may also be flowers growing on a grave,
positives that might emerge from what had looked like disaster. The
'caged birds' are a conventional image of imprisonment, of freedom
denied, but they are given a distinctive life by the addition of 'strug-
gling', which had strong political overtones in Jamaica in the 1970s


31 Echo p. 44.
32 May 13, 1940. 'I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.'






'DUB POETRY'?


when the poem was first published. The final stanza is particularly
skilled in the ironic use it makes of lineation: the persona seems to be
confirming the oppressive enquirer's charge: yes, indeed, the persona
writes about 'blood, sweat & tears': yes, he writes about 'love for de-
struction'. But, as the sentence continues, the enquirer is in the line of
fire. Destruction per se is not the point. The persona writes about 'love
for destruction / of oppression'.
This well-made poem is included in Habekost's Dub Poetry and
quoted in his Verbal Riddim. Is this an example of 'dub poetry'? It is
politically focused. Is that why it qualifies? If so, then there are many
other poems waiting to be claimed. 'Dub poetry' is only a fraction of
what most 'dub poets' write. To Lillian Allen 'a dub poet is somebody
who calls himself a dub poet and whose major output in terms of the
public is dub poetry'.33 But if we followed the practice of Linton Johnson
and called every poet a poet, we might (with fewer classificatory anxi-
eties) rejoice in the merits of each piece.


33 Caribbean Writers: Between Orality & Writing, p. 51.
















Big words as a form of popular oral culture:
sources and development

Peter Roberts*



The term 'big words' used here refers to a cultural practice which
has a long history in the anglophone Caribbean. It was very typical of
certain cultural contexts which were common during the first half of
the 20th century and before, but have virtually died out now. The us-
age itself could be characterized as a penchant for flowery words, ex-
pressions, turns of phrase, allusions, and quotations from foreign lan-
guages in speechmaking. This could be in formal or learned contexts
among the higher classes in the society or in speeches by 'common'
people on social occasions. A feature in such speechmaking, which is
often highlighted, is inappropriate and incorrect usage. Among the
lower classes of the society this usage has been identified in various
contexts with different terms, one of which is 'Big English', but the
term which seems to be most widely accepted by academics is 'per-
formance' English. Contexts in which these 'big words' speeches, or
performance English, occurred were weddings, tea meetings and other
formal social occasions.
Generally, there has traditionally been a perception in the
anglophone Caribbean (though not exclusively so) that certain occa-
sions require not only the 'highest' form of English but also an exhibi-
tion of erudition on the part of the speaker. In a perverse sort of way,
the bigger and more unintelligible the words, the more impressed the
audience has often been. The best current example of this flowery


University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Barbados.






BIG WORDS AS A FORM OF POPULAR ORAL CULTURE 49

speechmaking, which is a dignified version, is the public orator's speech
(introducing honorary graduands) at the annual graduation ceremo-
nies of the University of the West Indies. More typical illustrations of
performance English of former times occur in Rampini 1873 (for Ja-
maica) and Lynch 1964 (for Barbados). The most extensive citations
and analysis of performance English, specifically in the Eastern Carib-
bean islands, have been given by Roger Abrahams (e.g. 1970a, 1970b).
These are documented throughout the anglophone Caribbean as part
of the culture of the black population and are linked by Abrahams and
Szwed (1983:79) to British traditions and originally to slave-to-master
communication:

This kind of speech is regarded as a borrowing from British sources
rather than as an adaptation of African style to New World language,
setting, and occasion.

This interpretation given by Abrahams and Szwed, which identifies
performance English not as a continuity of any African tradition but as
an imitation of British speechmaking traditions which were transmit-
ted to the Caribbean as well as a consequence of interaction between
slave and master, appears controversial. However, there is substantial
evidence to support the view that black performance English is linked
to white culture and practices in the West Indies.
Probably the earliest evidence comes from Edward Long in his work
on Jamaica. Speaking about the slaves, he said (1774 2:426-7):

The better sort are very fond of improving their language, by catching
at any hard word that the Whites happen to let fall in their hearing; and
they alter and misapply in a strange manner; but a tolerable collection
of them gives an air of knowledge and importance in the eyes of their
brethren, which tickles their vanity, and makes them more assiduous
in stocking themselves with this unintelligible jargon.

For Long to have noticed this kind of usage and regarded it as com-
mon among the better sort meant that it must have been for some time
a characteristic of slave behaviour. Although Long spent only twelve
years in Jamaica (1757-1769), he was from a family which had long
connections with Jamaica. Not only was his father a Jamaican, but he
was related back to Samuel Long, who went on the expedition which
captured Jamaica for the English in 1655 and who subsequently started
one of the major families of Jamaica. One has to assume, then, that






50 PETER ROBERTS

Long was writing with a deep background of knowledge of Jamaican
society and slaves in particular. At the same time, however, having left
England only two years after Samuel Johnson's Dictionary first appeared
and at a time when there was generally a widespread interest in Eng-
lish regional and social usage as well as in the notion of a standard
form of English, Long no doubt would have made a continuous asso-
ciation between speech behaviour in Jamaica and that in Britain. His
concept of 'imitation' might have been formed in a context in England
where the speech of the upper classes was an occasional model for
the lower classes.
Twenty years after Long made his statement, Bryan Edwards, also
in Jamaica, was more expansive and positive in his comments on the
same kind of usage. Part of what he said was that:

Among other propensities and qualities of the Negroes must not be
omitted their loquaciousness. They are fond of exhibiting set speeches,
as orators by profession; but it requires a considerable share of pa-
tience to hear them throughout; for they commonly make a long pref-
ace before they come to the point; beginning with a tedious enumera-
tion of their past services and hardships. They dwell with peculiar
energy (if the fact admits it) on the number of children they have
presented to Massa (Master), after which they recapitulate some of
the instances of particular kindness shown them by their owner or
employer, adducing these also as proofs of their own merit; it being
evident, they think, that no such kindness can be gratuitous. This is
their usual exordium, as well when they bring complaints against oth-
ers, as when they are called upon to defend themselves; and it is in
vain to interrupt either plaintiff or defendant.... One instance recurs
to my memory, of so significant a turn of expression in a common
labouring Negro, who could have had no opportunity of improvement
from the conversation of White people, as is alone, I think, sufficient
to demonstrate that Negroes have minds very capable of observa-
tion. (Edwards [1819] 1966 2:100-1)

Edwards talks about 'set speeches'and gives the context as the slave
addressing the master. Edwards here, by identification of structure and
purpose in the speeches, discounts Long's idea that they were unintel-
ligible jargon. His observation that they were set speeches and the slaves
as if orators by profession clearly, for him, moved these performances
beyond the extemporaneous and revealed a purposeful facility with
language among the slaves. As Edwards explains, the slave on occa-
sion chose to impress or wear down the master with words but he






BIG WORDS AS A FORM OF POPULAR ORAL CULTURE


could also be witty and pointed. Stewart (1808:248-9), also in reference
to Jamaica, repeats much of what Edwards said about the length and
structure of the slaves' speeches addressed to whites, but he also re-
peats Long's view that the slaves copied their masters, even though in
a different context. The context identified by Stewart comes much
closer to the 20th century contexts of performance English it was
the parties which some of the slaves could afford and it was specifi-
cally creole slaves that Stewart (1808:266) identified as those who imi-
tated the whites:

The Creole negroes affect much to copy the manners, language, & c.
of the whites; those who have it in their power, have, at times, their
convivial parties; when they will endeavour to mimic their masters in
their drinking, their songs, and their toasts;

He then illustrated what he meant:

and it is curious to see with what an awkward minuteness they aim at
such imitations. The author recollects having given an entertainment
to a party of negroes, who had resided together, and had been in hab-
its of intimacy for twenty years or more. After a variety of curious
toasts, and some attempts to entertain each other with European
songs, one, who conceived himself more knowing and accomplished
than the rest, stood up and very gravely drank, "Here's to our better
acquaintance, gentlemen!"

The oral behaviour described here is very close to those of the late
19th and early 20th centuries' 'tea meetings', which are regarded as the
typical contexts for performance English.
The kind of party referred to as an entertainment as well as what
Beckford (1790 1:388) called "a public assembly, at which every person
pays a stipulated sum at admittance" took place on Christmas day. Christ-
mas was the only time of the year that the slaves had two or more
consecutive days' holiday. They developed a Christmas culture that
was not directly connected to Christianity, a culture which was de-
scribed in various ways by writers of the day. From these descriptions
it can be seen that, besides the parties called entertainments, aping of
the manners and customs of whites was even more generally done. It
is again Stewart (1808:262) who provides a view of this behaviour:

On this occasion [Christmas], these poor people appear as it were
quite another race. They show themselves off to the greatest advan-






PETER ROBERTS


tage, by fine clothes, and a profusion of trinkets; they affect a genteeler
behaviour, and more select and correct mode of speech; they address
the whites with greater familiarity; they come into their master's
houses, and drink with them the distance between them appears to
be annihilated for the moment ...

Williams (1827:22) also relates similar Christmas activities twenty
years later in Jamaica.
Imitation of whites also seemed to be the main preoccupation at an
event which was restricted to women, which Beckford (1790 1:389-90)
first identified as a Christmas event which took place on the planta-
tions. However, according to Stewart (1808:263-4), it took place on New
Year's day and it was essentially an urban event:

On new year's day it was customary for the negro girls of the towns
(who conceive themselves far superior to those on the estates, in
point of taste, manners, and fashion) to exhibit themselves in all pride
of gaudy splendor, under the denomination of blues and reds par-
ties in rivalship and opposition to each other, and distinguished by
these colours.... The most comely young negresses were selected,
and such as had a fine and tutored voice; they paraded through the
streets ... They were accompanied by instrumental music; but they
generally sung together different songs which they had learned for
the occasion, or those which they had caught up from the whites, in
a style far superior to the negresses on the plantations.


