VOL. 39. NO. 2
Copyright reserved and reproduction without permission strictly forbidden.
Sex and Death in the West Indian Novel of Adolescence 1
Local Government and Decentralization in the English and
French Speaking Caribbean: A Comparative Perspective 14
The CLR James Letters (1948) 26
French West Indian Political Science: The Confrontation between
Holism, Methodological Individualism and Heterodoxy 33
Beach Seining in the West Indies 44
Themes of War, Politics and Health Education in Calypso Music 56
Virgin Island's Suite 72
BOOK REVIEWS 76
Books Received 84
NOTES ON CONTRIBUTORS 86
INFORMATION FOR CONTRIBUTORS 87
COVER : A Fisheries Officer measuring the netting size of the seine A photograph by
J.Adams-See article "Beach Seining in the West Indies"
UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST INDIES
The lion. R.M.Nettleford, O.M.., Pro Vice-Chancellor, Professor of
Continuing Studies, Mona.(Editor)
G.M. Richards, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Principal, St. Augustine, Trinidad
Roy Augier, Professor of History, Mona, Jamaica
Sir Keith Ilunte, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Principal, Cave Hill.
Neville McNorris, Department of Physics, Mona
Veronica Salter, School of Continuing Studies, Mona (Managing Editor)
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This issue of Caribbean Quarterly contains six articles as diverse as the region that the
Journal represents. The issue begins with a literary analysis by Roydon Salick of the
recurring themes of Sex and Death in the West Indian Novel of Adolescence. Anthony
Bogues in a different vein examines a selection of letters sent by CLR James to his future
wife- Constance Webb. The year 1948 was considered by many scholars of James as a
watershed, as it saw the formulation of the "new universals and formulations of his thoughts
which were fully elaborated with the writing of Notes and Dialetics ( The CLR James
Two articles from the University of Antilles- Guyane give the reader an insight into the
local political system of the French Caribbean. The first article by Fred Reno, Local
Government and Decentralisation in the English and French Speaking Caribbean
compares the two political systems, whereas Justin Daniel's article; French West Indian
Political Science: the Confrontation between Holism, Methodological Individualism
and Heterodoxy examines the issue from a philosophical perspective. With the advent of
NAFTA, and other major trading blocs and the reinforcement of the global economy, the
Caribbean must now seek solutions from the region itself and not rely totally on tradi-
tional partners and linkages.
John Adam's article, Beach Seining in the West Indies examines the "jack haul seining"
method of fishing practised in the English-speaking islands. He hastens to add that this
form of fishing has been well documented in early colonial literature, being described by
Labat in his writings of 1792 as practised by African slaves in the French colonies. Adams
in his examination sees seining as not only a provider of relatively low cost protein but also
as contributing positively to the use of marine resources in a way that is not deliterous to the
In the final article by Agatha Lowe, Themes of War, Politics and Health Education in
Calypso Music, a wide range of social issues of contemporary significance are shown to
be of recurrent interest to calypsonians, whether they be family-planning, nutrition, AIDS,
or drug abuse.
A poem by Velma Pollard, and two book reviews complete this issue.
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SEX AND DEATH IN THE WEST INDIAN NOVEL OF
In a recent review of Jamaica Kincaid's Annie John (1983), Kenneth Ramchand argues
that "Annie's process in the novel is a complex one involving the acceptance and at least
poetical change, separation, death and sexuality as necessary elements of the moral state."'
What Ramchand is in effect describing is the true essence of the adolescent struggle as it is
portrayed in the West Indian novel in general. His earlier chapter in The West Indian Novel
and Its Background,2 Griffiths' essay on "leave-taking,"3 and James's article on childhood4
all contribute to our understanding of the genre. But for the first time, this review draws our
attention to the major facets of the adolescent experience in the West Indian novel. While
change and separation are all-inclusive terms, the more restricted factors of sex and death
are crucial to any real apprehension of the novel of adolescence. Many novels exemplify
the truth of the authorial assertion in The Jumbie Bird: "In no place but the tropics are life
and death so close."5 This paper examines the combined motif of sex and death in the West
Indian novel of adolescence, a genre that has received too little critical attention.
Novels of adolescence may be classified as either comic or tragic. In such novels as The
Mill and the Floss, Tess of the d'Urbervilles and The Mountain and Valley, as in the
prototypical Romeo and Juliet, death is the experience towards which the protagonists
inexorably move. Such novels of adolescence are relatively few; and in West Indian
literature, only Danny Boy (1981) and As the Sorcerer Said (1984) can be considered tragic
novels. In Danny Boy,6 a Creolized version of Romeo and Juliet, death is ubiquitous;
indeed, nowhere else in the West Indian novel of adolescence is death such a pervasive
presence. Lily, the Indian heroine is raped and murdered; and Danny, her Afro-Guyanese
lover, is left to make regular pilgrimages to her grave, and to face alone the emptiness and
hurt. But here the tragic effect is attenuated by the hope that the hero's psychological and
spiritual wounds will heal sufficiently to allow him to lead a useful and healthy life.
In As the Sorcerer Said, too, sexuality is the primary thread in the tragic pattern.7 Zetou,
as she is familiarly known on the French West Indian island of Karua, is a girl of fifteen or
sixteen years, who is taken to Paris, and duped into believing she can continue her
education there. Reduced gradually to a "maid," and "slave," for her mother and stepfather,
Zetou is coerced into contemplating marriage to a rich, pot-bellied widower, so that her
parents can share the widower's wealth. Repelled by the parents' reasoning, and by the
repugnant sexuality associated with the widower, she stands her ground. Her stepfather,
however, rapes her. Before long her sense of being violated begins to smoulder, and in an
unprecedented "feeling of hatred" (p. 68), she physically attacks her mother. Unable to
control her "rage and impotence in face of the one-sided judgement of the court" (p. 71),
she shouts at the judge and, on her mother's specific recommendation, is placed in a mental
News of the death of Charles, her island sweetheart, cannot penetrate her despair, and
has less of an effect on her than does the putrefying carcass of a dead cat, at the sight of
which Zetou recounts: "My stomach heaved up all its contents, spontaneously, without my
having any control over myself' (p. 14). No longer able to handle reality, she resorts to
fantasy and to her favourite vision of childhood:
The only thing I could see from the bottom of the boat
was a man's broad naked back his glistening muscles
wet with perspiration, were reassuring in their strength
and a tiny white cloud hanging in a blue sky. (p. 73).
The ambivalence of this, the novel's final image, suggests a tragic delusion from which
there is little or no hope for Zetou.
Most novels of adolescence, however, are comic works in which the protagonists
struggle, sometimes against great odds, to either lead a richer life or to marry. In the comic
novel of adolescence, as in Shakespearean comedy, marriage is a central symbol, whether
it materializes in the novel or becomes an anticipated event outside the narrative. There is
nothing surprising about the presence of the erotic in the novel of adolescence, because we
associate adolescence with sexual curiosity, experience and awareness, and with the
promise of life. But what is most surprising in these comic novels is the substantial presence
of death. In The Humming-Bird Tree, however, the erotic predominates; there is one, image
of death, that of a stinking dog.8 Although three paragraphs are devoted to describing the
dead dog (pp. 77-78), death disappears from the novel. Similarly in Corentyne Thunder,9
there is such a celebration of life, that Ramgolall's death becomes a casual occurrence,
without trauma or significance to anyone. More important than her father's death, is
Kattree's sexual awakening. Rich with child, she, constantly associated with natural objects
and phenomena, becomes a life force, negating the sterile miserliness of her father, a
Caribbean "Silas Marner", unredeemed by either revelation or conversion.
But in the Jumbie Bird and Black Midas, both comic novels, death is a far more central
experience for the protagonists than is sex. Sex is present in the burgeoning relationship
between Jamini and Lakshmi, but the death of Kale Khan is the climactic event in the novel,
an event fore-shadowed in the inisistent call of the titular bird. In Black Midas, death stalks
the hero wherever he goes.10 We read of death from drought (pp. 17-17); of the death of
Marajin (p. 17); of the simultaneous deaths of Grandma and Grandpa (p. 20); of the death
of Echo, the family parrot (p. 21); of a boa and an alligator dying in mortal combat (p. 23);
of Mrs. Pam's death (p. 41); of the deaths of Kirton and Wellington (pp. 78, 81), of Uncle
Richard (p. 90), of Santos (p. 103); and of Shark killing a sloth (p. 167). Against these
images of death, there are no balancing images of sex. Although Shark finds a short-lived,
perfunctory affair with Beryl, the erotic is subsumed by his greed for gold and adventure.
Coming close to death himself, Shark finally learns the meaning of Brother C's story of the
mountain people. Midway in the novel Carew explains the significance of death in the
fictional world he creates (p. 84).In Annie John, I praised by Kenneth Ramchand as "the
most affecting evocation of girlhood and of a girl's growing in a particular place,"l2 the
presence of sexuality is far less powerful than that of death. Sexuality manifests itself in
many natural innocent images of kissing, pinching and hugging between Annie and her
school friends, of the exchange of hard-won gifts, of trysts with Gwen and the Red Girl, and
of breasts filling with the promise of womanhood. Sexuality is also manifested in an
ambivalent image of Annie's mother and father making love, but there the innocence is
tainted when Annie associates her mother's hand moving over the small of her father's
back with the hand of death (p. 30). Counterbalancing the positive images are such negative
images of sexuality as the "barren, crippled" Aunt Catherine (p. 122), and Mineu's sadistic
childhood game in which he gets a naive Annie to sit naked on a red ants' nest, and laughs
hysterically when she cries from the pain of being stung in her "private parts" (p. 100). The
most negative sexual moment in the novel occurs when Annie's mother rather superflously
condemns her daughter for an alleged breach of the sexual, moral code:
"She went on to say that, after all the years she had
spent drumming into me the proper way to conduct
myself when speaking to young men, it had pained her
to see me behave in the manner of a slut (only she used
the French-patois word for it) in the street and that just
to see me had caused her to feel shame. The word
"slut" (in patois) was repeated over and over, until
suddenly I felt as if I were drowning in a well but
instead of the well being filled with water it was filled
with the word "slut," and it was pouring in through my
eyes, my ears, my nostrils, my mouth." (p. 102).
Her mother's harsh reprimand is really a function of the insistent recollection of her
own adolescent sexuality, as Annie's shattering reply indicates: "Well, like father like son,
like mother, like daughter" (p. 102).
Much more dominant than the images of sexuality in the novel is the reality of death.
The last word of the opening sentence is "died," and this sets the tone for the narrative,
during the course of which the major obstacle for Annie is her lack of understanding of the
meaning of death. At first, Annie informs us that at ten years of age, "I thought only people
I did not know died" (p. 1). Death is not a familiar experience to her; indeed the novel
explores the young heroine's increasing familiarity with death. The entire first section of
the novel entitled "Figures in the Distance" is essentially about the protagonist's lack of a
first-hand knowledge of death. Through a series of deaths, Annie, emotionally and
psychologically, draws closer to these distant figures.
Moreover, death becomes curiously personal to Annie, since in its examination of the
relationship between mother and daughter, the novel establishes the need for her to
acknowledge the frightening reality, which is quite persistent, that something inside her
wants to kill her mother "I wanted only to see her lying dead, all withered and in a coffin
at my feet" (p. 106). With the onset of menstruation, the "coming of age" (p. 25) destroys
the "perfect harmony with my mother" (p. 27). Paradise thus becomes oppression and
confinement, in which Annie in her desire to discover and explore new experiences
becomes a live reflection of "Columbus in Chains," a page-size colour picture in her history
book. Her mother, like Bobadilla, has fettered her, so that Annie is forced to confess, "I felt
I was being held down against my will" (p. 144).
After a long illness, which last three and a half months, and ends as "mysteriously as it
began, Annie emerges a "new" person: she "had grown to a considerable height," needs
"new uniforms and new shoes" (p. 128), and even acquires a "strange accent" (p. 129). Out
of her long dark night of the soul, Annie's new identity announces itself in the most
assertive of all statements, (like Hamlet's in Act V amidst death), "My name is Annie John"
(p. 130). Following a pattern of separation begun by her grandparents, who sailed to South
America leaving Annie's parents behind (p. 23), and continued by her mother, who left
Dominica when she was sixteen, Annie, in her seventeenth year sets sail for England via
Barbados. She realizes that she "wasn't a child anymore" (p. 146), and that to avoid
creative and emotional death, she, unlike Beka Lamb, must leave both mother and mother-
In Sixty-Five and Peter of Mt. Ephraim, both sex and death are quite absent, but this
accords with Reid's overt didacticism. But both are present in In the Castle of My Skin,
though their treatment is a-typical.13 The juvenile trio of G., Trumper and Blue Boy speak
of death (pp. 128-32); and we read of Bambi's death from a heart attack (p. 139); of Po
King's death (p. 198); and of ma's death (p. 212). We are presented with images of
sexuality of copulating cats (p. 170), of copulating frogs (p. 171), of the mating of two
crabs (p. 115), described by G., the narrator, as a "revelation." How and why it is a
"revelation" is never really worked out in the novel. and one leaves In the Castle of My Skin
with the strong impression that these normally pivotal forces have played no really sig-
nificant part in the development of the adolescent hero.
The literary use of sex and death as necessary experiences for the fictional protagonist
of the West Indian novel of adolescence, it may be said, begins with Jane's Career
(1914).14 De Lisser has written what may be considered a West Indian version of Joseph
Andrews, and like Fielding, protects (at great cost to the plausibility of his fiction) his
protagonist from falling victim to sexual temptation. Jane Burrell is allowed to escape with
impunity the snares of her boss, Mr. Curden, and to retain her untainted attitude towards
men even after living with Sathyra. Though not particularly bright, Jane progresses
remarkably well in a few short months:
And she was only a little over sixteen! But she looked
a women. A very young woman, it is true, but not at all
like a raw, growing girl. Her education and develop-
ment proceeded rapidly. She had passed through
several stages of city life in a very short space of time.
Jane's experience with death is quite different from that of any other adolescent hero,
even of Francis in The Year in San Fernando. It is not for her- as it is for the others,
emotionally and psychologically necessary in the journey out of adolescence. Nevertheless,
death is the fictional context in which she finds her lover and future husband. Hinting at the
importance of death, among other experiences, De Lisser writes:
In Jane's yard the monotony of life was broken mainly
by births, deaths, removal, and the coming of new
tenants; deaths were on the whole rare events, the
coming and going of tenants were the commonest. (p.
A combination of the "rare" event and the "commonest" brings Jane and Vincent
Broglie together. The death of Jim, "the baby whom she most cared to nurse and look after
when she came home from work" (p. 150), breaks the monotony for Jane. She shows
admirable sympathy and plays a major role in arranging the burial and for these she is
rewarded with an opportunity to indulge her erotic imagination. De Lisser allows her to
accompany Vincent to and from the cemetery. On her way back,
Jane felt that this was one of the treats of her life; she
was proud to be driving in a cab, proud to be driving
with such a person, proud that he didn't think himself
too good to be seen in public with her, and her laugh-
ing face showed her pleasure. (p. 157).
The death and burial of Jim mark the end of one phase
of Jane's career, and the beginning of another. Like
Joseph Andrews, she is rewarded with a true spouse
for preserving her honour. She has a child for Vincent,
and then marries him; and she is "perfectly contented
at last, and is dreaming of no higher fortune" (p. 196).
Hardly a moralist like Fielding, De Lisser unites two disparate individuals in an unlikely
relationship. He has created a work which is too much like the sentimental novel of the
nineteenth century, but without its moral basis. Yet in his portrayal of the "emergence of the
independent female,"'5 and in his use of the combined motif of sex and death as obligatory
to adolescence, he initiates a tradition that more competent novelists have developed.
In Christopher, too, sex and death combine to bring the eponymous hero out of
childhood.16 At the beginning of the novel, we find Christopher engaged in activity which,
in his sexual naivete, he cannot associate with the mating of a bull and a cow. The lizards
also which fascinate him are imaginistically linked to the agave etchings of "men with long
things between their legs like snakes," but of this he is unaware. Drayton thus prepares the
reader, but not his hero, for the mating of Bum and Maisie. The agave etchings which
Christopher encounters in his descent into "the tenantry gully" excite a sexual curiosity in
the young boy that Cinder cannot verbally quench. Best and Oslin arrange an appropriate
scenario to assist Christopher in his sexual development. The imagery associated with
Christopher before and after the act of bovine sexuality is highly suggestive. He is en-
couraged by Oslin to enter "a hole large enough for a man" (p. 159) before he can satisfy
his curiosity. The climactic moment for Bum and Maisie is virtually the same for the
eight-year-old voyeur. Drayton's language is clear in its implication: "Then the breath he
held for so long exploded, and a thin, high whine quivered through him" (p. 161). Bloody
and scratched, external indices of an internal sexual crisis, Christopher returns home where
Cinder, Gip's replacement at Surrey House, will wash and dress his cuts and bruises.
Christopher's sexual initiation is manifested while asleep and awake. His nightmare is
rendered in images redolent of sexuality: a name of monstrous proportions with an erect
painted head, nakedness, and a phallic orchid, "the squat head" of which "seemed suddenly
go grow in size and fill his whole vision" (p. 187). His loss of sexual innocence is reflected
as well in his painting. He ceases to paint "indoors," because, as he informs his bemused
mother, "I'm painting real things now" (P. 172). Sexuality and its associated violence have
poisoned Christopher's childhood innocence: their effect on his spirit is suggested by his
new style of painting. His mother, inspecting his painting book, is disturbed by what she
sees and understands: he has lost his innocence:
Over the page she entered upon a new world, where
previously the touch had been light and the tones pas-
tel and flat, there was now a brilliance of contrasting
colour. The sky blazed with an orange sun and the land
was heavily scored with shadows. On the second page
the pond became an expanse of blue rippled in black,
pointing fingers. All of them contained paintings of an
equal violence. (p. 173).
As crucial s this loss of sexual innocence is to the hero's maturation, it is the combina-
tion of the experiences of sexuality and death that finally ends his childhood. From the
opening pages the death-makers have been placed quite conspicuously. We read of the
"dead leaves collected in the orchard bottom and rotted," the "dead cholera victims," the rat
"that died under my floor," and the snails that "smelt awful when they died." We read later
of the death of Christopher's mother's second baby, and of course of the climactic death of
Gip. In the initial pages of the novel Christopher questions Gip about death and the nature
of dead things; in the final pages, he has to confront painfully the reality of Gip's death.
Gip's death quickly begins to take its toll as we learn from his somewhat stilted
description: "Life had drained from his cheeks and from his eyes, leaving a mask as cold
and pallid as an idiot old age" (p. 190). Gip has been the life force of the world of Surrey
House: she animates all that she meets, and not surprisingly in death, leaves "them lifeless
as herself' (p. 191). Even the garden of Surrey House loses all its colour and signs of
abundant life. Christopher becomes the grim reaper himself, and strips "his plants to a
blossomless mourning; the rarest, those that were never picked; the most fragile, those that
would scarcely last till the funeral service was over" (p. 191). Drayton draws upon the
Western elegiac tradition and shows both human beings and nature mourning the deceased.
Unlike Francis, the twelve-year-old hero of The Year in San Fernando,17 who seems
more troubled by his keeping a dollar that does not belong to him than by watching Mr.
Chandles and Julia kissing in the dark, or by Mrs. Chandles' death, Christopher is
profoundly affected by the experiences of sex and death, the combined shock of which
galvanizes him out of childhood.
Similarly, Eros and Thanatos dovetail to shape Shellie's future in Green Days By the
River.'8 These parallel forces are crucial to Shellie's development, and the author fuses
them in many symbols. Shellie has been sheltered from death: his young days were
crowded with boyhood rural pleasures, chief among which were the keeping of song-birds
and an especially close rapport with his father, who has the ability to make "life and love
so true and honest." Thus Shellie enjoys a carefree existence until sickness and then the
impending death of his father change an accustomed reality.
With his father unable to work, Shellie temporarily gives up school to earn a few dollars
picking cocoa, and thus is able to supplement his mother's meagre wages. He is forced to
become the man of the house, and inspite of his father's advice against marrying young, is
psychologically coerced into contemplating marriage to Joan at sixteen. But Shellie is a
confused adolescent caught between enjoying what adolescence has to offer and doing
what adult behaviour demands. He becomes an adolescent victim of circumstances. Inspite
of his assertion that since "that day in Sangre Grande, Joan had become everything to him"
(p. 95), and inspite of the claim that he knows exactly what Mr. Gidharee and Rosalie are
plotting (p. 10), he nevertheless succumbs to sexual passion. He disregards advice concern-
ing getting girls in trouble given by his father (p. 101), and later echoed by Mr. Gidharee (p.
175), and consumates the relationship with Rosalie. He thus plays right into Mr. Gidharee's
A controlling comic irony guides the reader's response to the unfolding of events in the
novel. Anthony allows his hero an illusion of believing that he is in love with Joan after
dancing a rhumba with her. The dance with its overt sexual rhythms recalls the more
famous erotic dance of the stocking scene of The Rainbow. Overtones of a sexual initiation
are present. The romantic sympathises with the desire of a fifteen-year-old boy to be in
love and to contemplate marriage; but the discerning reader realizes that Shellie does not
know what he wants. From the outset the dice are loaded in Shellie's favour. His sick,
bedridden father is replaced by an active "big and strong" Mr. Gidharee, who possesses
three irrestible attractions for Shellie: his infectious humour, his land and his daughter,
Rosalie. Shellie is both unknowingly and knowingly baited with all three.
