ISSN 0008 6495
Volume 40, No.1
VOLUME 40, No.1
An Act of "Ui
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lurn y" Savagery : Re-Writing Black Rebel lin ai the er
Language of the Colonizer: H.G. deLisser's The White
Kwame S.N. Dawes
The African Religious Heritage in Selected Works of Quince Duncan :
An Expression of Cultural and Literary Marronage
The Camouflaged Drum- Melodization of Rhythmns and Maroonaged
Ethnicity in Caribbean Peasant Music
Angel G. Quito-Rivera
Memory Spirituals of the Liberated American Soldiers in
Trinidad's "Company Villages"
Santeria : From Afro- Caribbean Cult to World Religion
Raul Jose Canizares
First Generation Rastafari in St. Eustatius : A Case Study in
The Netherlands Antilles
NOTES ON CONTRIBUTORS
INSTRUCTION TO AUTHORS
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This issue of Caribbean Quarterly addresses issues of marronage and the incorpora-
tion of counter-culture into mainstream acceptance. The issue contains six articles which
deal with resistance and marronage. The issue begins with two articles addressing
marronage by the examining the literary contributions of two contrasting authors ; one a
colonial writer, the other a practitioner of cultural and literary marronage. Kwame Dawes
crically examines deLisser's colonial depiction of Black Rebellion in The White Witch of
Rose Hall where stereotypes of black inferiority, irresponsibility and savagery are used to
describe any action that could be considered to be an act of resistance. At the other end of
the writer's spectrum is Quince Duncan. Paulette Ramsay examines his fictional represen-
tation of various forms of African Religious heritage. Ramsay's use of the term "Literary
Marronage" implies that "....African favoured forms are used (by Duncan) to express the
In the Caribbean, as with others in the Diaspora, music and religion and the combina-
tion of both, have frequently been used as tools of resistance. Two articles examine
musical forms. Quintero-Rivera's article, The Camouflagued Drum discusses the dialec-
tic tension that existed between African and European musical forms. The article con-
cludes; "the cuatro camouflaged in our counter- plantation world the African presence of
its derived constitution". Lorna McDaniel's article, "Memory Spirituals of the Liber-
ated American Soldiers in Trinidad's Company Villages provides evidence of an
historical, social binding of Black American soldiers- "a free people inserted into a slave
economy, they moved within an alienated, walled-in culture". Their circumstances parallel
those of the maroons so it is not surprising that they developed similar survival strategies-
they became self-reliant and independent holding close to their religious belief systems.
McDaniel hypothesises that because of shared experiences in worship many of their
repertoire of religious songs/spirituals eventually made their way into the liturgy of the
Spiritual Baptists (Shouters) of Trinidad and Tobago.
McDaniel's article provides the bridge between music and religion. The articles by both
Canizares and Gjerset concentrate on religion, providing information on the growth and
globalisation of two present-day religions -both of which are still regarded as cults and
treated with suspicion, ostracism and active hostility. Canizare's article, Santeria :
From Afro-Caribbean Cult to World Religion" describes precisely that growth. Gjerset
describes a similar phenomenon the spread of Rastafarianism. A phrase from the latter
article, "First Generation Rastafari in St Eustatius: A Case Study from the Nether-
lands Antilles", "Religion cannot exist if it serves no useful purpose or apparent need,"
begs the question that the acceptance of music, religion and other manifestations of
counter-culture and maronnage into "mainstream" is an indication of Caribbean and
world needs for these very potent survival strategies.
An Act of "Unruly" Savagery: Re-Writing Black Rebellion in the
Language of the Colonizer. H.G. de Lisser's The White Witch of
KWAME S.N. DAWES
Good humoured and impulsive, an admirable imitator
when well taught but with no inventive faculty what-
ever. His political and social organization is of the
most primitive type, his cities are collections of huts
which cannot withstand a season's rains. He has no
literature, and no art. His music is of the crudest, He is
sometimes brave to recklessness and sometimes a de-
The stereotypes in de Lisser's portrayal of the blacks in quoted above may help the
reader to understand his approach to their propensity towards violence in the work.
Positioning himself as an advocate for colonial order, H.G. de Lisser, a middle class
Jamaican of African and European ancestry, produced a large body of historical works that
essentially upheld the deeply prejudicial and questionable readings of history done by the
colonizer during the nineteenth century. De Lisser's non-fiction work mostly in the form
of essays and editorials published in the Jamaica Daily Gleaner during his forty years as
editor, reveal a man whose ideological position is deeply conservative and founded on the
values and politics of nineteenth century Jamaica. He is highly critical of what he sees as
the lack of morals in the island and attacks the values of the community with condescending
and caustic rhetoric. This attitude surfaces in his work providing us with an important
insight into the work of one of Jamaica's most prolific authors. The sheer volume of his
fiction writing (twenty novels)2 and the fact that his work reveals a great deal about middle
class values of the early twentieth century in Jamaican society make an examination of his
writing essential to any study of Jamaican literature. Contained in his work are paradigms
that later writers have sought repeatedly to write against.
A look at The White Witch of Rosehall, which was his most popular novel, should give
us some insight into the very nature of his ideological intent and the manner in which he
manages to achieve this through fiction. An examination of his treatment of violence in the
work is a fitting point from which to analyze the treatment of race, class and colour in the
novel. In this novel, violence is shown to be endemic to the society. Passion, mercurial
emotions, and a peculiar fascination with and nonchalance about violence become import-
ant psychological indices in the work. While this approach to violence in the work clearly
demonstrates de Lisser's propensity to sensationalize and to capitalize on the cliches that
did abound concerning the West Indian society in particular, and black societies in general,
it does become a vehicle by which de Lisser treats some of the more complex manifesta-
tions of violence in the Jamaican society. De Lisser demonstrates a clear awareness that
violence was at the core of slave society and that the use of force and coercion was essential
to the sustenance of such a society. Generally speaking, de Lisser condemns the use of
violence in the community that he describes. At no point does he overtly state that any
particular class or group of people is entirely responsible for the occurrence of violence in
the society. The blacks are as capable of acting violently as are the whites. However, this
apparent racial equity disguises the implicit racism of his unavoidable thesis that the
disorder of Jamaican society (characterized in large part by the prevalence of violence) has
emerged as a result of the dominance of the African influence on the mores and values of
all Jamaican people to the exclusion of the more civilized and hence, less violent influence
of Europe. The violence in the novel is seen as a product of an important socio-political
struggle between the blacks and the whites in the society. It represents the Manichean
struggle of colonial society between the white colonizer and the black slave.3 In many ways
de Lisser has located his work on what Fanon describes as the tragic mythology of colonial
society, one in which the negro will never truly dismantle the status-quo the dominance of
the white over the blacks because the black lacks the will and inclination to transcend the
futility of reactive violence.4 De Lisser's description of black revolt is in no way liberating.
While the blacks may be justified in their anger, they are not granted the capacity to
organize their struggle in a manner that transcends the reactive catharsis of pointless
murder.5 In no way can the ultimate revolt by the blacks (as understood and described by
de Lisser) be appropriated by revolutionary minded blacks as a feature of resistance to the
systems of exploitation that have made them inferiors for centuries. The outcome of this
struggle as described by de Lisser in his novel provides indicators as to where he places his
own allegiance in the politics of race.
The blacks are very sketchily drawn. They are not shown to have the depth of emotional
or philosophical thought that is granted characters like the young expatriate and the white
overseers. These blacks act purely on the basis of passion and superstition. They act in very
extreme ways. They are decidedly violent and filled with a tremendous hatred for their
masters and mistresses, a hatred that is seen as enigmatic, unpredictable, and entirely
dangerous. In the early chapters of the novel Rutherford observes a potential for violence.
The novel then becomes a carefully structured game with this potentially explosive situa-
tion. Murder and intrigue become essential ingredients in the novel which charts
Rutherford's gradual entry into a hellish world of violence. The whites act violently against
the blacks out of a fear of rebellion which seems imminent. The blacks are shown to
participate in rituals of violence which are described by de Lisser as barbaric and uncivi-
lized. Annie, as is demonstrated earlier, is directly linked to the violence that emanates from
the "dark continent." We encounter this world of what de Lisser describes as brutish
spirituality in the chapter- The Exorcism. De Lisser relishes the gory detail and sensa-
tionalism of the obeah ritual of cleansing. Seen through the eyes of Rutherford the scene
becomes evidence of a diabolic struggle that is fully grounded in African magic and
spiritism. Christianity sits in the bushes and watches the Afrocentric religions destroy each
other. Contained here is a metaphor for the entire novel: the expatriate representing Britain,
sits and watches the colony destroy itself through a demonstration of its inability to rule
itself. Like the Christian in the bushes, the reader becomes a voyeur, watching from a safe
distance, the process of self-destruction through ignorance that the blacks are engaged in.
The thoughts and concerns of the participants are not expressed. All identification encour-
aged by the author takes place between the reader and the observers. It is this distancing,
this process of alienation that provides these scenes with the quality of the spectacle that is
so important to the tone of the work. De Lisser, in so doing, ensures that the reader is
psychologically sympathetic to the white men in the bushes. Seen from such a perspective,
this ritual of exorcism which is an important expression of the cultural values of the
community does not succeed in accomplishing what Patrick Taylor argues to be the central
role of myth and ritual in a community:
...[It] should be emphasized that the narrative struc-
ture of ritual brings meaning to all the diverse experi-
ences of everyday life, however minor the tensions and
conflicts created by these experiences. Life, itself, is a
social drama. Essentially, then, ritual recollects the
storehouse of knowledge and meaning in a community
so that it can be used to integrate lived experience.
Ritual brings cultural order to social disorder. The
ordering process is open-ended because new insights
or new experiences can transform traditional under-
De Lisser's relationship to these black rituals is very similar to Salkey's in the novel A
Quality of Violence. In both instances, there is a distinct tone of disapproval and shock
along with a failure to respect or understand the more positive features of the ceremonies
that take place.7 The blacks are merely passionate and unthinking participants in a primeval
and pagan ritual that is ultimately destructive:
The blood spurted in a hot stream upon the body of
the girl and a hoarse cry burst from the people. Deftly
the old man laved Millicent with the gushing blood,
and now there was no rhythm in the sounds that came
from the lips of that crowd, butfierce delirious howls
and shouts, ejaculations of frenzy, a wild medley of
cries. And Takoo was shouting too, at the full range of
his sonorous voice he was charging the evil things that
had taken possession of the Millicent to leave her, to
depart for ever, to be banished from the
neighbourhood everlastingly. (205)8 (Author's empha-
Rutherford is sickened by the ritual and Rider assures him that they must not interfere
in the ceremony because the people believe what they are doing. If Rider shows some
indulgence and respect, albeit condescending, such an attitude is not echoed by de Lisser
whose description of the rituals is very explicitly condemnatory and rooted in the idiom of
colonial missionary rhetoric:
There were to be powerful manifestations tonight,
and the spirits of the older hierophants rejoiced and
revelled in the anticipation of what was to come. Not
often did they dare to practise thus the ritual of an
obscene faith, the magic of Old Africa. The law for-
bade it, and the masters stuck at it with an iron hand.
(202) (Author's emphasis),
Earlier we note Rutherford's own fascination with the rituals and the drumming that he
witnesses. He is drawn towards it as one drawn towards evil. The magnetism of the cult is
not positive and is associated with primitivism:
It has an appeal to the more primitive emotions. It
stirred up something in the depth of one's being. He
could understand how devotees in pagan lands were
moved at times to almost madness by the call and
compulsion of their strange and horrible religion.
(202) (Author's emphasis)
For de Lisser, the passion and emotionalism that he sees as being elemental to this
religion contrasts negatively with the more rational and controlled attitude of the clergy-
man, Rider. Even as a failed Christian clergyman who is unable to control his drinking
habits, Rider becomes a more creditable and morally sound character than any of the
devotees of the religions of Africa largely because he maintains a certain aloofness and
mental power over the pull of these religions. While the blacks are "frenzied", "wildly
agitated fanatics"!' who scream and gyrate with "foam flecking" their lips, and who flee
"gibbering" in terror when faced with Annie Palmer's conjured apparition of the Rolling
Calf, Rutherford and Rider manage to hold their ground and are able to rationalize the evil
through a process of logic:
'... The brute that we saw, Robert was, believe me,
a figment of the imagination. It had no existence out-
side of the bad brain of the wickedest witch in this
Rutherford then dares to confront the "devil" incarnate the next day. His conversation
with Annie Palmer demonstrates the extent to which he has managed to resist the tempta-
tion to fall into the trap of being as mentally weak and as susceptible to Annie's power as
are the blacks. Through Rutherford's apparent defiance based on rational psychological
thought, de Lisser seeks to dismiss the evil acts of the supernatural carried out by Annie
Palmer as mere demonstrations of the workings of a lesser civilization the civilization of
the black culture. Implicit in the fact that Annie manages to rule these people by fear and
fails to control the minds of the expatriate and the other whites is the notion that the whites
are more strong-minded than the blacks:
'...Are you not afraid?'
'Afraid of what?'
'No you cannot harm me. I am not a superstitious
Jamaica woman.' (215)
In fact, he is the very antithesis of that; he is a rational, British man. Combined in this
statement are de Lisser's ideological bent in this novel. The conversation further empha-
sizes this point:
'You are not, but you saw what the others saw last
night, didn't you? And you believe that I called it up
from its natural dwelling-place. You are right; I did, I
set it there on purpose; it obeyed my will. And, white
man though you are, educated man though you are,
you too saw it and trembled, and had I decreed that it
should appear in your own room at dead of night, it
would have been there, Robert Rutherford. It will be
there tonight if I will it.'
He laughed harshly. 'I know too much to take you
seriously,' he said. 'Your spectral bulls and horses are
nothing real; merely something you think up, and it
seems that you must be on the spot before they can be
seen. They are visions to frighten negroes and chil-
dren. Tell what you have said to your slaves and not to
me: you can not frighten me.'
'No? One of my husbands said as much to me once. He
'You killed him?'
'Let us agree that that is so. I can kill others, Mr.
'Only if they are in your power; but remember, I am
not. And perhaps the men you killed were never suffi-
ciently on their guard. You are a woman, Mrs. Palmer,
and I hate to speak as I do to you, but it must be done.
You know I mean what I say...' (215-16.) (Author's
Rutherford calls Annie's bluff and she panics. It turns out that his suspicions about her
power are correct they are based on psychological control and nothing else. We learn
later that her other husbands were murdered by Takoo under her bidding. The mystique that
surrounds Annie Palmer's life is eroded by this rational and strong-minded individual. It is
a myth that has succeeded in subjugating "negroes and children" but fails to do so to British
white men. However, another force has been disarmed in the process. The mythologies of
the blacks and the spiritual and magical forces that are based on these mythologies which
served as important features of the resistance movements in the pre-emancipation Carib-
bean have also been 'shown up" to be vulnerable to the intelligence of the white commu-
nity.9 By perpetuating the myth that spiritual and cultural superiority is located in the
Euro-centric religious traditions, de Lisser's work presents an extremely conservative and
colonialist view of Jamaican society.
The dignity granted to Takoo is undermined by his inability to articulate his own fear of
Miss Annie and ultimately, his inability to demonstrate greater power in a magical art that
should by all rights be his to control. Annie is better at the African Obeah than this African
witch doctor himself. Again the inherent weakness of the mental and moral fortitude of the
black is put into question. Thus even when the belief system of obeah and voodoo is
accepted, the black is shown to be weaker. De Lisser never redresses this. Ultimately, the
blacks act out of rage and passion an act that will only lead to their death. They kill
Annie and start a revolt that results in the death of many of them. Insubordination and
resistance that assume a different guise a more revolutionary guise was never granted
to the negro in this novel.
When Takoo does act, he does so in revenge. His troop of "soldiers" are hardly what one
would term freedom fighters filled with a passion for the liberation of their people. They are
a motley band of drunk blacks who have been virtually forced by Takoo to come and attack
Annie Palmer as an act of revenge. In fact, their resolve is very easily threatened by two
unarmed white men, one a frail ex-clergyman (Rider) and the other, a strong willed English
man. They are pictured as a disorganized bunch of criminals who are as dangerous as they
are full of fear:
It dimly showed a group of blacks some armed with
machetes, with wild rolling eyes and menacing
demeanour;... Her [Annie Palmer's] eyes were aglare
with terror, for the man whose hand had stifled her
screams was Takoo. And in Takoo's face was the
unpitying exultation of a savage. (224.) (Author's em-
One is uncertain what exactly this "unpitying exulation of a savage is"; however, the
phrase is enough to demonstrate de Lisser's portrayal of these men as "savages" who are
acting out of what he presumes to be a primitive lack of civilization. The language is de
Lisser's the words are chosen for the narrator with an understanding of their ideological
implications. When Takoo does make the speech in which he articulates for the first time
the negro's desire for freedom, it rings hollow and futile. On the one hand, the reader is
aware that Takoo is acting out of a desire for vengeance for his grand-daughter and,
secondly, because it is clear that the question of the freedom of the negro is in no way a
central thematic feature of the novel, for beyond this speech we are never informed by the
author whether, in fact, freedom was eventually granted as a result of the rebellion:
'I sentence her to her death, as chief an' leader of
the people in St. James. You talk about me an' dese
men being hanged, Mr. Rider? It is the white men who
have to look for themself now, for we are all free from
tonight every slave in Jamaica is free and we
taking to the mountains to fight until the damn slave-
owners here acknowledge our freedom. It come from
England an' they keeping it back. Very well, we will
take it ourselves, even if some of us have to die for it. I
expec' to die, but dese men with me will live free for
ever. And before I die dis woman will; she will go
before me. No power from hell or heaven can save
Rutherford's determination to rescue Annie from these men is seen by de Lisser as
product of his racial pride. At no point does he challenge this pride and the actions and
thoughts that it prompts. Even Rider, who is fully aware that by supporting her Rutherford
could be inadvertently destroying himself, is equally appalled at this savage attack on the
white woman by black men:
And what Robert burningly raged against the
indignity, the enormity, of this besetting of the white
woman by her slaves, this impending hideous execu-
tion or murder of her by them, Rider also felt to the
full. The very idea was monstrous, atrocious. It mat-
tered nothing what she had done, it was not for these
men rudely to handle her and slay her. It was the duty
of every white man on the estate to stand by her in this
deadly hour of peril. Alas, the others were out of
hearing. And they two were matched against twenty.