Williams (1827:63-4) also identified it as taking place on New Year's
day and ending in town, but not necessarily restricted to town women:

Each party wears an appropriate colour, one red, the other blue, of
the most expensive materials they can afford. They select two queens,
the prettiest and best shaped girls they can find, who are obliged to
personate the royal characters, and support them to the best of their
power and ideas.... Each party has a procession (but not so as to
encounter each other) with silk flags and streamers, in which the
queen is drawn in a phaeton, if such a carriage can be procured, or
any four wheeled vehicle which can pass for a triumphal car, that her
person may be seen to the best advantage. Thus they parade the
towns, priding themselves on the number of their followers, until the
evening, when each party gives a splendid entertainment, at which
every luxury and delicacy that money can procure are lavished in






BIG WORDS AS A FORM OF POPULAR ORAL CULTURE 53

profusion. ... and the evening is concluded with a ball. ... There were
many free people of colour. The men were very well dressed, and
conducted themselves with the greatest propriety.

In the comments (e.g. correct mode of speech, fine and tutored voice,
personate royal characters) the role of high society speech is highlighted.
In other words, the parades were not only artistic and creative in them-
selves, but they also formed a backdrop for performance English. How-
ever, even without considering the African continuities in such events,
it would be misleading to regard them simply as dramatic performances
or masked parades. They were essentially events with at least two ma-
jor strands- in appearance they were imitations of white upper class
behaviour and in effect they were realizations of the slaves at their grand-
est, at their most beautiful and using the most cultured language.
It seems clear that the early references in the literature by Long
(1774 2:426-7) and Edwards (1794 2:83) to oratory or speeches among
the slaves, even though they were not instances of the kind of per-
formance English that became a cultural characteristic of the black
population in the latter part of the 19th century, were a developmen-
tal phase of it. While there is no generally sustained argument that
oral language facility and artistry in black communities derived from
white society, the evidence in the islands of imitation of white behav-
iour by blacks is clear, and in any case there could hardly have been
totally independent development of speechmaking in two sectors of
the same society, for the very development of speechmaking among
the white population in the West Indies is in itself an interesting phe-
nomenon. The question in the case of the Whites is whether
speechmaking was a spontaneous development or whether it was a
matter of transmission from England, as is implicit in Abrahams' inter-
pretation.
Evidence of notable speechmaking as a part of the law courts in the
West Indies in the late 18th century is provided by Luffman (1789:148-
9), in his treatment of Antigua:

The solicitors are advocates also. A Mr. Burke... stands foremost for
energetic declamation; Mr. Hicks and Mr. Wise, for ingenuous argu-
ment; the language of the latter is elegant possessing, at the same
time, the luxurious flowers of rhetoric and fine oratory ...

So impressed was Luffman with the language skills of these gentle-
men that he went on to say (1789: 149):






54 PETER ROBERTS

It is to be deplored that such abilities should be confined to so small
a circle as this island, abilities, which would possibly enable the pos-
sessor (if at the bar of the Westminster courts) to raise himself to the
first eminence in his profession.

Speechmaking on social occasions among the whites in the early
19th century is also noted by Bayley (1833:585):

In the West Indies there is a sort of rage for this table elocution, and
there are some gentlemen who really speak well, but who, unfortunately,
have also a propensity for speaking long (half an hour for instance)...

Yet, there is no obvious indication in the words of either Luffman or
Bayley that the speechmaking among the whites was an imitation of
English behaviour.
Caldecott (1898), with a liking for the thesis that context has a ma-
jor influence on the evolution of society, explained the type of social
intercourse which developed in West Indian plantation society as a
product of the weather. What is significant in his thesis is the develop-
ment of the prominence of conversation as a climatic (i.e. contextual)
consequence rather than as a part of cultural heritage:

But life in the West Indies had, of course, its aesthetic side in some
form. The chief amusements were Conversation and Dancing[.] The
conversation which chiefly filled the hours of social intercourse of
the men was, after its kind, more artistic than the conversation of a
community which is largely absorbed in reading[.] In furtherance of
it great dinners were in vogue, and every opportunity was seized for
holding them... Seated round a table loaded with the varied products
of these fertile regions, with the chief native liquor, rum, supplemented
by imported wines and spirits of Europe, the hearts of West Indian Plant-
ers expanded with the chief enjoyment they knew, and tale and song
and practical joke, too, filled up the long evening hours. (pp.39-40)

Caldecott, in the picture he paints, one which is typical in the
West Indies up to today, explains the love of talking, joking and artistic
conversation among the white population as a product of a hot cli-
mate. In actual fact, the thesis of context may have been more a factor
of the time at which Caldecott was writing (the Darwin era) than a
factor of the time he was supposed to be describing and analysing.
Caldecott, in his argument that speechmaking among the white popu-
lation developed within the context of the West Indies rather than hav-






BIG WORDS AS A FORM OF POPULAR ORAL CULTURE 55

ing been transmitted there from England, differs from Wright (1939),
who looked at the case of colonial Virginia and made the following
comment on the rise of oratory there:

Looking backward, we might surmise that Virginians who read
Cornelius Nepos's Lives of Illustrious Men were stirred by these biog-
raphies of Greek, Carthaginian, and Persian patriots, that the germ of
Patrick Henry's oratory could be found in such reading, and in the
orations of Demosthenes and Cicero. That Virginia oratory owed much
to the precepts and examples of Quintilian and Cicero is perfectly
clear (1939:95).

Wright's explanation for the oratory that developed in Virginia is
therefore related to classical literary influence. In other words, he re-
garded it as learned oratory, in keeping generally with classical ideals.
There is some reason to support Wright's analysis in relation to the
oratory of lawyers in that one can very well imagine that lawyers would
have patterned their speeches after well known examples. However, it
is not easy to accept Wright's explanation without reservation in rela-
tion to social oratory, because, from accounts, the conversations and
speeches of white society in the West Indies seemed genuine, so that
even if they were refined by classical literature, they could not have
developed spontaneously from such a remote and artificial source. The
genuine social interaction and sophistication in West Indian society of
the time are captured in verse by (Singleton 1767:29):

Alternate round the turf, high jests prevail,
With decent language grac'd, the artful pun,
The repartee unstudy'd, free from gall,
Diffuse sweet mirth and pleasantry around.

Here we can see quite clearly an attraction to refined language. The
writer himself was a part of this society, and so his verses may well have
been influenced by written literature, but when he talks about "the rep-
artee unstudy'd, "he is suggesting a natural facility with language.
While claims about climatic influence and classical models may at
different times have had some appeal as explanatory theories, the
most immediate and direct reason for the rise of flowery
speechmaking among whites in the West Indies in the last quarter of
the 18th century was that in England it became very notable during
that period, so that what was happening in the West Indies was really






PETER ROBERTS


the result of an attraction to what was happening in England. For in-
stance, Nettleton (1906:xxvii) notes, in relation to the case of Warren
Hastings in England:

his so-called "Begum speech," delivered on February 7, 1787, was the
supreme triumph of Sheridan's oratory. For five hours and a half he
held the crowded House of Commons in breathless attention.... Sir
Gilbert Elliot, member of Parliament, declared that Sheridan's speech
surpassed "all I ever imagined possible in eloquence and ability ... he
surpassed, I think, Pitt, Fox, and even Burke, in his finest and most
brilliant orations." Burke, a generous rival, declared that Sheridan's
charge was "the most astonishing effort of eloquence, argument, and
wit united, of which there was any record or tradition." Fox acknowl-
edged that "all that he had ever heard, all that he had ever read, when
compared with it, dwindled into nothing, and vanished like vapour
before the sun." Said Pitt, his political adversary, "It surpassed all the
eloquence of ancient and modern times."

When Luffman praised the 'rhetoric and fine oratory' of the law-
yers in Antigua, therefore, and suggested that in England they would
reach eminence, this was indeed high praise, in view of the fact that
his observations were made practically at the same time Sheridan's
speech had been extravagantly acclaimed.
The best or most reasonable explanation which can be given for the
attraction to this kind of oratory, speechmaking and refined language
generally among the white upper class of the 18th and 19th centuries
in the West Indies is that it was a product of dislocated people in a
violent situation trying to reassure themselves by direct communica-
tion that they were cultured. They had to dress up, drink and talk in
order to escape from the dung-heap of daily living. In general, there
was no recourse to literacy to achieve this air of culture because most
of the ruling class was still illiterate and remained so for a long time as
a result of the fact that there was no real need for formal education in
a society based on a system of slavery and distinct social stratifica-
tion. The slaves in their turn were attracted to the verbal display and
performances of the Whites because, not only were they even more
dislocated, but also because they had to function in a general context
of acculturation in which models of behaviour in the newly evolving
creole societies were provided by their social superiors.
What is even more fascinating about 'oratory' and the cultural ac-
tivities, not of the whites but of the slaves in the late 18th century and






BIG WORDS AS A FORM OF POPULAR ORAL CULTURE


the 19th (as described by Long, Edwards, Beckford, Stewart and
Williams), is the way in which they mirrored topics and themes in Eng-
lish and European 18th century literature. Moreover, it is in consider-
ing images and reflections that one comes closer to an understanding
of part of the intent behind the slaves' performances.
While Abrahams points to British traditions as the source of per-
formance English, there is no general recognition of the similarities
between features of the slaves' activities and European literature. For
example, in 1774 Long said [quoted earlier] about the slaves:

The better sort are very fond of improving their language, by catching
at any hard word that the Whites happen to let fall in their hearing; and
they alter and misapply in a strange manner; but a tolerable collection
of them gives an air of knowledge and importance in the eyes of their
brethren, which tickles their vanity, and makes them more assiduous
in stocking themselves with this unintelligible jargon.

This is an exact characterization of the verbal behaviour of (the fa-
mous) Mrs. Malaprop in Richard Sheridan's The Rivals, which appeared
the year after (1775) Long made his statement about the slaves. You
may ask whether this was merely a coincidence, especially since
Sheridan in Act 1 Scene 2 of The Rivals has Julia 'introducing' the char-
acter Mrs. Malaprop (< Fr. mal a propos):

I'll take another opportunity of paying my respects to Mrs. Malaprop,
when she shall treat me, as long as she chooses, with her select words
so ingeniously misapplied, without being mispronounced.