Shellie's increasing grief over his father's worsening condition is balanced by the
laughter and comfort he shares with Mr. Gidbaree and Rosalie; his confinement at home is
offset by the freedom and health of Cedar Grove. In death Shellie finds life in the form of a
new father, a wife and unimagined wealth. He can anticipate a "new life ahead" (p. 189).
Sex and death coalesce to terminate his green days; but be receives abundant recompense.
His future looks golden, far rosier than he ever dreamed of. Shellie is reassured at the very
end of the novel by his new father: "Everything will be okay." There is, however, a massive
ironic twist that critics have not commented on an irony that can be summed up in the
following question: Why would an Indian man demand a Hindu engagement for an African
son-in-law and a dougla daughter? Anthony is suggesting an expansion to the Afro-centric
definition of creolization, I believe.
The Wild Coas19 is Jan Carew's second novel, published in the same year as Black
Midas, his first, and like its predecessor is set in the author's native Guyana. It is far more
satisfying than Black Midas, and appeals to a wider audience. We sense a greater control of
characterization, a more meaningful handling of setting and an enlargement of the theme of
growing up. There is, too, a more careful and typical working out of the central role the
combined forces of Eros and Thanatos play in Hector's journey out of childhood.
Wishing to be rid of the responsibility of rearing his son, Hector, Fitz Bradshaw sends
his nine-year-old son to Tarlogie, a village in the Corentyne. Here away from the negative
influences of Georgetown, Hector becomes a well-balanced young man. He is brought up
with love and moral stringency by Sister, enjoys the wild life with Tengar and Doorne;
loses his sexual innocence with Elsa; and passes his matriculation with the help of Jefferson
La Rose. Like Alan Holmes in the Humming-Bird Tree, and many other adolescent
protagomists in West Indian literature, Hector grows up drinking in the beauty and lessons
of nature in a recognizably Wordsworthian way Nature, Tarlogie and its inhabitants
contribute to the all-round education of the adolescent hero.
The move from Georgetown to Tarlogie is for Hector the beginning of sexual aware-
ness. We first find him being "uncomfortable" looking at Elsa returning from the rice fields
with her dress "wet and pasted against her body" (p. 96). We discover that Hector has been
having wet dreams since his return from the city. Innocently he asks Sister if he is suffering
from "a terrible disease" (p. 97), only to be assured that wet dreams "happen to all young
men when they are growing up." Sister refers him to Doome and Tengar, who half
seriously, half in jest, recommend that he find a woman and that he should "start using
what the good Lord equip [him] with" (p. 97). Still quite innocent sexually, he is confused
because "he did not like girls and was quite sure that he would live the rest of his life
having little to do with them" (p. 98). But Elsa, Tengar's woman, seems keen on helping
Hector lose his virginity. She all but seduces him, fondling his neck, and pressing his head
against her body, and catches "him in a consuming embrace" (p. 98). He escapes swearing
to avoid Elsa for the rest of his stay in Tarlogie; but Hector, it appears, unlike Shark, must
lose his sexual innocence in his maturation out of childhood. Accordingly, the author has
him witness the celebration of life the wind dance. The drums, beating an ancestral
message, confuse, spellbind and drive him to Elsa. Asserting his newly-piqued manhood,
he wrestles her to the ground and then allows himself to be seduced. He has the same
woman had by Tengar, Doorne (Tengar's father), and by his own father. Expectedly, and
we find him again with Elsa, this time the passive victim of Elsa's matriarchal charms.
Death too plays an important role in Hector's journey to maturity. The culminating
event for him is Sister's death; but he has been associated with death from the outset. At the
beginning of the novel we learn that Hector has always been a sickly child, sufferingn]
from constant bouts of malaria" (p. 3). He is brought to Tarlogie to recover his health,
because as Martha informs us, he was on arrival a "step away from death's door" (p. 8). He
grew up in Georgetown in a house of crippling constraint, watched over by Aunt Hanna,
who is as decidedly associated with Thanatos as Elsa and Caya are associated with Eros.
Aunt Hanna is a raptor, able to kill unsuspecting victims:
Age has heaped a mountain of bitterness on Aunt
Hanna's spirit, turning her into a desiccated condor
bird with feeble claws and loud croakings. She seemed
to need young people around her so that she could prey
upon them, and suck the life spirit from them. (p. 85)
Like Doorne, Fitz Bradshaw and Dela, she is, what the Tarlogians call, a "vampire
As if to emphasize the import of death in the development of his protagonist, Carew
gives Hector the privilege of being the only material witness to Chinaman's death. Hector
watches as he is chopped repeatedly by an incensed, indignant wife:
Hector wanted to go and look at the body. He alone
had witnessed the killing and felt that somehow he had
participated in it, that he and Dookie were ac-
Hector has to travel to a carefully sign-posted road before he can reach the normative
experience achieved by Tojo, Doorne and others. He has to arrive at an understanding of
"the secret rhythms of life and death" (p. 104). At Sister's death, the most momentous in the
novel, Hector can feel the immanence of death in the room:
Hector looked around the room. He felt that there was
a strange presence with them. 'I can see by you' face
that you know that Mantop is here....(p. 176)
When Sister dies, Hector cries for the first time.
Having experienced both the loss of sexual innocence and understood the "secret
rhythms of life and death," Hector has emerged into manhood. The combined experience
annuls the anticipated trauma of finding out his mother's identity, and prepares him, much
like Rachel Cameron at the end of A Jest of God, for the exchange of roles with his mentally
deranged parent. Father now, he undresses Fitz, and tucks him in. Dela, grateful for
Hector's parental care, makes a pregnant gesture of farewell:
He was conscious of her bending over his bed and
then she put her thick, moist hand on his forehead. He
waited and the hand was withdrawn, and when he
opened his eyes she had vanished. Her gratitude shown
in this strange way was somehow the endorsement of
what, in the last few days, he had come to know and
accept that his initiation into manhood was now
complete. (p. 186)
Hector came to Tarlogie a feverish nine-year-old boy and leaves the wild coast a young
man ripened and matured by the twin experiences of sex and death. To Hector, Tarlogie has
been a sort of Forest of Arden, where he is tested and found sufficient for the tasks of
In Beka Lamb,20 in some ways, the most ambitious of the chosen novels of adolescence,
sexuality and death merge in one character -Toycie Quaylo, a foil for her closest friend,
Beka. Toycie becomes an object lesson for Beka, an example not to be followed. If Toycie
represents the old way of life for the Belizean woman, too often the tragic victim of sexual
passion and its attendant hardship, than Beka represents the emerging Belizean woman,
intelligent, independent, with a strong sense of family and country, and a pride in her
personal achievements. Toycie and Beka are of the same root and stalk as the bougainvillea
bush by which they are imaged. It is cut down and after a season its sprouts a fresh.
Beka is a bright sensitive fourteen year old who is constantly being victimized by her
environment and family. Thus she adopts lying as a means of coping and surviving. Her
mother, with gifts of pen and copy book, affords her the opportunity of exercising her
creative spirit, of turning lies into fictive illusions. This practice pays rich dividends when
Beka wins the essay-writing competition. She replaces Toycie in the winner's circle; but
there is no irony intended here, because Beka will keep in mind the lesson learned from
Toycie's sacrifice. Her somewhat precocious political awareness will no doubt continue to
check her romantic interests until the right time. She will control her sexual passion, thus
obviating the hurdles that aborted Gran's political pursuits and the catastrophe that snuffed
out Toycie's young life.
Though a stranger to sexuality, Beka has known death since she was eleven, when her
four-year-old brother died of malaria. We are not told of the effects of his death on young
Beka, but we can safely surmise that it left its mark. Three years later, Greatgram dies. This
is a far more crucial event in the education and maturation of the heroine. for Greatgram,
like Wordsworth's Old Cumberland Beggar, is the embodiment of her community's
history, the only tangible and human nexus between "the time before" and the present.
Greatgram was also someone Beka dearly loved and respected for she had what no -one
else had- tremendous faith and pride in Beka's intellectual abilities,- a faith brought to
fruition in Beka's success in the essay-writing competition.
Toycie's death is the most momentous episode in Beka's life. The novel opens some
three months after Toycie's death, and during this time Beka has been in mourning. On
hearing the news of her friend's death, Beka is simply devastated:
And the tidal wave crashed in Bekas' brain and she
was screaming and screaming .... there was no
staunching Beka's grief. she was in a state of hysteria
and Granny Ivy slapped her, shook her, cajoled her,
threw water into her face, but Beka could not regain
control. (p. 158)
Death ushers in a new era for the protagonist and the country she is made to represent.
Toycie, victim of Tataduhende, the destructive force, is replaced by Beka, whose creativity
with pen and paper will neutralize this negative force, as she maps out a new course for
herself, her sex and her country. The hurricane season, we are told, is over, failure and lying
are things of the past for Beka, and though the bitter-sweet memories of Toycie linger,
Beka's dark night of the soul is over: "Her watch night for Toycie was over and she felt
released there was no need for guilt or grief over a mourning postponed" (p. 171). In the
seasonal changes and the rebirth of the bougainvillea bush, we grasp Edgell's comic
perspective on the condition she so movingly depicts.
The ordinance of the motifs of sex and death in the West Indian novel of adolescence
form the crucial context in which the protagonists move and have their being. The com-
bined erotic and thanatotic reality becomes for the West Indian novelist a literary
equivalent of the rites of passage, and for the protagonist the necessary transitional ex-
perience from childhood to adolescence, from adolescence to adulthood, from a comfort-
able innocence to a troubled awareness of the ever-widening arch of the maturational
process. The engagement with sex and death is always significant, sometimes devastating,
but never annihilating in the comic novel. It leaves the protagonist, like the Ancient
Mariner, sadder but wiser, moreover, it better prepares him/her to bear the burdens of
1. "The Freeing of Annie John," Trinidad Guardian (June 3, 1987).
2. "Terrified Consciousness," The West Indian Novel and Its Background (London: Faber &
Faber, 1970), pp. 223-36.
3. Gareth Griffiths, "Childhood and Leave-Taking," Double Exile: African and West Indian Writ-
ing (London: Marion Boyars, 1978), pp. 79-109.
4. Louis James, "The Sad Initiation of Lamming's 'G' and Other Green Caribbean Tales," Com-
monwealth (Aahrus: n.p., 1971), pp. 135-143.
5. Ismith Khan, The Jumble Bird (Harlow: Longman, 1985), p. 163. All references are to this edi-
6. James Bradner, Danny Boy (Harlow: Longman, 1981). All references are to this edition.
7. Miriam Wamer-Vieyra, As The Sorcerer Said (Harlow: Longman, 1982). All references are to
8. lan McDonald, The Humming-Bird Tree (London: Heinemann, 1969). All references are to this
9. Edgar Mittelholzer, Corentyne Thunder (London: Heinemann, 1970). All references are to this
10. Jan Carew, Black Midas (Harlow: Longman, 1969). All references are to this edition.
11. Jamaica Kincaid, Annie John (New York: New American Library, 1983). All references are to
12. "The Freeing of Annie John." op.cit.
13. George Lamming, In the Castle of My Skin (Harlow: Longman, 1979). All references are to
14. H. G. De Lisser, Jane's Career (London: Heinemann, 1972). All references are to this edition.
15. Kenneth Ramchand, Introduction to Jane's Career (London: Heinemann, 1972), p. xi.
16. Geoffrey Drayton, Christopher (London: Heinemann, 1972). All references are to this edition.
17. Michael Anthony, The Year In San Fernando (London: Heinemann, 1970). All references are
to this edition.
18. Michael Anthony, Green Days By the River (London: Heinemann, 1973). All references are to
19. Jan Carew, The Wild Coast (Harlow: Longman, 1983). All references are to this edition.
20. Zee Edgell, Beka Lamb (London: Heinemann, 1982). All references are to this edition.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND DECENTRALISATION IN THE
ENGLISH AND FRENCH SPEAKING CARIBBEAN: A
To compare local administration systems in the English and French speaking societies
of the Caribbean may seem a risky undertaking.
What interest is there in studying simultaneously "local-government" and
decentralisationn"? Especially since we are dealing with two politico-administrative for-
mulae, situated in different historical time frames and where each is original in its own
Others have asked this same question and have rightly considered that the objective of
such a comparative approach is not necessarily to underline areas of similarities '* Without
neglecting the analogies, this comparison can shed some light on specific aspects of each
system. If it's interesting to know the protype of administration, it is also interesting to
know what it is not. The comparison can include sectors of local administration. We can
also notably question the functions carried out, the problems encountered, the degree of
autonomy and democracy and the efficiency of both forms. But in reality, the survey should
not ignore the environment in which these models were implanted, nor the historical
traditions which affect them, nor the influence of the latter on the functioning and the
trajectory of the societies which accommodate these institutions. The English and French-
speaking Caribbean have in common peoples with the same characteristics from one
country to the next Differences are due to the varying importance of certain ethnic
groups. It is possible to compare the social structure and culture on many levels, the gap
becoming narrower according to the points of comparison used.2
However the models of administration imported to this region are very different In
both the English-speaking as well as in the French-speaking areas, the institutions were
established on virgin territory. That is, in most cases, prior to colonial intervention, none of
the countries had any formal system of administration. In Barbados and Jamaica for
example, the parish system was introduced at the same time as the colony system.3 The
same thing occurred with the "commune" system in Martinique and Guadeloupe. As in
Europe, local government in the Caribbean countries was reformed over the centuries;
however the Caribbean did so at even more rapid rate. This was even more so the case in
the French-speaking countries. If departmentalisation happened quite late,4 regionalisation
which accompanied the decentralisationn reform" was first experimented in the overseas
* Translation by Susan Garcia
departments 5. The local government and decentralisation systems, though situated in
different time frames were exported very quickly into their dependencies. Apart from the
differences illustrated by the diversity of the structures,6 one is struck by certain
similarities which allow these two forms of administration to maintain the power of
decision on the local level, though by different processes.
In the overseas departments, the model of local government differs from that of its
European counterparts. The peculiarities of the region and its distance from the political
centre could reinforce the cry for political autonomy.
If it is true however that both the English-speaking elected representatives and their
French-speaking equivalents have more responsibilities we cannot attribute the same
contents or significance to this In fact, overseas, the French logic of decentralisation is
dimetrically opposed to that of the British local government.
I) TWO ANALOGOUS PROCESSES FOR THE MAINTENANCE OF THE
POWER OF DECISION ON THE LOCAL LEVEL
Local government and decentralisation were born out of the same needs and with the
same objectives: maintaining the power of decision in local affairs. In both cases, this
maintenance is manifested by a double movement. On one hand the power of the elected
representative is reinforced vis a vis State administration and governing units. And on the
other hand, the establishment of what we will call a new politico-administrative technol-
ogy, has come to concretise and guarantee a greater control of domestic affairs by the
The reinforcement of the power of the elected representatives
In the French West Indies, as in metropolitan France, we have moved from a Jacobin
centralisation 7- compensated by a "deconcentration" to the system of decentralisation,
inaugurated officially by the March 2nd 1982 Law. 8 Prior to this date, the overseas
departments, created in 1946, had the same organization as metropolitan departments. The
prefect, representative of the state, the local executive officer, exercised total control over
the departmental council, a deliberative assembly composed of elected representatives of
the governing units.
To understand the originality of decentralisation, one must remember the situation that
proceeded it. In the overseas societies, centralisation, which characterized the French model
of administration, seemed both stronger and weaker than in metropolitan France. The
Prefect, successor to the Governor, benefitted in some ways from his prestige and the
powers vested in him. A former representative of France once said 'The Prefect of an
overseas department, is above all the heir of a governor and the sole person responsible for
local administration. 9 But paradoxically in the French speaking countries, centralisation
was attenuated earlier than in the other French departments, to such a point of making the
governing units somewhat decentralised entities, even before 1982. Under the centralised
departmentalisation each overseas department (DOM) enjoyed an even wider deconcentra-
tion than in metropolitan France. In fact, specific administrative structures were created
whereby the main objectives were self-adaption to the economic and social characteristics
of the overseas territories. State administration that was implanted locally had greater
powers. For example, in the different government units, the State established a general
secretariat, under the supervision of the Prefect, to oversee economic affairs.
Added to this, the latter's powers were increased after the decree of 1960 was adopted,
whereby the Prefect was nominated as representative of all the ministers 10. Furthermore,
as in the true colonial period, the overseas dependencies, following the example of their
English-speaking counterparts, had a specific central administration. The Ministry in
charge of the overseas departments and territories (DOM-TOM) has as its main duties both
the implementation in the DOM-TOM of decisions by the central government and the
representation of the overseas countries in Paris I1. However it is through the competence
of the Assembly that we perceive the beginning of decentralisation. In fact, parallel to the
perogatives of the Prefect, the French government attributes great responsibilities to the
departmental councils. In 1960, the government decided that the assemblies would, from
then on be consulted for all proposals to be adopted as laws and for all decisions regarding
administrative organisation that directly referred to them. This decision also allows the
local assemblies to take the government to task for proposals of adaption 12. These
measures which are unique to the overseas departments make relevant this system of
centralisation which has long been criticised as the model of french administration. In these
societies the local administration tried to adapt itself in a somewhat unified fashion. There
was nothing like this at all in the English colonies. Whereas in the departments, the Prefect
exercised full control over the local assemblies, in the British system, the assemblies had an
even greater power and often succeeded in paralysing or eroding the governor's powers 13
Added to this, again differing from the French model, the local-government implanted
in the British Caribbean was not uniform. The organisation was of course inspired by the
structures of local government in the mother country (Parish, district) but overseas, the
governing unit was organised whether in the Crown Colony form of government or the
representative government system. The former, even more centralised than the latter,
became bit by bit, more generalised. Only countries such as Barbados and the Bahamas
managed to maintain strong assemblies, capable of competing with the governor 14. In
reality, these systems "Crown colony" and "representative government" evolved into a
progressive transfer of power from the executive officer to the locals.
In certain governing units, an executive committee was established, whereby a repre-
sentative of the British crown, worked alongside elected representatives of the assemblies.
The primary function of the Executive council was to advise the government 15. Little by
little, this structure became the true local executive committee. There is no equivalent in the
French administrative system that was established in the Caribbean. Up until 1982 the
Prefect was the sole unitary executive officer, controlling local government affairs, ably
assisted by his colleagues who were themselves also public servants. In the English
speaking countries, the evolution of the executive committee ended with the advent of the
Cabinet system. The disappearance of the Executive Committee saw the relative blacken-
ing out of the governor. The cabinet was made up of members of the majority rule party in
Their task was to administer the colony, in collaboration with the governor. From that
time on, the chief executive was an elected representative and in most cases was called
"Premier". According to the classical scheme of the British parliament, he maintained close
relations with both chambers (houses). These chambers had unequal powers.
The final phase of this evolution in the English-speaking countries can be compared to
the process of decentralization of 1980s. As in the British dependencies, the modifications
of the executive functions in the French-speaking West Indies, were manifested by a
transfer of power from the prefect to a locally elected representative. To maintain unifor-
mity the governing units bad three levels of administration as in Metropolitan France
(municipal, departmental and regional) the region having been established as a territorial
governing unit on the same level as the municipality and the department. On a tiny surface
area such as the French West Indies, two governing units- the department and the region
- share the same territory sometimes having the same powers that seem to overlap, with
elected representatives belonging to both assemblies. As in the English-speaking Carib-
bean, these assemblies are not subject to supervision by the state representative, who no
longer has the power of control over the decisions made by them. They benefit fully from
the principle of freedom of administration which became effective with the laws of
decentralisation and which limits the control of the prefect to the verification of the legality
of their actions and verification of the management of the local budget.
As the "Premier" in the English-speaking countries, the chief executive officers are
chosen from the elected assemblies the departmental council and the regional council
respectively, but contrary to the British model, they are not nominated by the representative
of the state. The decentralised governing unit is represented, therefore, as an entity where
two assemblies, elected by universal suffrage co-exist with twp chief executive officers and
a state representative at the head of a powerful administrative body.
In the French-speaking area, as in the English-speaking territories, the appointment of
elected representatives at the head of the governing units can be interpreted as a relative
retreat by the state to the advantage of the local society. Although the offices of the
Presidents of the departmental council and the regional council cannot be confused with the
cabinet directed by the "Premier", it is within these structures that decisions on the local
matters were officially made. These units also had in common the exclusion of the
metropolitan officer, even though in the case of the French, the state representative, kept his
power of control a posteriori over the decisions of the elected executive committee, and
had the possibility to refer them to the "Tribunal administratif' and to the "Chambre
Regionale des Comptes". At this point of the analysis, a major point stands out. It must be
noted that in the English-speaking Caribbean, the differentiation between the central
services and the governing units were more pronounced. Of course the English-speaking
elected representatives at the very pivot of the colony were members of the assembly.
However, they acquired a greater autonomy than their French homologues. The advent
of a "Premier" at the head of a cabinet encouraged the elected representatives to become
specialists in different fields and to defend their positions and to rally collectively before
the assembly. Added to this reinforcement of the power of the elected officers, the estab-
lishment of a new politico-administrative technology illustrated the process of maintenance
of the power of decision at the local level.