One may read in this passage an attempt by de Lisser to show the extent to which the
hypocrisy of white people allows them to ignore the evil of their own when they are being
threatened by blacks. Here, de Lisser could be criticizing both Rutherford and Rider for
their failure to relinquish the strongly held racialist ideas about blacks and whites that have
marred the social relationships of all those in the society, and that are rooted in the system
of slavery. Thus, for all his noble morality and liberal rhetoric, for his apparent distaste of
the system that causes so much hardship for the blacks, Rutherford is still inscribed in the
colonialist doctrine of white superiority and black inferiority. Such a reading would render
de Lisser's work somewhat anti-colonialist and non-conservative in its ideological thrust. It
would grant that the murder of Annie Palmer represents a revolutionary act of liberation for
the blacks, an act that demonstrates their capacity to direct their own destiny. However,
such a reading runs counter to de Lisser's portrayal of the blacks in the novel. They are
portrayed as inferior and savage and this act of murder is merely the culmination of the
savagery of these people. In the context of de Lisser's novel savagery is a negative force.
The "savagery" of the blacks is presented in direct contrast with the "civilized" behaviour
of whites like Rutherford. It is more likely that in this scene de Lisser is emphasizing the
horrific nature of the murder that is committed by Takoo and the other "savages." The
reader's sympathies are so shaped to conform with Rutherford's feelings and reactions.
Rider is used as a kind of rational foil of good sense in the work and he too is appalled at
this act of murder. The rallying of the white community is based on a strong sense of law
and order; a sense that these blacks who are portrayed as savages and drunk participants in
dark and "horrible" spiritual acts, are not fit to mete out judgement against Annie Palmer, a
white slave owner. At no point in the novel is this hegemony of the whites undermined even
if de Lisser questions their abuse of the power that they possess. Annie has simply
over-stepped the bounds of her authority and her gender and entered the realm of evil by
way of usurping the authority of the male; the other slave owners have not necessarily done
so and they remain free of any attack by de Lisser. By granting Rutherford and Rider such
noble emotions emotions that seek to grant life rather than willing death de Lisser
exonerates them from the crime of embracing the violence of the Jamaican society.
Lizabeth Paravisini-Geber provides us with a related explanation for the behaviour of
Rutherford and Rider when Annie's life is threatened:
Rutherford's defense of Annie, whom he is unable
to save from death at Takoo's hand, is a chivalric act
that restores the balance of gender relations previously
upset by Annie's seizing of power through the murder
of three husbands. Annie, finally reduced to the femi-
nine role of white damsel in distress, awakens as much
sympathy from Rutherford as her former role of domi-
neering femme fatale had awakened his abhorrence.
This restoration of the balance of what should be the
proper gender relations between a white man and a
white woman in a patriarchal/plantation society comes
at the price of the dismissal of the murder of the
mulatto woman. It is the crime of murdering Millicient
which "mattered nothing," since in the, scale of values
accepted by Rutherford (and de Lisser), the life of a
white woman, however criminal her deeds, is worth
more than the life of an innocent mulatto girl whose
only crime was that of claiming the recognition of her
worth as a woman. Ironically, it was this same convic-
tion of racial superiority that drove Annie to seek her
Annie Palmer is murdered in the end and the whites are, for the moment, defeated.
However, this victory is short-lived and law and order are restored in a matter of days. At
no point are we told whether the slaves were finally liberated as a result of their actions. In
fact, it is made clear that the entire revolt a political one in historical narratives I I is
quelled and many slaves are executed as a result. Order is restored according to de Lisser.
Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebet describes it as the restoration of plantation power:
The restoration of plantation power which ends the novel brings precisely this kind
of retaliation upon Takoo and the slaves that joined him in the revolt. The insurrection
defeated, Takoo is killed by Ashman, Annie's overseer and former lover, thereby ending
the tale with Annie's death avenged.12
In other words, Annie's death at the hand of the slave fighter Takoo fails as a political
act. By destroying the murderer of Annie, white male society manages to restore itself to a
position of dominance. De Lisser couches this re-establishment of the patriarchal hierarchy
in language that is loaded with moral uprightness. Annie, the evil witch, is dead; Takoo, the
black witch, is also dead; Millicent the mulatto who tries to resist the pressures of colonial
society is dead; and finally, Rutherford, the epitome of goodness, has left the island
The murder of the white woman by the black slaves reinforces the traditional white
paranoia about the masculine male destroying their white people. Significantly, de Lisser
dares not introduce the commonly held notion (in Jamaica folk-lore and legend) that Annie
Palmer was very much involved in sexual relationships with her own slaves. For de Lisser
that kind of liaison is absolute taboo in his work. However, the white goddess is destroyed
by the angry black slaves and the destruction is vivid and dramatic. Annie is being punished
for her acts of sexual deviance at the hands of her own slaves who are male. The murderous
black male is totally unrelenting in his determination to destroy the white woman. The story
reinforces the traditional fear of the black male held by the beleaguered white male. It is
absolutely convenient to have the dyward and deviant female destroyed by the eminently
dangerous black male. The white male will seek to bring order to the society after the chaos.
The white is thus exonerated from the guilt of destroying this symbol of evil which is the
white woman who has been creolized or "blackened" by her clandestine association with
black culture. The blacks rebel through ignorance and will therefore be subjected to harsh
justice for their illegal acts of rebellion. This is the theme that also prevails in his novel
Revenge: A Tale of Old Jamaica (1919) which tries to deal with the Morant Bay Rebellion
in a manner not unlike his treatment of violence in this novel.
De Lisser has critiqued the prejudices and wrongs in his island on the basis of the
criteria established by the English society and captured in the sentiments of the young
expatriate, but the source of problems in the tropics is never really critiqued. De Lisser's
voice is that of one appalled by the sordidness of Caribbean life, but he fails to address the
actual reasons for this sordidness. Violence in this context is seen merely as a product of
this tropical existence. Annie's evil is, significantly, not located in her whiteness or in her
Eurocentric connection, but instead it is discovered in her being totally inscribed and
initiated into the ways of the Caribbean society. She is a woman who has become a victim
of the Caribbean society and who consequently has assumed the unruly and diabolic role of
man-destroyer. Here, the treatment of the female is not unlike the treatment of the black and
in "one fell swoop" both diabolic threats to white male superiority are eliminated.
1. H.G. de Lisser in "Marriage" Jamaica Times, August 25, 1900.
2. Most of these were published in one of his yearly periodicals (eg. Planters Punch). As well, a
number of his novels were published by respectable British Presses.
3. Frantz Fanon provides a useful definition of the Manichean dilemma in The Wretched of the
Earth, New York: Grove Press, 1968: 41. See also his psychoanalytic reading of the mani-
chean conflict in Black Skin White Masks (1967).
4. See Frantz Fanon's Black Skin White Masks, especially page 9. See also Fanon's The Wretched
of the Earth, especially 40-41, and 88. See also, Patrick Taylor's The Narrative of Liberation -
Perspectives on Afro-Caribbean Literature, Popular Culture, and Politics. Ithaca: Cornell Uni-
versity Press, 1989 especially 56- 57.
5. While murdering a white may constitute an act of resistance, its failure to radically change the
status-quo or be placed in the larger context of a systematic act of revolution renders it futile *
and misguided. Fervour, in this instance, has succeeded only in bringing "fire, famine, mis-
ery... And contempt for man." (Fanon, Black Skin White Masks: 9.)
6. The Narrative of Liberation: 99.
7. It should be noted that Salkey's engagement with the subject is far more complex than de
Lisser's. It is clear from the text of A Quality of Violence that Salkey has a more informed un-
derstanding of details of the folk rituals in Jamaican rural society. These two writers differ also
in that Salkey very often seeks to enter the minds of the characters who are participating in the
rituals. In so doing, he manages to explore some of the rationale behind the behaviour of the
people and to explore the meaning of ritual within the community. He, however, shares de
Lisser's suspicions about the efficacy of these rituals and their validity as useful and whole-
some cultural expressions for the peasant community. For more on Salkey's treatment of folk
ritual see E.K. Brathwaite's "The African Presence in Caribbean Literature", Bim, volume 17
No. 65, June 1979: 33-44. This is further dealt with in the chapter on Salkey's A Quality of Vi-
8. Compare this passage with Leonard Barret 's description of a similar crisis ritual in his study of
African cultural retentions in Jamaican society. Note that Baret is a black Jamaican who grew
up in a rural community in Jamaica in which Afrocentric culture was dominant. His descrip-
tion here is based on a recollection of something he actually witnessed. While he is, as a child,
an outsider looking in, he is clearly more of an insider and sympathetic participant than is de
Lisser in the above passage:
A well-known medicine man from a neighboring district, a master of
Kumina, was present. At about sunset, this medicine man and the mother of my
friend, accompanied by two older women and an old man, all of whom are now
dead, began a slow counter- clockwise shuffle. This continued for about five
minutes, after which the tempo became more rapid. The mother of the boy and
the medicine man danced face-to-face without touching each other. As the
tempo became dazzingly fast, the woman became possessed. Protected by the
medicine man, she threw herself about with her hear raised and eyes closed. The
others clapped their hands to the tempo of the dance, but this was not an ordinary
dance; this was a crisis experience. Every now and then the mother of the child
would utter a chilling shriek as she continued to move rapidly stround and
through the circle. Finally, she stood still and in utter abandonment she began to
repeat, "Yes I know, yes I know." There was a sudden change in the atmosphere
and the crowd became motionless a sudden change from uncertainty to
confirmation. The man who killed her son had been revealed to her by her
ancestors. The medicine man quickly took her to a room in the compound where
her closest relative entered and hut the door. Everyone in attendance was
relieved and felt sure that the guilty party was now known. The following
morning the gossip was that it was indeed her lover who had killed the boy. (The
Sun and the Drum: African Roots in Jamaica Folk Tradition, Kingston:
Sangster's Book Stores Ltd. 1976:26)
9. For more on the role of Afro-centric and folk cults in liberation movements of blacks see Jan
Crew's "The Indian and African Presence in the Americas: Some Aspects of Historical distor-
tion" in Expressions of Power in Education: Studies of Class, Gender and Race. ed. E.B.
Gumbert (1984); E.K. Brathwaite's "The African Presence in Caribbean Literature" (refer-
ence above); John Rashford's "The Cotton Tree and the Spiritual realm in Jamaica" Jamaica
Journal volume 18 No. 1, February-April 1985; Patrick Taylor's The Narrative of Liberation,
especially pp. 95-128; and Ivor Moorish's Obeah Christ and Rastaman Cambridge: James
Clarke & Co. 1982.
10. "The White Witch of Rosehall and the legitimacy of female power in the Caribbean plantation"
11. This rebellion is known as the Christmas rebellion of 1831. Sam Sharpe is commonly regarded
as one of the leaders of this revolt. It is clear that de Lisser is basing his narrative on the events
that led up to that revolt in this novel. For more on the Christmas Rebellion See Mary
Record's "The Slave Rebellion of 1831" (Jamaica Journal, 1969. Volume 3, No. 2: 25-31).
12. "The White Witch of Rosehall and the legitimacy..." (41)
The African Religious Heritage in Selected Works of Quince Duncan:
An Expression of Cultural and Literary Marronage
The article examines Quince Duncan's fictional representation of various forms of the
African Religious heritage which are practiced by the West Indian Community in Costa
The notion of cultural marronage as a phenomenon which developed out of their need
to survive physical and racial hostilities is advanced as a framework for the discussion. The
idea that the author's portrayal of these Afro-derived forms represents both literary and
cultural marronage is discussed. Literary marronage is treated as the avoidance of tradi-
tional forms to express message in favour of these Afro-derived ones. The author's repeated
validation of the Afro-derived religious forms, serves as a demonstration of both literary
and cultural marronage, given the dominant Eurocentric culture in which Duncan writes.
Cultural marronage has been used to describe the psychological level on which the
African slaves resisted slavery through the preservation of the cultural forms which they
brought with them to the New World. History records many accounts of resistance to
slavery on the physical level, which included subtle cases of sabotage and the more blatant
forms of rebellion. Cultural marronage was as effective as the various forms of physical
resistance, in that it served to foster unity among the slaves and thereby confound and
confuse their masters. Additionally, these cultural forms provided comfort to the slaves
amidst the cruelty and harshness of their oppressive situation, until emancipation, when
they were at liberty to openly practise them. According to Gordon Lewis,
"the slave populations nourished and developed their
own autonomous world of culture [which] became the
foundation, once slavery was over, of the Caribbean
popular folk cultures of the later nineteenth and twen-
These African-derived cultural forms have, however, been subjected to decades of
debasement and marginalization. This is due to the dominant attitude of the Western World
which favours a white aesthetics, thus promoting the European and denigrating the African
and everything relating to blackness.
The literary works of some black writers, have reflected their desire to redress this
depreciation of the African heritage. This is demonstrated by the affirmation of their
blackness and links with Africa, through the highlighting of different aspects of the African
heritage.2 Some writers also employ African-derived cultural forms to express theme and
message. This demonstrates an important posture of resistance and defiance, on the part of
these writers, which may be regarded as literary marronage.
In order to understand the notion of cultural marronage in Costa Rica, it is necessary to
examine briefly certain factors surrounding the settlement of West Indians in Costa Rica, in
the latter part of the nineteenth century. These West Indians, naturally took their African-
derived cultural forms with them to Costa Rica. Cultural marronage became necessary to
the West Indians in a completely unfamiliar environment which from all accounts,3 was an
extremely hostile and almost inaccessible region, due to the fact that it remained, for the
most part, unsettled, prior to their arrival. Furthermore, they were exploited by the company
with which they worked to build the railway, and later on by the United Fruit Company.
Several racist policies were developed to keep them within the geophysical confines of the
Province of Limon; they were denied citizenship, and, in general, they were seen as
foreigners who were inferior to the latinos of Costa Rica.4
Cultural marronage enabled the West Indians to maintain their special identity and
establish a means of resisting exploitation and oppression. Qunice Duncan, in Teroria y
practice del racism endorses the importance that the Afro-derived cultural forms played
in the early days of the West Indians's settlement of Costa Rica by stating that,
"Por medio del cimarronage cultural, construyo su
propio mundo, sus propios mecanismos de sub-
sistencia, que les permitieron mantenerse con decoro,
en una situation de evidence explotacion. "5
These Afro-derived cultural forms have never been accepted or regarded as part of the
mainstream of Costa Rican culture despite the significance which the black people in
Limon attach to them. The African cultural heritage has been treated with contempt by the
wider Costa Rican society. In El negro en Costa Rica, Quince Duncan highlights this
marginalization in his declaration that:
Segun la escuela costarricense no hay nada en la
historic del negro digno de estudiarse, ni hay por que
estudiar los asuntos negros...Al no incluir nada de la
cultural negra, la escuela costarricense niega los
valores del negro. Una raza en duena de la cultural, la
otra es ignorante.6
In this paper, a selection of the narrative fiction of the Afro-Costa Rican, Quince
Duncan will be examined to demonstrate that he highlights the cultural marronage which
was practised by the Afro-Costa Ricans, particularly in the early periods following their
arrival in Costa Rica. Moreover, it will be seen that in bearing testimony to this cultural
marronage, the author affirms and validates the African cultural heritage and thereby
demonstrates his use of literary marronage.
The African religious heritage in Duncan's works have been singled out for this
discussion, because this is seen to be very consistent with the African world view. Histori-
ans and anthropologists alike agreed that religion is the most important aspect of African
culture. Leonard Barrett, for instance, declares that
"Religion for the African was, is and ever shall be the
source of life and meaning."
Moreover, it was to the religious beliefs and practices that the survival of the African
slaves was most attributed, with the consequence that religion has been established as the
most dominant component of the African heritage in the New World. Edward Brathwaite
provides a definitive summation of this in his declaration that,
"the focus of African culture in the New World is
Whereas these religions were syncretized with Catholic and Protestant forms, the
African component was maintained as the dominant one. In- El negro en Costa Rica,
Duncan attests that the West Indians in Limon were particularly noted for their religious-
ness. Although they established their affiliations to dominant Protestant groups, such as the
Anglicans, baptists and Methodists, they also, and perhaps to a greater extent, practised
their Afro- derived religious forms.9 Ian Smart, in his article, "Religious Elements in the
Narrative of Quince Duncan".10 focuses on the syncretism in the religion of the Afro-Costa
Ricans. While it is true that Duncan portrays this syncretism, it is important to demonstrate
that he emphasizes the predominance of the African influence. In fact it must be as a result
of this dominant African element that the religious heritage has been so marginalized by the
wider society. An examination of selected works by Quince Duncan will demonstrate the
extent to which the black people were steeped in a religion that was in keeping with the
African world view.
Afro-folk Religious Forms
In several of Duncan's works, he suggests that religion was an integral part of the
everyday situation of the Afro-Costa Ricans. Religion is seen to be at the hub of the
people's lives, offering them an outlet from frustration, giving them inspiration and encour-
agement providing a source of cultural marronage. In the short story "La rebellion
pocomia," taken from the collection by the same name, the author reveals the involvement
of the Afro-Costa Ricans in Pukumina, and how it functioned as a form of cultural
marronage for them. The author's display of literary marronage is also evident in his
fictionalized portrayal of this Afro-folk religious form.