It may simply be coincidence that Sheridan used the same word
misapplied which Long had used in his reference to the slaves.
There are some other 'detailed' connections between Sheridan
and the West Indies. For example, Sheridan's reference (in Act 1 Scene
2) to a library book titled, The Memoirs of a Lady of Quality, written by
herself, seems rather similar to the manuscript by Janet Schaw Journal
of a lady of quality; being the narrative of a Journey from Scotland to the
West Indies, North Carolina, and Portugal, in the years 1774 to 1776. Yet,
it is curious that Janet Schaw's trip took her to Antigua (and St. Kitts)
specifically, and that is it was in Antigua that in 1752/1756 that the
book, An English Grammar, wrote in a plain familiar manner, adapted
to the youth of both sexes. To which are added, some general rules in
orthography,- stops or points, emphasis, and composition, was






PETER ROBERTS


published. This publication had much in common with the work of
Sheridan's father (Thomas Sheridan), who fancied himself an expert
on elocution, grammar and the English language. There is some slight
evidence then to suggest that Sheridan was personally aware of litera-
ture on the West Indies.
In a more general sense the West Indies had long figured quite promi-
nently in the works of European writers and the spirit of their writing.
For example, in 1679 Thomas Trapham, a doctor, published a book
called A Discourse of the state of health in the island of Jamaica With a
provision therefore calculated from the air, the place, and the water; The
customs and manners of living & c. In 1705 the third edition of Captain
Hickeringill's 1661 Jamaica viewed was published and in 1707 Dr.
Sloane's A voyage to the islands Madera, Barbadoes, Nieves, S.
Christophers and Jamaica appeared. These standard descriptions of
Jamaica occurring in quick succession were separated by one which
was quite different in nature, Edward Ward's A trip to Jamaica: with a
true character of the people and island. Clearly Ward intended to enjoy
himself in his book, and he did this by poking fun at Jamaica. Since he
obviously spent a lot of his time in Jamaica at Port Royal with a nefari-
ous crowd, his account reflected the kind of banter that would have
characterized such a crowd. His portrayal of Jamaica was done in the
kind of spirit of ridicule that came to characterize writing in England
and France in the 18th century.
Another book, purporting to be about Jamaica, appeared soon af-
ter, but it was somewhat different. Probably people had become tired
of the many accounts of travel to the New World repeating the same
things and written by doctors. So, the accounts and their writers be-
came the subject of satire in the book written in 1709 by William King -
Useful transactions for the months of May, June, July, August and Septem-
ber, 1709. Containing a Voyage to the island of Cajamai in America. This
was a satire on authors on Jamaica (> Cajamai), specifically Sir Hans
Sloane and Thomas Trapham, both of whom were doctors.
King was known to Jonathan Swift and probably influenced him to
publish in 1726 one of the most famous books of the 18th century -
Travels into several remote nations of the world. In four parts. By Lemuel
Gulliver, first a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships. Although
Gulliver spanned a whole concocted world, Swift's references to the
West Indies (vol. 2 p.157) showed that he was familiar with the deeds
of pirates and buccaneers, which had formed the basis of Ward's sa-
tirical description of Jamaica:






BIG WORDS AS A FORM OF POPULAR ORAL CULTURE


I had several men died in my ship of Calentures, so that I was forced
to get Recruits out of Barbadoes, and the Leeward Islands, where I
touched by the Direction of the Merchants who employed me, which
I had soon much cause to repent; for I found afterwards that most of
them had been Bucaneers.... These Rogues whom I had picked up
debauched my other Men, and they all formed a conspiracy to seize
the Ship and secure me ... Their design was to turn Pyrates, and plun-
der the Spaniards, which they could not do, till they got more Men.

Swift's book, written in the style that had become familiar for travel
accounts, completed the process of turning inward. In other words,
while the 17th century European reader of travel accounts was allowed
to feel superior to the un-Christian, unintelligent, uncivilised Savage
and African, this book directed the satire towards British and Euro-
pean customs. It called into question behaviour, morals, intelligence,
self-centredness, and, more specifically, the dominance of one set of
people over another, and indulgence in trivialities by European writ-
ers, scientists and philosophers.
So, in English literature specifically, Swift as well as Fielding later
satirized social mores and in doing so drew on literature and informa-
tion on the West Indies. It seems therefore that there is arguably a rela-
tionship between what was said of the slaves on the one hand and, on
the other, certain specific features of English literature and more gen-
erally European 18th century love of satire. Note, for instance, what
Long (1774 2:423), in reference to Jamaica, said about the slaves:

Instead of choosing panegyric for their subject-matter, they generally
prefer one of derision, and not unfrequently at the expence of the over-
seer, if he happens to be near, and listening this only serves to add a
poignancy to their satire, and heightens the fun. In the crop season, the
mill-feeders entertain themselves very often with these jeux d 'esprit in
the nighttime; and this merriment helps to keep them awake.

Note also that Edwards (1794 2:85) said that there was among the
slaves:

a talent for ridicule and derision, which is exercised not only against
each other, but also, not unfrequently, at the expence of their owner
or employer.

Robert Renny (1807:169) repeated the same kind of characteriza-
tion of the slaves when he said:






60 PETER ROBERTS

At their merry meetings, they have songs and ballads, adapted to
such occasions, in which they give a full scope to a talent for ridicule,
of which they are possessed in an uncommon degree; and in which,
they amuse themselves, not only at the expense of the awkward new-
come Negro, or buckra, but also at the follies or foibles of their mas-
ters and mistresses.

The love of ridicule and banter was said by Moreau de Saint M6ry to
be also characteristic of the black slave in Haiti and, it was also com-
mon in the smaller French and British islands. In his comments on the
black slave in Haiti at the end of the century, Moreau de Saint M6ry
(1796/1958 1:61-2) makes it seem as if a kind of harsh repartee was the
most typical characteristic of the slaves. He makes the same charac-
terization of the slaves in Haiti as Long and Edwards did in Jamaica.
During their 'entertainments', balls and parades at Christmas time,
in their imitation of whites, the slaves proposed inappropriate toasts,
exhibited genteeler behaviour and behaved as if they were one with
their masters. It should be remembered however that the slaves
watched and participated in the English farces put on by the local whites
and became familiar with their 'theatricals', their costumes, their toasts,
their speech and their high society behaviour. What is intriguing there-
fore is the combination of ridicule and the imitation of white behav-
iour. Were the slaves, like Mrs. Malaprop, unconsciously using big words
and bringing ridicule on themselves or were they like Sheridan con-
sciously using big words to ridicule the behaviour of their masters? It
is doubtful whether their imitation of white high social class behav-
iour can be totally discounted as incompetent imitation. In fact, it must
have had a strong element of mockery and could have been a clever
expression of the ridicule which they were said to have in great meas-
ure. In other words, what is characterized as satire in European litera-
ture of the 18th century may have had a natural home in the cultural
activities of the slaves.
It would be difficult to adduce evidence to support an argument that
the oral culture of the slaves steered English and European writers in a
certain direction. It is less contentious to claim that the satirical fea-
tures of the Africans at least fitted in with the literary behaviour of the
local whites, which in turn was consistent with the spirit of sharply
worded criticism typical in Europe in the 18th century. The language
behaviour of the enslaved can be interpreted, then, not as declining
and residual, but as adapting to current and topical influences, and in
that sense being of the cultural offspring may have outlived others






BIG WORDS AS A FORM OF POPULAR ORAL CULTURE 61

precisely because they coincided with European preferences. In other
words, while satirical features among the black section of the popula-
tion were part of their traditional culture, they may have survived other
non-satirical features because they found some form of encouragement
in the general critical atmosphere of the time.
While it is interesting to speculate about the extent to which the
people in the colonies, especially the slaves, influenced Europe and
the reverse in the matter of ridicule and 'big words', comparable com-
ments about people who were neither European nor African point in
the direction of more universal tendencies, or simple explanations, as
an explanation for elaborate speechmaking. Speaking of the native in-
habitants of both North and South America, Antonio de Ulloa ([1772]
1792:282-3) made the following comment about their use of language
and its purpose:

Quando tienen parlamentos los que viven en su libertad con las
naciones Europeas, hacen unos discursos, A su parecer, pomposos,
pero sin cordinacion ni m6todo, hablando por figures y
comparaciones, que por lo regular tienen el fundamento en el sol,
por su luz, por su calor, y por la carrera que hace, y esto lo acompafian
con acciones y sefas demonstrativas: son largos en los discursos,
repitiendo muchas veces la misma cosa, y durarian el dia entero sin
ailadir nada A lo que dixeron al principio, si no se les procurase cortar:
piensan much lo que han de decir, y al cabo no produce mas que
ello que les parece propio A persuadir para que se les dC lo que desean.
En este modo de perorar con presuncion fundan tambien su ciencia y
la habilidad con que sobresalen A las otras personas Europas con
quienes tratan, persuadidndose A que los inducen A franquearles lo
que desean con su grande eloquencia. Los Indios reducidos son lo
mismo en sus discursos, largos, cansados 6 importunos hasta el
extreme, no teniendo t6rmino en ellos, de suerte que no se diferenciar;
y si el lenguaje no fuese distinto, podria creerse que en Indio del Per6
hablaba en el Norte, 6 al contrario.

What this immediately suggests is that one has to resist or at least
one has to be more cautious about the attractive explanation of the
slaves' behaviour as being African in origin, or as being a simple imita-
tion of European behaviour. It may be that big words have a fascina-
tion for people in oral cultures on major occasions and that culture
contact (that is, occasions with foreign participants or observers) pro-
motes the importance of 'big words' as an indication of gravity of deci-
sion and consequences.