A new politico-administrative technology
This concept was borrowed from Fred Riggs who talks about the new political technol-
ogy to designate the characteristics of the emergence of a central political structure within
a society. 16 Applied to the evolution of local administration in the Caribbean, this
phenomenon is characterized notably by the appearance of new structures between those
elected officers desirable of assuming their executive functions and a society waiting for
resources. In the French-speaking West Indies, before decentralisation, the state was the
principal decision-maker in local affairs. Since the reform, it officially put at the disposal of
the elected officers, technical resources where the latter did not have the necessary in-
frastructure for the realisation of their projects. The elected officers however remained
dependent on the state for they had been daily prepared or not prepared at all to assume this
control of power. In fact, it would have been quite difficult for them to reduce the power of
expertise of the central public service to mere studies, consultations and advice. If the
elected officer was master of the final decision, often its elaboration and its actual realisa-
tion was often dependent on the expert. On this basis, the state's retreat could appear more
apparent than real; this explains why, in all matters concerning roads and equipment, the
local assemblies use their own services, often calling on former public servants not just
contented with the services offered to them by the state. As those responsible for the
economic development, the regional councillors take advantage of the possibilities that the
official texts offer to create relay-structures in diverse sectors of the economy.
That is the case in Martinique with regards to the Regional Agency for the Development
of Agriculture. Decentralisation therefore constitutes a management framework whereby
the full potential has not yet been used up. It could be used as a resource for local power by
the elite within the limits or confines of the French state, whose unitary and indivisible
character is affirmed in the constitution.17
On the other hand in the English-speaking West Indies, London never affirmed the
unity or the indivisibility of the territory. Added to which, contrary to France, administra-
tion was weakly implanted in the Caribbean. There was usually a limited number of public
servants and their recruitment was rarely based on merit 18. The control of local affairs was
often so weak that a greater margin for local autonomy was left, especially in the business
sector which competed with the political sector whenever they were not overlapping.19 At
the initiative of this political elite, one therefore saw the setting up of a relay structure
among the elected executive, the parishes and the districts a feature that was evident also
in decentralisation later on. Local finance was reorganized; an intermediary organism was
put in charge of controlling the perception and redistribution of income.
The supervision of territorial agents and methods of recruitment were also conferred to
such intermediary organisms. There was therefore a tendency towards the modernisation of
local administration; everything leading in the direction of centralisation.20
The most evident illustration of this tendency was the disappearance of parochial
councils giving way to fewer district councils.21 To this centralising of districts one must
add the control of local finances and public servants by the elected officers through these
relay-structures. Besides this established fact that there is a great difference between the
authorities in the French and British territories, as regards administration, this analysis also
emphasizes a double paradox. Even though local government is distinguished traditionally
by strong decentralisation, its evolution had resulted in a relative centralisation in local
affairs. This movement is diametrically opposed to that found in the French-speaking
societies where centralisation gave way little by little to a form of decentralisation, the
origins of which were in place before 1982. It is fitting therefore to question the sig-
nificance of such a double paradox.
TWO DIAMERTICALLY OPPOSED LOGICS
The behaviour of the political elite in the English-speaking countries of the Caribbean
cannot be understood without making reference to the characteristics of the English state
and the French state.
Rearrangement of the French state and disengagement of the British
Compared to the British intervention, the French intervention rests on a universal
republican ideology and an omnipresent bureaucracy. Guided by the notions of "laissez
fire and laissez passed individualism and the bargaining techniques", and a weak
bureaucratic framework, British interventionism however contributed to the development
of local initiative.
What makes decentralisation (after centralisation) so different from local government is
that the elected officers are locked into a pre-established logic. Although this statement
may be also applied to the English-speaking peoples, this logic of decentralisation results in
a rearrangement of the French central services, and local government is characterized in the
British Caribbean as a disempapement on the part of the British state. Quotes from
metropolitan representatives illustrate clearly these two logics. The first quote is from the
President of the French Republic, when in commenting on the meaning of decentralisation,
he affirmed that:
"France needed a strong central power to make it and
had a strong need of decentralised powers so as not to
come undone. In becoming decentralised the state
does not relinquish its commitment. Its apparent
retreat corresponds to a redefining of a tradition of
centralisation which had become inefficient."
Separated from the local situation, the decision-making central services in Paris often
proposed inappropriate answers. Contrary to the desired effects, centralised bureaucracy
generated informal mechanisms to offset heavy procedure, often transgressing the norms
for the proper working of local administration.
In actual fact centralisation was attacked and disparaged.24 By restoring the power of
decision on local affairs to the elected representatives, the state officialised a trend and
restricted the risks of paralysis of its action in the periphery. Applied to the overseas
context, the statement by the French president is in contrast with one made by a minister of
the English colonies.
On commenting on the implications of local government in the English dependencies,
he recognized that "the best training in the art of self-government is participation in local
administration". Noting also the relinquishing of commitment by the British, he proposed
an extension of local government so as to "give rise to a central government" in the
different colonies. In the British dependencies as in the French governing units, local
administration tended to accentuate the responsibilities of the elected officers and that was
thought to explain the attitude of the governor in coopting the members of the assembly to
ensure the direction of local affairs through the "Executive Committee". However, beyond
this general trait, the differences showed through in the conception of the models that were
implanted overseas. French decentralisation redefined the relationships between state and
elected representatives within the department and the region, which though overseas,
remained entities having to conform to the metropolitan structures. Local government was
not a replica, of the structures existing in Great Britain; certainly in the Caribbean there are
parishes and districts.
The structure of local government in the overseas departments resembles the structure
of the British political system. As in England, the territory had an executive committee
managed in reality by a governor on the side of a cabinet run by a Premier. The two local
Chambers (houses) in the colonies were not the equivalents of the Regional Council and the
Departmental Council of the French dependencies. The assembly and the Legislative
Council or Senate is reminiscent rather of the unequal two-chambered system of the
As specified by the representative from London-out of the British conception of local
administration emerged organisms comparable to a state in embryo. These statements and
the structures that illustrate them, refer us back to the two logics mentioned. The logic of
decentralisation, far from limiting the intervention of the state, rearranges it by making
certain changes in the mode of distribution of resources within the periphery without
diminishing the sum of these.
As an example, the budgetary expenses of the state for the department of Martinique,
except for the budget of the Postal Services and the Welfare Services (which represents
important assignments) have constantly increased since 1982.
The major modification in the financial aid from France is its globalisation. The elected
officers receive envelopes the contents of which are earmarked for specific use without
having the state decide for them. Other than the financial aspect, other aspects such as the
transfer of the executive, and the placing of the services of the state at their disposal can
also constitute political and symbolic resources for the elected representatives.
It is not only the posts of President of the DepartmentaL Council and President of the
Regional Council, that confer prestige but that those who occupy these roles also rein-
force their relationship with their citizens. By reducing the screen that constitutes the state
administration this transfer accentuates the control the elected officers have on the electors
and as such their political power within the society.
This could have led to veritable feudal systems if the forms of local democracy were not
developed concurrently. If in both cases, the political weight of the elected officers
increased within the society, what relationship did it have vis a vis the state.
Political centralisation and functional decentralisation
Once again, the comparison with the British example allows for better understanding
of the relationship between the French political centre and the elected representatives in
the framework of decentralisation. Faced with a metropolis which was relinquishing its
commitment, the English-speaking elite had no other possibilities but to replace it assuring
that the social functions that was not being carried out or more precisely no longer being
carried out continued The volume and the quality of the resources distributed by the
British are not really comparable to those of the French state before 1982 and have become
even less since decentralisation. In the British Caribbean, the idea of relinquishing of
commitment led the elite to take charge of the running of the local government and the
It differs somewhat from the idea of the centralisation as the English-speaking elected
officers, deprived of state resources, encouraged its retreat and further looked to the
governing units for means of their actions. In the French West Indies one might consider
decentralisation as functional as it contributes to the strengthening and solidarity of the
elected officers and the state within the society. This signifies as has already been under-
lined that state intervention is arranged without questioning its role. It also means that it
associates the elected officers with the state in a system of exchange. This more complex
system has led to an increase in their dependence on the state. This does not signify that the
elected officers suffer under this situation; dependence in this case becomes a means of
resource. In fact, they draw upon it as their major means and do not hesitate to put
pressure on Paris to have more. Contrary to their English-speaking homologues who could
not depend on France to give them these same resources, the French-speaking elite
compete with the metropolis for the good management of the governing units.
The relationships between these two European states and the Caribbean cannot be
discussed without taking into consideration the implications of the models of administra-
tion on the political status of the peripheries. The logic of decentralisation, more so than the
reforms that preceded it, produced the effect of marginalising the debate on the status and
of giving priority to economic development Local government by its organisation and
disengagement by London, favored political centralisation for the benefit of the elite,
facilitated the cry for separatism.
In the French West Indies before 1982, centralised departmentalisation provoked much
discussion from the autonomous left, however since the reform, this has been judged
inopportune. Also, since the election of Francois Mitterrand to the presidency of the
French Republic, the Martiniquan Progressive Party (PPM), the most powerful organisa-
tion in the island, has proclaimed a moratorium25. As stated by its leader Aime Cesaire
"Between anachronique impersonalising integration and irresponsible disintegration there
is place for a policy founded on the triple base of recognized identity, of accrued respon-
sibility and reaffirmed solidarity... That will be the West Indian route of decolonisation and
I invite you to invent it".26
To all evidence, the mayor/deputy of Fort-de-France doesn't mean to leave the
framework of the Republic, especially since it is by decentralisation that the expectations
will be achieved. In another declaration, he justified the moratorium by the advantages of
the reform of 1982:
"The policy of departmentalisation, or should I say the
struggle for departmentalisation, was led by myself
because my goal was to conquer for the Martiniquan
people on the whole, social laws that would ensure
their security. I committed myself to a second struggle;
though misunderstood, which has just ended with the
adoption of the law of regionalisation. This was, the
struggle of the recognition of the right to be different...
After the struggle for responsibility, there will be the
struggle for development, a pledge to our country for a
The attitude of the Martiniquans is not an isolated one. In Guadeloupe and in French
Guiana, the left controls the local executive councils and practises this same moratorium
without proclaiming it as such. This new talk on decentralisation gives from then on, an
image of the politicians of the left as financial managers -an image that was often
questioned before then. Their recent electoral success best illustrates this In 1989 in
Martinique, even though the right was in the majority in the number of town/municipal
councils (18 out of 34) the left with 16 town/municipal councils won five more since the
last elections in 1983. Another sign noted is that in the capital, the left led by Aime Cesaire
obtained five additional seats in the municipal councillors elections.
In Guadeloupe, the left is stabilising its control as out of 33 "communes", the left
controls 20. In French Guiana, the left controls 13 out of 20 "communes. In the English-
speaking West Indies, the independence which was fought for and obtained by the political
elite in the sixties must be associated with the process of construction of an autonomous
cooperative political centre in the form of local government that proceeded decentralisation
which excluded this logic, even though some similar aspects may be found, could stillmar-
ginalise the question of status, if the power of the management of the elites is reinforced.
The recent entry of ecologists, the non-aligned, and independents in the municipal
councils and the departmental council is a new dimension in the political life in the French
Up until the elections of 1989, in Martinique, only one mayor/departmental councillor,
(benefitting from a certain charisma, in his "commune-canton"- Riviere-Pilote) openly
affirmed his independent opinions, being unafraid to defend them openly before his
electorate. Since 1989, another independent has been elected mayor and departmental
councillor of the tourist-dependent "commune-canton" of Saint-Anne. Other than his
political opinions, he is mainly known as the president of the main ecological organisation
in the county ASSAUPAMAR (Association for the Safeguard of the Martiniquan
Patrimony). He never hesitates to attack both the left and right when he believes there is a
threat or menace to the environment. Added to these two "communes", the independents
also are present in many municipal councils. In the town of Trois-Ilets -another tourist
area, they have joined with the majority alliance to take away the power from the right.
They are also present in the "communes" of Grancois, Schoelcher and in Fort-de-France,
-the capital where they have one seat. In Guadeloupe except for the elected officers of the
communist party who have just proclaimed themselves to be for independence, there are no
independents at the head of the "commune municipal" councils. However, one must note
their entry in many municipal councils, notably those at Port Louis, Gourebeyre, and
Thus in the French West Indies, and in Martinique in particular, political life is
characterized by the emergence of movements and elected officers, breaking free from
traditional organizations. Usually close to the left, they are becoming more and more
numerous. In four municipal councils: Trois-Ilets, Saint-Anne, Diamant and the important
"commune" of Sainte-Marie; where the mayor has since become deputy of the French
Parliament. In other areas such as Francois where a localisedd" organisation holds the post
of departmental councillor, these movements are making progress. The entry of the Inde-
pendents in the municipal councils on one hand, and the emergence of the localist move-
ments on the other, are some elements which it is too early to say are the result of
decentralisation. However the growth of the number of independents in decentralised
governing units is certainly noticeable The question posed is Up to what point can there
be compatibility between independent managers and the logic of decentralisation based as
it is on the mutual reinforcement of the state and the elected representatives within the local
1. Lagroye (J), Wright (V) (editors): Local-government in Britain and France London G. Allen an(
UNWIN 1979 Meny (Y): Centralisation et decentralisation dans le debate politique francais
(1945-1969) L.G.D.J. Paris 1974.
2. Michael Allen: Sugar and survival, the retention of economic power by white elites in Barbados
and Martinique, in Peasants plantations and rural communities, edited by Cross M. and
Marks A. Leiden Neitherlands 1979; cf. Fred Reno: L'Etat social a la Barbade et a la Martini-
que in L'exporation de models d'administration opposes. Unpublished doctoral thesis Paris I
Janvier 1987, pp. 243 to 298.
3. Paul Singh: Local democracy in Commonwealth Caribbean Longman Caribbean 1972.
4. Loi du 19 mars 1946 J. 0. lois and decrets 20 mars 1946 p. 2 294.
5. Loi n 82 1171 du 31 Decembre 1982 J. 0. lerjanvier 1983.
6. Parish, vestry, district, ward. Executive Committee, cabinet are not equivalent to communes,
department, region, prefect, consueil general and regional.
7. On centralisation see Gremion (P): Le pouvoir peripherique Edit. du Seuil Paris 1976.
8. Loi N 82-213 du 2 mars 1982 (J. 0. 3 mars 1982).
9. Jean Terrade in Revue Administration n 79 mars 1973 pp. 45 and 46.
10. Decret 60-407 du 26 avril 1960 (J. 0. 29 avril 1960 p. 3945).
11. Sylvie J, Acquenmart: la question departementale outre-mer, PUF 1983 p. 30.
12. Decret n 60 403 du 26 avril J. 0. lois and decrets 29 avril 1960 p. 3 944.
13. Fred Reno: L'exportation de models d'administration opposes op cit p. 91.
15. On Executive Committee see Sources of West Indies history, compiled by F. R. Augier and S. C.
Gordons Longman Caribbean 1981 p. 247, Ann Spackman: Constitutional development of the
West Indies 1922-1968 Caribbean University Press, Bowker Publishing company 1975.
16. F. Riggs: The theory of Political Development, in Charles Worth J., ed. Contemporary Political
Analysis New York Free Press 1967 p. 338.
17. Art. 2 of French Constitution: "La France est une republique indivisible...".
18. See P. G. Singh: Local Democracy op cit.
19. See Edwin Jones: Coalitions of the Oppressed, Institute of Social and Economic Research,
University of the West Indies Jamaica 1987.
20. F. Reno: op cit.
21. P. G. Singh: op cit.
22. B. Badie and P. Birnbaum: Sociologie de I'Etat Paris Grasset 1979 p. 222. See Carl Stone:
Decolonization and the Caribbean State System: The Case of Jamaica, in The newer Carib-
bean ed: P. Henry and C. Stone, Institute for the Study of Human issues, Philadelphia 1982.
23. See le Progressiste 13 fevrier 1985 p. 7.
24. P. Gremion: op cit.
25. Tresorerie general de la Martinuque: note de systhese 1982. Evolution economique et finan-
ciere de la Martinique 1983 and 1984.
26. Antilla n special Mai 1986 p. 42, See Progressiste 13 fevrier 1985.
27. Antilla 24-31 mai 1985 p. 18.
28. Progressiste du 5 mars 1986.
THE C.L.R. JAMES LETTERS (1948)
Since the death of CLR James in 1989, there has been much interest generated about his
ideas and their relevance to modem political discourse. In the developing scholarship
relating to James' work, some writers have argued that his letters to Constance Webb
(James's second wife) represent not just new information about the contours and nature of
his political discourse, but indicate fundamentally new directions in this discourse.I
The letters located in the Schomburg Centre for Research in Black Culture represent a
critical aspect of information on James' life and his ideas. Spanning the years 1939-1984,
they show the interior consciousness of James' development. This is not surprising, since
James moved from being a writer of fiction to a political activist and theorist. The letters
represent literary texts and form part of the Jamesian discourse. Viewed together with
James' known works and his attempts to construct a Marxism for the modem world, they
provide the texture of that development and insights into the nature of revolutionary small
group political activities which James led for the better part of his active political life.
This essay will examine a selection of letters written in 1948. That year was an eventful
one for James. It saw the formulation of the new universals and coordinates of his thoughts
which were fully elaborated with the writing of Notes on Dialetics.
In 1948, James had broken with the Worker's Party. Since 1941, along with Raya
Dunayevasakaya2 he advocated in opposition to traditional Trotskyism, that Russia was a
state capitalist society. The elaboration of this position required a fundamental reworking
of Marxism. Recognizing this he put together a team of people who became known as the
Johnson-Forest Tendency, and rigorously studied both the nature of Russian society and the
original works of Karl Marx. By August 1943, James was able to exclaim in a letter "I
have made a thorough study of Capital at last!:3
By 1948, the Tendency had firmly established itself and numbered around 80 persons.
Leaving the Workers' Party in 1947, the group spent an interim period clarifying their ideas
and then joined the other major Trotskyist grouping, the Socialist Workers' Party.
The 1948 letters were written within the following context:
(1)The joining of the Tendency and the SEP, despite having fundamental disagree-
ments. (James and Dunayevasakaya had left the SEP in 1940.)
(2) James, at a personal level,, was attempting to obtain a divorce from his first wife in
(3)The development of the notion that the "self-mobilization of the masses is the
dominating social and political feature of our age."
James had arrived at this latter conclusion after seven years of re-examination of Marx's
original work combined with a profound study of the Marxist traditions and revolutionary
history. The notion was first clearly articulated in the Invading Socialist Society which
James called the "fundamental document" of the Johnson-Forest Tendency. It claimed that:
"this self-mobilization sought a philosophy of life, a
place, an organization, a social force which will not
only be the direct force with which to rebuild society".
[pg. 12. Invading Socialist Society]
In 1948 James now saw his task as rooting this notion of "self-mobilization" in political
philosophy. Having to go to Reno to wait for divorce gave him this opportunity. The text of
Notes On Dialectics was written in sections and sent to members of the Tendency. Martin
Glaberman a leading member, recalls how he read it:-
"It was called the Nevada document,..... it was subver-
sive because it fundamentally challenged the concepts
of Trotskyism, when we were still in a Trotskyist or-
ganization....Every once in a while I would come
home from work at mid-night... and my wife would
say, well the mail came and we have another chapter...
that's quite a strange experience sitting in your
kitchen, late at night reading a study of dialectics".
Beginning to work on dialectics in October 1938, James in response to question from
Constance writes on November 8:-
"Mind is the highest level of truth. Stalin is in the same
position as Hitler. His creative Reason is a bar-
barism....Every time a new set of categories come, in
capitalist society, a new group of people find them
satisfactory, and wish to preserve them.... In every age,
incapacity to see the universal concretely, must lead to
individualism. In the declining middle ages the
neurotic went into the monastery.... Trotsky's weak-
ness, his individualism was not so much in my life...
but the way he made his individual struggle with
Stalinism, the basis of the whole F'Int. [Fourth Inter-
national]"[Extract letter, November 8, 1948 em-
phasis in the original]
This critique of Trotskyism contains two critical points which are fundamental to the
Jamesian discourse. James' criticism of Trotsky and his individualism is rooted in his
perception of intellectuals and their role in revolutionary politics. As early as 1937, in
World Revolution he had posed this question when he wrote that the relationship between
the creative energies of the masses and the intellectuals would be "the greatest of many
bows that the revolutionary Ulysses will have to bend".5 In 1962, this theme was again
expressed in a pamphlet published by "Facing Reality", tilled Marxism and Intellectuals,
in which he critiqued the work of English writer Raymond Williams. In it he stated that:-
"History usually shows that when the revolutionary
class expresses itself at it usually does, in action and
with ideas based on action.... the intellectuals are un-
able to understand this sudden outburst of independent
ideas and independent action." 7
The second is the criticism of Trotskyism which noted that the dominating feature of the
Tendency was the struggle against Stalinism. James elaborates this point further in State-
Capitalism and World Revolution published in 1950, when he writes:
-the position of Johnson-Forest is : "the Stalinists
are not class collaborationists, fools, cowards, idiots,
men with supple-snipes', but conscious clear-sighted
aspirants for world power. They are deadly enemies of
private property capitalism. They aim to seize power
and take the place of the bourgeoisie..... But the
Stalinists are not proletarian revolutionists... theirs is a
last desperate attempt under the guise of "socialism"
and "planned economy" to reorganize the means of
production without releasing the proletariat from age
slavery."[State Capitalism and World Revolution Pg.