The title of the story seems to represent an interesting demonstration of literary marron-
age. The avoidance of the commonly accepted term "Pocomania", seems to be the author's
method of overthrowing the racist attitude with which the Afro- derived form has been
viewed, even before it was transplanted to Costa Rica. According to anthropologist,
Pukumina is a corruption of the name of the old
ancestor cult Kumina...and Pukumina has, in turn been
corrupted in Jamaica to "Pocomania" "a little mad-
ness." the peculiar behaviour of the cultists, their danc-
ing, possession and speaking in unknown languages
may appear to the outsider as a slight "case of mad-
The use of "Pocomia" seems, therefore, to be Duncan's attempt to nullify the unfavour-
able impression created by the term Pocomania.
In what would seem to be an effort to affirm his identification and familiarity with the
cult, the author vividly recreates a typical Pukumina ceremony. This description is in
accord with that given by anthropologists and conjures up vivid pictures of the different
activities which characterize the scene. Words such as "gritos", "golpeteo de tambores",
"jadeando", and "grunen" (p. 10) sharply convey the sounds which would be heard at such
a ceremony. The vivifying quality of the songs and drumming is also effectively portrayed.
The energy and great zest with which the members of the group sing is conveyed through
the description of the voices uniting "con ardor intemporal" (p. 10) while the harmonious
quality of the singing is portrayed through terms such as "canto hermoso" and "armonia".
Movement of the bodies and their vigour and agility are evoked through the image of the
vibrating fan and the description of their legs as they dance. The overall description of the
scene highlights the zeal and passion with which the people participate in the ceremony -
indicating their total self-abandonment to the celebration of their African religious heritage.
Cultural and literary marronage are both staged in this presentation through the very
detailed picture which is evoked, as well as the fact that the story itself unfolds with a tone
of musicality and a rhythmic quality created by these descriptions. Moreover, the fact that
the narrator repeats an adjective of approval, "hermoso", is indicative of his desire to
vindicate this Afro-derived cultural expression and to counter the discourse through which
such forms have traditionally been depreciated an unmistakable posture of resistance and
Duncan seems intent on illustrating that Pukumina was deeply entrenched in the
traditional African religious view. For, certain characteristics of the group which are
highlighted through the narration are also important aspects of traditional African religious
forms. For instance, Jean Paul knows when it is time for him to go to the meeting place
from a signal given on the drum. In Soul Force, Leonard Barrett discusses at length the
importance of the drum in African and neo-African traditions. In the first place, the drum
was the main system of communication. Secondly, the drums have always been an import-
ant aspect of African religious ritual. The spirit of the dead as well as gods were believed to
be summoned to the beat of the drum. Individuals were also believed to become possessed
by the spirits to the beat of the drums. Spirit possession was also an important aspect of the
religion which became integral to cults like Pukumina.12 In "La rebellion pocomia", Mama
Bull, the priestess of the group is delineated as the leader who makes intercession on behalf
of the people to the the ancestral god, Otto. Her portrayal as leader of the group
demonstrates another important fact, "that neo-African and traditional religious practices
are sacerdotal and therefore have priests or priestesses as the main functionaries." As the
story develops and unfolds, we see how the author has woven these important characteris-
tics of this Afro-derived religious form into the fabric of the story.
Duncan presents this Afro-religious group as playing a pivotal role in the Afro-Costa
Ricans' resistance to oppression and exploitation. The plight of the Afro-Costa Ricans is
presented through the disillusionment of the protagonist, Jean Paul. He is frustrated by the
fact that the Companies which recruited them from the West Indies have shown no
intention of fulfilling the agreement of the contracts. Additionally, he is dissatisfied with
the unsafe conditions in which they work, highlighted, for instance, by the death of his
brother. Jean Paul decides that in the same way that his ancestors revolted on the sugar
plantations, they would call a strike and insist that the authorities meet their needs. It is,
however, not until he confers with Mama Bull, and wins her approval to revolt, as well as
an infusion of the "Pocomia spirit" that he makes a definite decision to do so. We are
presented with a clear and effective picture in which Mama Bull intercedes on his behalf to
the god, and the subsequent dance in which they symbolically prepare and strengthen
themselves, as they are infused with the spirit of rebellion. The members of the group
become incensed as they resolve to support the strike and seek justice for themselves:
"Se hara lo que Jean Paul dice..." Mama Bull es
bella como una piedra al rojo vivo. Es buena como
una pantera que protege a sus hijos. Esfiera implac-
able frente a sus enemigos. "Se hara lo que Jean Paul
dice", eso estaba ya sabido, Pero nadie tocara a los
jamaicanos...." ("La rebellion pocomia", La rebellion
pocomia, 1976), p. 10.
The portrayal of Mama Bull through the image of the panther, an animal associated with
fierceness, suggests the belligerent spirit of the god by which she is possessed and by
extension the ability of the group to defeat the enemy. The fact that the Pukumina
Brotherhood is deeply entrenched in its commitment to blackness is revealed through the
warning that despite the refusal of the Jamaicans to support the other West Indian groups,
they would not be attacked during the uprising. For, "son negros como nosotros", (p. 10).
Feeling confident in the strength inbued in them by their Pocomia god, the members of
the Pocomia Brotherhood begin a revolt "que duro un mes", (p. .11). The author seems to
fictionalize this revolt by the Pocomia Brotherhood, in an attempt to authenticate the
religious heritage through the use of history. Duncan has written in Teoria y practice del
racism that the Pocomania rebellion did occur, as the first violent confrontation between
frustrated black workers, and latino authorities.14
The author seems to employ this Afro-derived religion to strike a critical note about
divisiveness among the Blacks. Ironically, the Pocomia Brotherhood simultaneously re-
veals evidence of unity and disunity among the Afro-Costa Ricans. Pukumina was taken to
Costa Rica by the Jamaicans, but through the story we see that the cult served to integrate
and unite West Indians from different islands. It is, therefore, not depicted as being
exclusively Jamaican, but belonging to the entire Black community. However, this unity
and integration are undermined by the refusal of the Jamaicans to support the revolt and by
their subsequent betrayal of the group to the authorities. All the members of the group are
killed by the police through "la ayuda de los jamaicanos" (p. 11). The author seems to
lambast this type of betrayal of Black by Black through Mama Bull's dying words, as she
curses the Jamaicans,
"como cangrejos en barril seran siempre... ninguno
saldra nunca porgue el otro se lo impedira." ("La
rebellion pocomia", La rebellion pocomia, 1976), p.
It is significant that Duncan places this within a context in which the Afro-Costa Ricans
endeavour to assert themselves through their African heritage, for, it underlines the
necessity for commitment and the concerted efforts of all Blacks, if such an assertion is to
Despite the fact that the revolt is squashed and the group is completely annihilated, the
portrayal is important for demonstrating that the Afro-derived cult was integrally bound up
with the Afro-Costa Ricans' everyday situations and problems, and was, therefore a natural
source of cultural marronage. The Afro-Costa Ricans seem to turn instinctively to their
African religious heritage as a means of registering their resistance to oppression and
exploitation. According to Dellita Martin,
"The Pocomania Rebellion is important because it
represents an early assertion of black pride and black
liberation by two heroes/martyrs Jean Paul, the activ-
ist and Mama Bull, the guardian of cultural tradi-
A Major component of the African religious heritage in the New World is the belief that
the ancestors have tremendous influence over their descendants. This is a concept which is
reconstructed in consonance with the explanations given by anthropologists and historians
alike, and is played out over and over again in the works of Duncan, further illustrating the
idea of cultural and literary marronage. This spirit of the ancestors is depicted in Duncan's
works as the Samamfo. The term Samamfo is unique to the narrative fiction of Duncan,
since it has not been used by other writers. According to Duncan, the Samamfo is the
collective memory of the race which passes from generation to generation and which is
active in the religious rites of the people in their struggles and in their experiences. It is the
spirit of the ancestors who never abandon their descendants.16 Duncan's elucidation, is, in
fact consonant with the Ashanti concept of the ancestral spirits, which are named Samamfo.
Captain R.S. Rattray, in his extensive exposition of Ashanti Religions explains that,
"The prime factors in shaping and influencing the ac-
tions and destinies of mankind... are the Samamfo, the
spirits of the departed forbears,"17
Indeed, in several of Duncan's literary works, we see this spirit or power pervading the
daily lives of the people so that they are always conscious of the dead and how the dead
ancestors participate in their affairs. In La paz del pueblo (1978), the old man explains the
concept of the Samamfo to his grandson:
-Abuelo y.... como es eso del cielo y del infierno?
-Eso es cuando termine todo. Al final, despues del
juicio. Pero por ahora nadie se muere, hijo:
simplemente volvemos al samamfo.
-Al samamfo? Buelo que es el samamfo?
-Uno vuelve donde estan los ancestors, eso es todo y
no me importa lo que te haya dicho el pastor; los
postores de ahora ni siquiera leen la Biblia y si leen no
-Pero abuelo...yo vi a Mah morirse...
-Nadie se muere...metase eso en la cabeza: uno vuelve
al samamfo, eso es todo.
La paz del pueblo, 1976, p. 24).
The criticism of the pastor, along with the uncompromising defence of the Samamfo,
represent an important attitude of cultural and literary resistance, given the strength of the
In several of Duncan's literary works, characters are depicted as consciously acting in
keeping with what they believe is a response to the urging of the Samamfo. For instance, as
Leonard Barrett explains,
"The ancestors are believed to be able to give spiritual
insight to the living in dreams and visions."18
In Los cuatro espejos (1973), Charles' father appears to him in dreams, repeatedly
advising him on different decisions which he is about to make. He recommends the lottery
number he should buy in a dream:
La noche veinticuatro a las veinticuatro horas, vio
sobre la pared el numero veinticuatro y a su padre a un
-Vengo de Panama le dijo y traigo el numero
Juegelo con ganas. (Los cuatro espejos. 1973), p. 48.
Charles takes his advice and wins the lottery. The author's use of the coincidence of 24
is intended to add to the mystic quality and give authenticity to the dream.
The Samamfo is later used to highlight Charles' struggles with his latino and Afro-Car-
ibbean worlds as he tries to comprehend the vision which Loreno and the other women
claim they have seen on the ghost which attacks Lorena. Charles is confused by the
description of the "espectro blanco...fantasmo blanco, descarado" (p. 40) and the undeni-
able fact that Lorena lies, immobile after being allegedly attacked by the dopi. He concedes,
"La explicacion era abstract. Una respuesta magica a
un hecho real. A falta de mejores explicaciones habia
que aceptair esa." (Los cuatra espejos, 1973) p. 40.
Further evidence of Charles' conflict of cultural beliefs is presented in his attempts to
confirm Lorena's dream in which Pete has appeared to her. The following passage vividly
conveys through the narrated monologue the impact that this unusual confirmation of the
actions of the dead ancestors has on Charles. The intensity of his conflict is communicated
by the use of incomplete sentences, and the poignancy of the rhetorical question:
No era facil decidirse Ilevar a cabo la orden, porque si
hubiese un paquetito de polvo blanco debajo del
florero, y si ademas su esposa no lo habia puesto....Y si
no hubiese ningun paquetito... De pronto se lejuntaron
sus veintitres anos incluyendo los de studio en el
colegio y los de teologia concentrandose pasado y
present en ese moment. Levanto la maceta grande, y
arrojo los polvos por la ventana.
Sus anos de colegio le dijeron que era suggestion, fuerte
suggestion mental... Poder oculto? (Los cuatro espejos,
1973), p. 51.
In another dream, Charles' father and Jakel, his old neighbour, advise him to seek
medical help for Lorena so as to prolong her life. Despite Charles' consternation, it is
obvious that he respects the views and counsel of the ancestors. Duncan seems to suggest
through these two incidents how difficult it is to escape one's heritage. Moreover, by using
the educated Charles, the author seeks to validate this aspect of the heritage by showing that
it is not only experienced or witnessed by the uneducated or ignorant.
In "Dos Caminos", (Una cancion en la madrugada, 1970) the idea of the ancestors
interveining in the lives of the living to influence them in the direction that their lives
should take, is dramatized through the encounter of a young man with the spirit of an old
black woman. The youth represents the Afro-Costa Ricans, and the Samamfo is the author's
mouthpiece for speaking to the Afro-Costa Ricans. The old woman encourages the young
boy to leave his town, (which one assumes to be Limon) and go to the city (San Jose) where
the educational system is good. She warns him that if he heeds her advice, then his quest for
education will be accompanied by hardships and privation, but education is the only means
by which his race will advance.
The fact that the old woman represents experience and a yard stick against which the
boy can measure his achievements is revealed through the narrator/protagonist's descrip-
tion of the old woman's face. The face is painted as one that reveals all the diversities and
depths of history. The face of the old woman both shows the effects that many years of past
experiences have had on her, as well as indicates what the future holds for the boy. In her
face, then, is the convergence of present and future and this brings the boy's lack of
achievement and his need for self-actualization into sharp focus. Duncan, alludes to the fact
that the West Indians who went to Costa Rica, for many years, refused to learn Spanish.
The old woman states:
"En la misma media en que aprende el idioma sera
hombre o sombra. No lo olvide." (p. 60).
This stubborn resistance to the language later became a serious impediment to the
progress of the Blacks. The writer seems to appeal to blacks to acknowledge, in retrospect,
that their refusal to learn the language greatly encumbered their progress. The role of the
Samamfo thus becomes, also, one of warning against repeating the mistakes of the past.
Despite his acceptance of the wisdom of the old woman's words, the boy returns to his
state of complacency, rather than act on her advice. The ancestor, who is constantly
observing sees the stagnation and returns to repeat the remonstrations to seek a good
education. The use of "siglos" to refer to the time period after which the Samamfo speaks,
takes the role of the Samamfo beyond the limitations of the story, to underline the concept
of the continuing presence of the Samamfo. This time it is not only the value of education
but also hard work and love which are stressed. Love is singled out to be the most important
characteristic for which to strive. Its importance is conveyed by the repetition of the
command "ame, ame,".
-Me he detenido junto al camino, para decirle El que
trabaja sea mayor. El que estudia, entreguese de Ileno,
y sobre todo, hijo, ame, ame mucho...
"Dos caminos," (Una cancion)....1970), p. 60.
The use of the Samamfo is effective since the old woman is able to compare the progress
made by her generation to that made by the present. She is a good judge of how much her
race has achieved over the decades, and she, with her experience, from life already lived,
knows that the struggle for equality and justice is not over. The story ends on a note of hope,
as the youth chooses the path of struggle that eventually leads to self- advancement and
liberation. The author's use of the Samamfo fully demonstrates the abandonment of tradi-
tional Western sources or forms for the use of the African religious heritage to give
expression to his message, thus providing a bold example of literary marronage.
While the Samamfo is seen in the role of motivator and a source of inspiration to young
people in "Dos caminos," in Kimbo (1989), the Samamfo is seen predominantly as a
defender of the integrity of the Black race. In Kimbo, Duncan develops the idea of the
Samamfo to the fullest. For, in the structure of this work the dead ancestors are given equal
treatment with characters who are alive. There is no narrator in the traditional sense, but
instead there are voices which represent different persons. The voices are numbered, and
both living and dead persons speak in a voice bearing a different number Primera Voz.
Segunda Voz. Throughout the work, the dead intermingle with the living, participating in
all the discussions about Kimbo as if there were no difference between the living and the
The role of the Samamfo is unfolded through its defence of Kimbo (the character from
whom the work takes its name), who is tried and imprisoned based on the testimony of
several witnesses, who swear that he was seen to kidnap an important person in the town.
Anti-black racism, is, however the motivating factor behind Kimbo's arrest and condemna-
tion. Through the voices of both the Samamfo and living characters we obtain information
on the trial and on the character of the accused. The ancestors rise in his defence, declaring
that he is incapable of committing such a crime. Their use of the past tense with verbs like
"vivir" serve to underline the fact that they are in fact dead. The following excerpt is
representative of the manner in which the ancestors defend Kimbo,
"Debe quedar libre porque no pudo haber sido el...El
nofue. No pudo haber sido. El es un muchacho bueno,
y eso lo sostuve siempre hasta el dia de mi muerte,
(Kimbo, 1989, pp. 19 20).
When Kimbo's innocence is finally established, the author expresses his satisfaction
with the defeat of racism, through the voice of the Samamfo:
"Esta bien, paisano, jodiste a todos estos hijos de
puta", (Kimbo p. 136).
The ancestors' strong defence of Kimbo is reflected in the vituperative terms em-
As we saw in Los cuatro espejos, the author authenticates the concept of the samamfo
by using a highly trained character. The latino lawyer's belief in the Samamfo is revealed
through the reaction of his incredulous friend:
No hay forma en que una persona muerta pueda... eso
es supersticion, y no es possible que una persona culta,
con una rigurosa formacion, diria yo, los anos de
experiencia litigando...O bien si uno de esos negros
ignorantes del monte para adentro, diga eso, pues
pasa. Pero que tu, tu, precisamente me vengas ahora a
decir que una senora que hace anos murio puede
haber convencido a su hijo para que vuelva al pais a
rendir su declaracion, eso si que no (Kimbo, 1989, p.
The latino lawyer seems to be employed by the author to explode the myth that blacks
hold their beliefs in the Samainfo, and by extension, other aspects of the African heritage
because they are ignorant and primitive. The latino lawyer doubly validates this Afro-de-
rived belief, since he is from the respected dominant race, as well as being highly educated.