62 PETER ROBERTS

Works Cited:

Abrahams, R. 1970a. Traditions of eloquence in Afro-American communi-
ties. Journal of InterAmerican Studies and World Affairs 12 505-527.
1970b. Patterns of performance in the British West Indies. In
Whitten, N. and J. Szwed, (eds.) Afro-American Anthropology 163-179.
1975. Folklore and communication in St. Vincent. In Ben Amos,D.
and K. Goldstein (eds.) Folklore: Performance and communication.
1983. Man of Words in the West Indies. Performance and the emer-
gence of creole culture. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP.
Abrahams, R. and Szwed, J. 1983. After Africa. New Haven: Yale UP.
Bayley, F.W.N. 1833. Four Years'Residence in the West Indies During the years
1826, 7,8 and 9. London: William Kidd.
Beckford, William. 1790. A descriptive Account of the island of Jamaica. London.
Caldecott, A. 1898. The Church in the WestIndies. Reprinted in 1970 by Frank
Cass & Co. Ltd.:London.
Edwards, Bryan. 1793,1794. The history, civil and commercial, of the British
colonies in the West Indies. London.
Long, Edward. 1774. The History of Jamaica, or General Survey of the An-
cient and Modern state of that island New Edition with a New Intro-
duction by George Metcay of King's College, London. 1970. Frank Cass
& Co. Ltd.
Lufflnan, J. 1789. A brief account of the Island of Antigua ... written in the
years 1786, 7,8. London.
Lynch, Louis. 1964. The Barbados Book. London: Andre Deutsch.
Moreau de S. Mery. 1796. Description topographique, physique, civil, politique
et historique de la parties franCaise de l'isle Saint-Domingue. Nouvelle
edition ... par Blanche Maurel et Etienne Taillemite. 1958. Societ6 de
l'histoire des colonies frangaises et Librairie Larose.
Nettleton, George. 1906. The major dramas of Richard Brinsley Sheridan.
Boston, New York, Chicago, London: Ginn & Co.
Rampini, Charles. 1873. Letters from Jamaica. Edinburgh.
Renny, R. 1807. An History of Jamaica with Observations on the Climate etc./.
London: J.Cawthorn.
Sheridan, R.B. The Rivals
Singleton, John. 1767. A general description of the West-Indian islands, As far
as relates to the British, Dutch, and Danish Governments, from Barba-
dos to Saint Croix. Attempted in Blank Verse. Barbados: George Esmand
& William Walker.






BIG WORDS AS A FORM OF POPULAR ORAL CULTURE 63

Stewart, John. 1808. An Account of Jamaica and its Inhabitants. By a Gentle-
man long resident in the West Indies. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees,
and Orme.
Ulloa, Don Antonio de. 1772, 1792. Noticias Americanas: Entretenimientos
fisico-hist6ricos sobre la Amdrica meridional, y la septentrional Orien-
tal. Madrid.
Williams, C. 1827. A Tour through the island of Jamaica, from the western to
the eastern end in the year 1823. Second edition. London: Thomas
Hurst, Edward Chance & Co.
Wright, Louis B. 1939. The classical tradition in colonial Virginia. In The
Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, vol.33.














"I come from a place where
breath, eyes, and memory are one... ".
Ritual, Memory, and the Search
for Homeplace in Edwidge Danticat's
Breath, Eyes, Memory

Carmen R. Gillespie*

even in dreams I will submerge myself/ swimming like
one possessed/ back and forth across that course/
strewing it with sweet smelling flowers.
one for everyone who made the journey/ and at eve-
nings I will recline/ hair full of sun/ hands full of earth.
I will recline on my bed of leaves/ bid the young ones
enter sit them/ all around me/ feed them sweet tales
of Dahomey I is A Long Memoried Woman
Grace Nichols
he daffodil figures as one of the central symbols of Edwidge
Danticat's Breath, Eyes, Memory. Ironically, the yellow European
flower proliferates on the Caribbean island of Haiti, the ideo-
logical center of Danticat's text. The protagonist's mother, Martine,
loves daffodils "because they gr[o]w in a place that they were not sup-
posed to" (21). The flower's tenacity and adaptability to foreign and
oppressive conditions mirrors the primary struggles of the novel's pro-
tagonist, Sophie Caco. Utilizing the Caribbean's idiosyncratic fragmen-
tation and dislocation Danticat, like other Caribbean writers living in
the US, establishes the region as the dynamic locus for her protago-
nist's (re)menmbering of self and concomitant discovery of homeplace.


Mary Washington College






BREATH, EYES, MEMORY b)

Kamau Brathwaite observes that the "most significant feature of
West Indian life and imagination since Emancipation has been its sense
of rootlessness, of not belonging" (2-3). Danticat's refusal in Breath.
Eyes, Memory to fix a static physical home for the protagonist vali-
dates Brathwaite's assertion of the pervasive expression of homeless-
ness by African-Caribbean writers. As a descendant of the African
diaspora, Sophie Caco embodies the plight of the Haitian daffodils as
"strangers in a strange land." Through Sophie's struggles, Danticat re-
traces the middle passage and relocates and reclaims the lost frag-
ments of African-Caribbean female identity.
Danticat's imaginative brushstrokes "swing back and forth in a move-
ment through which memory links present to past, adulthood to child-
hood ..." (Mundo-L6pez 426). Within the novel's fictive confrontation
with personal and collective memory, Danticat delineates a textual ritual
for her protagonist that gives agency to and becomes the catalyst for
Sophie's metaphorical return to a self-defined homeplace. Sophie's re-
covery of a psychological home renders artistically the Caribbean/
diasporean struggle with unattended historical wounds, the gaping,
black holes of memory and loss created by the physical and psychic
rupture that was the middle passage and enslavement.
Memories of group and individual loss and their long-felt reverbera-
tions haunt the central character of Breath, Eyes, Memory. Danticat's
allegorical use of archetypal historical memories enables the develop-
ment of textual rituals emerging from "critical junctures wherein some
pair of opposing social or cultural forces come together. Thus ritual
allows for the confrontation and eventual integration of belief and
behavior, tradition and change, order and chaos" (Morello-French 691).
Sophie Caco experiences a series of ritually structured encounters with
memory which facilitate (re)creation/(re)construction of a path to a
homeplace. Considering the layers of disjuncture and separation in-
herent in the experience of enslavement, the search for home, although
deeply rooted in the physical landscapes of the Caribbean, ultimately
becomes a quest for narrative continuity and the homeplace of recon-
ciliation and consolidation of the fractured self.
In order to achieve and create this subjectively, cognitively, and
emotively located homeplace, Sophie undergoes physical and spiritual
encounters with historical memory as she performs the following ritu-
als: she crosses water, undergoes initiation into sexuality and female
adulthood, and transmits to others her rendering of the communal
narrative. This exploration of Breath, Eyes, Memory will illustrate the
centrality of these ritual structures to the reconstructionn of memory






66 CARMEN R. GILLESPIE

and will illuminate the subsequent achievement of a psychologically
located homeplace.

Crossing the waters

"..I will submerge myself/ swimming like one pos-
sessed/ back and forth across that course" (Nichols 10).

For the people of the African diaspora in the Americas, the middle
passage is the collective memory of primary significance. Symbolic
confrontation of this first cultural disjuncture, the inescapable descent
from freedom to slavery, represents an initial step towards reconstruc-
tion of the self. By traversing the waters separating the Caribbean and
the United States, the character Sophie Caco unknowingly begins her
ritual confrontation with memory.
Like the kidnapped and stolen Africans, Sophie Caco's first trip across
the water is against her will. As a child of twelve she is powerless to
stop her forced departure from the island at the behest of her never-
seen mother. Sophie's journey incorporates primary characteristics of
the losses of the middle passage; she looses the context and commu-
nity that are the focus of her childhood perceptions of Haiti; she looses
her identity and sense of self; and, most significantly, she looses the
only mother she has ever known and simultaneously, her homeplace.
Textually these losses are represented by the shift in color imagery
from the innocent daffodils of Sophie's childhood memories to the red
and black of her mother's New York.

The car scattered the neighbors and the factory workers as they waved
a group farewell. Maybe if I had a really good friend my eyes would
have clung to hers as we were driven away. A red dust rose between
me and the only life that I had ever known. There were no young chil-
dren playing, no leaves flying about. No daffodils. (31)

Like the Haitian daffodils, Sophie's memories and contexts are dis-
persed and lost during this first departure.
Sophie's journey away from her Caribbean home causes her immense
angst and sadness, but significantly, she shows little resistance to her
trip. The only sign of defiance occurs as Sophie asks her surrogate mother,
Tante Atie, "If it rains, will I still have to go?" (29). In sharp contrast to
Sophie's docility is the reaction of another boy departing on the same
plane as Sophie, Jean-Claude. This newly orphaned boy is not only






BREATH, EYES, MEMORY


leaving his home but has just witnessed the murder of his father. Jean-
Claude gives voice and substantive action to his resistance.

A tall man blocked the aisle and stood in the little boy's way. He
began to cry louder when he noticed that he was cornered. He jumped
on a passenger's lap and began to pound his head on a side window.
The man grabbed him and wrestled him back to his seat. He strapped
him down with his seatbelt, then leaned over and did the same for
me. (37)

Despite the differences in their circumstances, Jean Claude's reac-
tion to his enforced departure represents a gendered differentiation
between him and Sophie. Although she feels the same rage and anger
as Jean-Claude, Sophie has been conditioned not to express these pow-
erful emotions. In her attempt to find a way back home, Sophie's abil-
ity to express her rage will be key to her success.
The fragmenting weight of her journey across the waters manifests
itself in Sophie's fracturing sense of self. Upon her arrival in New York,
Sophie begins to envision herself as another person distinct from the
child who only hours earlier left Haiti. The first indication of Sophie's
change in self-perception occurs when she first encounters her
mother. As the stewardess, the only witness to her passage from Haiti,
turns to depart suddenly, Sophie feels herself invisible. "I raised my
hand to wave good-bye. The woman had already turned her back and
was heading inside. It was as though I had disappeared. She did not
even see me anymore" (40). This feeling of invisibility characterizes
Sophie's de-centered sensibility following her arrival and is further
exacerbated by her mother's spinning her "like a top, so she could
look at [her]" (40).
Concretizing Sophie's seemingly changed appearance are experi-
ences she has after traveling through streets that are "dim and hazy"
and eventually arriving at her mother's small and decrepit apartment.
Looking at a picture of her infant self, Sophie realizes that she "looked
like no one in [her] family. Not my mother, not my Tante Atie. I did not
look like them when I was a baby and I did not look like them now"
(45). Without fully comprehending, Sophie makes an important dis-
covery about her origins. Although she does not yet know it, she is the
product of the brutal rape her mother, Martine, experienced as a young
girl. The anonymity of Martine's rapist enables the conflation of past
and present and thus connects both mother and daughter to the his-
torical systematic rapes of enslaved African women.







CARMEN R. GILLESPIE


In addition to her inability to know her self in Martine's photo-
graph, Sophie no longer recognizes her own reflection.