As the philosophical foundation of Stalinism was rationalism. James states:
"In the springtime of capitalism this rationalistic
division of labour was the basis of a common attempt
of individual men associated in a natural environment
to achieve control over nature. Today, this division of
labour is the control in social production of the ad-
ministrative elite over the masses. The philosophy of
Stalinism is the philosophy of the elite, the
bureaucracy, the organizers, the leaders clothed in
Marxist terminology." [State Capitalism and World
Revolution Pg. 96-98]
The nature of the American proletariat was always of concern to Marxists and in
response to Constance Webb, James develops an explanation which he calls the law of
"historical compensation". He does not mention this law in any other text. However, the
conclusions are present in Notes on Dialectics and his yet unpublished notes in the work
The essence of this law was the relation between "backwardness" and the creation of
new social forms and ideas. He writes:-
"Politically backward France produced the French
Revolution, politically backward Germany produced
the classical philosophy of Kant and Hegel and Mar-
xism. Politically backward Russia produced the great
Russian writers and Bolshevism. Politically backward
U.S. will produce an incomparable new literature and
a new proletarian formation. As I see it, the author of
the age finds greatest freedom and power when resis-
tance is weak or backward. [Extract from letter
November 8, 1948)]
James' reading of Hegel combined with the work of the Tendency all found its way
into Notes on Dialectics and created the theoretical framework for discovering the "new"
in political reality. This new universal of the "self-mobilized proletariat", made the Leninist
Vanguard Party obsolete.
James and Leadership
Critics of Jamesian discourse have focused on the nature of leadership. they argue that
in James' discourse, the proletarian revolution is spontaneous and identify the obsoleteness
of the Vanguard Party with no leadership. In James' published works there are hardly any
references to "organized" leadership and its role in the working class movement. However,
in the 1948 letters, James wrote consistently about what were the characteristics of a
proletarian leader, and discussed the weakness of the Tendency's co-leaders. In general, the
discussion gives us insights into James' view of himself and the internal operations of a
small Marxist group. They also demonstrate that unless the group became part of a
mass-movement once they left the confines of the Trotskyist movement they would only
reproduce splits and disintegrate.
Martin Glaberman notes that:-
"For twelve years the three top leaders of our organiza-
tion were a woman born in Russia, an American
woman of Chinese descent and a black man from
Trinidad. ....There has never been an American or-
ganization like that, and I suspect probably never will
These three individuals, Grace Lee Boggs, Raya Dunayevasakaya and CLR James
worked out a complete theory of the modem age based on their interpretation of American
civilization. The relationship between them was held together by CLR James who was
regarded as the leader.
His political style of leadership was not one of instruction and demand, but guidance.
He notes in a letter:-
"Look at how I am handling Grace my last letter was
hard. It was an indictment. But I told G, she would see
that I was full of concern for her. I keep up our logical
studies, etc., I want her to correct herself, but I do not
want to have any wounds; I do not want to crush her
spirit. It is because I think all the time of our little
organization". [Extract from undated letter 1948]
For James, a proletarian leader "has to stop and think and watch and consider." His
analysis of the leadership styles of the two women reveal a side of James previously
unknown and allows insights into leadership of small groups. He writes:-
"We are petty-bourgeois, very much so, lacking the
experience of not great but large affairs; and some of
our best people show it... they do not show the restraint
and self-discipline that leaders have to show always,
not some of the time, nor a high average, but always.
We have developed a theory of astonishing range and
vitality, due to our close consolidation, but this has
taken its toll in other respects.... Raya is the unques-
tioned leader- not by seniority, but in experience and
capacity. But she needs- all of them need, a stabiliz-
ing force, and pole of observation, silence and per-
sonal authority.... the prominent position occupied by
two women, both married and superior in political
status to their husbands, offer possibilities of disorder,
both internal and external". [Extract from October 2,
Unable to link or develop any mass movement, the logic for the group was to wither
away. Another aspect of James' political style which emerges is a sense of political
integrity and his preoccupation in maintaining it. He notes:-
"It is one of the most unwise things in political life to
discuss the failings, so to speak, or your comrades. As
a rule, little but harm comes of it, and harm which
could have been avoided and is difficult to repair".
[Extract from October 2, 1948 letter]
Within small groups which are a distance from mass-movements, inter-personal
relationships can assume a large political role. A consistent discussion of members' failings
(sometimes done under the guise of self-criticism) can lead to personality conflicts fol-
lowed by political squabbles and internal fights. James was aware of the dangers of this
kind of political behaviour.
At a general political level, he felt that politics was a hard task-master and interfered
with ordinary personal things. He notes with reference to Greta Garbo:-
"Do you know one of my secret admirations is for
Greta Garbo? Her time and energy are her own. Hegel
has a habit of writing "such and such is the case. Those
who think otherwise can be ignored" and going on
without another word. A politician cannot do that. But
how enviable are people who can!" [extract from un-
dated letter 1948 author's emphasis.]
James seemed to have been pulled into politics but nurtured another kind of life. In a
letter to Constance he states:
"you should know the long, long, solitary hours I have
spent, reading reading reading, thinking, writing,
since I was about four years old. It is the ingrained
pattern of a life-time. You must talk to me. Take the
letters, let us go over them...I have been writing so
easily, and reading so easily, I say 'Jesus..., if I could
only express myself to you as naturally.' It is some-
thing to strive for...as I go over these things it is with a
view to get myself prepared to break these old patterns
once and for all, once and for all." [Extract from un-
dated letter 1948.]
All of James's life was spent breaking the traditional old patterns. In political discourse
he and his Tendency established new categories. As an individual, his revolutionary vision
was an integrated one. The diversity of his interests expressed itself in his relationship to
Constance Webb; it was integrated into a wholistic approach to the study of human
The CLR James' letters do not suggest a break with left-wing politics but instead,
depict an individual grappling with new knowledge and its application, both to the world
and his personal life. They establish both his humanity and his integrity.
1 See CLR James Reader Edited by Anna Grimshaw. Blackwell, London, 1992.
2. Raya Dunayevasakaya, Russian by birth, was one of Trotskys' secretaries. In the early life of the
Tendency, her focus was Marxist economics.CLR James Marxism and Intellectuals Facing
Reality Publishing Committee- May 1962 p. 10.
1. Martin Glaberman Unpublished speech Organising in the USA. 1938-1953 London 1986.
3. CLR James World Revolution 1917-1936 Hyperion Press. Connecticut 1973 p. 52.
4. Martin Glaberman Unpublished Speech Organising in the USA. 1938-1953 London 1986.
6. In 1962, after a split in the Tendency, the Group "Facing Reality" was Formed. Led by Martin
Glaberman, the group folded in 1970.
7. Facing Reality
8. C.L.R.James, Slate Capitalism and World Revolution
FRENCH WEST INDIAN POLITICAL SCIENCE: THE
CONFRONTATION BETWEEN HOLISH, METHODOLOGICAL
INDIVIDUALISM AND HETERODOXY
A.P. BLERALD, La question national en Guadeloupe et a'la Martinique: essai
d'histoire politique, Politique L'Harmattan, 1988.
F. CONSTANT, La retraite aux Flambeaux: Societe et Politique en Martinique, Paris,
Editions Caribeennes, 1988.
J.C. WILLIAMS Compere Lapin et Compere Mulet: metissage et comportements
socio-politiques a la Martinique, These d'Etat de sciences politiques, Paris X-Dauphine,
French West Indian research today is eliminating the demons of the past. It appears that
the decade of the "eighties" was dedicated to the emergence of a new generation of
researchers who cared less about the social uses of research than about the use of logical
processes which facilitate demonstration and verification. The rhetoric of the denunciation,
as strong in the past as the colonial past which was used to justify it, has gradually given
precedence to a process which although less ambitious on the political level is generally,
scientifically speaking, more fertile. This evolution is clearly perceptible in the field of
social sciences and is of particular benefit to political science a discipline which has been
growing in recent years. The works examined below are eloquent testimony of this
Based on divergent, in fact opposing premises and postulates, the three works cited
express a common interest in explaining the complex situation resulting from several
centuries of colonization. However, the approaches employed by each author demonstrate
the various ways this reality can be understood. On one hand there is a "holistic" approach
based on global categories (the State, social classes, the capitalist system) which favours
the mechanism of domination. There is secondly the method of analysis known as
"methodological individualism" which takes a close look at the phenomenon of micro-
regulation. The third author uses a form of inquiry based on traditional French West Indian
thought, introducing a certain heterodoxy into the discussion.
The work of A.P. Blerald tackles a theme recurrent in political science: "nationality", a
problem which appears simple but even today lacks a satisfying answer. How do we
explain the singular development of Guadeloupe and Martinique and their resistance to the
spirit of independence which survives today in all the old colonies? This work is in fact the
continuation of a long series of publications on adjacent themes including the study of the
mechanics of the relationship between French West Indian societies and their colonial
metropolis. The problematic is invariably the same. Perhaps A.P. Blerald is in the process
of creating a complete work by exploring the various aspects of the problem of colonial
domination including its economic, political and cultural aspects. 1 Although we acknow-
ledge his prolific authorship, the number of publications he manages to produce cannot
compensate for the poor quality of the theoretical ideas which inspire his reflection. In
effect, his consideration of the problem is largely dependent on gramscian analysis. This
explains that state control is based on a subtle dose of ideology and coercion. Asserting
peremptorily the pertinence of this problematic, he neglects to examine or even discuss the
validity of other possible approaches.
Provided with the equipment which is all in all quite basic, the reader may fear he is
being invited to open the doors to the musty ideas of the past. However, we are rapidly
assured that this is not the case. Written in an elegant style, the work of A.P. Blerald is
teeming with historic details which reveal an indisputable rigour in his documentation.
Without departing from the theoretical pattern explained beforehand, he proposes to ex-
amine in its successive stages the transition from a predominantly coercive system to one
of ideological predominance. Although he renounces any strict economic determinism by
using a historical method of periodization, the steps do in fact coincide with the main
phases of the development of capitalism. The three periods identified are as follows.
The first period, as one should expect, starts in the 17th century with the institution of
slave-based societies characterized not only by coercion, but more importantly by a process
of cultural and ideological oppression. Forcibly removed from his social and cultural
matrix, the slave was exposed to the ravages of a racist ideology which pervaded all social
relations. In contrast to certain theses which consider this period of slavery to mark the
beginning of assimilation to the French cultural system, A.P. Blerald underlines the slave
resistance to deculturation. This resistance despite all else, is evidence of a certain unity in
the nascent slave culture which makes itself visible in the unequal battle against the
oppressor. From this resistance arise the inevitable conflicts which determine the relations
in a slave-based society; conflicts which are controlled by the State. The State role is to
contain the private violence of the colonists within limits so as to assure the continuation of
the slavery-dependent society. We notice here that the author offers a functional explana-
tion of the State, whose role was also to maintain the position of the French West Indies in
the framework of the French mercantile system.
On the verge of the abolition of slavery in 1848 (the second period Blerald discusses)
came the birth of the phenomenon of autonomous political power. This political situation
introduced the opportunity and means to set up a controlling group which exercised
legitimate physical coercion. However the establishment of this group did not challenge the
accepted class divisions in society as the political elite remained at the service of the
plantocracy. Nevertheless, the elimination of slave-based relations opened the door to a
new phase of state control characterized by a noticeable growth in the process of ideologi-
cal domination. The method par excellence of circulating the republican ideas of assimila-
tion was through education. By 1880, the ideology of racism had become less important
than the republican ideals of equality. However, the main component of assimilation,
racism continued to serve as a foundation to aristocratic domination and the State which
produced an ideology affirming western supremacy.
From here we move to the third phase which starts with the conversion of the "old
colonies" into French departments. At this point, institutional domination was reinforced
by the ideology of integrationism which penetrated every pore of French West Indian
society. This massive inculcation of imported and imposed values did not fail to generate
forms of nationalist opposition. The most tangible signs of this opposition are found in
demands of the autonomists and independentists.
A.P. Belerald's analysis can be credited for its simplicity and clarity. However, located
in a deliberately holistic point of view, the work is concerned with macro-concepts which
restrict it within a rigid framework, and ignore certain entire pieces of the complex and
subtle reality. Take for example the following assertion which is not lacking a certain
Anisi, l'oppression ideologique a-t-elle produit dans le champ social antillais un en-
semble structure de mecanismes qui, dans le dispositif d'encerclement de la conscience
populaire ont edifie des casemates immaterielles bien plus redoutables parce que incom-
parablement plus difficiles a faire sauter que les remparts du Fort Saint Charles ou du Fort
Saint-Louis (p. 159)2
This is certainly beautifully expressed; moreover it summarizes quite well the author's
problematic. Nevertheless it does not square with what is happening in reality. How can we
in 1990 explain the French presence in the West Indies by "the encircling process of
popular awareness." How can we simply content ourselves with invoking "false aware-
ness" to explain state domination, even if it is accompanied by political and symbolic
violence? By insisting too much on cultural oppression, the author has reduced the
legitimization process to its simple ideological dimension. This point of view is all the more
difficult to defend since the central State, self-confident and dominant, has for a long time
been multiplying concessions favourable to the recognition of "particular cultures"; fur-
thermore, through the concentration of its donations it is also accepting the financial burden
of "counter-acculturation" activities. Unless we consider that the system installed by
colonization has reached such a level of efficiency that it continues to function by itself, it
would be difficult today to discern the mechanisms of ideological oppression that continue
to confine the French West Indies to a "false awareness". It is probably as a result of
insisting on these mechanisms that a fair number uf French West Indian researchers have
neglected the socio-political regulation of departmentalization. Without immersing oursel-
ves in utilitarian sociology, we should be reminded of the almost pavlovian reflex of West
Indian elites, who, backed by a large number of the population, are more than capable of
manipulating the interpretation of republican ideology notably the concept of equality -
and who use the specific needs to drain the maximum in grants and aid from the metropolis.
Behaviour which may appear to be divergent or conflicting can actually be subsumed under
the same logic. Based on the existence of a double allegiance to a central system of
universal standards and identification with a particular society, certain strategies have come
to light. The complexity and subtlety of these strategies are hardly compatible with the
"false awareness" attributed to the elites and the social classes they represent. It is clear that
taking these phenomena into account demands an inversion of the problematic with
emphasis not on the study of macro-effects and global structures (in particular the State and
the capitalist system) which determine social behaviour, but rather on the social actors
In more general terms, a second reproach can be directed at A.P. Belerald. The author
does not hide his political preferences, and his work is in essence a presentation of the
unquestionable existence of the two "nations" of Guadeloupe and Martinique, based on the
understanding that the only solution to their problems is that these islands attain their
sovereignty. However, as G. Lavau underlines in his preface, the author does not seem to
be in favour of absolute independence and leaves history to determine what tomorrow will
be. The refusal to prophesise is a wise position to take. All the more because it is difficult
to perceive the weakness in the system which would allow for change, and even more
difficult to perceive which social forces would be capable of organizing this change and of
breaking the apparently all encompassing false awareness. In short, confined within a total
logic, the analysis leaves little hope for the political militant's aspirations for change. In a
word, we are confronted with a paradox which pervades Marxist thought as J. Alexander
points out:" Marxism is an antivoluntaristic social theory which functions ideologically to
stimulate active voluntaristic change.3 In other words, as seductive as it may be, A.P.
Beleralds' reflection fails to reconcile the "social order" and "action", both of which are
terms in a dilemma recognized by all sociologists. By favouring social structure it reaches
a deadlock: at the very most it illustrates the incidence of global conditions on social actors
who appear without real power or autonomy. Only the structures and state apparatus are
attributes of a real efficiency, while the necessary elements for action remain diluted in a
relatively strict structural determinism which forbids the metamorphosis of feelings of
identity into national awareness.
In order to prevent such objections F. Constant in a "prayer to insert" immediately states
his twofold intention: to avoid his own political prejudices and to propose within the
framework of his current research a new approach based on methodological individualism.
From this point of view, his work, La Retraite aux Flambeaux is part of a significant and
welcome evolution of reflection on West Indian society Distancing himself from the
explanatory models which dominate the intellectual scene, he provides us a fine rigorous
description of political reality in Martinique.
The analysis starts with a historical perspective. Without doubt, the events related are
relatively well known: the emergence of a local political class which has marked the
collective conscience through popular leaders as Henry Lemery, Victor Severe, Joseph
Lagrosilliere. However, Fred Constant must be credited for bringing to light the rules of the
working of a colonial democracy, for having specified the foundations of the power of
political leaders. These foundations continue to exist today because the past continues to
help us understand the present. Moreover we have a better sense of the real nature of
electoral competition in Martinique. Within a context influenced by the providence of the
State (which is the main supplier of resources), and with the persistence of a society of
resourceful people who are fundamentally consumer-oriented, the vote is above all an act
of allegiance, a tribute to services rendered, a sign of personal dependance and of intense
interpersonal relations. This act of allegiance does not entirely exclude a certain ideological
control over an electorate traumatized by the prospect of a break with the metropolis. In this
respect, the two examples taken from the municipal elections of 1983 expose the spirit of
political life in Martinique: "Mome Bleu" where control of power is based on the strategy
of "reactivation" of a pre-established network of personal contacts; in "Morne Orange", the
successful strategy for the conquest of power was established long before the electoral
campaign through a network of relationships which influence the entire area. However the
author is not satisfied with an examination of the clientelistic relationship between the
electorate and their leaders. He also displays an interest in the observation of the relation-
ship between the State delegates and the local representatives, he substitutes the myth of the
omnipotent civil servant imposing the will of the State at a local level with an analysis
which reveals informal arrangements between the actors. Far from being the passive
victims of an aggravated jacobinism, the locally elected leaders negotiate with the
metropolitan representative (the Prefect) on the implementation and adjustment of rules to
the particular context in Martinique. Here local power appears to be situated in individual
ties of solidarity with the Prefect, a relationship which is a great deal more important than
the collective strategy of the local leaders; a situation that decentralization and its
redistribution of power has not really changed.
However decentralization has crystalized political debate and substantially changed the
strategy of political parties. A double movement appears to be taking shape. The
departmentalist right wing is trying desperately to benefit politically from this recent
reform which it opposed in the past, while the left wing, formerly autonomist, is now
struggling to get closer to its metropolitan allies. Can this be a sign of large scale political
integration in which independentist demands have been marginalized?
The approach F. Constant used in his analysis is certainly innovative. Rejecting global
social categories, he deliberately opts for a methodological analysis which allows for social
action. However this is not simply a discussion of self-interests of disembodied actors. The
author endeavours to describe the social environment in which the actors practice their
strategies and the author moves quite easily between these strategies and the world in which
they develop. While calling on the spirit of methodological individualism, he tries to
protect this social reality "sui generis" which cannot simply be reduced to the confronta-
tion of individual interests and which, in fact logically speaking, pre-exists the role of the
We must also mention that F. Constant seems to create a narrow link between the
society he studies, having qualified it as individualist from the outset, and the approach he
uses. Two problems ensue from this. First; how to explain the individualism which impreg-
nates social behaviour in Martinique? Is it a question of an inherent tendency of a society
formed by social structures inherited from the plantation era, structures which favoured
personal dependencies? Is it a question of a phenomenon inherent in a particular culture or
does it result simply from the strategic capacities of actors exchanging resources? The
author remains silent on this issue.
Second; recourse to methodological individualism is justified by the necessity to appeal
to "categories which conform to the reality of the object under investigation" (p. 20) and by
the necessity, heuristically speaking, to match the sociological individualism which charac-
terized the object. This presents a problem since the methodology one employs and the
reality one wishes to understand are two distinct procedures which do not coincide in the
way the author suggests they do: the first consists of qualifying a research object and the
second of favouring a method.4 Fortunately F. Constant bypasses the difficulty by moving
from individual behaviour to the role and functioning of institutions and their influence on
the actors. In so doing he brings to mind a reality which, even if it is essentially in-
dividualistic, does not necessarily exclude a holistic approach. Basically it seems clear that
any investigation which is directed at the French West Indies should be intended to
enlighten both the macro and the micro while allowing movement between them both.
J.C. William uses an entirely different procedure in his thesis Compere Lapin et
Compere Mulet: Metissage et comportements socio- politiques a la Martinique.The title is
itself suggestive and significant of a problematic which claims to be heterodoxical. Drawn
from the West Indian bestiary,he symbolically throws in on one hand "Compere Lapin", a
smart rabbit placed at the center of the analysis to present the mulatto similarly situated in
the centre of Martiniquais society. On the other hand "Compere Mulet" who signifies the
slave, resigned to his position but capable of a certain resourcefulness. The procedure he
uses is unusual; having underlined the inadequacy of the usual tools of the social analysis
to capture a fleeting reality, J.C. William, without further hesitation dismisses Marxist
analysis. The following formulation for example should be clarified: "Marxism helps to
understand the "mechanism" of the Martiniquais collectivity as a whole. However, it leaves
unexplained a number of phenomena which are important because of the atypical character
of the object under study, and the hypertrophy of the superstructure" (p. 39). he also
challenges with just cause the approach of the periodization of history which neglects the
phenomena of supex imposition at the time, and consequently the complexity of the existing
structures as well as the intersecting economic, social and political forces at work in
society. The author prefers to draw from a number of concurrent and complementary
approaches inspired at once by history, economics and psychoanalysis. He does not hesitate
to consult French West Indian literature in the process.