Furthermore, through the latino lawyer, the author seems to hint at the fact that belief in
the ancestors is not an exclusively Black belief, and should, therefore, not be so readily
debased by non-Blacks.
An important aspect of the belief in the continuity of the ancestors, is the implication it
carries for childbearing. Janheinz Jahn explains that because the dead ancestor is also
believed to be reborn in his descendants,
"To leave no living heirs behind him is the worst evil
that can befall a man, and there is no curse more
terrible to put on a man than to wish him to die child-
The importance of this feature of the African heritage is delineated through the
relationship between Cornelio and Mariot in La paz del pueblo, (1976). Mariot's preoccu-
pation with the fact that they have no offspring who will inherit "lafuerza, el destino, la
pena, y la gloria del samamfo...," (p. 22), assumes neurotic proportions. Her inner turmoil
and feeling of hopelessness are repeatedly revealed through her interior monologue. The
poignant representation reveals the author's determination to use his fiction to chronicle the
predominantly Afro-centric world view of the Afro Costa-Ricans. This represents a bold
demonstration of marronage, in light of the attitude of the wider society to this world view.
Belief in the Magical
The predominant belief in magic and witchcraft is another significant aspect of tradi-
tional African religion, which anthropologists confirm, continues to be practised by New
World Blacks. In the words of Leonard Barret, "Any study of African traditional religion
must deal with the subject of magic and witchcraft".20 This belief in magic and witchcraft
relates to the African view that all human and non-human entities in the environment
possesses an inherent power which may be channelled by individuals and used for good or
bad. Man's life force, or power, is, therefore, constantly being threatened by the forces
around him and by the malevolence of man, who uses these forces for evil. It was this belief
that resulted in the development of para-religious practices, such as obeah, and voodoo.
Duncan's fictional representation of the Afro-Costa Rican's belief in magic and witchcraft
includes the unshakeable belief in obeah and other practices to which the characters adhere.
This is particularly evident in La paz del pueblo (1976). In this work, almost all the
characters exhibit an all pervasive belief in the magical. The universe is presented as
consisting of various forces against which the characters must constantly protect them-
The author portrays different responses to these non-human forces in the environment
through the myriad stories of ghosts which the characters recount and the conviction
displayed by different characters that there are ghosts stalking their houses. It is reflected,
too, by the many practices in which they indulge to protect themselves. For instance, two
characters speak of the evil which follows one after drinking water in a cemetery or from a
calabash. There are several herbs which must be burned to keep the spirits at bay. Addition-
ally, almost all the characters believe in the efficacy of obeah. Every illness or misfortune
is attributed to the machinations of an obeahman. La Senora Been Brown is adamant that
her son, Cato, has been obeah-ed, hence his psychotic behaviour. Interestingly, the pre-
dominance of this belief in obeah and the magical is revealed through the irony of the latino
Jefe Politico's insistence that the young girl, hit by lightning has been obeahed. Duncan
thus employs an interesting means of challenging the myth that only primitive peoples
believe in the magical.
The Herbal Art
An important characteristic of the African religious heritage is "its emphasis on the
power of curing through the herbal art".21 The importance which the Afro-Costa Ricans
attach to this is also depicted in different works in which they are seen to depend com-
pletely on this form of treatment, ignoring more scientifically accepted ones. In Hombres
curtidos, (1971), this is the basis on which Jakel elaborates with pride the capacity which
his black predecessors had for surviving the harshness of Limon, in the early days, unlike
the latinos who succumbed: "la cultural nuestra nos ensena el uso de ciertas yerbas que nos
inmunizan contra casi todas las enfermedades, o por lo menos nos permiten sobrevivir", (p.
47). In La paz del pueblo, the Whites are derided because of the contempt with which they
regard the medicines used by the Blacks. This derision is effected when Moody, the white
plantation owner, pleads with his black house- keeper to administer her potions to him, in
light of the ineffectiveness of the medicines prescribed by the medical doctor:
....estos malditos dolores, y los malditos medicos de
ahora; ...La maldita ciencia solo ha servido para com-
plicarnos la vida a todos. Porque alli estan los negros
que no saben nada de ciencia. Toman zarzon, soroci,
te de menta y purgantes Eso es todo; y ahi esta Mamy
que no se muere.... Deberias darme remedies caseros
Mamy....(La paz del pueblo, 1978), pp. 128-129.
The author seems to celebrate the triumph of this cultural form, over ridicule and
debasement, in this ironical confession of the white employer, thereby authenticating the
The author's fictional presentation of the African religious heritage confirms that the
segregated social system in Costa Rica encouraged the retention of many of the Afro-folk
forms which were transplanted from the Caribbean. Duncan shows his opposition to the
ina~ginalization of the Afro-Costa Rican culture and his desire to vindicate it and suppress
the racist attitude with which it has been regarded. The fact that he fictionalizes, in detail,
all aspects of this African religious heritage, emphasizes his determination to correct the
invisibility of this cultural heritage from the literature of the region. Moreover, his use of
different aspects of these Afro-derived forms to convey his message, effectively represents
literary marronage. Finally, the author seeks to hold up the African heritage to the Afro-
Costa Ricans themselves so that they will be proud of their culture and not accept its
disparagement by the wider society. The manner in which he repeatedly validates the
African religious heritage represents an effective demonstration on cultural and literary
1. Gordon K. Lewis, Main Currents in Caribbean Thoughts: The Historical Evolution of Carib-
bean Society in its Ideological Aspects 1842 1900 (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University
Press, 1980), 175.
2. Renee Depestre, "Problemas de la identidad del hombre en las literaturas antillanas,: Casa de
las Americas 531 (marzo abril, 1969): 125.
3. Quince Duncan and C. Mellendez, El negro en Costa Rica, (San Jose: Editorial Costa Rica,
4. Duncan and Mellendez 106.
5. Quince Duncan and Lorein Powell, Teoria y practice del racism (San Jose: Editorial Costa
Rica, 1972), pp. 73-74.
6. Duncan and Mellendez 140-141.
7. Leonard Barrett, Soul Force: African Heritage in Afro-American Religion (New York: Double-
day, (1974), p.. 13.
8. E.K. Brathwaite, "The African Presence in Caribbean Literature," Daedalus 103 (1974): 73-109.
9. Duncan and Mellendez 120.
10. Ian Smart, "Religious Elements in the Narrative of Quince Duncan" Afro-Hispanic Review,
Vol. 1:2 (May 1982): 27-31.
11. Barrett 82.
12. barrett 25.
13. Barrett 30.
14. Duncan and Powell 23.
15. Dellita Martin Ogunsola, "Myth and Legend in the Short Fiction of Quince Duncan," Confer-
ence on 'The African Presence in Latin American Life.' Dillard University, New Orleans,
16. Quince Duncan, Kimbo (San Jose: Editorial Costa Rica, 1989, 153.
17. R.S. Rattray, Ashanti (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1923), 126.
18. Barrett 30.
19. Janheinz Jahn, Muntu: An Outline of the New African Culture (New York: Grove Press, 1962)
20. Barrett 27.
21. Barrett 79.
The Camouflaged Drum Melodization of Rhythms and Maroonaged
Ethnicity in Caribbean Peasant Music*
ANGEL G. QUINTERO-RIVERA
(with the special collaboration of Luiz Manuel Alvarez)
Counter Plantation Maroonage and the Ethnic Amalgam
The first book to be considered a "classic" in Puerto Rican custom-picture literature, El
Gibara by Manuel Alonso, published in 1849, describes the dance music of the Island at
that moment as divided in two basic types : upper class dances (balies de sociedad) which
are, he says, "a repeated echo of those from Europe" and garabato dances, "which are those
typical of the country (propios delpais).1 He mentions later on a third type:
those of blacks from Africa or creoles from
Curazao (i.e., the Black Caribbean) which do not de-
serve to be included in this description because, al-
though they can be seen in Puerto Rico, they have
never been generalized.2
In other words, the black dances, though present, were deliberately excluded from the
customs' picture, from what could be considered the country.
One of the most vivid cultural expressions of plantation society was its music, charac-
terized by the importance given to rhythm, to the simultaneous combination of rhythms (or
polyrhythm), and to some particular types of rhythms, which the European musical tradi-
tion syncopated rhythm, dominates. This character was reinforced with the protagonic
role of percussion instruments, mainly the drums. Plantation music became so identified
with drums that in many different places of the Americas, as far as Paraguay, Ecuador,
Santo Domingo, and Puerto Rico it was named bomba (or words with similar sounds) after
an African word for drum.3
The very meticulous studies of Alvarez Nazario on the history of language in Puerto
Rico stress the 19th century distinction among popular music between bomba dances, as
those accompanied by drums, and garabato dances, which come to refer to those popular
dances (i.e., not high society dances) in which drums were not used. The interesting fact he
adds is that the word garabato in this context comes from an African word referring to a
*Paper presented at Congress on Caribbean Cultural Creat-
ivity, Utrecht University, Netherlands, March 25-29, 1992
stick instrument4 and, in fact, the institution of el bastonero ( a person that with a stick
instrument was in charge of indicating changes in figures in the dance) existed originally in
this type of music. Peasant music which was distinguished from Africans' music by the fact
of not using drums, acquired its name also from an African instrument. Popular dances, in
this very origin of their nomenclature manifest, thus, the dialectical tension that character-
izes our first centuries of existence: plantation and counter-plantation, forced domestication
and the camouflage of maroonage. Garabato denominates the (supposedly) non-African,
having emerged as a term from Africa too.
It is important, thus, to examine further this dialectical tension, of fundamental import-
ance for the analysis of Caribbean culture. Given our role in European expansion, this
tension was presented throughout the region, although some societies contained both terms
of the polarity while others were basically either plantation or counter-plantation islands.
In previous writings I have tried to show that faced with the controlled countryside that
the slave plantation represented, the rural Puerto Rico of those early centuries was basically
populated anarchically by fugitives: runaway slaves from neighboring island plantations
of English and French domination; Indians displaced by the destruction of their communi-
ties, their economy and their way of life; and Spaniards seeking refuge from the repercus-
sions of the Peninsula's turbulent atmosphere at the time (internecine ethnic conflicts
against the atmosphere at the time descendants of Jews and Moors, the repressive Inquisi-
tion and the agonizing trials of purity of blood).5 This runaway or cimarron ethnic amalgam
(of blacks, Indians, Moors, Sephardic Jews and other Spaniards of "suspicious anteced-
ents") that tawny- moor (pardo) world, as the chroniclers called it, with their former
cultures menaced or in a process of destruction, began shaping a rural society around the
axis of their fugitive nature a society seeking to shake off oppression by escaping, a
society based on that which we could call in contemporary terms the right to live in peace.
Their runaway character fostered an economy characterized by isolated dwellings and a
family-based mode of subsistence production, an agrarian structure radically different from
that predominant then in Spain (organized around small towns or villages) and which the
state policy had attempted to reproduce in the Americas.6
Much has been polemized in the Hispanic Caribbean around the relative importance of
the cultural backgrounds of the different ethnic groups that formed Caribbean societies and
the analysis of music has been strongly permeated by this discussion. But, to my judge-
ment, more important than these backgrounds which are, of course, important, was the fact
itself of the ethnic amalgam and the way it took form. Cultural elements of all these ethnic
groups, of course, remained: but our cultures and music cannot be seen simply as a mixture
of these remnants. The crucial matrix of our class cultural formation was the counter-plan-
tation nature of that society.
For the analysis of the counter-plantation culture in the Caribbean it is important to use
the term maroonage in its broad original meaning. Maroons have come to be identified
basically with runaway slaves of African descent, but this limits the concept to a particular
type of maroonage. Both, the English word maroon as the French maron, come from the
Spanish cimarron, which had originally this broader meaning of those escaping; escaping
for not having accepted domestification.7 It is very important, also, that the word used in
Puerto Rico to name the country-folk formed in this type of rural formation since late
XVIIIth century was jibaro, when in Cuba this word was a synonym of cimaroon dog.8
Several studies stress the relationship between those words, as with the word guajiro which
will be used in Cuba to name the countryfolk
The most rigorous and documented study of the history of the word jibaro was again,
done by Alvarez Nazario.10 He stresses the relationship of the origins ofjibaro and guajro
with cimaroon, quoting references from the XVIth Century to "Indians that ran away to the
hinterland in order to elude forced serfdom".'1 In Ecuador it was used to name an Indian
tribe characterized by being untamed or wild. The word acquired, later, a descriptive
nature of ethnic amalgam, probably due to the ethnic amalgam nature of this word of
escape. In a Spanish book of 1753 the world is used for creoless and mestizos from
Hispaniola, Puerto Rico and other Islands"; in Brazil it came to mean a mestizo of cafuso
and black, ( cafuso being a mixture of black and Indian). In XVIIIth century Mexico a
jibaro was the offspring of lobo and china ( a lobo being a mixture of black and Indian
and china of Indian and white).
This very revealing etymology of the word which will be used up to now to name in
Puerto Rico the countryfolk is important for the study of the origins of peasant music. Since
the Indian presence was, from early times in our history very weak in the Caribbean, and
since "Hispanic" Caribbean peasant music uses almost no drums (with which the African
influence has been identified in the Americas), but mainly guitar-type instruments, this
peasant music has generally been characterized as basically Spanish. Most general histories
of music in all three "Hispanic" islands stress this identification.12 But the Caribbean
peasantry was very different from the European; it was a counter-plantation peasantry of a
wide ethnic amalgam in maroonage (i.e., of people escaping also from Spain).
The two basic genres of peasant music in Puerto Rico (musical jibara) are the
aguinaldo and sets. In an ethnomusicology doctoral thesis by James McCoy on bomba and
aguinaldo the author presents rhythmic similarities between these two types of music,
While the African influence is not so strongly felt in
the aguinaldo as in the bomba...it is nevertheless sig-
nificant. The driving unrelenting strong rhythmic im-
pulse found in the extant aguinaldo does not originate
in Spain nor Arabia, but instead in the music brought
by the slaves from Africa.
Even though complexity in rhythmic structure exists in
the music of Arabia and Spain...the force of powerful
pulsation found in the Puerto Rican aguinaldo is not
evident in the Spanish villancico...13
There are numerous variants of sets, but at the rhythmic level the research done by
ethnomusicologist Luis Manuel Alvarez has shown four basic types: one whose rhythm
seems to follow Amerindian forms and three (the most popular in fact) whose syncopation
suggest an African influence.14
Although many would like to hide it,jibaro music (as thejibaro itself) is an expression
of the ethnic amalgam. In order to go beyond this basic fact, to try to understand the
particular forms and character that the mixture took, it is necessary to examine more closely
the counter plantation world from which it emerged.
Downgraded Identity and Camouflage: Our Contradictory Culture
...All Caribbean ( sic: people) know, more or less
intuitively that, in the final analysis, the only sure
possession the undertow of history has left them is
their paradoxical culture.15
Counter-plantation cultures in the Caribbean (as all counter- cultures) vary also in terms
of the nature of the presence of its opposite. In countries and/or periods of strong slave
plantation economies, the counter-plantation is a menace because of the attraction it
implies for working slaves. In that sense, runaways are fiercefully chased and runaway
societies, attacked upon. The runaways form villages (palenques) for mutual defense and
for the organization of an alternative, but menaced, living.16 Also, plantation slavery differs
from older forms of slavery in that the reproduction of its labour force is not internally
generated in production, but externally through commerce: in the slave trade. (The intensity
of exploitation was such that the life-span of the slaves was very short and they were
replaced mainly by new slaves incorporated into the society by the slave trade.) This made
the presence of Africa nearer in the memory, and the counter-plantation in this situation
could adopt forms nearer to those of the African societies from which the slaves had been
brought, but obviously, modified by a different situation.17
In societies of weak plantation economies, but a strong garrison city, like in Puerto
Rico, maroonage was an opposite in retreatment not in active opposition. The military
citymen did not see that rural world as a menace, but as a world of primitive indolence. The
runaways did not feel, thus, a need to organize (which could turn them into a menace) and
their anti-urban nature hampered the formation of palenques. This type of counter- planta-
tion society was characterized by isolated family dwellings involved within a family-based
petty mode of production in subsistence agriculture. This, mainly through shifting cultiva-
tion, which marked this form of life with a seminomadic nature. This agrarian structure
was, as already mentioned, radically different from the predominant in Spain then.18 It was
basically a natural economy, the opposite of the plantation commercialism. It developed,
nonetheless, in an epoch and region of growing international trade. The presence of this
commerce was channeled outside State jurisdiction: through smuggling, whose importance
is emphasized over and over in reports and descriptions of the period for all three Hispanic
In spite of the primitive rebelry of its maroonage character, this runaway world of our
first peasantry was extremely vulnerable and contradictory. Its challenge was of escape,
not of attack, which was manifested in the individual type of escape and in the small-hold-
ing farming. Eighteenth century descriptions of Puerto Rico,19 all emphasize the peasant's
love of freedom; but it was the freedom of retreat filled with inferiority complexes: for a
Christian of some Moorish ancestry in Cadiz in 1492 there was nothing worse than his
Moorish ancestry; the Spaniards were the conquerors and the Indians the defeated ones;
black was identified with slave plantation, the opposite of maroonage liberty. Therefore,
the world from which one is retreating, not because it is bad, but because it is the one that
has beaten you, took clear racial tones: the most evident identification. The ethnic amalgam
jibaro world conformed to a rural social formation tinted by self-denigration feelings.
The aspiration of liberty through escape and the self-denigration feelings that it nur-
tured, on the one hand, and the city-based military type of colonialism, on the other, foster
a first (tacit) social accord in the country. Urban colonialism needed to spread "subjects of
the Crown" throughout the island to defend it from attacks of foreign powers. And the
fugitive country dwellers, faced with the possibility of a controlled countryside, a planta-
tion-style colonialism that these foreign neighbors represented, began to take on (valiantly)
this defense of the "Spanish Crown", as evidenced by the many instances in which attacks
by the Dutch, English, and pirates were repelled.