I looked at my red eyes in the mirror while splashing cold water over
my face. New eyes seemed to be looking back at me. A new face all
together. Someone who had aged in one day, as through she had been
through a time machine, rather than an airplane. Welcome to New
York, this face seemed to be saying. Accept your new life. (49)

The journey from Haiti to the US is Sophie's subjective experience,
but her involuntary flight functions in Breath, Eyes, Memory as a link to
the memories of the African diaspora. Shortly after her arrival in the
US, Sophie confirms her tentative temporal status as she asserts that
she has become "a living memory from the past" (56). Sophie's imbal-
ance, invisibility, and loss of self recognition reflects the injurious im-
pact of the middle passage and slavery on individual identity, a rever-
beration she has to cross water in order to experience.

Ritual Virginity

I come from a country of strong women/ Black Oak
women who bleed slowly at/ the altars of their chil-
dren/ because mother is supreme burden/ .. the
women come bearing gourds of sacrificial blood -/
the offering of their silent woman suffering/ I will have
nothing to do with it/ will pour it in the dust will set us
free. (Nichols 10)

In the Haitian-American neighborhoods she frequents Sophie often
encounters various and familiar representations of the Haitian god-
dess Erzulie. In a shop she wanders into with her mother "on the walls
[are] ... small statues of the beautiful mulatress, the goddess and loa
Erzulie" (52). Erzulie is traditionally configured in Haitian lore and
mythology as a conflation of the Catholic Virgin Mary and several Afri-
can female goddesses. The goddess Erzulie is at once young and old,
virgin and seductress, saint and sinner, secular and pagan, and as a
mulatto, both Western and African, white and black (Mather and
Nichols). Throughout the text, Sophie's encounters with and references
to Erzulie demonstrate the potential the goddess holds as a personal
model for an authentically complex female maturity.






BREATH, EYES, MEMORY 69

As a child, the mother I had imagined for myself was like Erzulie, the
lavish Virgin Mother. She was the healer of all women and the desire
of all men. Even though she was far away, she was always with me. I
could always count on her, like one counts on the sun coming out at
dawn. (59)

Although Erzulie is a marker and symbol specific to the Haitian con-
text, textually she also functions as a model of wholeness for African
women of the diaspora because she, like them, is a product of the arti-
ficial grafting of two diverse cultural norms. For Sophie, she is an ideo-
logical mother.
Overemphasis on the Western and virginal aspects of Erzulie is one
of the sources for the most problematic ritual in the text. As Sophie
begins to mature into a sexual being, she is subjected to the ritual
"testing" of adolescent girls by their mothers to ensure their virginity
is intact. At eighteen Sophie falls in love with a musician named Joseph
Woods. Because of Martine's suspicions and intolerance of her matu-
ration and independence, Sophie spends time with Joseph without her
mother's knowledge. When Martine discovers Sophie's relationship
with Joseph, she begins to "test" her daughter weekly. As she "tests"
Sophie, she asks:

When you look in a stream, if you saw that man's face, wouldn't you
think that it was a water spirit? Wouldn't you scream? Wouldn't you
think he was hiding under a sheet of water or behind a pane of glass
to kill you? The love between a mother and daughter is deeper than
the sea. You would leave me for an old man who you didn't know the
year before. (85)

Martine's understandable inability to come to terms with her own
sexual trauma, the rape that produced Sophie, influences her reaction
to her daughter. Martine is so terrified of Sophie's sexuality that she
"tests" Sophie much as she was"tested" by her mother. As she is tested,
Sophie "learn[s] to double... one body split in two: part flesh and part
shadow" (156). These tests, characterized as violations and sexual
abuse by Sophie, contribute to the disintegration of her sense of
selfhood and leave her incapable of emulating Erzulie's affirmative ico-
nography of complex and open female sexuality.
In order to reconcile her splintered self, Sophie has to reconnect
the disparate parts of herself the past and the future, Haiti and the
US, Tante Atie and Martine. To accomplish this she must complete






70 CARMEN R. GILLESPIE

two essential rituals. She has to leave her mother's house and she has
to acknowledge her love for Joseph in order to begin to merge the
psychic split in her adult female self.
As previously mentioned, Sophie's ability to reconstruct herself and
to find a way home are dependent upon her ability to resist victimiza-
tion. Sophie is not able to confront her mother about the testing; rather,
her resistance to abuse manifests itself in a self-destructive way. In
order to bring an end to the tests of her virginity, Sophie pierces her
hymen with a pestle. Shortly after she fails the test, Martine expels her
from her life and home. Homeless once again, Sophie escapes to
Joseph's house and consents to marry him.
There are several onomastic clues establishing the real potential
for security and home for Sophie, Joseph, and their child, Brigette,
conceived during their first sexual encounter. Both Joseph and Sophie's
last names and the name given to their daughter indicate that the mar-
riage can be a safe place for Sophie and an important nurturant of her
journey towards homeplace and wholeness. At one point in Breath,
Eyes, Memory, Tante Atie relates to Sophie the meaning of the family
name Caco.

Our family name, Caco, it is the name of a scarlet bird. A bird so
crimson, it makes the reddest hibiscus or the brightest flame trees
seem white. The Caco bird, when it dies, there is always a rush of
blood that rises to its neck and the wings, they look so bright, you
would think them on fire. (150)

The imagery of the Caco bird illuminates several dimensions of
Sophie's character. The red color metaphorizes her inheritance of pain
and suffering but also implies the passion and sexuality which elude
Sophie in her quest for maturity and wholeness.
As a bird Sophie would be free to cross both figurative and literal
waters in her search for home. To acquire this agency, Sophie must
embrace individual and Caco history, acknowledge the difficult reali-
ties of the past, and break the cycle of oppression. Sophie's attainment
of these objectives is facilitated by her marriage to Joseph Woods.
With Joseph Woods, the bird in Sophie finds a symbolic forest, a
sanctuary in which to nest and to begin to establish homeplace.
Joseph's first name which recalls the Biblical Joseph, also reinforces
his positive potential as Sophie's mate. As contemporary replication
of the husband of Mary, Joseph helps Sophie to reconcile the polar-
ized aspects of Erzulie as both sexual and virginal. The only significant






BREATH, EYES, MEMORY I I

problem in Sophie and Joseph's marriage is Sophie's repugnance when
confronted with Joseph's desire for her. Following the testing, Sophie
speaks of herself as split and unable to negotiate the complex contra-
dictions between her mother's obsession with her daughter's virginity
and her own sexual desire. "After my marriage, whenever Joseph and I
were together, I doubled" (156). Joseph's patient yet persistent desire
forces Sophie to confront and reconstitute her rent sexuality.
The text implies Sophie's eventual success in achieving the whole-
ness and complexity of Erzulie through the symbology of her daugh-
ter's name, Brigette Ife Woods. Sophie and Joseph's child embodies
Sophie's ultimate fusion of her sexual and maternal selves. The child's
first name, Brigette, recalls another Haitian goddess/Loa of the same
name. The goddess Brigette is the guardian of graves, metaphorically
the keeper of the familial history. As implied by her name, Brigette
Woods will not undergo the suffering and losses of her mother. She will
inherit her mother's eventual wholeness and will be heir to the com-
plexities of Erzulie. Brigette's middle name also affirms the union of
Sophie and Joseph. Ife, is a Yoruba word that means love. Her mar-
riage and maternity produce a healing love for Sophie. Joseph Woods
and Brigette Ife help Sophie to establish homeplace and to heal her
fractured sexuality. They enable her to begin to rewrite her self as a
Caco bird, red, passionate and free to fly.

Storytelling

sit them/ all around me/ feed them sweet tales of Da-
homey (Nichols 10)

One of the most prominent aspects of the relationships between
the women in Breath, Eyes, Memory are the stories that are passed
down and between generations. In order to achieve wholeness and
homeplace, Sophie must learn this ability to narrate her own life, to
tell her own story.
The transformative power of women is often the subtext of the
stories of the novel. Primary to one of the novel's central tales is the
goddess Erzulie. This story tells of a woman who bleeds without cause
and becomes a metaphor for the suffering of Sophie, her mother and
women of the African diaspora generally. In despair, the bleeding
woman makes a visit to Erzulie. Erzulie tells her that "if she wants] to
stop bleeding, she w[ill] have to give up her right to be a human being.
She c[an] choose what to be, a plant or an animal, but she c[an] no






72 CARMEN R. GILLESPIE

longer be a woman" (87). The woman is transformed into a butterfly
and functions as a complex correlative for female transcendence. In
addition to its resonance with the red Caco bird legend, the story is a
literal foreshadowing of Martine's fate she loses her life in her fight
to end her suffering. For Sophie, however, the tale represents her need
to remain a woman while at the same time "transform[ing] and never
bleeding] again" (88). Her ability to construct and to act out her own
narrative is the impetus for that transformation.
Her ritual retelling of her story begins with her relationship with
Joseph. In the context of that relationship, Sophie hesitatingly tells
her own story; she sings the tale of her life and pain. As if he is in-
structing her how to play an instrument, Joseph teaches her the value
of sharing experiences. Sophie appreciates this; she states, "It was nice
waking up in the morning knowing I had someone to talk to" (72).
After Joseph and Sophie are married she continues to build her nar-
rative. As previously mentioned, an aftermath of Martine's testing
manifests itself in Sophie's inability to enjoy sexual relations with her
husband. To deal with this bitter consequence, Sophie joins a sexual
phobia group consisting of other women of color with whom she can
share her story. The women develop rituals within which they can
safely share their narratives.


When we came in, we changed into long white dresses that Buki had
sewn for us. We wrapped our hair in white scarves that I had bought.
As we changed in the front room, I showed them the statue of Erzulie
that my grandmother had given me ... as I pondered what it meant in
terms of my family and me. (202)

Through the sharing of her narrative Sophie begins to connect with
her history and to empower herself through the model of female em-
powerment represented by Erzulie.
The pan-African aspects of Erzulie are reinforced by another indi-
vidual to whom Sophie tells her story. Sophie's therapist is a "gor-
geous black woman who [i]s an initiated Santeria priestess" (206). As
a spiritual guardian, Sophie's therapist is able to help Sophie appropri-
ate the ways of Erzulie. She is also able to lead Sophie to the ultimate
confrontation with her past, the violence of her conception. She ad-
vises Sophie, "Even if you can never face the man who is your father,
there are things that you can say to the spot where it happened. I think
you'll be free once you have your confrontation. There will be no more






BREATH, EYES, MEMORY


ghost" (211). The occasion for this confrontation presents itself within
weeks when Martine, Sophie's mother, commits suicide and Sophie
returns to Haiti to bury her.
Following Martine's funeral and burial, the final ritual of the text,
Sophie runs to the cane fields, the site of her conception, to battle the
invisible yet palpable memories of female suffering.