Without doubt, J. C. William's work owes a great deal to traditional French West
Indian thought, which dates back to Cesaire, Fanon and Glissant. The tradition of this
indigenous thinking attempts to explain behaviour that is sometimes difficult to decipher
and sometimes disarming for the outside observer behaviour of a people bent beneath the
weight of a colonial past and on a continual search for their identity. At the same time, we
can consider that in William's analysis there is a suggestion of a sort of palingenesiss":
concepts created by predecessors are enriched and often abandoned for new notions
judged more adequate for the content of the analysis. Moreover even if the setting has not
developed, the historical actors realize that their role is getting more precise. In particular
the mulatto class is presented as having fulfilled the function determined by Martiniquais
history and by the formulation of economic, social and political demands of having found
their just place in the centre of a growing society. As a result the author's thesis can be
summarized as follows: the code which can be used to decipher the organization, the
functioning and the trajectory of a confused society can be found in the ambivalent desire
for recognition characteristic of this mulatto class. A result himself of biological interbreed-
ing, the mulatto confronts conflicting desires: the urge to mimic the white colonist culture,
and the urge to affirm his difference. With this new code, J.C. William devotes himself to
reexamining the following conclusions.
After the French Revolution, the mulattos who had participated in the master-slave
relationship in the colonies have positioned themselves in Martinique as an intermediate
class bent on achieving their social aspirations. The contrast in the role played by the
mulatto in other societies is noteworthy. In Haiti and Guadeloupe, for example, the
differences are striking: in Haiti, as architects of a struggle for independence against the
"non-whites", the mulattos strengthened their power once the initial objective of inde-
pendence was achieved by relying on still vibrant racism, to improve on their dominant
economic position. In Guadeloupe the elimination of the whites under the Convention and
the repression of the freedom fighters under the consulate removed the mulattos from social
and economic activity.
Although financially more successful than the black ex-slaves, the Martiniquais mulat-
tos were frustrated with the disparity between the status conceded to them by the colonial
system and the role they occupied in society. In response, they launched themselves into a
frantic struggle to obtain equal rights with the whites, directing their cause at metropolitan
public opinion (Bisette case). Was it a fight for political and economic equality or for the
social status of the whites which has forever remained inaccessible? In any case, it is this
thrust which is at the root of the integrationist demands.
The successful achievement of these demands began in the 1870s when the French
Republic, in the process of strengthening itself, accorded rights to the local culture by
granting new elective positions and representative functions. The evolution of these
changes was crowned in 1946 by the assignment to Martinique of departmental status. This
conquest of republican institutions benefitted from the support of the black population
which remained in a state of psychological dependence on the "master" despite the
abolition of slavery. William illustrated this dependence by citing references to the exist-
ence of mimicry as well as other behavioral characteristics (in evidence even today) and
claims these behaviours have helped nickname the Martiniquais "l'homme du plaisr" ("The
man of pleasure").
Since the end of the 19th century, economic and cultural mutations have resulted in
occasionally violent struggles, notably in the agricultural sector. These struggles aim to
achieve social equality and to assert a difference. This mutation has resulted is the
emergence of a group of "new mulattos" that is to say blacks who "occupy the positions
previously reserved only for mulattos". (p. 272).
According to William, during the 1930s the assertions of "difference" were most
pronounced on the cultural level while the phenomenon of imitation or mimicry was
emerging in the economic sector. This continual vacillation between two logics which
interrelate confuses political and institutional demands as well as the political situation
itself. But it aids in our comprehension of the ambivalence of a political process to
understand that this process is defined by a dilemma in the mulatto mentality itself.
In this way, J.C. William isolates historical periods differentiated according to variable
doses of the urge to mimic the metropolitan society on the one hand, and to assert with
pride a difference on the other. At the culmination of these two apparently opposite logics
we find a society, "set at odds" which the author qualifies as "atypical" fitting no known
taxonomy. Clearly, J.C. William is trying to extricate himself from classical analysis of
French West Indian society. However he does this using several sophisms which, without
harming the essential quality of his work, open him to criticism related to the concepts used
to describe this reality.
The notions of "jamming" and atypicc" often used by the author in fact present real
problems. How can these analytic categories be allowed for the categorization of Martini-
quais society only? Should we understand by "society sets at odds" a reality which manages
to escape from the grip of the usual conceptual tools just because it is governed by the
dialectic and difference, the latter itself capable of deception? Is it just a matter of
characterizing the object of the study? If so we have no choice but to admit that the reality
is never directly accessible. Whatever the object of his study, the social science researcher
should devote himself to bringing to light the buried social mechanism which functions in
the society. His task is to "sort out" or clarify the real. In other words, the notion of
"jamming" as the author uses it appears to have two meanings: it indicates a reality which
is not directly accessible to the observer, that is to say at best a truism, which cannot be
challenged, it also allows for the characterization of a society according to its distinct
features inherited from a singular history. In both cases, we still have to demonstrate the
pertinence of the term.
Similarly, the notion of atypic as a concept or methodological tool appears to have a
limited scope. Admittedly the refusal to confront the issue with models which remain
isolated from the work is partly justified although it is equally illusory to choose and
then compare scattered elements across several societies. In this case, it leads J.C. William
to avoid any comparative analysis whatsoever despite his denial, to set up Martiniquais
reality according to irreducible specifications. It appears that he is in fact paying tribute to
a clearly perceptible tendency in French West Indian research and in political discussion.
This tendency consists of conferring a role of Deus ex Machina according to local par-
ticularities in explanatory systems. For example, the author proposes that the relationship
between the Martiniquais citizen and his mayor is both significant and unique. The main
demand of the citizen is that his mayor in order to be elected is born in the commune; if so
he then willingly accepts to place his fate in the hands of the mayor. Is it a perfect remnant
of plantation society as mentioned by the author? We should note that such behaviour,
amplified in Martinique by the existence of a community of close personal inter-relations,
can quite easily be found in other regions.
From here it is difficult to discern the base on which the atypicc" concept can be
postulated. Where is the norm or the referent? As there is no room for comparison which
would lead to an enlargement of the field of investigation, we cannot lay too much
emphasis on the concept. We regret that the author who was able to distinguish distinctive
features of Martiniquais, Guadeloupean and Haitian models, did not persevere in his
analysis. The illustration arranged around a simple plot (the urge to mimic the assertion of
difference) allows for the entry of a "cultural" explanation, and places his work in the
middle of a confrontation between generalizing knowledge and individualizing
knowledge.5 The choice of the second option must be made with caution as it runs the risk
of locking the researcher into the singularity of a particular case, as a result he may end up
comparing cultural features among themselves and extricating the invariant aspects of this
culture in order to illustrate its particularity.
Should we then be surprised if the author moves from a reality qualified from the start
as atypical to a procedure which is itself atypical? Here the real problem concerns the
cohesion of the object of study with the methods and categories used. Do the latter come
within the province of taxonomy which is only justified by the postulate of an atypic
theme? This is in fact the impression we are left with, that is, of a process which performs
a complete circle while it forges a system of specific explanation in order to remain in
keeping with the reality. Furthermore, this impression is reinforced by the absence of
confrontation with related concurrent or complementary problematic which would con-
tribute to the "opening up" of the analysis and the discernment of its scope. For example,
the hegelian dialectic of the universal and the particular, the analysis of Tocqueville in
"jealous egalitarianism" in the French collectivities and associated ambiguities of be-
haviour, and the distinction made by Habermas between the different sources of legitimiza-
tion could have all contributed to this opening up.
As a final remark, we cannot but notice the passages dedicated to Aime Cesaire which
betray the limitless admiration that J.C. William has for the poet. The few pages dedicated
to Cesaire quickly turn into an apology. The author of Calhier d' un retour au pays natal is
presented as the first to manage to reach the necessary level of understanding of historical
progression. He tried very early in the game to reconcile assimilation and the assertion of
difference (pp. 304, 327). Appealing to the verdict of the censors, William underlines the
fact that the "Cesaireian" reasoning, continually informed by and adapted to a dynamic
economic and political context illustrated an indisputable constancy and a reassertion of the
will to defend particularities. To this end, the author forgets some obvious facts. First that
Cesaire is above all the co-founder and the representative of the Negritude movement
which draws essentially from the field of western universalism; that as a political leader, he
is a "new mulatto" and is still the prisoner of his practice of state universalism.
These three works examinated demonstrate the richness and complexity of the French
West Indian societies. They also bear witness to the young discipline of political science in
the sense that previous to this new genre of works, there were very few studies that
approached according to scientific principles, most notably the application of rigorous
methodologies. Without doubt, in spite of their limitations, each work will stimulate in
future a more sophisticated field of inquiry.
NOTES & REFERENCES
1. See for example, Histoire economique de la Guadeloupe du XVIIe siecle a nos jours, Paris, Kar-
thala, 1986; Negritude et politique aux Antilles, Paris, Editions Caribeennes, 1977.
2. In the field of West Indian society, ideological oppression has produced a structured body of
mechanisms that in the encircling process of popular awareness have set up intangible barriers
which are all the more difficult to penetrate than the ramparts of Fort Saint-Charles and Fort
3 .J. Alexander, Theoretical Logic in Sociology, T.I, in The antinomies of classical thought: Marx
and Durkheim, Berkeley, Los Angeles, University of California Press, 1982, p. 11.
4. See for example P. Bimbaum, J. Leca, Sur l'individualisme, Paris, PFNSP, 1985, p. 15.
5. On this matter, we could refer to B. Badie's work, Culture et Politique, Paris, Economica, 1986,
BEACH SEINING IN THE WEST INDIES
JOHN E. ADAMS
Beach seining, also known as "jack haul seining" in the English-speaking Caribbean,
is a major form of fishing throughout the West Indies and accounts for more fish, by weight,
than any other traditional fishing technology in the region. Virtually every coastal com-
munity has at least one beach seine fishing enterprise with its complement of men, nets, and
boats. The purpose of this study is to examine the nature and importance of beach seining
as it exists in the West Indies today, based on field investigation, carried out in the Lesser
To most people living in the modem world the word "fishery" brings to mind large
steel-hulled vessels with trawler nets cruising the world's oceans for months at a time
gathering quantities of fish. Little known are the pre-modem, traditional fisheries, of the
type described in this paper. While one is highly capitalized, with fuel-driven fleets and
equipped with sophisticated devices to locate, land and store fish, the other is little-capital-
ized, with small vessels, nets, and a heavy expenditure of labour. While one scours the
oceans for months at a time, the other fishes nearby waters on a daily basis. While one
moves its catch through a network of trade channels to reach large urban markets, the other
supplies fish to local and nearby communities. Significantly, beach seining shares similar
characteristics with other forms of traditional fishing technologies in the regions, each
designed to gather numerous species of marine life to help sustain the protein requirements
of local populations.
Role of Salt Fish
Fishing was good around the islands, but Europeans did not come to their tropical
possessions to establish fisheries, not even to support their estates and small commercial
and administrative centres attached to the plantation system.t Their primary purpose was to
produce profit-yielding crops for export, beginning with tobacco, worked by indentured
servants in the early 1600s followed by sugar cane, worked by African slaves in the late
1600s. As more land was devoted to the production of export crops, revenues increased
and British proprietors began to rely more heavily on imported foods, since it had become
clear that it was profitable to use all the suitable land for export crops and to feed the
plantation workers on cheap imported fleshfoods, mainly dry salt codfish, better-known as
"salt fish," pickled herring, and salt pork, supplemented with locally-grown crops such as
plantain, yams and cassavas, cultivated on small "provision grounds" allotted to workers on
hillsides and marginal land. Until recently, salt fish, imported from the north Atlantic
fisheries, has been the staple fleshfood eaten by practically everyone nearly everywhere in
the West Indies. As a major item of trade, cured codfish had two important advantages: low
cost and product storability. Planters purchased the lowest grade of salt fish from the North
American fisheries, the so-called "refuse cod" that was rejected by the catholic countries of
Europe and the North American colonies. In terms of convenience, salt fish could be
transported and stored indefinitely without spoilage, thus alleviating the problem of having
to depend on fresh meat which became rancid within a few hours of landing or butchering.
Salt fish was also popular among slaves because it lent a spicy flavour to their provision
crops. The importance of salt fish and its widespread use attracted the attention of colonial
One of the better descriptions of dietary practices of the British possessions comes
from M.G. Lewis, the owner of a plantation on the southwest coast of Jamaica which he had
visited from 1815-1817. In his journal Lewis notes the importance of salted food in the diet
of his slaves: "these vegetables [plantains, bananas, yams, and callaloo] from the basis of
negro sustenance; but the slaves also receive from their sources a regular weekly allowance
of red herring and salt meat, which they seem to relish; and, indeed, they are so passionately
fond of salted provisions, that, instead of giving them fresh beef, I have been advised to
provide some hogsheads of salt fish"2
Mrs. Carmichael in her revealing description of the dietary customs of the different
classes in St. Vincent in the 1820s, observed that "salt fish is the favourite food of the
negro, and they prefer it to salt beef or pork," and later she added that "a Negro mother
would think it downright starvation if you were to deny her child of saltfish.:3 As a
condiment, as well as a fleshfood, salt fish was commonly included in the popular dishes,
and served at breakfast, the noon meal and at supper.
The freeing of the slaves in the British West Indies by the Emancipation Act in 1833,
had little effect on the West Indian dependence on imported meats. Throughout the 1850s,
for example, Trinidad imported nearly 6,000,000 kilos (1,300,000 lbs.) of processed meats
(dominated by salt fish) annually, while the island's fish production contributed little to the
economy. A half century later, Harry Vincent, in his engaging book: Sea Fish of Trinidad,
lamented the fact that Port-of-Spain, with a population of 50-60,000 had a daily consump-
tion of only 5,000 lbs. of fish, and went on to suggest ways to develop a fishery, which went
The dominance of salt fish in the diet of the labouring class was a costly burden on
the West Indian colonies and discouraged the development and expansion of local fisheries.
It appeared that the region would continue to rely on imported, processed fleshfoods far
into the future.
Then, incredibly, imports of salt codfish began to decline, slowly at first in the early
1960s and then precipitously after 1965.
As more codfish was being processed for the frozen fish trade in the United States
and Western Europe, less cod was available for salting and drying, resulting in a sharp
increase in price. From 1965 to 1980 the retailprice of salt fishinSt.Lucia andSt. Vincent
advanced from 50 cents (E.C.) a pound to $4.50 a pound, a nine-fold increase in 15 years.5
The impact of price increases in relation to demand in St Lucia, over a five year period, is
shown in Table I.
In the words of one prominent merchant of Kingstown, St. Vincent, "salt fish was a
poor man's fish. Now it is a rich man's fish. No one buys it anymore.'6
As the demand for salt fish has been reduced to a trickle, in the Commonwealth
Caribbean, development authorities have turned to their local marine resources to help meet
the growing demand for low-cost fleshfoods. For the first time since Europeans settled the
West Indies, and used the islands to produce cash crops, local fish production began to
exceed the amount of imported fish on a fresh weight basis.
In St. Vincent this benchmark was reached in 1974 (Table II). Significantly, nearly
sixty percent of all fish landings, by weight, are seine-caught species. In St. Vincent, as well
as in other former British colonies, beach seining developed as the major form of fishing,
in supplying bulk quantities of fish at relatively low-cost to consumers. In the primary
market of Kingstown, St Vincent, seine-caught fish are considerably less expensive than
beef, pork and poultry and only half the retail price of fish caught by trolling or bottom
fishing which requires more man hours of effort per weight unit of catch.7
IMPORTS AND PRICES OF DRY-SALT CODFISH
IN ST. LUCIA, 1975-1979
$1,300 350 kilo.
1,000 275 -
700 200 -
Source: Fisheries Department, Castres, St Lucia.
*Column A and the dashed line depicts prices of salt fish in thousands of Eastern Caribbean (EC) dollars. (One
EC dollar has a value of 50c to the US dollar).
Column B and the solid line shows the quantity of imports in thousands of kilograms.
1975 1976 1977 1978
RELATIVE IMPORTANCE OF FRESH FISH TO IMPORTED DRY SALT COT
FISH IN ST. VINCENT
FROM 1958 THROUGH 1978
Dry salt cod fish Estimated landings Total of imported % of
fresh weight equivalent, of fresh fish, cod and local Fresh fish
in lbs.* in lbs. fish catch to salt fish
2,254,088 856,000 3,110,088 27.5%
3,145,507 795,000 3,940.507 20.2%
2,366,003 650,000 3,016,003 21.5%
2,281,490 730,000 3,011,490 24.2%
1,413,995 1,095,000 2,508,995 43.7%
1,303,696 1,600,000 2,903,696 54.9%
1,139,600 1,474,00 2,613,600 56.5%
861,709 1,730,000 2,591,709 67.6%
*Thc fresh weight equivalent of salt fish is 3.7 lbs.
Source: Fisheries Department, Kingston, St. Vincent, and the Annual Trade Reports published by the
Vincentian government, Kingston, St Vincent
Europeans Introduce Beach Seines
Beach seining is not only an ubiquitous enterprise in the West Indies it is also one of the
oldest techniques of marine capture. The big nets, used in Western Europe for centuries,
were an important item in the inventory of goods that Europeans brought with them to help
sustain themselves in the New World.
In the decades before the sugar trade had become established, settlers lived through
a difficult pioneer period depending on trade with the island-Caribs, irregular food ship-
ments from Europe, and subsistence activities to survive, including fishing; as they
prepared the land for tobacco and other cash crops for export. Beach seining was adopted
to provide workers with a source of meat and to help proprietors to defray the cost of
Beach seining is well-documented in the early colonial literature. The priest Labat,
writing in 1742, describing its use among African slaves in the French colonies8 and Ligon,
whose book on Barbados appeared in 1657, reported that a certain planter on Barbados
"hath of his own a sain to catch fish with all, which his own servants put out to sea, twice
or thrice a week, bring home all such of great and small fishes, as are near the shore".9 One
of the more revealing accounts of the use of seines on plantations was described by Barclay,
who was a resident proprietor of an estate in Jamaica in the 1820's.
Many of the larger properties on the sea-coast get a seine annually from England, which
is drawn every morning to procure a dish of fish for the plantation. Eight or ten fishermen
from different neighboring plantations join in drawing the seine; and each gets a dish of fish
for the estate to which he belongs, which he carries home in time for dinner, what may be
over a dish to each estate, they keep for their own use. The use of a seine is always allowed
to the negroes of the plantations when they wish it.lo
From the above accounts it appears that beach seining was widespread on the
plantations during the early colonial period. It existed as a maintenance activity for the
slaves, presumably to help defray the cost of imported salted meats, and as a hedge against
irregular shipments of food supplies that were frequently interrupted by storms at sea and
changing political conditions.
The beach seine consists of a rectangular wall of netting with spreaders at each end,
to which are fastened the hauling ropes. The net is suspended vertically in the water by
means of floats on the top line and leads on the bottom line. A set is made by leaving the
running end on the beach while a boat plays out the body of the net around the fish, bringing
the other end to a point farther on down the shoreline. Then the seine is slowly pulled to the
beach, enclosing the fish in a decreasing semi-circle. The length of the beach seine varies
from 30 to 100 metres (65-99 yds.).
Both pocket and wings are composed of a number of different mesh sections, each
with a different name. Stretched mesh sizes, measured diagonally from corner to comer;
ranges from one inch in the bunt to approximately six inches on the wings.I
Until the 1960s cotton twine was used in the manufacture of nets. Since then nylon
material has gained widespread acceptance. Nylon fiber is not only less expensive to
maintain than the cotton net but is also longer-wearing. The nylon threads are stronger and
can hold more fish without breaking. The fiber sheds water and does not become water-
Hauling the Seine
To successfully carry out seine operations, fishermen must have access to certain
facilities lying in close proximity to each other. These are:
A well-protected beach, sheltered from wind and surf;
A foreshore free of coral and rock obstructions to prevent the net from being
snagged or tom.
A strand of sufficient size from which to launch boats and dry out nets;
A look-out position above the water, near the launching beach.
In the rugged eastern islands of the Caribbean, seine fishing sites are restricted to
small sheltered embayments or coves on the west and south coasts of the islands. On a
number of prized seine fishing beaches in St. Lucia the length of the beach is too limited to
accommodate more than one seine net at a time, which has forced individual concerns to
adopt a pro rata system, whereby each concern has an opportunity to use the strand for a
limited period of time before the next enterprise can use the beach.
Twice daily, early in the morning and late in the afternoon, preparations are made for
setting the net A sentinel is stationed on high ground to detect the movement of fish in the
water below. Two boats with seven or eight men row out a short distance from shore. The
larger craft carries the seine which is neatly folded near the bow.
A signal from the look-out man alerts the crew to the presence of fish which are
detected by a slight ripple at the surface or a cloudy formation moving through the water.