This tactic social contract required special cultural patterns. Spanish scholars describe
the contrast in the XVIth century between "the ample freedom of the humble folk to speak
and criticize, on the one hand, and on the other, the great intransigence against foreigners
and in matters of faith".20 Both kinds of intransigence were intrinsically related, since the
earlier internecine ethnic conflicts had produced an identification of religion with national-
ity. The desire of the fugitives in Puerto Rico to preserve their freedom (of withdrawal, not
confrontation), developed, in this context, contradictory efforts of an unofficial hispaniza-
tion as a shield. In order to avoid the conflicts which that kind of intransigence could
generate, and to make possible the tacit social accord previously alluded to, it was ex-
tremely important not to appear to be a heretic or a foreigner. One of the tnost important
efforts of unofficial hispanization was, therefore, through popular religion a Christianity
that was of basic importance to display, tinted, however, with the libertarian spontaneity of
this new society by the ethnic amalgam of the fugitive country dweller.
This non-institutional popular religiousness through which the country dwellers would
manifest both their non-foreigness and, simultaneously and covertly, their spontaneous
existence outside state domination permeated and shaped their social life. They lived in
daily isolation, and their social encounters took place chiefly around festive activities
which were designed to show that they were not foreigners; that is to say, related to some
Christian (or christianized) celebration. The most important of our black feast days would
be in honor of the most Spanish of all saints: james the Moor-slayer, in Loiza. The most
openly pagan of our feast days the celebration of the summer solstice would be in honor
of the saint for whom Spain had named the island: St. John the Baptist. The most important
celebrations of the country dwellers were those of the Patron Saint of the parish of their
Town the Patron Saint Feasts. Of the fixed holidays (the Winter solstice), the Epiphany
was more important than Christmas itself. It must not be forgotten that one of the Three
Wise Men was an African black, and the other two were from imprecisely defined places
generally referred to as "the East". In a world bounded by the ethnic amalgam, it was
important to establish that a black could be a Christian and a king; and that kings and
Christians could also be people of indistinct origin. For thatjibaro of the countryside whose
origin, because of his fugitive condition [his own or that of his ancestors, it was best to keep
indistinct, the Wise Men from "far-off lands" were a fundamental unifying symbol.21 The
Three Wise Men accurately represented the ethnic amalgam.22 They were united in their
adoration of The Child, that is to say, in the hope for the future.
The Three Wise Men were also wanderers; this strengthened its symbolism in a society
conformed around a seminomadic agriculture. The Three Kings celebrations street, in fact,
the importance of movement. Parrandas were organized: groups of friends visiting with
music and moving from hut to hut. Their Christmas present or aguinaldo was music and the
host's offering or aguinaldo was food and drinks. Both these meanings intermingled with
the name given to one of the two basic genres of peasant music.
An XVIIIth century chronicle very vividly describes the importance that Puerto Rican
peasants attached to these social gatherings, and how, because of their isolated settlement
pattern, they walked miles to participate:
The most beloved diversion or amusement of these
Islanders (are) the dancing parties...for which hun-
dreds show up from everywhere, even if they have not
been invited...these dancing feasts usually last a whole
week...they travel two or three leagues (nearly eight to
twelve miles) with no other purpose than to assist to
the fandango (feast). The music, chants, and obstrep-
erousness of kicks leaves hare-brained for long the
most resistant head.23
In all these peasant celebrations, music and dance played a fundamental role, to the
point that up to today it is impossible to conceive a social gathering in Puerto Rico without
dance and music.
The words used to name the principal music at these social encounters aguinaldo and
seis are revealing as well. Aguinaldo is the Christmas offering, related as previously
stated, to the Three Wise Men, and seis, in the XVIth and XVIIth centuries in Spain was the
music danced to at the most important religious celebrations.24 It was danced in the church,
in front of the altar, as an offering to the Eucharistic sacrament.25 The dance movements of
blacks and mulattos, or people influenced by them, were considered lascivious by the
ecclesiastic authorities in the colonial city, and the seis was prohibited in the Cathedral of
San Juan.26 It is significant that the seis, or at least the nomenclature, took refuge in popular
dance. Seis would be the jibaro dance music, which will always be danced inside the hut,
as in a temple, never outside.27
The fundamental characteristic of social action in maroonage is camouflage through
which the libertarian values of spontaneity and freedom were maintained while confronta-
tion avoided. That is why the phenomenon of masks (which are together with Santos our
most important popular plastic expression) and Carnival-type of feast-practice28 were, and
are, so important in the rituals of social gatherings.
The maroonaged drum
Camouflage is also present injibaro music. Both the aguinaldo and the seis encompass,
at the vital level of rhythm, the clear but camouflaged presence of our racial amalgam. The
rhythms, basically African and Afro-Arabic, are separated from the drums, which identi-
fied plantation music. The polyrhythmic combination was established in the interplay of
other instruments: the guitar, our native lute cuatro the scraper guiro and human
voice. The guitar, very much identified with Spanish culture (coming really from the
Arab-Andalucian tradition) states the basic rhythm, while establishing, simultaneously, the
harmonic pattern. In this way, syncopated rhythms are camouflaged through a harmony
that "sounds" Spanish.
The only percussion instrument retained in the original jibaro music was the guiro,
which is identified in Puerto Rico with the Indian heritage. The instrument plays two
functions in the rhythmic structure of this music. In the first place, following a basic pattern
(which in times evokes, in fact, Indian rhythms) it establishes a rhythmic counterpoint to
the guitar, which is of fundamental importance in the conformation of a polyrthythmic
texture. In the second place, good guiro players depart in times from the basic pattern
making what in this tradition is called repiqueter, which are rhythmic improvisations very
similar to what one of the two drums of traditional bomba does.29 In its contribution to
polyrhythm and through the repiqueteo, one of the bomba drums is camouflaged in jibaro
music through the "humblt'' guiro (as it was epitomized in the XIXth century).
The chant is not call-and-response as the African tradition of bomba, but done by a
solo singer, which evokes the European troubadour tradition and manifests, from my point
of view, the individualism of small holding farming and our type of maroonage. The chant
is improvised in decimas espinelas, which is an old Spanish poetic form,30 but the way to
sing it camouflages too the Moorish heritage ofZejel31 and marks the decima with its own
snycopation which contributes, in its turn, to the comprehensive polyrhythmic texture.
The most important instrument in jibaro music, which has even become a national
symbol, is the cuatro, whose sound resembles that of the Spanish lute or mandolin. All seis
and aguinaldo start with an instrumental prelude in which the cuatro plays a melody that
identifies the particular variant in which the troubadour will have to improvise his decimas.
When the versification begins, the cuatro accompanies the singer with a sort of improvised
obbligato32 through subsidiary melodic phrases which are harmonic-variations (or caden-
zas of the defining theme of the introduction. Through this improvised cuatro obbligato,
the players of jibaro music can show an enormous virtuosity in a "discreet" form, as an
accompaniment which should not compete nor interfere with the singer's melody. It is
especially significant that both, the melodic prelude, or this accompaniment obbligato
transfer to the melodic sphere of music Afrocaribbean rhythms.
The basic melodic phrase of one of the most traditional aguinaldos is structured, in fact,
on one of the bomba variants.
Aguinaldojibaro (Si me dan pasteles)
Ritmos de bomba
Another bomba rhythm is present in the melodic prelude of another of the most popular
(up to this day) aguinaldos
Atf -mri f
I JL J LJ..J
Ritmo de bomba
The Afrocaribbean rhythm identified today with merengue in melodized in the basic
cadenzas of two of the most popular seis:
-i I I -
) d L LI 'gu
Ritmo de merengue
r m rn ra 4n =i\
Otro ritmo de merengue
U7 pa a.
The seis most used for improvisation duels includes in its melody both bomba and
With a sound so radically different from the drums, a brilliant metallic sound which
evoked the strings of Spanish music, the cuatro camouflaged in our contradictory counter-
plantation world the African presence of its denied constitution. No one could imagine
(except those loving these rhythms) that jibaro music was full of (camouflaged) drums.
1. San Juan: Cultural, 1968, pp. 33-34.
2. P. 40 my parenthesis and translation.
I _. k
...i 0 i ; FzF ----"
3. See, for example, Edgardo Diaz, La gomba paraguaya: un document para el studio de la
bomba puertorriquena, Revista La Cancion Popular 1:1, Jan-June, 1986, pp. 8-14; Emilio
Rodriguez Demorizi, Musica y baile en Santo Domingo, Sto. Domingo: Lib. Hispaniola, 1971,
p. 55 and Pedro Henriquez Urena, Musica popular de America, Boletin de Antropologia Ameri-
cana, 9, June, 1984, p. 142.
4. Historia de las denominaciones de los bailes de bomba, Revista del ICP IV: 1, March 1960, p.
61. Cuban ethnomusicologist Argeliers Leon Del canto y el tiempo, La Habana: ed., Letras
Cubanas, 1984, p. 73 points to this same origin of Garanato in Cuba.
5. e.g., La cimarroneria como herencia y utopia, David y Goliath, CLACSO, 48, November 1985,
6. Carmelo Vinas May, Las estructuras agrosociales de la colonizacion espanola en America, re-
print of the Anales de la Real Academia, n. 46, n.p., 1969, pp. 173-230.
7. The word was used first regarding animals that were supposed to be domestic, but were living
wildl, like cattle or dogs. The word referred later to persons that others had tried unsuccess-
fully to domesticate through slavery. The Velazquez Spanish-English Dictionary, Chicago: Fol-
let Pub. Co., 1964, p. 162, very correctly defines cimarron as "wild and unruly", besides
maroon and runaway slave. See also Richard Price, ed., Sociedades cimarronas, Mexico: Siglo
XXI, 1981, p. 11, note 1. Although Price describes this original meaning of the word and
though he is aware of the ethnic fusions in the "wild" (but mainly between Afroamericans and
Indians, p. 25), he uses the term basically in its English assertion of black runaway slave.
8. Esteban Pichardo Diccionario provincial casi razonado de Vozes yfrases cubanas, (ed. 1836),
La Habana: Academia Cubana de la Lengua, 1953, p. 408, defines cimarron ad "El perro o
perra que se hace montarazysu descendencia" Pichardo adds that in the eastern part of the Is-
land (i.e., that closer, geographically, ecologically, and socially to Puerto Rico) jibaro refers to
"alguna vezes al hombre de modales o costumbres agrestes" and is used as synonymous to
"montaraz, rustco e indomable". The twentieth century revision of this dictionary by Esteban
Rodriquez adds that the word is used for "personas y animals cuando huyen del trato
9. Ibid and Francisco J. Santamaria, Diccionario general de americanismos, Mexico: ed. Robredo,
1942, 11, 145-6.
10. El influjo indigena en el espanol en Puerto Rico, SJ: ed. UPR 1977, pp. 67-69.
11. See also in this respect Jalil Sued Badillo, Puerto Rico Negro, SJ: ed. Cultural, 1986, p. 171.
12. See for example, Maria Luisa Munoz, La music en Puerto rico: panorama historico-cultural,
Sharon Conn" Troutman Press, 1966; Hector Campos Parsi, La music en Puerto Rico, Vol-
ume 7 of La gran encyclopedia de Puerto Rico, SJ: ed. R. 1976; Florida de Nolasco, Santo Do-
mingo en el Folklore Universal, Sto. Domingo: Imp. dominicana, 1956; Maria Teresa Linares,
La music y el pueblo, La Habana: Inst. Cubano del libro, 1974 and Argeliers Leon, Del
13. The Bomba and the Aguinaldo of Puerto Rico as they have evolved from indigenous African
and European Cultures, Phd., diss., Florida State U., 1968, p. 82.
14. La presencia negra en la music puertorriquena (in press).
15. Antonio Benitez Rojo, La isla que se repite, Hanover: ed. del Norte, 1989, p. 172.
16. This is the type of maroonage that Price's book quoted above is mostly devoted to, as the subti-
tle of its original English edition states: "Rebel slave communities in the Americas."
17. Jean Casimir, La cultural oprimidad, Mexico: Nueva Imagen, 1981, especially Chapter IV; and
Studio de caso respuesta a los problems de la esclavitud y de la colonizacion en Haiti en
Moreno Fraginals, Africa...Chapter XVII, has convincingly argued that post-independence Hai-
tian village-society (aldeana) was a modified African presence in America through the
counter- plantation ideology. It was the only case, to my knowledge, where counter-plantation
social formation was not only predominant, but dominant, and the analysis of its relations with
the new national state could provide important insights of its dynamics and contradictions. Ja-
maican society of post-emancipation experienced processes of a similar aldeana character.
See, for example, Philip D. Curtin, Two Jamaicas 1830-65, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard U.
18. Carmelo Vinas Mey, El problema de la tierra en la Espana de los siglos XV/ y XVII, Madrid:
Inst. Jeronimo Zurila, 1941.
19. Fray Inigo Abbad y Lasterra, Historia georafica, civil y natural de la isla de San Juan Bautista
de Puerto Rico (1782), SJ: ed. UPR, 1959, fernando Miyares, Noticias particulares de la isla y
Plaza de San Juan de Puerto Rico (1775), SJ: UPR, 1957, and Andree Pierre Ledru, Viaje a la
Isla de Puerto Rico (1797), SJ: Imp. military de J. Gonzalez, 1963. See also Angel Lopez Can-
tos, Notas para una aproximacion al character de los puertorriquenos (siglo XVIII), Cruz Ansata
20. Julio Caro Baroja, Inquisicion, brujeria y criptojudaismo (Barcelona: Ariel, 1970), p. 17, my
21. Ramon Lopez, Supplement on the tradition of the Three Wise Men, En Rojo, Claridad first
week of January 1990.
22. It is revealing that all those regions in the Americas which attached more importance to Epiph-
any than Christmas day were areas of important black elements in their ethnic configuration.
23. Abbad, pp. 188-190.
24. Ludwig Pfandl, Cultura y costumbres del pueblo espanol de los siglos XVI (Barcelona:
Araluce, 1942), p. 256.
25. Ibid., p. 161.
26. Salvador Brau, Historia de Puerto Rico (New York: D Appleton & Co., 1904), p. 158.
27. I am grateful to my colleague, the ethnomusicologist Luis Manuel Alvarez, for calling the rit-
ual of this tradition to my attention.
28. In the broad sense of Bakhtin, not necessarily during the Carnival period. See e.g., Rabelais
and His Word, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1968.
29. The bomba is usually played with two drums; one states the basic rhythmic pattern and the
other improvises over that patterns. This second drum is sometimes called, in fact, repicador.
30. It is interesting that decimas is the form adopted by other black communities in Latin America.
e.g., Jean Rahier, La decima: poesfa oral negra del Ecuador, n.p. (Quito?): ed. Abya yala, n.d.
31. Luis Manuel Alvarez, African Heritage of Puerto Rican Folk- music: Poetic Structure, ms.
Univ. of Indiana, 1979.
32. New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Stantey Sadie, ed., London; Macmillan, 1980,
Vol. 13, p. 460, defines the obbligato as "an independent part in concerted music ranking in
importance just below the principal melody and not to be omitted".
33. More details in Luis Manuel Alvarez, Antologia de la musicafolklorica puertorriquena, SJ:
ICP, (in press).
Memory Spirituals of the Liberated American Soldiers in Trinidad's
Andrew Pearse, social scientist, tutor and director of Research Studies in the Extra-
Mural Department of the University of the West Indies at St. Augustine, Trinidad, initiated
the unearthing and collection of valuable Caribbean song/dance materials in the early
1950's.I As I examined the Pearse Archive, a paper-clipped set of ten transcribed songs,
called "Trumpet Songs," came to my attention. These songs include rousing choruses that I
recalled hearing earlier in Spiritual Baptist services in Trinidad which I felt were Negro
Spirituals.2 I could not, at that point, explain their use in that place and time. This paper
initiates the discovery of the song origins and realizes what I imagine to be Pearse's
intended research goal for the song folder: the investigation of the source and context of the
songs. I label the ethnomusicological approach employed here "historical ethnomusicol-
ogy" for the focus, rather than simply viewing the music within its cultural context,
embraces the historical as well. The Pearse list of Trumpet Songs follows:
TEN RUMPET SONGS
(exponent, Frank Mayhew)
Buy me own land
King Jesus give us water
Look at the work
Sail out and buy
Shout, believer, shout
David mourns Absalom
The Israelites in the morning
On the battlefield
We're gwine to Nineveh
My task was a difficult one, for Trinidad culture emerged from multiple transplanted
world cultures and consequently the songs in question could have travelled to Trinidad by
curious, circuitous routes, under varied circumstances, through missionary or secular
voices; they could have been recently appropriated through Trinidad's undulating
migratory cycles, or borrowEd in the 1920's by Trinidadian workers building bridges and
subways in New York City. The songs could have been transported to Trinidad as early as
the nineteenth century by the black American soldiers who were liberated after their service
in the British army during the War of 1812. Weighing these possibilities caused me to
suggest that the Trumpet Songs and Trinidad Spirituals may have been nurtured by all three
possibilities. That is, though introduced into Trinidad by black American soldiers, they
could have gained further passage, revitalization, and re-creation on the other two vehicles
In setting this conclusion I remain aware of tenets, some of which, due to the extraordi-
nary experiences of the black song owners (that include slavery, colonization, legal reli-
gious suppression), may have exclusive employment in the research of black song. The
1. Song origins must coincide with the history of the people and its meanings in-
terpreted in tandem with the song's function
2. A song may be donated or appropriated by a small or large band of people
3. Physical and cultural environment, migration, escape/flight, religious conver-
sion, post-war dispersal, colonization, impact melody, text, imagery and meaning
4. The song's structure may change as the context and function of the singing al-
5. Song imagery may survive with similar or altered meanings; texts may bear
double or triple meanings.