I ran through the field, attacking the cane. I took off my shoes and
began to lean over. I pushed over the cane stalk. I pounded it until it
began to lean over. I pulled at it, yanking it from the ground. My palm
was bleeding. (233)

From the edge of the field, Sophie's grandmother and aunt call to
her "Are you free?" Unlike the woman in the fable and Martine, Sophie
is able to survive as a woman and not give up her life because she is
able to consolidate her memories and her reality, her past and her
present. By expressing her rage against the cane, Sophie exorcises not
only the ghost of her rapist father but also symbolically avenges the
sufferings of the African men and women transported to the Carib-
bean to slave in the green sugar fields.
As an ancestral figure, Sophie's grandmother helps Sophie to make
meaning of her experience as she urges her to pass on the story to
others. "Listen. Listen before it passes... The words can give wings to
your feet. There is so much to say.. (234). At the novel's end, the
entire text is revealed as Sophie's chronicle. As the narrator she has
become a red Caco bird, Erzulie. By writing her own narrative, Sophie
uses her eyes, to give breath and life, to her memories, to her self and
to the women of the African diaspora.


Rebirth

Now she stoops/ in green canefields/ piecing the life
she would lead (Nichols 8)

In an essay entitled "If I Could Write This in Fire," Michele Cliff rumi-
nates about her Caribbean home saying that it "is a place in which we/
they/I connect and disconnect-change place" (370). This
destabilization of identity and fluidity of self-definition are the cor-
nerstones of homeplace in the Caribbean context. Through her ritual-
ized journey through her past and present, Sophie Ife simultaneously









74 CARMEN R. GILLESPIE

personifies her personal struggles, the life battles of the women of Haiti,
and the agonizing experiences of the women of the African diaspora.
Sophie's journey epitomizes Susanna Tamaro's assertion that "Unhap-
piness is generally transmitted through the female line, passing from
mother to daughter the way some genetic abnormalities do. And in-
stead of diminishing as it passes, it steadily grows more intense, more
ineradicable and profound" (Tamaro 49). As Sophie states herself, "my
mother line was always with me, .... No matter what happens. Blood
made us one" (207). Through her progressive performance of the ar-
chetypal rituals of crossing water, initiation into sexuality, and trans-
mission of communal narratives, Sophie contemporizes the female
experience of the African diaspora and concomitantly frees herself of
the stagnating aspects of that legacy.
Sophie locates a personal homeplace. Unlike her mother, whether
she is in Haiti or in New York, Sophie finds the essential inner peace of
home. Martine's despairing homelessness is evident on the last day
Sophie sees her alive. During that encounter Joseph tells Martine about
the significance of African-American spirituals. "Most had to do with
freedom, going to another world. Sometimes that other world means
home, Africa. Other times it meant Heaven, like it says in the Bible.
More often it meant freedom" (215). Martine replies with a rendition of
her favorite spiritual, the quintessential melody of the diasporean ex-
perience, "Sometimes I feel like a motherless child./ A long ways from
home" (215). As Joseph iterates, in the context of the African diaspora,
home is synonymous with freedom. Sophie finds personal freedom and
breaks the seemingly endless and generational cycle of oppression,
ultimately fatal to her mother, by resisting ritualized abuse and par-
ticipating in ritualized affirmation. As she learns to resurrect/recreate
herself, she emerges from her passages whole, simultaneously a black
African, Haitian, Caribbean, American woman who, like Erzulie, is able
to sustain the complexities of multiple identities.

So be you my daughter/ Cast your guilt to the wind/ Cast you trials to
the lake/ Clasp your child to you bosom/ Give your exile to the
snake. (Nichols 54)





BREATH, EYES, MEMORY


Works Cited:

Belgum, E. Voodoo. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1991
Brathwaite, Edward. "Timerhi." In Orde Coombs, ed.. Is Massa Day
Dead?: Black Moods in the Caribbean. New York: Anchor Press,
1974.
Cliff, Michele. "If I Could Write This in Fire." In Pamela Maria, ed. If
Could Write This in Fire. New York: New Press, 1994: 355-370.
Danticat, Edwidge. Breath, Eyes, Memory. New York: Vintage, 1994.
Mather G.A. and L.A. Nichols. Dictionary of Cults, Sects, Religions, and
the Occult. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1993.
Morello-French, Maria. "The Subversion of Ritual in Luisa
Valenzuela's 'Other Weapons.'" World Literature Today 69 (Au-
tumn 1995): 691-7.
Mundo-L6pez, Hilda. "Latino-Caribbean Writers: Where is Home?" Car-
ibbean Studies. Estudios Del Caribe 27 (July-Dec. 1994): 426-427.
Nichols, Grace. I is a long memoried woman. London: Caribbean Cul-
tural International Kamak House, 1983.
Tamaro, Susanna. Follow Your Heart. New York: Dell Publishing, 1994.















Marie Chauvet and Edwidge Danticat:
Dramatic Narratives or Haitian Danses Macabres

Mary Ann Gosser Esquilin*


In A Room of One's Own (1929), Virginia Woolf laments the absence
of literary mothers within a European setting. After consulting Hai-
tian literary manuals (such as the three volumes of Histoire de la
litterature haitienne illustree par les textes [1975] by F. Raphael Berrou
and Pradel Pompilus and even more recent efforts such as L6on-
Francois Hoffmann's 1995 Litterature d'Haiti), the scarcity of allusions
to women writers is noticeable. One can then surmise that the literary
mothers Woolf sought are even more difficult to find in Haiti's literary
history. Several reasons could contribute to this phenomenon. Because
it is the first Black Republic of the Modern world, many Haitian writers
and critics, adopt as the principal object of writing the notion of con-
structing a national identity and extolling the existence of a Haitian
soul. There being mostly men who occupy the positions of power in
the political as well as in the literary arena, this nationalistic project
takes preeminence, becomes inscribed as a male-dominated one, and
relegates women and their concerns to a secondary status. Also one
may add that throughout time, women's writings usually suffer from
the perception that they are simply intimate journals, diaries, lyrical
quests for a personal and individual identity, and hardly anything more.
Haitian women's writings fall victim to this stereotypical view. Even
when Haitian women write of the nation, their texts are not as well
received or promoted. This is perhaps because their writings, such as
those of Marie Chauvet, deal with the persecutions of female victims,
the racial problems exacerbated by gender-related factors, the denun-
ciation of the shortcomings in contemporary male-dominated Haiti and

Florida Atlantic University.






MARIE CHAUVET AND EDWIDGE DANTICAT / /

essarily with the grandiosity of the legacy of the Haitian Revolu-
tion. Berrou and Pompilus condescendingly insist that Chauvet's "style
manque g6n6ralement de force" (586). The harsh reaction to the writ-
ings of a woman who "had an ideal and lived by it... [who] chose exile
and pursued her artistic goals, as a woman and as a mother, without
ever compromising her beliefs" (Rowell 466) becomes understandable
when read in the aforementioned context. Strong women who chal-
lenge the status quo have to be quieted somehow. Haitian critics and
writers of today-after the fall of the Duvalier regime-have something
different to say about the quality and stature of Chauvet's work. Marie-
Denise Shelton emphasizes the role Chauvet plays in Haitian letters
and goes as far as to claim that: "she has affirmed her position as Hai-
ti's leading woman novelist" (772).
If literary mothers were silenced because their work did not corre-
spond to the views of the national, male project, or were not published,
or were not taken seriously, or were killed, tortured, or exiled, can one
speak of a legacy capable of resonating in spite of the silencing? For
young women writers of the Haitian diaspora, such as Edwidge Danticat,
there exists a willed effort to try and acquaint themselves with the
writings of their literary parents and in particular with those of their
literary mothers. In a country where men dominate literature and poli-
tics and where dictators, especially the Duvaliers, are responsible for
the death and suffering of so many against a backdrop of religious fear
and belief in vodou, the allegory that comes to mind is that of the Me-
dieval danse macabre with Death/Duvalier and/or his feared tonton
macoutes leading what they believe is the final dance.' The image of
Death/Duvalier laughingly and almost nonchalantly dancing around,
like a Baron Samedi-the loa associated with Death-luring all those
that cross his path regardless of their race, gender and social status,
gains momentum as the need to perform the dance of death augments.
All are called to attend the dance either as participants, spectators,


In Haitian folklore, the term tonton macoute originally alluded to a male figure
who came at night to take away children who were not behaving; at least, that is
what parents would say to make sure the children would behave. Francois Duvalier
appropriated the term to name his civilian militia. To their legendary stature, he
added the belief that they had the powers of vodou behind them, thus creating a
much feared paramilitary organization that helped protect his regime. According
to David Nicholls, "in November 1962 the milice was formalised by a presidential
decree into the Volontaires de la Securit6 Nationale" (215), giving it official status
and recognition.






MARY ANN GOSSER ESQUILIN


perpetrators, or victims: rich, poor, old, young, black, mulatto, white,
male, or female. Together on the world's stage all play a part in the
supposedly final ritual shared by humans: death.
Women writers caught in their double bind of being women and
writers how do they overcome the threat of the silencing brought
about by the danse macabre, the tontons macoutes, or Baron Samedi?
They do it precisely by putting forth dramatic narratives-texts that
speak of the situation as an unforgettable and, at times, troubling rep-
resentation of the characters for the readers. As will be seen later, some
of the scenes are brutal, intense, tragic. The only way to counteract
the dance of death is to defy and defeat death at its own game: have
characters use their bodies and more importantly, their spiritual
strength to attain a certain immortality for as long as the text is read,
so that the total silencing sought by the dictatorship cannot occur. In
this effort, Chauvet leads the way as an outspoken literary mother.
Danticat, in another country and another language, follows suit and
rises to the challenge of her powerful literary mother. Both go beyond
the mere challenge of the male canon. They transcend the dance of
death with a dance of their own. Fraught with words and running coun-
ter to the male danse macabre, this one could be baptized as the danse
des Marassas. As Martine, Sophie's mother, explains in Danticat's novel
Breath, Eyes, Memory, "the Marassas were two inseparable lovers. They
were the same person duplicated in two. They looked the same, talked
the same, walked the same. When they laughed, they even laughed the
same and when they cried, their tears were identical . What vain
lovers they were, those Marassas Admiring one another for being so
much alike, for being copies" (84-85).
In an interview, Danticat further expands on the notion of the twins
and, more importantly, on the idea of "doubling" to survive a difficult
situation:

Marassa is actually part of the African tradition where there are twin
deities. In the tradition of the Ibegi in Africa, twins are considered
very special, in some cases to be very powerful. If one of the twins
dies, the other will carry an effigy. Marassa in common language means
twins...
Doubling is a similar idea . The idea is that someone is doubly a
person but really one person-as opposed to the twins who are re-
ally two people (Shea 385).