Directed by arm signals or a flashing mirror from above, the seine crew proceeds to enclose
the school with the net. One wing of the seine is left with the anchor boat. As four men row
in a wide circle around the fish two others play out the net bringing the second wing back
to the first end, so that the fish are trapped in a circular wall of netting. It requires a
considerable amount of effort to haul the seine with its entrapped fish onto the beach. From
at least six to more than twelve individuals are required, with an equal number hauling on
Seine fishing is often a community affair in which men, women, and older children
gather on the beach and slowly pull both wings of the net. All those who assist are allowed
to help themselves to a calabash of fish for breakfast or dinner and fishermen often obtain
bait for troll-caught fish.
The best general season for seine fishing, in the Eastern Caribbean, is from March
through July. However, good hauls are sometimes made in February, August, and Septem-
ber. Fishermen report that schooling fish are most plentiful at the beginning of the rainy
season in May and June when the species move close in shore to spawn and feed. The
poorest season for catching seine fish extends from October through the middle of January.
High winds and surf restrict seining activity in December and the first part of January.
Movements of fish are unreliable and seine fishermen may wait for days or even
weeks before a school of fish beat inshore close enough to be enclosed by the big nets.
Beach seining captures many different species of fish that happen to be near the
shore when the seine is set, from pint-size herring to the larger predatory tunas, jacks and
occasionally a shark.
In St. Vincent, a small island, located near the southern extremity of the Lesser
Antilles, the leading seine-caught species is jackfish (selar crume nophthalmus) long a
favourite fleshfood of Vincentians. The popularity of jackfish was noted by Mrs. A.C.
Carmichael, wife of a resident planter, who, two decades before Emancipation (1938),
How many families are there at this moment,
whose dinner consists daily of jack-fish, either a
roasted plantain or yam, with occasionally as a treat, a
bit of salt pork. The jack-fish is indeed an excellent
fish, resembling the herring in size, and somewhat in
flavour also those who have been long settled, and
are accustomed to this style of living take it very
contentedly, and ask their intimate friend 'to come and
eat fish with them'.12
In a fish opinion survey, undertaken over a two month period in 1980, it was learned
that jackfish, together with snappers, kingfish and dolphin, were the most highly preferred
fish for eating. Informants consistently gave two reasons for liking the species: good flavor,
and its firm, white flesh. 3
At the same time, the herring-sized fish bad considerable demand among the poor, who
could not afford to purchase the other available fleshfoods in the market. Typically a
customer would purchase one or several fish to add "flesh" to his/her meal in the same
tradition that Vincentians prepared their dishes since seine fishing was introduced to the
island over two centuries earlier.
According to one Captain of a seining concern, the amount of fish landed by a single
net may exceed six boat loads of fish estimated at upwards of three tons.14
From the landing site fish is transported by boat to the large primary market of the
island, where it is sold to wholesalers (vendors). Cars and trucks also arrive at the landings
to pick up fish for distribution in the interior and windward coasts of the islands. Vendors
pack the fish in a tub filled with ice and make their sale from the trunk of their cars, parked
at a strategic location in the various neighborhoods to allow customers to reach them on
Much planning and labour are expended by the beach seining enterprises to maximize
fish production, but the market cannot always absorb their catches. To help solve the
problem of gluts, government authorities have prompted the construction of cold storage
facilities to keep excess fish for later distribution and sale. At the same time, refrigerators
have become a common feature in household for those who can afford them. However, the
majority of individuals have a bias against purchasing fish not sold on the day of their
capture, believing that chilled, iced and frozen fish are "trinted," less favorable and has less
nutritive value than fresh fish caught within a few hours of landing. For these reasons
individuals prefer to buy fish directly from fishermen at the landing points or from traveling
vendors who transport fresh catches shortly after their capture.
The marked preference for recently caught fresh fish has made it difficult for cold
storage outlets to sell fish and gluts remain a problem facing the seine industry.
Sharing the Proceeds
Seine fishing is an expensive operation, involving not only a substantial capital
investment in nets and boats, but also a considerable expenditure for twine and other
material to keep the equipment in good repair. To cover his expenses and to make a profit,
the seine owner deducts half of the gross earnings received from the sale of the catch.
In a poor season the seine owner is barely able to maintain his nets and boats. On the
other hand, he stands to make a considerable sum of money if he makes several large hauls
and sells the fish for a good price.
By West Indian standards, the heads of seining operations in the islands are fairly
prosperous, however, seine fishing is a risky and highly competitive business and there are
instances in which a seine owner was bankrupted, through a succession of poor catches.
After the seine owner deducts his share and gives a portion of it to the seine's Captain (who
oversees the operation,) the remaining half is divided equally anrtkg the crew members.
Unless a large catch is made and sold at a good price in the fish markets, their reward is
Like most other fishermen in the West Indies, those who work the seines live barely
above the level of poverty (some would call it property). They do not entertain the notion
of fishing as a life long commitment, but strictly as a temporary, stop-gap measure until
"something better comes along." Most prefer to emigrate to the United States, Canada or
England but failing that their second choice is to find local employment that is secure and
offers a pay check. For these individuals on the seine crews, or any other traditional type
fishery in the West Indies, fishing is a day-to-day struggle to survive when so much
depends upon the vicissitudes of nature and market conditions. This labor intensive in-
dustry offers few economic benefits.
Beach seining has long been a provider of relatively low cost flesh protein in the
West Indies, a function that became particularly important in the early 1960's when the
price of imported, processed meats became prohibitively expensive to the general popula-
tion. The former fleshfood staple, salt fish, has been replaced by seine-caught fish which
has dietary appeal among all income levels. As such, beach seining will remain an
ubiquitous and important industry in the West Indies.
There is, however, a serious environmental concern. Given the intensity of beach
seining, how long can the industry provide large amounts of mature fish to meet the
demand? Virtually all of the beach seining sites, which have the desired characteristics for
getting and hauling nets, are being used, with a number of beaches servicing upwards of
three seining enterprises.
In the Grenadines, a group of small islands lying between St. Vincent and Grenada,
fishermen have had to resort to tying their seines offshore and running a line from the net
to the coast to keep the net from drifting. Seining enterprises are in competition with each
other to reserve favourable beaches for themselves. Normal seining (one enterprise with
one beach), pro rata seining, and tying the seines have resulted in intensive fishing presence
along the coasts, and subsequent depletion of mature stocks. In 1980 a number of fishermen
expressed their concern about catching smaller numbers of larger sized fish than they had
As the West Indian population continues to expand, greater demand will be placed
on aquatic marine resources and at some point in the near future the amount of seine-caught
fish will fail to meet that demand.
1.Northern latitude waters are more productive of fish than tropical marine habitats. However, there
are large seasonal movements of fish in the Caribbean, including tuna (Thunnus spp.), king mack-
erel (Scomberomorus cavalla), dolphin (Coryphaena hippurus) and other species that could have
supported small scale fishery development. The point is that West Indian proprietors were not inter-
ested in fishing except as a recreational activity.
2.Lewis, Matthew G. Journal of a West India Proprietor, 1815- 1817. Edited by Mona Wilson.
Reprinted by the Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York. 1929, p. 94.
3. Carmichael, A.C. Domestic Manners and Social Condition of the White, Coloured and Negro
Population of the West Indies, Witteke, Treachers and Co., London. 1833, p. 190.
4.Vincent, Harry, The Sea Fish of Trinidad, Port-of-Spain, Appendix (Part I), 1910.
5.Eastem Caribbean currency. One E.C. dollar is valued at .50 cents to the U.S. dollar.
6.Interview with P.H. Viera; Kingstown, St. Vincent, May 1966. There remains a residual demand
for salt fish in the preparation of "bul jowl" (French derivation for burnt mouth?), in which codfish
is boiled to remove the excess salt and shredded over a mixture of onion, tomatoes, a hard boiled
egg, plantain and coconut oil. Elderly informants sentimentally recalled the recipe as something
they ate while growing up.
7. Adams, John E. "The fisheries and fish markets of St. Vincent Island, Eastern Caribbean." Sin-
gapore Journal of Tropical Geography, Vol. 6, No. 1, 1985, pp. 1-12. In 1980 middle-sized jackfish
were sold at .45 (E.C.) a pound compared to dolphin (fin fish) and mackerel that were priced at 95
cents per pound. On a fresh weight basis cured cod is nearly 2 1/2 times more expensive than jack-
8. Labat, R.P. Jean-Baptiste. Nouveau voyage aux isles L'Amerique. Paris, T. Le Gras. 1742.
9. Ligon, Richard. A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbados. Peter Parker, London. 1673,
10. Barclay, Alexander. A Practical View of the Present State of Slavery in the West Indies, Smith,
Elder and Co., London. 1826, pp. 329-330.
11. A description of the seine net and the seine fishing operation is described by John E. Adams in
The Marine Industries of the St. Vincent Grenadines, unpublished Ph.D. thesis. Geography Depart-
ment, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota. 1970.
12. Carmichael, op. cit., pp. 52-53.
13.The preferences for fish in the Eastern Caribbean is based on a fish opinion survey undertaken in
1979/1980, by John E. Adams, Professor Emeritus, University of Minnesota in Attitudes Affecting
Food Habits: A Study of West Indian Attitudes Toward Fish as a Food. Division of Behavioural
and Neural Sciences, National Science Foundation. Washington D.C., Contr. No. NSF/DAR
14.Interview with Sid Hazel, Bequia Island, January, 1966.
Adams, John E. The Marine Industries of the St. Vincent Grenadines. 1970 Unpublished PhD.
Thesis. Geography Department, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Adams, John E. Attitudes Affecting Food Habits: A Study of 1980 West Indian Attitudes Toward
Fish as a Food. Division of Behavioural and Neural Sciences. National Science Foundation, Contr.
No. NSF/DAR 8008445. Washington, D.C.
Adams, John E. "The fisheries and fish markets of St. Vincent Island, 1985 Eastern Caribbean."
Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography. vol. 6, No. 1. 1985.
Barclay, Alexander. A Practical View of the Present State of Slavery 1826 in the West Indies.
Smith Elder and Co., London.
Carmichael, A.C. Domestic Manners and Social Condition of White, Coloured and Negro Popula-
tion of the West Indies. Whittake Treachers and Co., London.
Labat, R.P. Jean Baptiste. Nouveau voyage aux Iles L'Amerique, 1742 Paris, T.T. Le Gras.
Ligon, Richard. A True and Exact History of the Island ofBarbados. 1673 Peter Parker and Sons,
Lewis, Matthew G. Journal of a West India Proprietor, 1815-1817. 1929 Edited by Mona Wilson.
Reprinted by the Houghton-Mifflin Co., Boston and New York, 1929.
Vincent, Harry. The Sea Fish of Trinidad. Appendix II, Port-of- Spain, Trinidad. (Publisher un-
THEMES OF WAR, POLITICS AND HEALTH EDUCATION IN
Among the pervasive components of the mass media, music has been described as a
powerful communicative force that, because of its pervasiveness, can affect moods, at-
titudes, emotions and behaviour (Brown & Hendee, 1989). Music can be used for educa-
tion, rebellion, relaxation, socialization, and to express solidarity among oppressed groups.
Because of these functions, the lyrics have been analyzed, and certain types of music have
been denied air play (Frith, 1987; Matta, 1988; Brown & Hendee, 1989). Third World
countries like Zaire, however, have recognized the impact popular musicians might play in
health education, and have encouraged these artists to participate in the process of educat-
ing the citizens (Population Reports, 1989). Caribbean calypsonians believe that their
purpose is to educate the people: "Calypso is to inform, educate and entertain. Music has a
job. Hearing songs that say nothing but jam is not good enough" (Superblue, 1992, p. 29).
Although health-related calypso songs or lyrics are limited, it is evident that some
calypsonians do attempt to deliver health education messages in their music, and try to
present them in a culturally relevant manner. The questions then are "to what extent do
these messages reach the audience, and influence their behaviour? and why were the tunes
so difficult to locate?" Suggested answers may lie in a number of factors surrounding the
development and dissemination of the music.
The mass media have been posited to play an important role in changing the
psychological make-up of the population, so that members would become more amenable
to supporting national political and development goals (Lemer, 1958; Schramm, 1964;
Rogers, 1976; Matellart, 1983). Others have found that interpersonal communication is also
essential for attitude change, especially in situations where individuals have become
skeptical of the official messages (Cuthbert, 1981; McLean, 1986). Politicians continue to
believe in the power of the media, and when possible try to own and control access to it
(Matta, 1988; Lent, 1990; Atheide, 1991).
In this paper, I will identify health education themes in Calypsos to determine the role
that calypsonians have played in the promotion of health among the English-speaking
populations of selected islands in the Caribbean. The impact of these artists in the areas of
politics and war has been described, but no reviews have been located concerning their
handling of health topics (Hill, 1972; Warner, 1982; Manning, 1985; Hill, 1989). It was
also difficult to find original works on the subject, since many lyrics are pirated without
reference to their source. Tentative conclusions will therefore be drawn from the limited
selection of calypsos lyrics available to the author.
To begin, a brief description of the historical and social context of the calypso will be
presented, then the handling of selected social and political issues, followed by health
themes. Changes in the calypso as a result of political and other influences will be
discussed. I will conclude with an assessment of the role of calypsonians as health
educators. My discussion will be focused primarily on artists from Trinidad and Tobago,
Antigua and Barbados.
History and Social Conditions
The history of English speaking Caribbean Nations has been influenced by the slave
trade, Western European colonialism, United States imperialism, wars, and other factors
that have affected most of the Western World. These nations include the Bahamas and
Bermuda in the north, Trinidad and Tobago in the south and Belize and Guyana on the
South American continent (Parry, Sherlock, and Maingot, 1989). Culturally, Suriname is
included in the group, although linguistically it is not strictly part of the English-speaking
Each country has had different experiences with colonialism. Since the 16th century,
until independence Barbados was continuously ruled by Britain. Other Caribbean ter-
ritories have changed hands between the colonial powers, and then later returned to Britain.
Although ties with Britain were not served after the territories became independent,
economic agreements among the groups, and between them and the United States and
Canada became stronger (Parry, Sherlock, and Maingot, 1989).
The territories differ in the strength of their economies, and on the bases on which these
have been established. Some, like Jamaica and Guyana with bauxite, and Trinidad with oil
and asphalt, have had natural resources that have provided them with great economic
booms as long as the world markets were favourable. Most of the others have depended on
agricultural products such as bananas, citrus fruits, spices and sugar cane. Many now
depend on light industries, and tourism for their source of wealth. In a few countries
revenue is received from offshore banks established to avoid US, Canadian and European
taxes (Parry, Sherlock and Maingot, 1989). However, because a proportion of the deposits
are thought to come from the proceeds of drugs, and from United States citizens wanting to
avoid the tax laws, the banks provide a continuing source of annoyance to the United States
government. Beginning in the 1960s when most became independent, many countries have
also received development funds, and at times, preferential trade agreements from Britain
and Canada. The I Tnited States developed a greater strategic interest in the area to help
contain the spread of communism in the region. Agreements provided under the Caribbean
Basin Regional Aid Plan only helped few of the local economies. Costa Rica, Jamaica and
the Dominican Republic received most of the funds (Caroll, 1984; Parry, Sherlock and
Maingot, 1989). The economies have also been hurt by: poor planning, inconsistent
policies of the donor countries, abandonment by foreign-owned major industries; hur-
ricanes, droughts, plant diseases, and by world economic fluctuations (Autry, 1986; Parry,
Sherlock and Maingot, 1989).
Because of their strategic locations, the countries have at times been pressured by the
United States to implement policies designed to prevent threats to the United States and its
sovereignty (Carroll, 1984). Jamaica, for example, was required to destroy its marijuana
fields to reduce the quantity of the drug being shipped to the United States (Cumberbatch
and Duncan, 1990). The costs to the territories of implementing these decisions have been
high. Currently, most of the economies are suffering under the burden of foreign debt
aggravated by policies imposed by the International Monetary Fund.
Politically, all countries have liberal democratic traditions, although Guyana, Suriname
and Grenada have experienced military rule and one-party governments (Carroll, 1984).
There were riots in Jamaica in 1966, 1968 and 1984, and in Trinidad in 1970, and a war in
Grenada in 1983. Generally, however, the main outlets for political criticisms have been the
music of the people, particularly the calypso (Hylton, 1975; Warner, 1982; Hill, 1989;
Parry, Sherlock and Maingot, 1989).
Calypso are songs deeply rooted in the culture of the English-speaking Caribbean
people. The rhythm, music, dances and lyrics originate in the songs of praise, derision, and
blame used by West African natives who were captured as slaves, and brought to the
English-speaking Caribbean (Hill, 1972; Hylton, 1975; Austin, 1976; Rohlehr, 1992a).
First sung in African-based Creole, they have been influenced over the years by French,
English and Spanish languages, American jazz, Latin American music, government censor-
ship, immigration, inter-ethnic conflict and urbanization (Hylton, 1975; Davies, 1985;
Rohlehr, 1992a). calypsos are used primarily for entertainment, but have also been featured
in times of celebrations, praise, affirmation, social and political commentary and protest,
information and agitation, and to analyze male-female relationships (McLean, 1986; Regis,
1988; Rohlehr, 1992b). The original songs consisted of protests and ridicule against the
exploitation by slave masters, and deal with the frustrations in the daily lives of the slaves
(Hylton, 1975; Tanifeani, 1988; Juneja, 1989). "Music was the medium whereby they could
create the moments of sanity, relaxation and communal bonding necessary for survival"
(Liverpool 1991, p. 43). However, even though calypsos are products of the historical
experiences of the Africans in the Caribbean, their themes have not been exclusively
insular, but have included important world as well as local events in the lyrics (Hill, 1972;
McLean, 1986; Warner, 1988).
Although calypsos did not develop in the same way in the other countries as in Trinidad
and Tobago, they were the primary music in the Anglophone Caribbean countries until they
were challenged by the Jamaican ska, rock-steady and reggae in the 1960s (Hylton, 1975).
In Trinidad, the calypso was introduced as a serious art form around 1970 and focused
primarily on themes of social reform, retribution, judgment, justice and accountability
(Hylton, 1975; Manning, 1985). The Mighty Gabby, the most influential calypsonian,
severely criticized the administration of the former Prime Minister, the late Tom Adams,
including the latter's support for the United States invasion of Grenada.
As has been mentioned previously, calypsonians deal with a great variety of topics in
their music. Hylton (1975), Warner (1983) and Hill (1989) have described the theme of war
in calypsos. Beginning as early as 1797, few major wars, or local uprisings escaped
commentary by these artists. The music was used to express guarded support for allies, to
ridicule the enemy, and to inform the populace of events as they occurred. Thus, in Trinidad
at least, the time of the First and Second World War were periods in time when the calypso
functioned primarily as the poor people's newspaper. Calypsonians appeared to have an
excellent grasp of the issues, and described them in their songs (Hill, 1989).
The influence of calypso on local politics has also been extensively analyzed, since
criticism of government and officialdom is common in calypso throughout the English-
speaking Caribbean. Warner (1988) estimates that 80-90 percent of Barbadian calypso deal
with political themes. Similarly, Rohlehr (1985) identified almost 250 political calypsos
during the period 1970-1984. Calypsonians have been credited with influencing the out-
come of elections in different countries (Hylton, 1974; Manning, 1985; Warner, 1988; Hill,
1989; Juneja, 1989; Rohlehr, 1992b). In Trinidad for example the 1970 demonstrations
against the government, and later the defeat of the People's National Movement Party were
attributed to calypsos written during those times (Hylton, 1975; Juneja, 1989). Rohlehr
(1985) believed that during the period 1970-1984, calypsonains essentially functioned as
the official opposition to the government, since the elected opposition party was ineffec-
tive. Such is the power of the calypsonian to sway public opinion for or against political
leaders, that their lyrics have been debated in parliaments, or have been quoted by
politicians. At different periods they have been censored and denied air play on the radios
(Manning, 1985; McLean, 1986; Rohlehr, 1992b). Warner (1988) has indicated that,
because calypsos also serve as a medium of entertainment, their messages have at times
been considered trivial,. he disagrees with this assessment, stating that, in calypsos, "the
most serious issues can receive what looks to an outsider like frivolous treatment, but is
actually cleverly disguised criticism and analysis" (p. 56). Other themes identified in
calypsos are celebration of good and bad times, religion, education, unemployment and
international issues including African nationalism (Warner, 1982; Davies, 1985; Warner,
Freedom of Information and The Calypso
Since 1838, the calypso had been associated with the carnival (Hylton, 1975), and it was
about the time of the War that the first censorship of the calypso and of carnival appeared.
The official newspaper and the churchmen wanted the carnival banned since it seemed
inappropriate for some people to be enjoying themselves while others were dying in the
war. The carnival and its music (now primarily associated with the lower classes), were
considered immoral, and it was recommended that it be stopped permanently. In the 1930s,
attempts were made to censure the Trinidadian calypsos because of their political content.
The decision was revoked, because of strong opposition by the calypsonians and their many
followers (Hylton 1975). Hill (1989) reports that the carnival was'suspended for the
duration of the war, and that although the calypso tents were allowed to remain open they
were closely monitored. There was much opposition to the prohibition, and in the end, the
calypso and carnival were reinstated.