6. Song repertoires may carry knowledge and a "connectedness" to another time
sphere and another continent.
Before commencing this investigation I had read of Baptist African/Americans who had
individually escaped slavery; and who, with the aid of the British navy, immigrated and
settled in Trinidad. The British assured to those who were "disposed to emigrate" from the
United States that they would be welcomed aboard ... and given "their choice of either
entering into His Majesty's sea or land forces, or of being sent as free settlers to the British
possessions in North America or the West Indies, where they will meet with all due
encouragement."3 This information was carried by word of mouth to the enslaved people,
and large numbers sought their freedom in this way. Escapees not willing to join the troops
were evacuated by the British to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Many enslaved men
bought their freedom by joining the American Navy while others were "pressed" into
service by their slave holders. In all, "About 3,600 slaves detached themselves from their
owners during the War of 1812,"4 Those who chose to aid the British naval onslaught
against America bore arms and worked as guides and spies on familiar terrains during land
The British knew of the humiliation, shock and unsettling aspect to southern Americans
at the sight of blacks participating in warfare. They imagined that black soldiers would be
especially intimidating to the foe (with their experience as horsemen) in cavalry crusades,
and felt also that "[the blacks'] hatred of slavery would make them as ruthless as Cos-
sacks."5 Moreover, British Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane was further aware of the
real and implied threat to America of the insurrectionary powers of the enslaved and
Amerindian populations and used this type of psychological warfare to some extent in his
battles with America.
After the war the black soldiers transported to Trinidad by the British were settled in
Company Villages. Many of their descendants still inhabit the five surviving Company
Villages, where they continue to practice Baptist rituals and other modes of American
culture inherited from their forefathers.
I visited Princes Town in the southern district of Trinidad in search of song survivals
and fortuitously found myself at Third Company Baptist Church (Mt. Pleasant) on Moruga
Road. The pastor of the historically independent church suggested that I visit a women's
group that met the following evening to find out more about the song materials that I
sought. Returning to the church the next evening I introduced my project to a community
of sixteen women.
Without hesitation the women transformed their structured bible study hour into two
hours of spiritual singing interspersed with their descriptions of old practices, personal
reminicences, and prayers. In this way they introduced to me their "oldest songs" that
included choruses and common meter hymns. Their president, Mrs. Millicent Sambury,
advised that "The songs bring back our memory ... We don't know the meaning..., but we
just sing them not just for spiritual upliftment, but so others can learn from them."6
As I recited the title of each selection from the Pearse list, the women sang those they
knew (all except "Look at the Work" and "David Mourns") and added the titles below to
their collection of "old songs."
1. Jesus, lend me your wings
3. I want to dance
4. Tell Zacchaeus
5. No man to hinder me
6. Hold on the vine
8. The angel that visit the jail
9. Tell Mary to Tell Martha
10. 0, we build a camp in the wilderness
11. Happy day
12. Every time I feel the spirit
In search of other repertoire items, one of the women proposed "Jacob's ladder, but
others dismissed the suggestion for they were sure that I knew it. This song, because of its
universal popularity, may represent an item recently borrowed. However, some notion of
the longevity of the other American songs in Trinidad was ascertained for me by older
members who had "heard it as a child." The woman noted that "Sail Out and Buy" in
particular was considered a Spiritual Baptist song and "No man to hinder me" and "0, we
build a camp" were "old, old ones." Three of the songs recorded by Pearse in a 1950's
Spiritual Baptist context "King Jesus give me water," "The Israelites in the Morning"
and "Where Jonah Gone"- had generated alternative tunes and texts, though retaining the
basic textual imagery of those songs sung by the Third Company Baptist Church. Four
other songs "No man to hinder me," "Jordon river so chilly and cold," "On the
battlefieldfor my Lord," and "Everytime I feel the spirit" --share unmistakable musical
roots with the American spirituals of the same name.
Portia Maultsby7 identifies the most usual characteristics of the Negro Spiritual to be
the four-line chorus & verse, use of call and response patterns and syllabic settings. The
Trinidad Trumpet Songs conform to all the above structural properties of the Negro
Spiritual except that they survive only as choruses, except for one song, "The Israelites, "
which has a verse/chorus structure. The Trinidad spirituals bear a further resemblance of
the American slave songs in regard to the incorporation of biblical themes and names. A
personal involvement with biblical figures is found in songs that speak directly in the voice
of a bold neighbor instructing one to "Tell Mary to tell Martha, or speak with the authority
of a mother who orders Zacchaeas to come down from the tree. Further analogies are found
in persistent water imagery, as in "Jordan River" and "Canaan's shore, and in the use of
the metaphors such as "the wilderness" and "the battlefield." Many allusions to the Hebrew
struggles, wanderings, and personal alienation permeate the texts of both the American
Spirituals and the Trinidad items. Four of the ten Trinidad spirituals recorded by Pearse
allude to water, three speak of the land and two refer to the Hebrew nation. The texture of
the Third Company Baptist women's singing is heterophonic with persistent foot patting
accompaniment. The affect is ecstatic.
History of the Company Villages
Some of the singers who participated in the taped song interview descend from liberated
black soldiers from South Carolina and Georgia who fled slavery to fight under the British
flag in the war of 1612. The soldiers' exchange for "blood price" military service was
manumission and asylum outside of the United States. After the war the rebellious ex-slave
soldiers were sent to the Corps of Colonial Marines base in Bermuda from which the
disbanded troops were finally exported to the Savanna Grande region of Trinidad as settlers
in the British colony.
In a detailed paper based upon British colonial documents, K.O. Laurence explains that
the slave soldiers "...for whom the British government accept responsibility... [had] fallen
into British hands during the war with the United States...others seem simply to have been
former slaves liberated by the British during their campaign in America."8
Laurence explains further that some Americans were also settled in Nova Scotia while
soldiers liberated from West Indian Regiments, formerly recruited in Sierra Leone, made
up the north Trinidad settlements in Arima and Manzanilla.9The northern settlements,
created under similar colonial principles and practices, produced a distinct and separate
history and culture from that of the American troops disbanded in the south of Trinidad.
Those units, with more recent African experience cultivated an Islamic culture and a Creole
"Manzanilla language that was nurtured under the dominance of mandingo ex-sergeants
who assumed the roles of priests and teachers.10
The first ex-slave refugees entered the colony of Trinidad in 1815 only eighteen years
after Britain had seized it from Spain. Under Spain's agis, the colony vigorously recuited
Catholic immigrants to the sparsely populated island through land grants. But the lands
generously offered to Creoles of Grenada, St. Vincent, Martinique, St. Lucia and Guade-
loupe remained inadequately cultivated due the lack of the necessary work force.
The legal importation of enslaved people had been proscribed in 1807, and with that,
the agricultural potential of the sparcely populated and verdant real estate could not be
achieved. The colonial government was well aware of the need for bringing to the island
immigrants to cultivate the infant colony, and therefore the prospect of including this group
of Americans was not out of step with the colonial agenda of the era. That the Americans
were English-speaking made them especially adaptable and useful to the Anglo leaders
who fortuitiously governed a French and Patois speaking population. The free Black
settlers, probably registered as "Free Coloureds," enlarged a population that in 1817
comprised the following groups.
White Free Coloured Native American Indian Slaves
3,650 10,830 1,157 23,828
Total population 39,46512
After Britain's emancipation of all enslaved Africans in 1838, many newly freed people
from neighboring islands were lured to Trinidad's sugar fields by the appealing work
opportunities.13 A short time later, waves of indentured servants came ashore from distant
points to join the African, Coloured, and White Patois-speaking, Catholic/Anglican popu-
lation. These included the Chinese, Indian and liberated West African indentured workers
who swarmed to Trinidad (beginning in the 1840s), creating what is today, undoubtedly,
one of the most ethnically heterogeneous regions of the world.
The ex-slave American soldiers arriving in 1815 were among the earliest settlers in
Trinidad and they stand out as singular, being the only minority admitted to Trinidad
(during its short history as a slave society) as independent, peasant farmers.14 Each family
was promised (though not ever fully granted)15 sixteen acres of land outlying the eight
villages that were set up for them.
Fifty-seven Americans arrived in 1815, 575 in 1816, and 79 in 1821.In 1817, in order to
equalize the stilted gender ratio, fifty-two African women were brought in and later another
eleven women from Barbados. In 1824 the companies' manager, Robert Mitchell, esti-
mated the total number of Company Village inhabitants to be 876.16 Laurence creates a
census of the new comers that varies slightly from the estimate given by Mitchell, and
itemizes the gender distribution and place of embarkation.
November 1815 from Bermuda 32 men, 14 women,
August 1816 from Bermuda 404 men, 83 women, 87
December 1817 from Africa 42 women.17
The "principal group" arrived during the rainly season and, as Vincent reports 18 from
culture bearer interviews, they treked forty miles on muddy bridle paths from Port of Spain
to the wooded camp site. An area had been cleared for them by the Amerindians of the
Jesuit Mission (now Princes Town), and four thatched structures sixty feet by twenty wide,
as well as a planted crop of provisions, awaited them. It is presumed that they were divided
in military fashion and assigned to camps spread about four or five miles apart, which were
policed by a sergeant and corporal. All the camps were supervised by Mitchell, the white
manager. Initially each reorganized troop lived together and ate in co-operative messes, for
which iron pots were provided. Food, rations (for up to eight months), hoes, cutlasses, nails,
and other basic tools were also supplied to each company. Each group had the benefit of its
own "craftsmen and mechanics,"19 who were presumably equally distributed among the
settlers to supervise the erection of individual houses. The taxes levied on each land parcel
was that of "quit rent" (no services attached) of fifteen shillings per year and a hospital dues
of 18 shillings each quarter.20
The refugee soldiers planted corn, banana, yams, cassava, eddoes, tannias, arrowroot,
and introduced rice cultivation to Trinidad, for which they have gained distinction.21 In the
early history of the settlements the newcomers worked mainly as road builders, lumberers,
trenchers, clearing land for cane agriculture while some worked as casual laborers on the
neighboring estates. W.H. Gamble22 describes them as "great hunters" and Mahon reveals
that they were also horsemen.23
The details above, if compared with contemporary accounts of refugee flight and
expatriation, appear innocuous and even congenial, but when read in tandem with oral
studies and the published complaint of the nineteenth century, mixed-race activist, Jean
Baptist Philip, 24 they call forth contrary interpretations.
Philip, a doctor who lived among other wealthy "free coloreds" in the Naparima area
and in the vicinity of the Company villages, must have written about the plight of the
refugees from personal experience. His bitter narrative alters the facts presented above at
his exposure of the self-styled supervisor, Mitchell, whom the governor titled, "friend and
protector of the settlers."25 Mitchell himself explains in a 1824 transcript entitled, "Minutes
of Evidence ... For Enquiring Into the Negroe Character"26 that he had the authority to
mete out sentences only twenty-five blows. Philip reports the payment of hospital dues as a
scam and accuses Mitchell of exploiting the trust of the Americans, using them improperly
and sentencing a major case without a jury.27
With these and many other allegations by Philip and others, one suspects the govern-
ment of neglecting the Company Villages and questions the initial motive of the British,
who it could be suggested, acted in less then humanitarian ways. Rather than "accepting
responsibility for them" (as phrased above) the "protection" of the soldiers may be seen as
originating purely for economic advantage.28 In fact, the settlers were unknowingly part of
the larger pragmatic design to conquer the Trinidad frontier and establish a road system
connecting The Mission with San Fernando and Moruga; the villages were strategically
placed with these and other commercial goals on the colonial agenda.29
The lot of the liberated soldiers was one of double exploitation: first as "blood" soldiers
in a war that was not theirs, then as transplanted peons to serve as an unpaid work force for
a new master, Mitchell. Thus, the ex-slave Americans, as Philip declares, merely ex-
changed the American slavemaster for a paternalistic commander who treated them like
Historical document, memory and song create a picture of abandonment and neglect of
the refugees whose experience in Trinidad may have been terrifyingly akin to the experi-
ences of American slavery from which they sought relief. Missionary diarists writing in the
1860's describe the people as "self- reliant and sensitive of control," "independent of the
outer world," "slow to yield obedience to the law and unwilling to submit."31 The official
evaluation of them in Governor MacLeod's words is that they proved themselves "a most
valuable acquisition." They spoke English, "..were industrious... of correct moral conduct
and held strong religious views..."32 Philip also commented in the same vain: "...[the
refugees] have, by their conduct laughed to scorn the suspicions of those who opposed their
admission into the quarter, and have demonstrated clearly that free negroes, although
uneducated, can be useful citizens, and live very differently than the state predicted..."33
The villages inhabited by the free Black Americans were imbedded within lush virgin
woods and far from paths that, in the rainy season, were muddy and utterly impassable.
They lived far afield from the major creole society and pursued only limited contact with
enslaved people. As free people who had been inserted into a slave economy they moved
within an alienated and "walled-in" culture. The isolation imposed upon them through their
expatriation created a curious self-reliance and a fierce independence that to this day
qualifies their descendants to be called, in a slightly derogatory way, "Merikins."
Evidence of the historical, light-knit social bonding of the people was their "cutting
feasts," a mutual aid enterprise that called together the men of the village. Each man was
armed with 2 sharp cutlasses to eliminate the high grass and corn stalks from the last crop.
The feast (food and liquor) was the reward offered by the host for their work. The following
quote from Gamble describes a forest variation of the "cutting feast," "day for day,"34 that
is familiar by assorted names to many societies in the Caribbean and Dahomey.35 In
Trinidad the cooperative work system of the American woodsmen was most correctly
called the "sawing-feast."
A number of them (say twenty or fifty) assemble to-
gether in the woods, where, a few days previously,
several cedar-trees have been felled, squared, and cut
into length, with much good will and noisy mirth they
turn to, and with cutlass, axe, and liane for ropes, they
soon rig up a famous saw-pit. They choose two stand-
ing trees at convenient distance from each other, fell a
couple sufficiently strong for runners, rest one end of
them in a crutch of a standing tree, secure it with
lines, the other end resting on the ground thus form-
ing an incline plane, up which they soon roll the tim-
ber. They level it with wedges line it into boards or
planks or scantling, using charcoal, or the juice of a
nut, which in colour is red, according to the nature of
the wood they have to saw, and away they work. I have
known them to saw as many as 250 cedar boards 12'
long, 12" wide and 1" thick in a day.36
Physically walled-in by the forest and culturally isolated by language and nationality
the ex-slave Baptists held to their southern American religious heritage closely. Recogniz-
ing their need for religious instruction, so early as 1817 they petitioned for a minister. The
Company villages had to wait twenty-eight years for a missionary, for it was not until 1845
that Rev. George Cowen of the London Baptist Missionary Society arrived in southern
Trinidad. Until then, three men of the group had served as preachers. One of the ministers
remembered "having been flogged in America, thirty years before, for conducting a prayer-
meeting with his fellow slaves."37 It is not clear whether he was the "Brother Will"
Hamilton, the first American preacher in Trinidad, who served the Fifth Company church
from the time of his landing in Trinidad to his death in 1860. Though Rev. Hamilton did not
meet the requisites for a pastor as set by the British missionaries, they did concede that he
was an eloquent speaker and literate man.38
Edward Underhill, a British missionary who visited the third Company Baptist church
during Hamilton's lifetime, hints at the cultural differences that created conflicts in modes
of worship and tensions between the African congregations and the English missionaries:
A very pleasant ride through the woods brought us to
one of the neatest chapels I had seen the entire work
of the people themselves: it was built of cedar, and
shingled; and with its pointed windows, and high roof,
bore quite an ecclesiastical appearance... The land of
the settlers was cleaner and better cultivated than any I
had seen. About 150 people, summoned by the sound-
ing of a conch shell, met us, filling the chapel; all well
-dressed, and many coming on horseback... For some
time past they have stood aloof from the missionary, a
position which originated... in the introduction of fa-
natical excesses among them...39
The "fanatical excesses" referred to by Underhill were the ecstatic expressions of the
church that, to the British, seemed out of keeping with their style of worship. Underhill
describes his discomfort at service he Id at the Fourth Company Baptist Church where "One
woman swayed her body from side to side, and was scarcely held in the seat by her
neighbours." When he saw these "symptoms of excitement," Underhill reveals, he hurriedly
concluded the service.39
Though today less evident in the Sunday services, the "fanatical excesses" are practiced
at meetings, revivals, funerals and baptisms faintly mirroring the "breakaway," the
dance/shout practiced by the old folks up to approximately twenty-five years ago. Mrs.
Sambury of the modern Third Company Church explains the religious excitement that
confused Underhill in this way:
When you sing, as you sing, you get strong. And when
you get strong, the spirit arrests you and when the
spirit arrests you, you have to sing and when you
We dance too...dance in the spirit.41
The transmission of American slave songs within Trinidad and Tobago paralleled the
burgeoning African-oriented Spiritual Baptist church movement in southern Trinidad,
whose membership retains the practice of spiritual singing to this day. The complete history
of the Spiritual Baptist (also known as the Shouters) has yet to be written; the dates
suggested for its inception remain unfounded. The African orientation42 of the group's
worship style advances in self-contained and secretive ways for it has, in the past, resulted
in social discrimination and legal suppression by the authorities. Anti-drum laws, interdic-
tory laws, and the Shouter Prohibition Ordinance (1917) were enacted to wipe out practices
that were seen as related to obeah and witchcraft.43 During the period 1917 1951 police
raids of their services were common. Spiritual dissenters were not generally physically
abused for their religious faith as had been the enslaved Baptists of the previous century.