Doubling is the strategy from which Chauvet's Rose in Col/re will
benefit to make her suffering at the hands of her rapist more bearable.






MARIE CHAUVET AND EDWIDGE DANTICAT 79

The idea of the Marassa appears in Danticat's work as an attempt to
bring women together. However, it is presented as a first step between
women that will not work unless the women start leading the dance of
life as opposed to the dance of death society imposes on them.
Chauvet's work seems to indicate a similar concern of the women need-
ing to come together, and given the historical, social, and racial circum-
stances of her characters, the time is not quite right yet. Nonetheless,
the two concepts run parallel because the idea is that the suffering bore
by women is so great that an individual alone cannot shoulder the bur-
den. She either needs to have a Marassa, albeit a spiritual one or double
herself and by way of this detachment seize her situation.
By employing the performative allegory of the dance of death, the
irony of the paradox of a dictator's effort at making bodies and voices
disappear replicates that of the iconographic representations of the
danse macabre that have survived as enduring testimony of art defy-
ing the finality of Death. Hence, the characters in the novels of these
two very different authors, Chauvet and Danticat, live on. Within the
texts, Rose in Col/re and Sophie in Breath, Eyes, Memory participate in
a sort of Haitian danse macabre out of the instinctual need of self-pres-
ervation and survival and desire to spare others. Haitian women writ-
ers want to beat Death at its own performance. Outside the texts, they
want to lead the danse macabre or dance of death in order to render
homage and rescue from oblivion the plight of women who have pre-
ceded them before they are lost forever to future generations of Hai-
tian readers. Given the political situation in Haiti with its repressions,
the victims of the dictatorship are many. In a much too gruesome real-
ity, dictators presided over the spectacle of their nation's multiple
danses macabres. Chauvet and Danticat denounce these atrocities and
abuses. The dictators have all believed they could effectively usurp
the dance, accelerate its tempo, multiply or eliminate its dancers at
will. Chauvet and Danticat, fully aware of the possibility of reenacting
the intensity of the spectacles through their writing, have opted to
reproduce moments in the lives of their characters, defying Death/
Duvalier as it/he attempts to end women's lives through macabre
dances led either by tonton macoutes, fathers, brothers, rapists, or even
well-intentioned mothers obsessed with societal demands.
Haitian governments headed by men have tried to control, mold, if
not censor creative expressions. The nationalist discourse of Haiti
since the inception of its independence in 1804 has been a paternal-
istic one. Under the Duvalier regime, the status of women as "passive
political actors, devoted mothers, and political innocents" (Charles






MARY ANN (OSSER ESQUIL(N


139) underwent a transformation. Carolle Charles points out the irony
of the regime's "gender equity." Indiscriminate violence against women
and children becomes commonplace: "Women began to be detained,
tortured, exiled, raped, and executed" (140). Ironically, women finally
achieve equal status as victims of political persecution. According to
Charles, it is not until the 1980s that the situation changes after

the political landscape in Haiti had undergone some influential
changes, with the emergence of social movements comprising, among
others, many women's organizations and feminist groups. Women
organized food riots and school stoppages, mobilized in grassroots
movements, and formed their own organizations. The period marked
also the the incorporation of women's demands into the political
agenda, because the 1986 overthrow of the thirty-year dictatorship
of the Duvalier regime opened a democratic space into which women
could enter as a new collective subject. (136)

However, before these public group efforts, there were women writ-
ers such as Chauvet denouncing the regime, and as her daughter, Erma
Saint-Gr6goire, reminds us: "as the horrors of the Duvalier regime be-
came more manifest, especially the massacre in the town of Jeremie,
she wrote Amour, colere et folie in the most absolute secrecy-remem-
ber that it was a time of terror-'with her blood' as she later told me"
(Rowell 465). She also adds in this interview that "it was rumored that
the book became the President's bedside reading and that he vowed
my mother eternal hatred . Amour, colere et folie was the first fic-
tional Haitian account of the Francois Duvalier regime" (466). This work
forced her into exile in New York where she died. Writers whose work
did not conform to laudatory comments of the regime, and who dared
criticize or even point out the defects of tyrannical policies were si-
lenced or dismissed. Such is the case with Chauvet's work. By
metonymically establishing in Colere the correlation between the pro-
tagonist's body and Haiti, she ventures into treacherous waters, cre-
ates waves, and for those in power, her voice must be drowned at all
costs. Her trilogy came to the attention of Gallimard thanks to Simone
de Beauvoir, who encouraged her efforts and supported her. Chauvet
had found a foreign literary mother, in a way a literary Marassa, one
who might help her continue her dance with words defying death or,
in her case, literary oblivion. The Haitian press of the time proudly
announced these negotiations, and even went as far as offering its au-
dience the correspondence between Chauvet and Gallimard. She was






MARIE CHAUVET AND EDWIDGE DANTICAT


a national heroine, although her talents and merits had been already
locally recognized. Hers was a most grandiose coup: conquering the
international market, the coveted French market. The success was
short-lived: the novel was published in 1968 and soon thereafter, the
launching of the novel was canceled. There are few extant copies of
that edition. Nonetheless, her name resonates loudly, and she is a force
worthy of attention in spite of all the efforts to erase her literary pres-
ence. Chauvet's strong convictions and denunciations of the Duvalier
regime up to her posthumous novel, Les rapaces, paired with the lyri-
cal yet forceful voice of a fearless woman writer, guarantee that her
writings will live on.
The trilogy was originally intended as three separate novels. It was
an editorial decision of Gallimard's publishers to present it as a trilogy.
Because of the conflated thematics of violence to the land and to women
under different regimes, not just the Duvalier one, this work focuses
on Col/re, the second volet of the trilogy in order to illustrate that
even though the Duvalier regime was the cruelest, the previous ones
had not done much to promote the well being of women or to be advo-
cates of women's rights.2
Nonetheless, before going into the text of Col/re, it is important to
mention how Amour, the first novel in the trilogy, is conceived as a
dramatic narrative. Chauvet literally sets this first-person journal intime
as a tragedy with Claire Clamont, the 39-year-old, unmarried, dark pro-
tagonist controlling the action. The dramatic lexicon is carefully em-
ployed to heighten the tragedy of Haiti. Claire sets the stage with the
following opening lines:


J'assiste au drame, scene apres scene, effac6e comme une ombre. Je
suis la seule lucide, la seule dangereuse et personnel autour de moi ne
le soupconne. La vieille fille! Celle qui n'a pas trouv6 de maria, qui ne
connait pas I'amour, qui n'a jamais v6cu dans le bon sens du terme.
Ils se trompent. Je savoure en tout cas ma vengeance en silence. C'est
mon silence, ma vengeance ...

Je me suis accoud6e A la fenetre de ma chambre et je les observe.

J'ai trente-neuf ans et je suis encore vierge ... (9)


2 Haitian women did not get to vote until 1959 and other legislation treated them
as minors, so they could not own property, for example.






MARY ANN GOSSER ESQUILfN


She is playwright, director, actress, and audience. At times, she dou-
bles as her sisters and even her raped neighbor. She wants to lead the
dances of death and life.
Later, in a climactic moment, there is another staged set: a dance
where commander Caledu, the representative of the tontons macoutes,
forces her to dance with him. She, however, ends up controlling his
lead by putting a stop to their dancing: "Et, m'enlacant d'autorit6 il
me fit turner A en avoir le vertige. Ses mains semblaient posseder
une force si prodigieuse qu'a leur contact, je sentais mon corps entier
serr6 dans un etau ... Je m'arretai brusquement et ses pieds
s'accrocherent maladroitemnet aux miens. J'arrachai ma main de la
sienne" (62). At that point Cal6du alludes to those he has killed and
hints at a hidden skeleton in the Clamont closet. His dead do not
bother him. How about Claire's, he asks her. Dance, death, and haunt-
ing spirits are all brought together in a dramatically structured nar-
rative context. Chauvet cautiously reminds her readers that at least
two willing partners are needed for the dance of death to take place.
The novel ends when Claire stabs Cal6du in a well choreographed pas
de deux.
Col/re is set in an old quarter of Port-au-Prince, in the colonial house
and estate of the Normil family. The house had been built at the end of
the regime of Lysius Salomon, who ruled Haiti from 1879-1888. The
novel opens with the grandfather, Claude, a 60-year old representative
of the well-to-do, land-owning class confronting the new reality sur-
rounding them. Even though Duvalier is never mentioned in the text,
the oppressive political ambiance evokes his reign of terror. The darker,
poorer members of society comprise the base of power of Duvalier. He
and his acolytes exploit their scorn of that middle-class, usually mu-
latto, bourgeoisie represented by the Normils. The rancor is there as
the backdrop to all the actions the military and the police undertake.
However, Claude's father had acquired the lands not only through his
good business deals, but when he felt threatened, he too killed with-
out remorse the man who had sold him the land. According to Claude,
the grandfather, had "[supprim6] l'homme qui lui avait vendu ces terres
et qu'il voulait les lui reprendre parce qu'il 6tait riche et puissant" (239).
The world around them has not changed that much. Violence seems
to remain the modus operandi, but the Normils no longer hold the
power. And even though the great-grandfather is described as "black"
and hardworking, such is not the case of his descendants. Claude lives
off the land by hiring poorer people to harvest. His son, Louis Normil,
is a mediocre employee at the immigration office; his wife, Laura is "a