Over the years, some composers have had to struggle to have their music played on the
government-owned radio stations, especially when their tunes have been critical of govern-
ment policy. Lent (1990), has indicated that in several Caribbean countries, the government
owns or controls the radio and television stations. In Guyana, for example, the government
owns the only radio station. In Trinidad, the television and one of the two radio stations are
government owned. In Barbados one radio station is privately owned, while the other,
through government owned, is independently operated. Nevertheless, it is the elites who
control the media, and can refuse access to those who appear to support the view of the
masses, or who are critical of politicians and members of the ruling class. In Barbados,
Gabby's tunes critical of the politicians were banned from the Government-owned radio
station in 1983 and 1984. One result of this was a debate in parliament introduced by the
opposition to discover why the ban was necessary. Furthermore, the Prime Minister, took
personal legal action against Gabby for defamation of character in one of his songs
(Manning, 1985). In Trinidad, in 1972 and 1973, attempts were made to discredit political
singers like Hollis "Chalkdust" Liverpool. In Grenada, prior to the 1979 Revolution, songs
critical of government were denied a spot on the radio (McLean, 1986). Jamaican music
was also subjected to censorship. A few calypso tunes were played on the radio stations,
while ska (a predecessor of reggae) music was initially outlawed in favor of North
American tunes. Hylton (1975) has described bow "Third class" musicians like Byron Lee
had originally ignored the local music, then played it following endorsement by Europeans
and Canadians. According to Hylton, Byron Lee received fame and fortune while the
musicians who had composed the music were ignored.
Health Themes in Calypso
Until recently, preventive services in the Caribbean focused primarily on family plan-
ning, environmental health, nutrition, and infant immunization. However, money and effort
devoted to these areas have not been adequate. Frankson (1990) has stated that too great a
priority has been accorded tertiary care, and that preventive services have suffered by
comparison. According to Frankson, "many laymen still do not know the difference
between 'sugar' in the blood, and 'sugar' in the urine... how to respond to a fever,... or the
significance of 'high blood pressure'" (p. 167). The author recommended that, beginning in
childhood, people needed to be educated to enable them to take greater responsibility for
Health themes in calypso have been evident since the late forties and fifties, and have
reflected some of the health problems prevalent at the time. Thus, during an outbreak of
meningitis, people were advised to keep up their health and:
Drink cold eddo* soup
A piece of boiled shark
On mornings two fried ';ggs
And break meningitis l',gs
.*Edible root of a species of taro
Not all messages are this clearly expressed, artists preferring to use double entendre,
leaving the responsibility to the audie ice to interpret the lyrics. In the male-dominated
calypso arena, family issues have inc uded denial of paternity for children, mistrust of
women, and open exl ortation for plan ing families.
Because the status of women is ar integral part of family planning, their images in the
calypso bear close examination. Wor :n as authors of and as subjects in calypsos have been
discussed by authors lile Austin (19' 6), Warner (1982) and Huggings (1992). According
to Huggins, women wen the first sinr ers of the calypso or cariso. According to Huggings,
between 1884, and the 1960s when Calypso Rose appeared on the scene, the role was taken
over by men. In the interim, force in society had mitigated against women playing an
important part in the calypso, becal se their risque messages and social criticisms were not
considered to be appropriate subject s for "respectable" ladies. Prior to the 1960s the mother
in calypso tended to be revered, v whereas other women were presented as sex objects, as
untrustworthy, and as trying to tric men into marriage (Austin, 1976; Huggins, 1992). The
change in calypso lyrics began eai y in the 1940s as a response to the arrival in Trinidad of
the United States military person :1, after Britain leased "territory" to the United States in
exchange for battleships (Hill, 1 89; Regis, 1988). The United States marines were not
interested in local events, and so, he calypso became a form of entertainment suited to their
tastes. US servicemen were a mixed blessing. They brought money, and later helped to
popularize the music in the United States, but they were also accused of bringing prostitu-
tion, and other immoralities. Songs popular at the time were "Brown Skin Gal", "Jean and
Dinah", "Rum and Coca-cola" and "Yankee Dollar" (Hill, 1989: Warner, 1988). All of
these tunes reflected the distress of the Trinidadian men because their women were
involved with the Yankees for the sake of their dollars (Regis, 1988; Hill 1989). Sex and
infidelity became the predominant themes of the calypso. Women in particular were the
targets, with emphasis being placed on their unfaithfulness, sex habits and hang-ups.
Beginning with the Black Power Movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the image
has been gradually changing, so that now in the 1990s, women are presented as being
stronger, and having more confidence in themselves (Warner, 1982; Huggins, 1992).
Women are freer to choose careers, to marry or not, and to enter and exit relationships with
men (Huggins, 1992). Moreover, in Trinidad, the suggestive attire worn by women is not a
licence to attack them:
Let she dress how she feel to dress
I agree all you get a thrill
But don't put she under duress
And hold she against she will
(Rocket in Your Pocket Duke, (1992) quoted by
Huggins, 1992, p. 14).
Women have the legal right to refuse sexual advances by men. Husbands no longer have
the right to take advantage of their wives, because
Now dem married women is boss
Because they have
Nothing to loss under Clause 4
a wife has the right
To dictate the pace at night
Under this law
If she say NO is NO
If she say SO is SO
If she say WAR is WAR
How it was before,
It will be no more
UNDER Clause 4 (Devine, 1987).
Nevertheless, for women there is still a long way to go. In "Easy come easy go" Gabby
(1990) has described the exploitation of children in pornography.
Baa, baa black sheep have you any wool
Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full
One for Games Master, one for Suzie Lee
But none for the little girl in pornography
This exploitation of children not only influences participants in the shows, but those
who are invited to see them, since "Pornography/Photography/ is education in this
country/Yes pomography/Photography/Got parents crying Lord have mercy" (Gabby,
1990). He urged the children to keep their bodies covered, and predicted that the practice
spelled catastrophe for the country. The increase of pornography is of concern, because of
its potential effect on women's health, on Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)
and other sexually transmitted diseases, and on population growth.
With reference to population growth, Caribbean nations differ in their need for control-
ling the size, despite the overall high growth rate in the region. In the English speaking
Caribbean, the infant mortality rate varies from a low of 11 per thousand in Barbados, and
in Antigua and Barbuda to a high of 52 per thousand in Guyana (Center for International
Health Information, 1991). The fertility rates for these same countries varies from 1.7 in
Antigua and Barbuda to 4.9 in Grenada. The governments of Antigua and Barbuda,
Barbados, and the Bahamas think their fertility level is satisfactory, while those of Jamaica,
and Trinidad and Tobago think theirs is too high (Population Reference Bureau, 1991).
The Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO),
and the International Planned Parenthood Federation have supported family planning
programs in these countries. According to Alleyne and Dyer (1990), in 1986 the Ministers
of Health of the English speaking Caribbean nations agreed to form an agreement called the
Caribbean Co-operation in Health, and identified population as one of the six priority areas
to receive attention. In 1988 AIDS was added to the list as the seventh priority. The
countries now provide family planning services, and people use them more or less effec-
tively. While the officials may espouse family planning for population control measures, an
Antiguan Calypsonian appeared to be more interested in promoting, responsible paren-
thood, than in limiting the actual number of children. In "Plan Ya Family" he urges youths
and adults of both sexes to "Sit down and plan' because unwanted pregnancies create
difficulties for both parent and baby.
Don't limit your potential;
You should first seek your credentials.
The poor unplanned baby
Might grow up in poverty.
Not enough food, not enough clothes,
To diseases they are exposed.
He advises parents to talk to their children, and recommends that if they want more
information they should go to the Family Planning Association. Closely allied with family
planning services, is the need to control the spread of the HIV.
Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)
World-wide statistics on HIV infection and AIDS are generally incorrect, since many
countries lack the facilities to diagnose cases. In addition, countries dependent on tourism
are reluctant to publish accurate statistics, since their economies might be adversely
affected. By July 1, 1992, there were 5,949 cases of AIDS reported in the Caribbean
(WHO, 1992). Approximately half of these are estimated to be women, since, depending on
the country, the ratio of infection for men to women is 1:1 (PAHO, 1988). Trinidad appears
to be the only Caribbean country where the highest proportion of persons with AIDS are
homosexual males. The suggestion that there are 100 persons diagnosed as having AIDS is
a small fraction of the pool of HIV-infected persons. Since the young child-bearing
population are the most affected by the AIDS virus, countries have been supported and
encouraged by the World Health Organization and the United States Agency for Interna-
tional Development (USAID) to launch prevention programs.
In the beginning, AIDS was associated with male homosexuals, and was the occasion
for ridicule in the calypso. In "The List", Barbadian singer Gabby (1985) described a young
boy who had died of AIDS, after naming several men who had been his lovers. This song
also raised the issue of bisexuality, since women were trying to acquire a copy of the list.
Big names, popular names, make love to the boy,
At least that is what he claims
So now even married women say they insist
The hospital show them the names on the list.
One year later, Arrow (1986), a calypsonian from Montserrat, responded by asking that
Gabby take his name off the list, since be has never "played" with boys.
The light-hearted attitude to AIDS changed quickly, as everyone appeared to be at risk.
In 1988, the popular calypsonian, Sparrow produced a song called "I afraidd AIDS". The
same year, a local playwright, Godfrey Sealey, wrote a play called One of Our Sons is
Missing, about a Trinidadian bisexual who had AIDS. This play was shown in several areas
of Trinidad and Tobago. another group of young singers called the Young Soundmasters,
produced a 'rap' on AIDS, that apparently became popular in Trinidad (Ransome 1990).
More recently, Alleyne "Adonijah" and Payne "Bumba" (1992) in their song "Negative
to Positive" advocated the provision of sex education for children, open communication
between parents and children, a return to trust, responsibility and fidelity in relationships,
and the use of condoms to prevent infection with the HIV. Similarly, without mentioning
HIV or AIDS, Shadow (1992) in "Soucouyant", looks back to the days when vampires
were free to suck blood with impunity. Soucouyant (a female in folklore who sucked blood
from sleeping humans), is in trouble. Now with "a whole lot of blood but no blood tests,"
the vampires are not taking chances. They are substituting goats and cows for nice little
girls (and boys since Soucouyant is a legendary female). When they do enter the house,
they examine the potential victim thoroughly before drawing blood:
Dey fly in ya house an' dey searching ya purse
Dey want to know if ya check out the doc
Dey want to know if ya solid like rock
Dey want to know if ya skin smelling good
Dey want to know if ya eating junk food. (Shadow,
The vampires' very existence depends on having an adequate supply of blood, yet they
are not willing to risk their lives by taking untested blood. This is a very effective and
culturally-relevant way of promoting safer sex practices without the need to preach.
Of all the unresolved health problems in the Caribbean, the issue of drug abuse is
probably the most complex. In trying to combat this problem the islands are caught in the
squeeze between the United States' coercive policies aimed at apprehending and eliminat-
ing the traffickers, the cultural and economic needs of their people; and fear of the drug
barons. All countries lack the financial and human resources to deal with illegal drugs.
Official corruption is a problem. Salaries of police, custom officials and other enforcement
officers are so low that accepting bribes to look the other way is almost irrestible (Cumber-
batch & Duncan, 1990; Sanders, 1990a).
Drug trafficking poses a dilemma for the islands. On the one hand it was a major source
of income for countries like Jamaica, prior to the destruction of its marijuana crops with the
collaboration of the United States (Cumberbatch & Duncan, 1990). Persons with large
sums of foreign currency in the islands are not questioned seriously by officials and
businessmen, since they are a source of foreign exchange. Drug lords have reportedly
sponsored elections. some countries are also benefitting from the off-shore banks, where
some of the proceeds of drugs are deposited. Finally, officials posing a serious threat to the
drug trade might be killed (Sanders, 1990a). On the other hand, the increased use of hard
drugs by the population in the countries threatens their health and economic well-being. In
addition, drug-related crimes jeopardize the viability of the tourist industry. Crimes also
mean that scarce resources must be diverted to the legal system thus making fewer
available for other programmes (Sanders, 1990a; Cumberbatch & Duncan, 1990).
Although they agree that drug trafficking and drug use needs to be controlled in the
Anglophone islands, Cumberbatch and Duncan (1990) argue that the present laws were
imported from England and the United States, and do not take the local needs of the
population into consideration since marijuana use has always been an integral part of
Jamaican rural and Rastafarian society, and rum is as much Barbadian, as cigars are Cuban.
All of these are drug, and in fact alcohol and tobacco contribute both to the economy, as
well as to the mortality and morbidity rates of the population in those countries and the
United States. According to these authors, the United States engendered destruction of the
marijuana fields in Jamaica ruined the economy of many villages furthermore by focussing
efforts on the transhipment of drugs from the Caribbean. This important oversight has led
to the ready availability and increased use of drugs in the islands (Stone, 1991). In his
survey of attitudes and behavior towards drugs in Jamaica, Stone (1991) has shown that
78% of the men, and 40% of the women have used one of: alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana,
coke, and crack, and that respondents were in favour of using cigarettes, marijuana and
alcohol. In his data, Stone also found that drug use was present within all socioeconomic
classes, and that among the young it was becoming associated with flashy cars, money,
jewelry, dance-hall and reggae music, guns and casual sex.
Health Education Messages Through Calypso
Some countries have established Drug Councils and passed laws to combat the drug
problem (Sanders, 1990b). Other countries have also designed health education programs
to discourage the use of drugs. Stone (1991) believed that education programmes may not
be very effective, because most of the educators are women, and most of the drug users are
men. Since the 1970s artists like Sparrow and Creole have been expressing concern over
the use of drugs (Rohlehr, 1985). The contribution of calypsonians (who are mostly men)
could therefore be most influential in assisting government efforts. Unfortunately, the
government itself is seen to be contributing to the problem. In "Death for Sale" Arrow
(1991), points out that politicians, policemen and children are included among the people
who push drugs. He deplores the social and moral decay associated with drug use, since
people resort to stealing and killing for it. He includes alcohol and prostitution in the list of
addictions, emphasizing that people are buying death although no one wants to die. He
urges the audience not to buy. The ability of calypsonians to influence political outcomes
has already been discussed. In 1979, the controversy surrounding Black Stalin's 'The
Caribbean Man" lasted almost six weeks, and accounted for 660 newspaper column inches
(Deosaran, 1981). The calypsonian has played an important role in verbalizing the joys and
satisfactions of the people, as well as providing them with entertainment. In an empirical
study Lashley (1982) showed that calypsonians perceive themselves as mass com-
municators, and that the local audiences do receive the messages conveyed in their lyrics.
Huggins (1992) attributed the more positive image of women, and the opening up of the
gender issues partially to the calypso. Official attempts to censor calypsos and to refuse
them air-time on the government owned radio stations is an acknowledgement of the power
of calypsos to still the people. The songs "Soucouyant" and "I am drug free" by Rudder
(1992) are receiving a great deal of air play in Trinidad (Kambon, 1992), but it is not clear
to what extent public health behaviours are being changed as a result.
The periodicity of the production of calypsos may be an important factor limiting their
availability. Calypsos are composed annually, and are centred around the yearly carnival
and crop-over seasons. Many are created, but only the more popular ones are heard the
following year. Very few become classics, and are sung periodically over the years
(Warner, 1988). Furthermore, according to Rohlehr (1992a).
Radio stations promote mainly party songs in the six or
eight-week period preceding Carnival, thus neglecting
many of the slower and more reflective calypsos, and
depriving listeners of a balanced exposure to the range
of calypsos composed in any given season (p. 10).
Finally according to Rohlehr, when so many are composed simultaneously, there are
limits to the number individuals can purchase, and consequently, those that receive the
most publicity are likely to be heard. The marketability of the calypso is thus another factor
affecting the type of subject matter portrayed in the songs.
International Influences On Calypso
According to Juneja (1989), calypsos are like folk music in that they originate in the
lives and experiences of the common people, yet they are different in that they are primarily
urban popular music. They "appeal to the masses, and are part of mass culture" (Juneja,
1989, p. 37). The same author believes that this form of mass culture differs from that of the
industrialized West, in that the former has originated among the masses, and has never
failed to reflect the concerns of the people. The music gained "respectability" among local
elites only after it was endorsed by the audiences from developed countries (Powrie, 1956;
Warner, 1988). According to Sparrow, in "Outcast"
They enjoy your songs, enjoy your music
But still they so damn prejudice
They bracket you in a category so low and mean
Man, they leave the impression that
your character is unclean
(Sparrow as quoted in Warner, 1988, p. 54).
In discussing this issue, Regis (1988) accused the developed countries of cultural
imperialism by re-exporting indigenous music in a changed form to the countries that had
produced it in the first place. Through this method, songs written in the Caribbean are
exported primarily to North America, modified to suit the North American audiences, and
re-imported into the islands. Some audiences there adopted the new versions as their
definition of what is appropriate music. In discussing a similar issue, Frith & Home (1987,
Jaffe (1987), Matta (1988) and Rohlehr (1992a) have pointed out that all forms of popular
music have had to be made almost inoccuous in order to gain wide support. The aim of the
music industry is to make money, consequently, only records with the potential for profit
are sold. According to Jaffe (1987) six huge entertainment conglomerates control 85
percent of the United States recorded music market, thus making it difficult for smaller
companies to compete. Both Jaffe and Matta highlight the illusion of the "Top 10" charts,
pointing out that unless made by a very popular artist, certain tunes never receive air-time.
Within Third World countries, including the Caribbean, foreign recorded music has a
prominent place on the radios. Lent (1990) has pointed out that in the Caribbean foreign
music is promoted during the peak tourist season. This tend to deprive the local artists of
coverage that might popularize their music both at home and abroad. Since 1973, calyp-
sonians have made a conscious effort to promote their music internationally, with a result
that some of the themes and lyrics have been changed (Talifeani, 1988) The adoption and
promotion of Caribbean music is financially beneficial to its promoters, to some of the
musicians, and, because of the popularity of carnival and crop-over, to the economies of the
countries from which the artists originate. Since the audiences in the Caribbean are too
small to maintain the large number of indigenous artists, it is understandable that the local
artists would alter their music to capture a market-share of the North American record-
buying public. Rohlehr (1992a) believes that because the music is an integral part of the
culture, it is subject to the changes that impinge on the cultural experiences of the people.
Today, our society, open to the marketing strategies of
the American entertainment empire, provides the in-
dividual with a plethora of musical choices, and the
possibility of in-gathering, as in the thirties, a rich, if
bewildering range of rhythms and melodies (Rohlehr,
1992a, p. 9).
He does, however, lament the "false professionalism" employed by some artists to
enable them to sell records. Unfortunately, in the process some of the better calypso artists
and songs are still ignored, because the foreign promoters are rarely in the island long
enough to judge the merits of the lyrics and music (Ravi, 1988). The corporations who
market the music, and the managers of radio stations in the more developed countries, will
therefore continue to play a significant role in determining the type of music that is
produced for export.
The Alma Ata Declaration on Primary Health Care (WHO/UNICEF, 1978) was a response
to the lack of health services available to the majority of the world's poor. The resultant
high infant and maternal mortality rates would be difficult to correct without major
systemic changes in the delivery of health services. The Declaration was unanimously
endorsed by the World Health Organization member countries in 1978. At that time,
governments, including those in the Caribbean, committed themselves to the provision of
basic health services to all the citizens of their countries. Health care was to be made
accessible, affordable, and culturally appropriate to the population. Furthermore, they
would be provided in a manner designed to foster community participation and develop-
ment (WHO/UNICEF, 1978). Because health education was to be an important ingredient
in achieving these health objectives, mass communication techniques were to be used to
encourage individuals and groups to adopt life styles that contribute to the improvement of
their own health (Anderson, Meissner & Portnoy, 1989).
Calypso artists have arisen from the masses, but their music had a profound influence
on the social and political situations in the English speaking Caribbean. Attempts to silence
the artists have been unsuccessful, and today, festivals associated with their music such as
carnival in Trinidad and Antigua, and "Crop-Over" in Barbados, are now important
contributors to the gross national product of the respective countries.
The themes of calypso artists have dealt with some of the social, political and health
concerns of the citizens of the English speaking Caribbean. Because changes in Caribbean
music have been affected by the marketing strategies of the foreign music industry, and the
tastes of international audiences, there is a danger that the needs of the Caribbean popula-
tion will be ignored in favor of the more lucrative overseas market. The countries should
support calypso music to ensure that this does not happen.
The effectiveness of the calypsonians as transmitters of health message is influenced by
the foregoing factors, by the artists talents, and by their belief that the local audience is
really interested in the subject, for despite its international image, the calypso is still the
music of the people. The health content present in the songs reviewed in this article is
excellent, yet it is not known to what extent the young audience is more influenced by the
rhythm than by the lyrics. In their study of Rock 'n' Roll music, Rosenbaum and Prinsky,
(1987) have shown that youths listen to that music more for the sound than for the lyrics.
Studies therefore ought to be conducted in the Caribbean to determine if these findings are
replicated. Certainly, the messages are not heard if the songs are not given adequate
exposure on radio and television. In selecting material for this review, the author en-
countered more difficulties than anticipated to locate tunes on health topics, although dance
music and tunes with political and sex themes were readily available. Radio stations alone
should not have the responsibility for promoting calypso tunes with health messages. The
lyrics may be used by health educators first to understand what is being said, and as well to
promote those that are likely to have a positive impact on the community. With the support
of the relevant agencies, the calypsonian has the potential for contributing to the health
practices of the audiences.