They were, however, penalized by the courts.
The affinity between Trinidad's Spiritual Baptist Church and the African Orisa
(Shango) religion is only now becoming fully recognized. Similarly, Catholic rituals and a
multitude of distant vocal musical styles which include Yoruba song, Hindu chant and
Anglican hymns are evident in the Spiritual Baptist worship service. These international
invocations constitute the musical ground for the overlayered, superimposed "sheets of
sound" that form the prayer ritual for the mental search for "power""44 and astral flight. The
songs under discussion here (called Trumpet Songs by the Spiritual Baptists) are most often
sung at deeply spiritual events, such as baptisms, wakes, adoption practices, and mourning
"Papa Neza" (Samuel Ebenezer Eliot), an influential leader of the Shango movement,
may also be claimed as significant in the dissemination of the American spiritual songs.
Born in 1901 of African/American descent at Third Company Village, he is regarded by
some writers as a musical link between the American Black Baptists and the Orisa religion
(Huggins 1978, 64).
I include, as an active agent in song dissemination (beside individuals like "Papa
Neza"), the need of the Spiritual Baptists for social protection; and suggest here that they
may have sought acceptability and "authenticity" by identifying with the American Baptists
during their own era of the persecution. Not only did their name change from "Shouters" to
"Spiritual Baptists," but the dress of 19th century American enslaved people (apron, long
skirt and head wrap with bare feet) identifies them. Thus, we suspect that the desire for
inclusion within a socially acceptable sect may have extended to their choice of musical
It is essential to this study that the themes of isolation (caused by the placement of the
villages) and cultural seclusion (promoted by language, nationality and religious differ-
ences) be appreciated and seen as operating in favour of the continuity of song culture. I
hypothesize that the American Baptist used the songs in special ways that caused their
projection toward and absorption by other Baptist societies.
I present below the ten Trumpet Songs collected and transcribed by Andrew Pearse with
additional texts gathered by me from the Third Company Village performance.46 Two
Blues/Spirituals of special interest that were taped at the Company Village interview are
Ten Trumpet Songs Transcribed by Pearse
Buy Me Own Land (sketch)
I'm goin' buy me land in Canaan
Buy me own land
Buy me land in Canaan
Buy me own land
De spirit waiting on me
to buy me own land
'"Bu.l he ow "to, I
itr f^ rn \F. n ^ =
King Jesus Give Us Water
King Jesus give us water,
but not from de well
King Jesus give us water,
but not from de well
We went out singing,
We came back bringing,
King Jesus give us water,
but not from de well
f^ f a K :e
at ce-^ O '.t ^ *t'r b*t t-Dr dro_ dW we LaL, 4t Ig L.J-C, I ,A
briFb-*"4l l' J6 t*^ 4i~e **. uT b Cot J Y il
Look at the Work
look at de work laid down on the field
Show me your children work, oh
Look at de work laid down on de field
Show me your children work
look at de work laid down on de field
Show me your children work
Look at de work laid down on de field
Show me your children work
Asked de Captain show me de work
Show me de children work
verse 3, etc.
(Asked de Nurse, Prover, Diver, Leader Watchman,
Lok at d..- .'
i -J' p j jaj j> j u j n' j 1^- joi
Sook at de 00Ac Lt; -4 Aeld, hS J.1 ou .(Jnrclde^ */k
Sail Out and Buy
Captain say, "Sail out and buy-oh
Sail out and buy-oh
Verse 2 De nursery say (etc)
(note on Pearse manuscript: "The movement of this
song is fast rowing, with strong off beat. It is reitera-
tive, and as it warms up, the accented "Sail-ee-on!"
cuts in earlier and earlier...")
''" IL out I I "
'e5t& J oDtu^ -d lu o
_44 .- .a o t. Lcl bul I ,
Sa ec i oDi t cc, t 5J o A buy
Jordon River (fragment?)
1. Jordon river so chilly and cold
Help me to cross over Jordan
2. Crossing, rolling Jordan
help me to cross over Jordan
(Please note: "Sung on reaching the river for baptism")
Shout, Believer, Shout
Shout, believer, shout, on Canaan's happy shore
I land you safe on Canaan's happy shore
>L;oUC C >& IrU ao&t kp
lA.'s s:ac.f on. CAnawo4!n hap-py shore-
David Mourns Absalom
1. King David mourning for his son, Absalom,
son, Absalom, son, Absalom
King David mourning for his son, Absalom,
Oh, Absalom, my son
2. Go bring me back my very son, Absalom
S3)ai1 -morr5 A ISr-lCo.
Kik D j ''d v jor --- o,. Pb.n A
The Israelites Travel in de Morning
1. De dumb and de blind and de worldly man cry:
"De Israelites travel in de morning"
De dumb and de blind and de worldly man cry:
"De Israelites travel in de morning"
chorus: Good Lord, is an Israelite,
Good Lord, is an Israelite,
Good Lord, is an Israelite,
De Israelites travel in de morning
2. "Moses, Moses, take off the shoes!"
The Israelites travel in de morning
"De ground thous stand is Holy Ground!"
The Israelites travel in de morning
So JOn De Battlefield; te
We're on de battlefield for my Lord
On De Battlefield
We're on de battlefield for my Lord
We're on de battlefield for my Lord
We'll tell it to the world, we'll fight it to the end
We're on de battlefield for my Lord
S On tdc i l rttleI eld
6nfi Je btrc \i for 4 y t)
de bmtte tid/ or ny Lord .
We're Gwine to Nineveh
1. we're gwine, we're gwine to Nineveh land
Praise ye the Lord
We're gwine, we're gwine to Nineveh land
Praise ye the Lord
2. Captain sailing to Nineveh land
Praise ye the Lord
3. Nineveh land is a beautiful land
Praise ye the Lord
Nineveh land will soon overflow
Praise ye the Lord
chorus: Trouble-o, trouble
The whole world in trouble
Troubleo trouble-o, trouble
The whole world in trouble
verse: Climbin' up the mountain
creepin' on me knees
Searchin' for me Jesus
To tell Him about me trouble
Groanin' beneath the mountain
GTOAA/imV' I?' C. cth.t Lwt
i~i gjU'.J t\ l. ( *
I,ULE g~aan, ii. rhpi^ -ori~ ii
1J #4* *. I 1.
*jr~oA -'t be.-Ug 'Y oiJi- trveL
fl 4fJJ__t^- _______ O__ -n t^ ;'.
^d'. r hC -J-- E-- ^. '^,- r
I propose that due to their special experience, religious conviction, cultural dislocation,
seclusion, and positive self-concept, the free American people of the early Company
villages, fiercely seeking to control their lives, sustained and protected their culture. Central
in their lives were the southern Baptist teachings and the ecstatic songs retained from their
The exuberant worship behaviour of the Americans synthesized with the African
traditions of the soon-to-arrive Yoruba indentured workers and later with the influxes of
Grenadians familiar with Sango traditions. In this way a Trinidad Baptist tradition was
founded. Wood anticipates my conclusions by stating:
...[the American ex-slaves] brought with them a highly
emotional Baptist worship... They started a fashion in
the religious life of Trinidad that has persisted, in spite
of official disapproval, until the present day.47
I reinforce Wood's statement with the evidence of song dissemination. The cultural
analysis offered above reveals a unity in affect in the two Baptist groups and also an
analogy of personal/social needs. The social analogy used here compares the physical/cul-
tural imprisonment of the early nineteenth century refugees with that of the migrant and
immigrant workers of the early years of this century the groups that formed the nucleus of
the new religious body that converged near oil fields in the same region in south Trinidad.
Such parallels remain interpretive, but more tangible and historical analogies may also be
established. We may compare the two Baptist groups in their state of overt and legal
religious suppression the Americans, as enslaved people, and the Spiritual Baptists, as
twentieth century people devoid of religious freedom. There was an identification on the
part of the Shouters with the American Baptists that perhaps aided in the process of song
transmission. One may suggest that for both groups the American spiritual held literal
biblical interpretations as well as operating as a necessary medium of social expression.
The existence of a significant repertoire of spirituals in Trinidad uncovers for us an
undeniable history of American migration and affords data from which we may reconstruct
other fragmented items of historical consequence. But beside aiding in the documentation
of chronological fact, the songs stretch memory and when used as journal, they expose the
people's experience and condition.
*Research for this paper was supported by a Fulbright Grant project that centered upon the Trinidad
& Tobago archive/song collection of Andrew Pearse. I thank Jean Pearse of Tobago for gener-
ously opening the files of her late husband to me. Andrew Pearse, social scientist, tutor and di-
rector of Research Studies in the Extra-Mural Department of the University of the West Indies
at St. Augustine, Trinidad, initiated the unearthing and collection of valuable Caribbean
song/dance materials in the early 1950's. Besides numerous non-musical publications, Pearse
produced the Folkways recording The Big Drum Dance of Carriacou, accompanied by detail
liner/research notes, and published three significant ethnomusicological papers that suggest re-
search methodologies and classify song genres of Trinidad, Tobago, Grenada and Carriacou.
He was also editor, supporter, and contributor to the Caribbean Quarterly.
The major musical offerings by Andrew Pearse include: The Big Drum Dance ofCarriacou,
Folkways Album (FE 4011-1956); Aspects of Change in Caribbean Folk Music, Journal of
Folk Music Council, 1955, Vol. 7; Music in Caribbean Popular Culture in Revista Inter-Ameri-
cana, Vol. 8, No. 4, Summer 1974; Ethnography and the Lay Scholar in the Caribbean,
Nieuwe West Indische-Gids, Vol. 36, Nos. 2-4, May 1956; Carnival in 19th Century Trinidad
in "Caribbean Quarterly", Vol. 4, Nos. 3-4, March-June 1956.
2. Spiritual Baptists are known for their dress headties, monochrome gowns with belts, sashes or
aprons. The ecstatic service comprises multiple symbols in sound, color and gesture. Besides
candles, flower-filled gourds, vials of perfumes and oils, a nautical steering wheel laden with
candles and the Indian lota plate, bell ringing stands as the most idiosyncratic symbol of the
movement. The symbols surrond the centerpole where spontaneous libation of altar fluids and
bell ringing occur as well as and in the cardinal points or comers of the room, punctuating and
shaping progress of the service. The centerpole, "derived from the Ancient African church
...represents the timber of Lebanon, which was used for the construction of Solomon's temple"
(see Eudora Thomas, "A History of the Shouter Baptists in Trinidad," p. 31). Possession states
and mental/astral travel permeate the mystical goals of believers who contact the spirit world
through dreams, libations and propitiations for healing.
3. Jack D. Foner, Blacks in the Military in American History (New York, Praeger Pub., 1974) 23.
4. & 5. Mahon, John, The War of 1812. Gainesville, Univ. of Florida (1972) 313.
6. Millicent Sambury, Personal Interview, July 1989.
7. Portia Maultsby, Black Spirituals: An Analysis of Textural Forms and Structures in The Black
Perspective in Music. (Spring, 1976, Vol. 4, No. 1). 54.
8. Delores Vincent, "The Origin and Development of the Company Villages in South Trinidad" un-
published paper in Caribbean Studies, University of Trinidad at St. Augustine, Trinidad (1975)
9. K.O. Lawrence, "The Settlement of Free Negroes in Trinidad Before Emancipation" in Carib-
bean Quarterly, Vol. 9, Nos. 1 & 2 (1963) 26.
11. Donald Wood, Trinidad in Transition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986) 39.
12. Eric Williams, Documents of British West Indian History, 1807-1830. Historical Society of
Trinidad and Tobago/Social Science Research Centre, Univ. of Puerto Rico, Port of Spain
13. Donald Hill, The Impact of Migration on the Metropolitan and Fold Society of Carriacou, Gre-
nada. Vol. 54, part 2, Anthropological papers of The American Museum of Natural History,
New York (1977) 219.
14. Vincent, op. cit., p. 11.
15. L.A.A. Verteuil, Trinidad: Its Geography, Natural Resources Administration, Present Condi-
tion, and Prospects (London: Cassell & Co., 1884) 310.
16. From the "Minutes of Evidence Taken by the Committee of the Council of Trinidad, for Enquir-
ing into the Negro Character," Colonial Department, Downing Street, 1827. (Pearse Archive).
17. Laurence, op. cit., p. 27.
18. Vincent, op. cit., p. 11.
19. "Minutes of Evidence", op. cit.
21. John Jacob Des Isles, "The Company Villages," Evening News, July 23, 1987.
22. W.H. Gamble, Trinidad: Historical & Descriptive: Being a Narrative of Nine Years' Residence
in the Island with Special Reference to Missions (London: Yates & Alexander, 1866) 109.
23. Mahon, p. 313.
24. Phillippe, Jean Baptist, Free Mulatto (first printing in 1824, published in 1882, reprint 1987,
Port of Spain: Paria Publishing, 1987) 159-165.
25. Laurence, p. 31.
26. From "The Minutes of Evidence...," op. cit.
27. Phillippe, p. 159-165.
28. Laurence, p. 28.
29. Vincent, p. 10, Laurence, p. 27, Verteuile, p. 310.
30. Phillippe, p. 163.
31. Gamble, p. 107, 104.
32. Carmichael, Gertrude, The History of the West Indian Islands (Port of Spain: Columbus Pub.,
33. Phillippe, p. 165.
34. Vincent, p. 13.
35. Similar patterns of communal labor are the gayap in Trinidad, len' han' in Tobago, combite in
Haiti, maroon in Grenada, helping han' in Carriacou, coup d' main in St. Lucia and dopkwe in
Dahomey. (Note from Pearse Archives).
36. Gamble, p. 108.
37. Edward Bean Underhill, The West Indies: Their Social and ReligiouS Condition. (First print-
ing, 1862, second printing, Westport, Connecticut/Negro Universities Press, 1970) 47.
38. Gamble, p. 113.
39. Underhill, p. 58.
40. Ibid., p. 48.
41. Sambury, interview. July, 1989.
42. Within the Orisa (Shango) religion of Trinidad the rites, sacrifices and feasts of the religion es-
tablish spiritual contact with African Gods that respond to specific Yoruba vocal and drum en-
semble pieces. The visiting spirits can visibly transform and overcome the personality,
behavior and dance of the communicant. Religious boundaries between the practices and par-
ticipants of the Orisa and the Spiritual Baptist congregations are becoming less defined and the
borrowed musical traditions more noticeable.
43. Melville Herskovits and Frances Herskovits, Trinidad Village. (New York/Alfred A. Knopf,
44. "Power" is the state of altered consciousness that is often accompanied by spiritual movement
and song; and adoptionn is "a mode of spiritual experience, taking the form of one of fourteen
stereotyped journeys in the spirit world, to each of which a particular type of song is fitting"
(A. Pearse). the "mourning ground" ceremony ritualizes the mental experience of travel as an
initiation or elevation to higher orders within the Spiritual Baptist religion.
45. A. B. Huggins, The Saga of the Companies, Twinluck Printing Works, New Grant, Princes
Town, Trinidad (1978) p. 64.
46. Culture bearers for this study, besides the woman of the Third Company Baptist Church (Mt.
Pleasant), include Leader Cecil Jerry of Mt. St. George at Pembroke, Tobago Leader Cyril Al-
exander of Mt. Arrarat of Bon Accord, Tobago and Bishop Eudora Thomas of Mt. Carmelite
NESBF Spiritual Assembly at Tunapuna.
47. Wood, p. 39.
SANTERIA: FROM AFRO-CARIBBEAN CULT TO WORLD
RAUL JOSE CANIZARES
'Santeria is growing in the United States beyond its traditional ethnic boundaries.
Numerous African-Americans, non-hispanic West Indians, and European-Americans are
embracing Santeria. Even in formerly all-Cuban iles I there appears to be a growing
acceptance of non-hispanic members. These non-hispanic members are affecting the char-
acter of Santeria. In fact, because of the incursion of people of varied backgrounds into
Santeria, this Afro-Caribbean cult (in the United States) is acquiring traits of a world
religion. Several iles I have been observing for a number of years are exhibiting this shift in
ethnic make-up from exclusively Cuban/Puerto-Rican to increasingly multi-ethnic. What
this shift will mean to the future of Santeria in the United States is hard to predict, but some
possible developments are discussed here.
The Lucumi religion originated in Cuba among Yoruba slaves. At first only open to
Yoruba-speaking blacks, the religion eventually opened its doors to non-Yoruba Africans
and Afro-Cubans and, eventually, to Cuban whites. I have heard anecdotal stories of
santeros (Santeria priests) migrating to Puerto Rico in the first half of the 19th century.
Migene Gonzalez-Wippler, a Puerto Rican who has written several books on Santeria and
is a professed believer, states that her first encounter with Santeria occurred when she was
five years old by way of a black Puerto Rican servant who was initiated by a Cuban
immigrant.2 Although many sources name Francisco Mora as the first Santeria priest to
come to the United States he arrived in New York c. 1946 I have found documentary
evidence indicating that by 1939 there were Afro-Cuban religious groups organized in
Ybor city, now part of Tampa, Florida.3 Also, Mercedes, an African-American woman in
her forties whose great-grandparents moved from Cuba to Ybor City in 1876, has told me
that they were santeros, as some of the thousands of Afro-Cubans who migrated to Tampa
and Key West in the 19th century to work in the cigar-manufacturing industry then
flourishing in those Florida towns must have been.