MARIE CHAUVET AND EDWIDGE DANTICAT 83

mulatresse de peau claire" (196), the daughter of an alcoholic artistic
father. The children are: Paul, the eldest, 19 years old; Rose, 18; and
the youngest, also named Claude, is an 8-year-old rachitic mulatto
whose legs have been crippled since birth. Although the family and
what each member represents within the dramatic scheme of the dance
of death could be in and of itself the subject of a long analysis, here the
focus rests on the daughter, Rose, and how she becomes a partner in
the dancing. In order for her to survive a rape and subsequent sexual
exploitation of her body, she has to recur to the power of doubling, of
becoming her own Marassa for no other female is strong enough to
play this role. She has to become another in order to carry the terms
of the deal (the family's land for her virginity). The distancing or dou-
bling of herself allows her to overcome her disgust and humiliation
and even the guilt at perhaps feeling a certain pleasure. Could she feel
pleasure at the idea of sacrificing herself for her family, she of whom
no one had expected much?
The opening of the novel emphasizes the cycle of violence about to
be perpetrated in which women seem to be the bigger losers without
their sacrifices being understood much less acknowledged. Grandfa-
ther Claude's mother dies at childbirth; Laura's mother is of no conse-
quence. Chauvet works within a traditional representation: a family
whose male members seem to occupy center stage. The opening of
her tragic narrative would indicate this positioning and hierarchy of
characters and their roles. Nonetheless, the presentation only serves
to highlight the dramatic tension as the family is fenced into their house
and out of their land, because the entrance of the women, much like
the suspense as to what will happen to the land, are delayed by Chauvet.
Also, contrary to Amour, written as a first-person intimate journal,
this novel starts from a third-person narrative perspective weaving in
and out of the consciousness of the characters who think in their own
voices. The novel begins as follows:

Ce matin-lI, le grand-pere etait descendu le premier dans la salle A
manger. Cach6 derriere une porte qu'il avait entrebiillee, il observait
un point de la cour, les yeux dilates par la peur, l'oreille tendue.
Des homes en noir plantaient des pieux autour de la maison. Sous
le soleit pourtant matinal, l'uniforme qu'ils portaient luisait de sueur.
Leurs decorations, leurs armes et leurs marteaux jetaient, par
intervalles, des lueurs fulgurantes; et le grand-pere se dit qu'ils
ressemblaient, A marcher ainsi, courb6s vers la terre, A des rapaces
en quete de butin. (191)






84 MARY ANN GOSSER ESQUILIN

The men in black, reminiscent of the tonton macoutes and Baron
Samedi, are compared to birds of prey. They are encircling the house
and the grandfather is scared. The reader senses the violent sexual
implications of the men's activities, planting stakes around the house
(clearly a female domain) and hovering over the land (also associated
with women) as if it were prey. The butin, the reader soon finds out, is
Rose. She is the sacrificial lamb, those "moutons," the grandfather later
on laments, no longer exist in Haiti. In fact, they do exist; they have
been transformed into lighter-skinned women. The father tries to re-
claim the lands by going to a lawyer with his papers. At times like these,
legal papers do not mean anything. One of the important men in black
wants Rose's body in lieu of the papers. The father, resigns himself
quietly, although no one is duped. Is Chauvet accusing them of a cer-
tain complacency? Yes, everyone is to be blamed for the demise of
Haiti. Some because of their incommensurate greed; others because
they are pusillanimous; others because they pretend not to see that it
is easier to flee. Rose herself understands what sacrifice will be implic-
itly demanded of her. On that ill-fated morning she is the last one to
come downstairs and therefore the last one to come on stage. Paul,
her brother presents her to the reader: "Elle 4tait brune avec de longs
et 6pais cheveux qui bouclaient autour de sa tete et retombaient en
queue de cheval sur sa nuque. Sa peau fonc6e avait par endroits des
reflects dores, surtout aux joues, ce qui donnait l'impression d'un
maquillage discret" (196).
The brother, who later on will question her sacrifice by wondering
how much she enjoys being the sex slave of the man in black, renders
her more savage and animalistic as he watches her lick the sugar at
the bottom of her cup and thinks that: "elle ressemblait a un joli chat
enfouissant ses babines dans un plat" (196). She is supposed to have
provocative looks and, of course, these will attract the man who is
described as being "un petit homme maigrelet en uniform noir et don't
les mains osseuses d6mesur6ment longues pendaient au bout des bras
comme des pattes de gorille" (227). The emphasis is on his ape-like
hands. The text becomes harsh, and Chauvet does not mince her words
when she describes the physical violence Rose has to undergo at his
hands when he rapes her and continues to do so for a month. He rapes
her the first time at the lawyer's office. He orders her to get undressed,
but before she is done, he grabs her and rips her clothes off. He also
warns her not to resist him and not to scream, otherwise she will re-
gret it. He orders her to lay down with her legs spread open and her
arms stretched out in the shape of a cross. The altar/stage is set for






MARIE CHAUVET AND EDWIDGE DANTICAT


the sacrifice of the victim. Her virginity and her status as a lighter-
skinned woman of a higher social class are the offerings brought to
this macabre encounter. A part of Rose dies at that moment; however,
the double comes to save her spiritually. She finds inner strength to
refuse, but he pushes her onto the sofa. He talks to her, and Rose her-
self tells the reader of this conversation and the events, without the
mediation of the third-person narrator:

-Tu vas tout gicher, me souffla-t-il, si tu me resistes, je ne pourrais
rien faire. 11 faut obeir sans h6siter, autrement tout est fichu, tu
comprends. Je ne peux etre homme qu'avec les belles tetes de sainte
de ton esp&ce, les belles tetes de martyre vaincue... Si... tu accepted
docilement de faire ce que je te demand, je te promets, je te jure sur
ce que j'ai de plus sacr6 au monde que tu auras ma protection et que
tes biens te seront restitu6s. (284)

He wants to be sure she is a virgin. He makes sure she understands
that he will hurt her. Meanwhile, she is not to utter a word. Rose does
suffer because "I1 s'enfonga en moi d'un seul coup terrible, brutal et,
aussit6t, il rala de plaisir" (284). His bestiality is emphasized. The fol-
lowing day, she meets with him again, and this time he clarifies what
his plans are: "Je t'ouvrirais jusqu'A ce que mon poing entier y passe"
(285). By pretending she is dead, she reasons that if there is no pleas-
ure, she cannot be guilty. The doubling allows her to establish a dis-
tance and detach herself, to a certain extent, from her body. That night
he makes her bleed five more times, and she states that: "Ma complicity
n'a pas de limited. J'ai fini par tol6rer des choses horribles sans le secours
desquelles il n'arrive pas A etre homme" (285). She will not describe
what he makes her do-the readers are left to wonder what would be
his limits. His promised threat becomes a reality. Rose has cramps,
she loses weight, and feels dirty. In front of her family, she pretends
nothing is amiss. Even though she is in pain, her double continues to
run down the stairs as if she were perfectly happy and well. Nonethe-
less, in the stream-of-consciousness chapter where Chauvet focuses
on her, she admits that "j'fprouve pourtant d'atroces brilures au
moindre geste et je march avec effort... Pas un jour il m'a fait grace.
Ce soir, il 6tait comme fou. II criait, il me reniflait et me 1chait comme
une bete. Puis, il m'enfoncait son poing dans le corps et regardait couler
mon sang en ralant de volupt&. Vampire! Vampire! Je l'ai vu boire mon
sang et s'en griser comme de vin" (289). The unmitigated description
of the violence inflicted upon a young woman's body and this woman's






MARY ANN GOSSER ESQUILIN


attempt to make sense of it is described in great detail. Is there a sense
to all this violence? The men continue their lives apparently undis-
turbed. Paul goes so far as to condemn her by considering her a pros-
titute because he can only see her actions from his own narrow per-
spective: if she continues to do all of this, she must be enjoying it. He
even hits her, while ironically all she can think of is getting the papers
so the lands may be sold so that Paul can leave the country. She knows
that her strength will last only until the end of the deal. She looks at
her two selves, and sees a half that she cannot recognize or tolerate
but nevertheless is still a part of her. Her danse des Marassas helps her
put up with this man's abuse since he cannot possess her totally. Al-
though she seems complacent, she is engaging in this deadly ritual or
performance as an unwilling dance partner, putting up with the situa-
tion. When the man in black drives his fist into her vagina, the action is
reminiscent of the opening lines of the novel, when other men in black
were driving stakes into the land and enjoying it. How long can a body/
landscape continue to bleed and give before it runs out of energy or
resources? When will Paul and other men in power understand the
limits of these women and their metaphorical doubles?
In a revealing moment, Paul tells of how Rose reacts to music and
dance-activities she had enjoyed. The dramatic irony is intense be-
cause the readers know of her painful physical situation and her spir-
itual dilemma. Paul reports the following:

Claude a compris. Sur Rose il a pris l'odeur de quelque chose
d'inconnu pour lui et qui l'a d6goit6. L'odeur de l'homme. De la sueur
de gorille. De la semence de gorille. Je le tuerai. Claude a fait rouler sa
chaise jusqu'A la radio et I'a allum6e, et Rose s'est lev6e. Non, a-t-elle
dit d'une voix sourde, non, j'ai trop mal A la tete. Deuil! Le deuil est
sur cette maison mais elle n'a pas voulu le dire. Elle ne dansera plus.
C'est fini. Le docteur Valois s'est interpos6. II1 a dit doucement:
Pourquoi pas, Rose? Pourquoi pas? et il a rallum6 la radio. Elle I'a
regard vite, tres vite et elle a r6pondu: En fait, oui, pourquoi pas? Et
Anna [Paul's friend] a dit: Tu n'aimes donc plus danser, Rose? II faut
te cramponner A ce que tu as aim6, essaye, essaye de te cramponner.
Oui, bien stir que j'aime encore danser, a r6pondu Rose, pourquoi
n'aimerais-je plus danser? Et elle a eu le courage de se lever pour
turner, turner devant nous. Et puis elle s'est arret6e comme prise
de vertige en me fixant de son regard vide. (273)

The leitmotif of dancing reappears within a context similar to that
of Amour a scene where the group is present and everyone is aware of




University of Florida Home Page
© 2004 - 2010 University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries.
All rights reserved.

Acceptable Use, Copyright, and Disclaimer Statement
Last updated October 10, 2010 - - mvs