Local governments and International Organizations frequently recruit popular artists to
compose tunes with content related to health problems. Yet, it is likely that tunes composed
spontaneously by the artists would be more interesting and effective. Furthermore, if the
tunes are promoted by the radio stations, and accepted by the audiences their numbers
would increase. Finally, it is suggested that the tunes given air-time are likely to reflect the
biases of the government and of the local elites. If this is found to be so, then regardless of
the quality of the message, an unpopular artist is not likely to be heard. If a nation believes
AIDS is not a problem, or if campaigns against drug use would offend those in power who
profit from the sales, songs relating to these issues would not be promoted. These assump-
tions are also subject to verification.
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VIRGIN ISLAND'S SUITE
I. DRAKE'S STRAIT
or half-risen plains
you choose the metaphor
this humbling moment
while the boat
slices the blue
pellets (the king of Danes and named them)
in this Virgin sea
But what of Drake?
Why is this passage his?
except to note his passing pirating
from Tap Hus
to that sleeping Turtle
where his spirit still
in British English
over US coins
four centuries later
Lord Nelson to come tumble up...
How like a toothless lion here
this Drake who with his
now mere names
put on our best designs
grand ancestor of terrorists everywhere
their job description
naming hotels and beaches
teeming with those
who this time come
for other conquest
sun and sea and brown
shrouding their need
to conquer and to own (?)
II. DRAKE'S STRAIGHT REVISITED
One dumb-bred Boss
and two bush tea (poured
from the coffee urn
labelled for local brew)
I'm here for Drake
to feel his passage once again
and wonder at the islets
sitting poised on either side
bright in the morning sea
I have seen ocean
I have ridden
rivers large like sea
but this that Drake saw
and Columbus saw
outawes them all
Islands in fold on fold
diminishing in green
near the farthest edge...
Sometimes they cockpit in the sea
and merge from
island into islet
islet to island
ring a ring a
rosing round the boat
spitting its white foam
on the startled blue
And I see bellying sails
at tne nelm
naming these islands Virgenes
sure in imperial faith
that he and not the Taino
names the scape
This journey surely
was the Tairest of them all
The Danish king
who called these islands pellets
did he sail this sea?
he didn't even send
down this way
why would he sail?
Tortola Virgin Gorda
and St. John
are holding hands
wrapped in two different flags
brother and sister
Uncle Sam patrons
that come unbidden...
Rain clouds gather
and force us down
into the viewless
belly of the boat
[1. DRAKE'S STRAIT REMEMBERED
After the Virgins
all seas all oceans
seem unreasonably bare
Los Angeles to Santa Barbara
with only Catalina sitting there
after Port Royal's blade
a few brief cays
and then the empty sea
hilltops that were
beaches where the Taino played
wild blues of deep sea
gentle grey-green hills
that can shift and change
as yonder becomes here
under the helmsman's hand
rocks you can almost touch
that stand and speak to rock
and islets bobbing
out of nowhere
a green girl in the ring
tra la la la laa
Earth and the sea
they know their business
change is not distress
here only beauty now
This poem was reproduced incorrectly in Caribbean Quarterly,
Vol. 38, Nos 2&3, 1992. The Managing Editor apologises to the
poet. Reproduced from Shame trees don't grow here, by Velma
Pollard, Pepal Tree, 1992
"The Jamaican Stage 1655-1900 Profile of a Colonial Theatre." by Errol Hill.
A young theatre critic writing in the press recently about the evolution of local theatre,
made the rather alarming observation that the Little Theatre Movement, founded in 1941,
was the first Jamaican theatre company "to include black actors in its work". Fortunately
this is far from being the case, and the offending critic will, no doubt, be delighted to learn
that in his new book, Professor Errol Hill brings to our attention the existence of all-black
theatre groups such as the Ethiopian Amateur Society and the Numidian Amateur Associa-
tion who were competing for coveted theatre space in Kingston as early as the late 1840's.
Black performers certainly continued their struggle for the total acceptance of their work in
the so-called "legitimate" theatre for close to another one hundred years, and it may be
argued that in some quarters that struggle continues even today. The point being made here,
however, is that so very often, a reluctance to check out the facts, or difficulty in accessing
information can lead to the dangerous practice of inventing the past, in a desperate attempt
to create a necessary point of reference. Unfortunately, being human, the products of our
invention are usually a poor substitute for the glorious fruits of sound historical scholarship,
a supposition which Professor Hill's book more than adequately supports.
The publication of Hill's excellent book, "The Jamaican Stage, 1655-1900, Profile of a
Colonial Theatre", is very timely, coinciding, as it does, with a number of significant
anniversaries including Jamaica's thirtieth year as an independent nation, as well as the
300th anniversary of Kingston, the city in which a great deal of the activity in this book
takes place. And what better milestone than this could Caribbean theatre aficionados desire
with which to mark the controversial Quincentennial year, a year also in which the West
Indian Commission has called for the performing arts to be treated as curricular subjects in
primary and secondary schools, and in which the Cultural Training Centre and U.W.I. have
together developed courses of study in Music, Dance and Drama leading to the award of a
This masterwork joins, among others, Rex Nettleford's 'Dance Jamaica', David
Boxer's 'Edna Manley Sculptor', as well as the folk music research of Edward Seaga and
Olive Lewin in bringing to us the assurance of our own idioms and images, an essential
prerequisite to the building of any future Caribbean aesthetic.
For a long time those interested in the history of the theatre in Jamaica have had to rely
heavily on Richardson Wright's "Revels in Jamaica", published in 1937 and enterprisingly
reprinted in 1986 by Bolivar Press. this pioneering work took the story of Jamaica's
Colonial theatre as far as Emancipation in 1838, but yielding relatively little about the
performance art of the island's predominantly African population. Thereafter students and
researchers were forced to turn to Ivy Baxter's classic broad-based general survey, "The
Arts of an Island" published in 1970 but unfortunately long out of print. So, Professor Hill's
book fills an enormous gap.
By beginning his survey in 1655 at the start of the British period in Jamaica, Errol Hill
makes no attempt to repeat the details on Wright's book, but does try to fill in the gaps, and
rectify some of the omissions and inaccuracies of the earlier work, particularly for 1783,
since Wright was denied access to the newspapers for that particular year. This approach
allows Hill to place the nineteenth century developments in Jamaican theatre in a solid
historical context, and at the same time to declare his personal interest in tracing the
development of an indigenous theatre and in the contributions of different elements toward
that end. Those different elements he outlines as the touring professionals from England
and North America, resident amateurs and, most importantly from the point of view of
contemporary Jamaica, the performance elements inherent in the traditional expression of
the Jamaican peasantry and working class.
"The Jamaican Stage" is an indispensable sourcebook for those critics who would wish
to be considered informed, as well as for students of Caribbean theatre, social history and
linguistics. For example, Hill's chapter on early attempts at indigenous playwriting, beauti-
fully complements the works of Jean d'Costa and Barbara Lalla published as "Voices in
Exile" and "Language in Exile", which explore the history of Jamaican Creole.
Professor Hill is over-modest in claiming nothing more for his book than that it
delineates the background history against which the enormous strides have been taken
throughout the present century. It does, of course, much more. "The Jamaican Stage" is an
elegant work of consummate scholarship, but its main importance lies in the fact that it adds
much to a body of knowledge which we need to have of ourselves. Hill's tireless research
has produced not only a studied chronicle of the chequered history of the island's theatres
and playhouses, visiting companies, and resident amateurs, but also, and perhaps more
significantly, has provided us with important details regarding the rituals, festivals, ano
other performance modes of the broad underclass of Jamaicans, in both the pre- and post-
Emancipation periods. The remarkable story which unfolds is cleverly interwoven with the
massive political and social upheaval which characterizes this period of Caribbean history,
and delivered in an eminently readable style.
The book is rich in engaging and often hilarious anecdotes about the exploits of groups
such as the Kingston Amateurs whose thespian endeavours invariably ended in disaster, but
who nevertheless faced their disappointments with admirable stoicism. Worthy of inclusion
in the annals of Great Operatic Disasters is the description of the 1878 performance of the
tower scene in the opera II Trovatore, where the stage crew suddenly pulled up the tower
flat leaving the tenor singer standing on a ladder in his shirtsleeves, in full view of an
audience convulsed with laughter.
Equally, one can only marvel at the intransigence of one of the actresses of the May Fisk
Dramatic Combination who in 1876 refused to go on in the 4th Act of the play "London
Assurance" because she had not been paid her week's wages, forcing the curtain to be rung
down on an unfinished play.
Latter day critics would do well to elicit a point or two about economy of style from the
review of Empressa Ferrer's Grand opera Company at Kingston's Theatre Royal in 1897,
of whose performance it was written that "while the eye was gratified and the ear amused
by the youthful singers, the pulse remained unstirred." They might also be instructed by the
contents of an editorial on the duty of the critic which appeared in the Morning Journal in
1862, which stated, "The critic, whilst doing justice to the actors, has a stem duty to the
public to perform which he cannot discharge faithfully and with impartiality unless he
makes it a rule always to keep in front of the curtain." The indignant editor continued by
charging, "It is only by the opinions of the newspapers that the public can judge whether the
actors are worthy of patronage, and if the writers for the papers prostitute their mission and
give false reports, they not only deceive the public and sacrifice the confidence that had
been reposed in them, but in the end damage the actors whom they had gone out of their
way to serve." All this sounds disarmingly familiar almost a hundred years later.
Professor Hill's sojourn in North America has served him well, not only enabling him
to extend our knowledge of some of the visiting companies to Jamaica during the
nineteenth century, but also to follow the fortunes of outstanding Jamaican performers
outside their native land. Of particular interest are the illustrious careers of reader/reciter
Raphael de Cordova (and indeed the whole de Cordova clan) and actor Aaron Morton
Tavares, both of whom travelled the world extensively in the relentless pursuit of their art.
Hill's North American sources have also produced other remarkable results, including the
quite astonishing appearance of a newspaper announcement of a "Bruckins" party in San
Francisco in 1874, clear evidence that traditional folk performance art was also venturing
abroad along with Jamaican migrant workers of that time.
In many instances, Hill has allowed the accounts of contemporary observers to speak
for themselves. Nowhere is this more important than in the descriptions which are given of
the performance modes of the peasantry and working classes. The Queen of the Reds, for
example, in Montego Bay in the year 1860, "wore a blonde skirt over a tissue underdress,
the crown imperial on her head, sceptre in one hand and globe of state in the other, with a
rich topaz necklace and was accompanied by her Mistress of the Robes, the Duchess of
Sutherland". The impact of their publication on further research is likely to be enormous,
presenting, as they do, an opportunity for making the almost certain connection between the
flamboyant and highly energetic performance modes of contemporary Jamaican 'Roots
Theatre' and 'Dance Hall' with those of the Jonkonnu masqueraders, Set Girls, Tea
Meetings and Bruckings Parties of Jamaica's past. For, like all good scholarship, Professor
Hill's book invites the formulation of many more questions than it undertakes to answer
By tracing the common roots of both the African and European theatre to festival and
ritual drama, Hill points to a whole area of study which falls beyond the scope of this
particular volume. What, for instance, was the impact of the European 'oral' traditions such
as the Mummers play on Jamaican folk drama? What contribution did the arrival of
indentured labour from India and China make to performance style? Consider the enor-
mous theatricality of a form such as Hosay, or the complexity of influences required to
produce the eclectic assembly of characters in the burru masquerade. It can be no coin-
cidence that an event as momentous as the Great Revival followed so rapidly on the heels
of new African arrivals in Jamaica in the 1840's and 1850's. What was the real impact of
that African renaissance on the performance modes of the Jamaican masses?
"The Jamaican Stage" may ultimately usher in a new phase of Caribbean Theatre
Studies, leading to further research and extending our vision, so that our young people will
no longer grow up believing that Jamaican theatrical history began in 1941, or, indeed, that
such studies only refer to the activity that went on behind the proscenium arch. Instead, they
will learn that such modem indigenous theatre forms as the Jamaican pantomime or the
plays of Derek Walcott draw their strength from roots which, on the one hand, extend to the
theatrical displays of the Jonkonnu and Set Girls and further, to the images, effigies,
processions and choruses of the theatre of pre-colonial Africa, and on the other to the 1758
Jamaican production of "Robinson Crusoe or Harlequin Friday", back to Italian Comedia
delArte and beyond to the amphitheatres of Greek and Roman antiquity.
Flowers of love: A Review of Alma Mock Yen's "Potted Versions"
I am neither a (fine visionary) humanist critic like the Trinidadian Wayne Brown, who
can open a book like an analyst and reveal the author's masked psyche: nor a (fine, eclectic)
formalist one like the Guyanese Gordon Rohlehr, who can open a West Indian book like a
surgeon, incising and suturing at the same time, and reveal assisted by a tremendous
knowledge of Pan-African music the far spring of the art.
I will therefore, reflect on surfaces/structures; as well as identify and discuss technical
choices in this review of Alma Mockyen's Potted Versions.
Structures are achieved by an equilibristic echoic and musical deployment of words.
Poetry is the result when this equilibrium is on an even base rung of that ladder not
monolith perfection: as it is in the hauntingly beautiful 'Badges' (p. 3), from which I cite
lines 7- to the end:
She shacked up with this ebony man
To the island
Give him babies
(Her parents cried over it)
One night in her ripe years
Rushing home to family
Mad racists butchered her
(Her black man died over it)
Her honey-coloured children leave for....
Some arguments for its inclusion there:
(i)The seamless manner in which after a counterpointing 'list' (though that slant of
Black Poets may just work here, whereas in 'Vespers' (p. 52), on which I comment further
on, it doesn't) beginning it unfurls, poem now (and more so for that foil), at line seven,
moving fluently into the classic Black Musical matrix: call-and-response
(ii)the reverse pun on 'shacked' (1.7), as that primarily sexual term is mined for a
secondary meaning, the word purified and restored in the process
(iii)the appropriate and subtly beautiful way in which 'ripe' (stanza 2, 1.1), itself
punning, is mirrored by 'honey-coloured', followed by the beautiful lineation: for .../Ever'
(iv)the simple, stripped, spatially-extensive, timeless, exquisite tercet that closes the
poem, hinging on 'for'
(v)the way in which 'her' (stanza 2, 1.3) 'for' and 'Ever' paradigmatically echo.
Not all the poems have this kind of excellent echo-system, however: there are ones
which project a high, grating decibel level. for instance, 'glitches' and 'witches' ('Jour-
nalist,' p. 17) and 'curdling' and 'hurdling' (For Father's Day,' p. 23).
And that is not the only major weakness:
Scott, Walcott, Goodison, Morris, Hamilton, Bennett and even Alex Gradussov (now a
popular and admired poet in Australia) walk through some of her constructs:
Scott:'Natty was a cold knife
Skidding through the city
('Inner Citty Ditty,' p. 16, the first couplet [sans ribs']
where the influence and the excellence peters out)
Walcott:'Come share with me 0 King
Your one-life grand-mas Avalon'
(For Father's Day p. 23, the last couplet)
Goddison:'Until you waltzed away partnered by pain
The last, slow movement of a slave quadrille...'
('Bellita', p. 9, stanza 1.2 & 3 [the segment quoted
Morris:In some 'Halloween in a Southern State', p. 41.
Hamilton:In the title (maybe just an act of deference)
some of the last couplet of 'Lesson Two' p. 31.
Bennett:More if ensuingly Goodison again):
'Jack Mandora me no choose none
A so me hear it tell'
(Story of Honour's Day, p. 14,' last couplet)
Grandison:'Away your filth, your acid-rain,
This planet Earth endures
Will manumit our World
From man's mismanagement:
Saneness will obtain'
(Banks of the Hocking,' p. 42)
And there is an explicit echo of Scott's Apocalypse dub quickly and deservedly
become a Jamaican classic ('Two eyes like eggs in the body of his bike') in a very
Scottesque poem called 'Locksman in the Pegasus Foyer,' p. 25. Scott also offers else-
where, par for the course for the poet with the most in an A. Alvarez phrase contagious
style to have emerged from the West Indies.
The technical choices fall into the category of after the great innovator E.E. Cum-
mings, who after all was bom in 1894 what one would call the Established Avant-Grade:
(i)omission of terminal full stops (employed in many poems, including the wonderful-
ly-concluded signal poem, 'After Guillen's "MY LAST NAME",' which ought to be an
official concomitant of our National Slogan and which sets the theme of MockYen's
(ii)visual poetry (both modified and quite marginal to the subgenre):
'Relief Employment Workers: Changing The Old,' p. 2, which after a long vertical
silence ends with four, centrally-positioned, monosyllabic stanzas, which gradually bring
the poem to a halt, with miraculous falling music as well as convey the poem to the shore
of this mode.
'Coming of age (for my little Chantal,' p. 26, ( a touching if [for?] sentimental
dedication and 'Vespers', p. 52, two split-level poems [lay-out, not mission] which don't
work for me, not because she wrote them, but because of my hating that form: The former
is an irritating instance of verbal fission (functional and exciting in [Jamaican] poet Lee
Vassel's 'Plum Canary'), the latter a 'list' rather than a poem
(iii) horizontal silences (very sparing for this post-Cummings era)
(iv)capitalized lines ('Sequence for a Young Country,) words) (the relevant closing
poem 'Poui' in which one (of the latter) appears itself a near-flower
(v)vertical silences (in 'Relief [etc.]' already discussed and 'For Neville 1986,' p. 29,
where the rationale is too obvious).
She is also accomplished at traditional forms (consider for instance, the passe' but
metrically perfect iambic pentameter succeeded by a likewise tetrameter and later two
dazzling hexameters in the same mode, which appear in 'Aunt Daisy, 93, Drowned,' p. 8:
'Where politicians walked in specious pomp' (clichaic and archaic), 1.1, 'To set the earth
aglow with food' (better), 1.2, 'Enticing to the wanderlust of those who live' stanza 4, 1.1
and the first line of the last stanza,
'And when I told her sister, senile as herself', both of which are magnificent, (not to
'And when I told her sister, senile as herself', both of which are magnificent, (not to
mention that marvellous long line 'She wandered down recesses of that most curious
labyrinth,' but this more on the side of free verse).
Not a few poems, also, are fairly traditionally metrical throughout. Dennis Scott, who
suffered the poet's fate of dying young and who is the most brilliant various artist these
islands have lifted, interviewed by Mervyn Morris tossed this off in his breezy way:
"The psycho-analytic cliche that one in fact is several that there are several parts to
one's self and that the healthy self is an integrated collection of those various personae is
The millionn faces and the many postures, all the right ones, and the forms to match
them unify in 'Jamdown', a poem as Leeta Hearne remarked in a blurb of 'ironic [and
I might add sad affection.'
"Potted Versions" in essence contains such flowers of love.
NOTES ON CONTRIBUTORS
is Professor Emeritus, University of Minnesota.
is lecturer, Department of Government, UWI, Mona.
is Professor of Political Science, Antilles-Guyane University.
is a nurse educator
is Dean, Faculty of Education, UWI, Mona, and a poet.
is a Fellow, University of Antilles-Guyane CRPLC ( Centre
for Studies on Local Powers in the Caribbean)
is lecturer, Department of English, UWI, Cave Hill.
(Reviews of these books are invited. Interested persons should write to the editor
quoting the titles) of the books) concerned, prior to reviewing them.)
France's Overseas Frontier, R. Aldrich, J.Connell, US$69.95 (H/b) 0521 39061 3
March 1992, Camb. University Press.
Surinam and the Netherlands Antilles: An Annotated English- Language Bibliography,
Enid Brown, 293pp, 1992, $US 32.50, Scarecrow Press, NJ
Guyana at the Crossroads, D.Watson, C.Craig (eds), 95pp,US$14.95, (paper) Dec.
1992, Transaction Publishers, Rutgers-The State University of New Jersey.
The Caribbean in the Wider World, 1492-1992, Bonham Richardson, US$49.95 (H/b)
US$16.95 (P/b) Jan. 1992, Camb. University Press.
Stains on my Name, War in My Veins: Guyana and the Politics of Cultural Struggle, B
Williams, $US18.50 (P), US$34.95 (Cloth)Duke University Press
Caribbean Poetry Now, S.Brown, UK15.99, July 1992, Edward Arnold, Hodder &
The Military and Society in Haiti, M.LaGuerre, US$29.95 (Cloth), University of
Tennessee Press.March 1993
The Premise and Promise:Free Trade in the Americas, US Third World Policy
Perspectives No. 18, 282 pp, US$15.95 (p) US$29.95(c) Feb. 1993, Transaction Publishers,
Rutgers-The State University of New Jersey.
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the 1990s, A.Jorge(ed) US$15.95(P) 142 pp. Jan. 1993
The Civil Wars in Nicaragua: Inside the Sandinistas, R.Miranda, W.Ratliff, US$32.95
Philanthropy in the Americas: New Directions and Partnerships, Bruce Henderson
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On the Margins of the Art of Exilein V.S.Naipaul,Timothy Weiss, 256pp,US$29.95
(soft), Jan. 1993, University of Massachusetts Press.
Myth and History in Caribbean Fiction Alejo Carpentier. Wilson Harris, Edouard
Glissant, Barbara Webb, 176pp. US$25(Soft) Dec.1992. University of Massachusetts
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