The first documented case of a non-hispanic American being initiated a santero is that
of Walter King, an African-American who went to Cuba in 1959 to become a santero.4
King, who later changed his name to Oba Osejiman Adefumi I, became a well-known
figure in the black-power movement of the 1960s, infusing his interpretation of Santeria
with elements of black pride. He now heads a Yoruba revitalization movement headquar-
tered in Oyotunji village, South Carolina. Several thousand people, mostly African- Ameri-
cans, follow Adefumi's teachings. Although Adefumi has formally broken with Cuban
Santeria, his movement by definition depends on it for legitimacy and continuity. The first
white American initiated into Santeria about whom we have clear documentation (as
opposed to anecdotal references) is the noted anthropologist Judith Gleason. Gleason was
initiated by Puerto Rican santera Asunta Serrano in New York City c. 1963.
Santeria, with its overwhelming demonstration of African retentions, could conceivably
hold an allure for people of African descent, such as African-Americans and black West
Indians. These groups appear to be, in fact, the fastest-growing among non-Hispanic
newcomers to Santeria.5 White, non-Hispanic American santeros, however, appear to be
on the rise. One of the iles I studied, located in Tampa, is headed by a husband and wife
team who lead a multi-ethnic group which includes hispanics, African- Americans, and
whites. This ile is unusual in several respects. The wife holds a Ph.D. and is a renowned
indologist who teaches at a local college; the husband is a rehabilitation counselor and also
a scholar. Both have been involved with Santeria for several years. Their five-year-old
daughter has recently been initiated as a Santeria priestess. Most of the people who belong
to this ile are highly educated, young, and relatively affluent. By contrast, traditionally,
Santeria has been identified with Cuba's lower classes.
An article which appeared in New York magazine 12 October, 1987, examined the
growing phenomenon of whites becoming involved in Santeria. The article mentions
several celebrities who are involved in the religion, including Judith Gleason and Keith
Haring (now deceased), as well as drummer John Amira. Amira is quoted as saying: "I
came into Santeria from pop music, an area that had nothing to do with this, I was drawn
into it I got involved in ceremonial music and finally in the religion itself'6 In the Latin
music world, musicians such as Tito Puente and Chango Pozo have long been associated
with Santeria, not surprising when one considers the enormous importance drum beats and
African rythmic patterns have in the religion.7 More recently, pop musicians David Byrne
and Paul Simon have, independently, recorded music heavily influenced by Candonble, the
Brazilian equivalent of Cuban Santeria.
Perhaps a more significant change in Santeria is evident in the incursion of non-hispan-
ics into formerly all-Cuban iles. I have followed the development of ifa P.'s ile since his
arrival from Cuba in 1972. A high priest (babalao), Ifa P. was welcomed by the Santeria
community in New Orleans since, at that time, there were no babalaos in the area. By 1973,
Ifa P. lead an ile consisting of 200 people who lived in Louisiana and neighboring states;
they were all Cubans. In 1974 Ifa P. moved to Miami, where he prospered, claiming to
have 1,000 "godchildren," 900 of which were Cubans, the rest being Puerto Ricans and
Colombians.8 by 1990, Ifa P.'s ile had grown to 5,000 members spread throughout the
United States and South and Central America. Surprisingly, Ifa P. claims 60 percent of his
followers are non-hispanics. Of these, he says roughly 50% are African-Americans, 25%
are blacks from the Caribbean (mostly Haiti and Jamaica), the rest being whites. Ifa P.
claims that negative media attention, such as a New York Times article which described
santeros as practitioners of a "primitive rite" and wrongly accused them of "once [having]
practiced infanticide"9 has sparked some people's interest in Santeria, leading some to
investigate it and become involved in its magico-religious world. An apparent general
upsurge in interest on non-traditional religious expressions, such as New Age philosophies,
may have also contributed to the increased interest in Santeria. Ifa P. claims most of his
non-hispanic "godchildren" have joined his ile during the past five years. Cary, proprietor
of one of the many botanicas'0 found in West Tampa, tells me that during the last two
years, the number of "anglos" and African-Americans who patronize her shop has grown at
an exponential rate. She also mentions how knowledgeable of Santeria most of them appear
One of the consequences of this incursion of non-hispanics into Santeria is that the
long-standing Santeria code of secrecy is being called into question. People who have
grown with the belief that religious freedom is an inalienable right do not see a reason for
hiding their adherence to an ancient religion which is not intrinsically "worse" than others.
African-American practitioners, in particular, appear to want to proclaim their allegiance to
Santeria, many of them prominently displaying the multi-colored necklaces which identify
them as believers. In the "upper-class" ile I described before, members tend to see Santeria
as being an instrument where certain aspects of the "cosmic mind" not easily reached can
be accessed. Many aspects of traditional Cuban Santeria, such as not discussing the
religion with outsiders, are directed as obsolete. Another aspect of traditional Santeria
being abandoned in the multi-ethnic iles is the virtual paranoia most Cuban santeros
constantly experience as a result of believing that, if they are not careful, they could be
victims of curses or poisions. While traditional Cuban santeros will rarely eat or drink in
other people's houses, will not allow their heads to be touched, and avoid having their
photograph taken, a salient feature of the more modem multi- ethnic iles is the existence of
an openness and camaraderie which mirrors the open character of American society.
Santeria, a religion associated with the people of the Spanish-speaking Caribbean
(especially the Afro-Cubans), appears to be spreading in the United States beyond the
confines of those cultures. Although some non-hispanic Americans began to discover
Santeria before 1960, it was the massive exodus undertaken by Cubans after that year
which brought Santeria to the U.S. in a significant manner. Furthermore, my preliminary
findings indicate that this considerable incursion of non-hispanics (especially whites) to
Santeria has been on the rise, with notable increases noted during the last ten years -
perhaps as a result of the numerous santeros who were among the more than 125,000
Cubans who fled the island in 1980 during the so-called "Mariel boatlift" and who have
probably strengthened the ranks of Santeria in the United States.
The transformation Santeria is apparently undergoing, from local cult to world religion,
is resulting in its losing some of its ethnocentric, cliquish character. Non-Cubans correctly
point out that Cuban geography, once considered indispensable to the practice of Santeria,
cannot be so necessary since the religion was originally taken to Cuba from Africa. It is
argued that, since the religion survived the middle passage, adapting to the Cuban environ-
ment, it can also survive its trek across the Florida straits, adapting to the American
environment. One possible result of a Santeria devoid of dependency on Cuban geography
I1 is its transformation from a basically primal religion dependent on Cuban soil to an
essentially universal religious expression, albeit with an obvious African flavor, which
encompasses all who enter it.
The growth of Santeria among non-hispanics, particularly in formerly all-Cuban iles,
has so far not been adequately investigated. I believe this phenomenon deserves serious
attention. Never before has a religion which is based on a sub-Saharan African tradition -
the Yoruba gained so many converts in the United States. The reasons why so many
African-Americans, West Indians, and, significantly, European-Americans are apparently
finding religious fulfillment in Santeria merits further studies. Hopefully, the realization
that the situation I am describing is actually occurring, that people of different backgrounds
and social positions are embracing what is virtually an African traditional religion filtered
through Cuban Catholicism, will cause other investigators in Afro-American studies and
other related fields to attend to this fascinating development, one pregnant with possibilities
for meaningful research.
1. The term ile, or casa de santo, as it is used in Santeria, is equivalent to "church" or "congrega-
tion." It denotes a group of believers attached to a particular Santeria priest or priestess.
2. Migene Gonzalez-Wippler, Santeria, the Religion (New York: Harmony Books, 1989), pp. 291-
3. Manuel Marrero, "The Nanigo Cult in Ybor City," a paper written for the WPA's writers' proj-
ect dated 1939, in the University of South Florida's special collections department, Tampa,
4. See Steven Gregory, Santeria in New York City, A Study in Cultural Resistance (doctoral disser-
tation), (New York: New School for Social Research, 1986), pp. 62-65.
5. Steven Gregory, op. cit., pp. 1-2.
6. Tracy Cochran, "Among the Believers, Converts to Santeria, New York Magazine, 12 October
1987, pp. 33-34.
7. For a thorough study of Santeria drumming and its importance to the religion, see Robert Alan
Friedman, Making an Abstract World Concrete (Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, 1982).
8. Numerous santeros have informed me of great numbers of Colombians in the narcotics under-
ground who seek supernatural help in Santeria as a protection against the authorities. One
santero has told me that he only "pretends" to give the drug smugglers protection: "my santos
won't let me give protection to such people, but I'll take their money, giving them worthless
amulets, any time I can." I find it interesting that drug smugglers may often be victims of fraud
9. Robert McFadden, "Ritual Slaughter Halted in Bronx by a Police Raid," New York Times, May
24 1980, section 27, p. 1.
10. Botanicas are shops specializing in Santeria paraphernalia. The name refers to the many herbs
sold in the stores. Often, botanicas serve as gathering places and clearing houses for believers.
11. Santeria purists such as the late Babalao Francisco (Pancho) Mora do not recognize "Made in
USA" babalaos, stating that high priests can only be consecrated in Cuban soil. The reason
given for this is that powerful fundamental stones brought to Cuba from Africa, essential for
consecrations of high priests, have not been able to be brought to the U.S. On the other hand,
Ifa P. has told me that Carlos Ojeda, a well-known Miami babalo was able to bring his Olofi,
as these fundamental stones are called, with him to Miami.
First Generation Rastafari in St. Eustatius: A Case Study in the
When one thinks of Rastafarians, one tends primarily to think of Jamaica. But, since the
birth of the rastafari movement in 1930, Rastafarianism has diffused from West Kingston
throughout the Caribbean, to Europe, North America, and to Africa. When an idea, or in
this case a religious movement, is displaced from its context of origin, inevitably it is
transformed from its original manifestation. When the seeds of Rastafarian ideology wash
ashore on other islands, the seed will either find suitable soil to take root or die out forever.
Should the seeds take root, they will transform and adapt to their new environment in order
to survive. And although the end product is still the same species, it has transmogrified to
meet new needs and conditions, its new manifestation reflecting the local soil.
It was with these questions on the local manifestation of first generation Rastafari in
mind that I departed to spend the summer of 1991, December of 1991, and the summer of
1992 on the island of St. Eustatius in the Dutch West Indies. I devoted this time specifically
to intensive field research on this topic. This was not to be my first experience on this
island. I had spent the summer of 1989 participating in an archaeological field program here
as well. Although this was a good experience archaeologically, I was affected much more
deeply by the living culture than by digging up past ones. I was enchanted by the local
people and knew I would one day return to learn more about them.
Before my departure from the United States in 1991, I surveyed a wide array of
literature about the Rastafari Movement, its history, the ideology, and the lifestyle of
Rastafarians, especially in Jamaica. I also read Rastafarian poetry, watched documentary
footage from Jamaica, and brushed up on my reggae. I also acquainted myself with
Pan-Caribbean anthropological literature as well as ethnographic materials dealing specif-
ically with the Dutch West Indies, including St. Eustatius.
When I reached St. Eustatius the summer of 1991, I1 was faced with various problems
before I could dive into my work. My first fears were that the few Rastafarians whom I had
previously known may not still reside on the island. I feared that a combination of this and
my timid nature would limit my contact with any one let alone those mysterious and
intimidating Rastas who resembled the fearsome lions symbolic of their religion. My fears
quickly dissipated when I saw a familiar Rasta only hours after my arrival. I inquired of him
the whereabouts of several others and was relieved to learn that they were still on the island.
Another concern was that the college with which I was affiliated that summer would
discourage my pursuit of this topic. The students had been warned not in so many words not
to associate too much with the Rastafarians as we were considered ambassadors from
America and the college. Nevertheless, I was allowed to continue although Statians, both
black and white would express concern to the professors throughout the summer. Maintain-
ing relations between the locals who look down on the Rastas and the resident whites who
misunderstand them would prove difficult much of the time. My next hurdle was method-
ology. I decided at first to interview those I knew, who were willing, and take notes as I
went. For a while, things went remarkably well. I gathered a lot of data and met new Rastas
through the ones I had known previously. As time progressed, and I began to be more
familiar with many of the Rastas and associate with them on a more casual level. During
casual contact, I noticed almost immediately the failure of my methodological technique.
My method, interviewing and taking notes, led interviewees to answer according to what
they thought I wanted to hear, hence I was finding exactly what I had previously expected.
Some information was also held back even though I guaranteed anonymity. From this point
onward, I retrieved data only from informal conversations, backed up by what I saw and
heard firsthand. I spent the bulk of my time liming and cooling out with Rasta men mainly
in their twenties and early thirties.
My first summer studying the Rastafari Movement on St. Eustatius was conducted
through an anthropological program sponsored by the College of William & Mary. I
resided with other students in this program. I returned to continue the study independently
for five weeks the following winter. At this time I resided in a Rasta household in the
country. I traveled to the adjacent islands of St. Maarten and St. Kitts with Statian Rastas,
moving and interacting with Rastas from both islands as well. I returned for the summer of
1992 and continued the study. At this time I lived in a rented house in town. My home was
frequented constantly by several of my Rasta friends despite its proximity to the police
station. Thus over the period of about a year, I established close ties with many Statian
Rastafarians, observing their activities, lifestyles, and movements within the larger com-
munity and neighboring islands. Nevertheless, I do not pretend to have more than just
scratched the surface and do not wish to simplify that which is complex. It is rather my hope
that this research will be of interest to those concerned with the Rastafari movement in one
capacity or another. I will focus primarily on the evolution of Rastafarian ideology and livity
on the island of St. Eustatius as compares with that of Jamaica, keeping in mind that the
Jamaican movement is itself sectarian and diverse. It should also be kept in mind that by
evolution I simply mean the change through time and space.
Situated in the upper half of the Caribbean lies St. Eustatius. It is part of the Dutch
Windward islands including Saba and St. Maarten. Statia, as it is affectionately known, is a
tiny island of eight square miles supporting a population of about 3000. The inhabitants are
largely the descendants of African slaves which were believed to be brought from Togo,
Dahomey, Nigeria, Cameroon, and the Congo in the eighteenth century. Statia has been
under Dutch control for more than one hundred and seventy- five years. Statia is a welfare
state and is subsidized heavily by Holland via Curacao. Most jobs are government con-
trolled, health and education paid for. There is therefore, no poverty or malnutrition.
The kinship structure on Statia mirrors that of West Indian societies in general. Families
recognize even distant cousins, and geographic distance never severs these bonds. Rela-
tives returning after any length of time may claim family attention, respect, or support.
(Lowenthal, 1973) Thirty percent of marriages are consensual. Outside families and illegiti-
mate children are commonplace. Because virtually everyone on Statia seems to be related,
kinship (for non-Rastas) seems to be less important in obtaining values than citizenship. It
is Dutch citizenship through which cultural ideals and values are obtained. (Ayisi, personal
The population of Statia is overwhelmingly black. A very small percentage of Dutch
born whites and at least one native white form a thin top layer on the socioeconomic scale.
Statia's black population is divided further into an upper, middle, and lower class, the
middle being representative of the majority of the population. Statia, like the other Dutch
windwards lacks a separate mulatto class. The Dutch born whites are at the top economi-
cally, live more or less by Dutch custom, and do not mix extensively with the rest of the
population. The American whites, as well as a few Canadians, also hold steady in the upper
white level and mix mainly with fellow Americans. Racial relations between whites and
blacks seem at ease and there seems to be no colour prejudice. Intermarriage between races
is not uncommon. A system of ascriptive credentials whereby one is born into his or her
economic group prevails, limiting the social mobility of the people. (The social status of a
family is generally derived from the occupational and social status of the father.) There is
evidence however that some social mobility can be attained by means of education, and
experience traveling abroad. The religious make up of the island is diverse. Religious
groups present today include Catholic, Methodist, Seventh Day Adventist, Jehovah's
Witness, and the most recent, Rastafarian.
History of Statian Rastafari
The initial emanation of Rastafari seems to have taken place on Statia in the early
1970s. The Rastafari movement in Jamaica had by this time been witness to the crowning,
and in 1975, the death of its godhead Haile Selassie I. It had seen some four generations of
Rastafarians and was in the midst of the reggae revolution led by "prophet" Bob Marley and
Wailers Bunny Livingston and Peter Tosh. The emergence of the movement in Jamaica
was among other things, the angry response to the intolerable social and economic condi-
tions generated in colonial Jamaica by England. Rastafarianism found its ideological
foundations in Garveyism. Revivalism as well as Garveyism helped fuel this new religious,
black nationalist movement which sought to benefit the poor, dispossessed and suffering.
(Chevannes, 1978.) The birth of Rastafari on Statia appears to differ radically. The history
of the Rastafari movement on the island is not altogether complete or necessarily agreed
upon. Reliable accounts are difficult to procure as there has been no documentation of any
kind, and until 1992 there was no form of newspaper on the island whatsoever. Although
exact lines of influence are impossible to identify, it seems that the first few Rastafarians on
the island had become interested or inspired by Rastafarians whom they encountered on
other islands, abroad, through reggae music which had become very popular, and by
transient Rastas living or working on the island. These first Rastafarians may have been
reacting more to a personal need to get in touch with their true identity as black Africans
than to a situation of social and economic crisis, of which there is no evidence on this
There is general consensus among Statian brethren with whom I talked as to the identity
of the first Rasta on the island. Although transient Rastas may have traveled to or lived
briefly on Statia, most agree that the first Statian Rasta had encountered Rastafarianism in
his travels, especially to Aruba. He was at this time a young man in his twenties.
Rastafarianism was subsequently transplanted to Statia by this man, who, I am told, neither
tried to convert anyone to the Rastafarian faith, nor recruit followers. Another Rastaman
explained to me that he went to Aruba, where he had been born, specifically to "seek his
roots" through the Rastafari Movement there, which he described as very large and well
I have learned that many of the Statian brethren, who incidentally do not use this term
in reference to themselves, have either traveled or spent time on large Dutch islands such as
St. Maarten, Aruba, and Curacao, as well as in Holland and Suriname. This would have
allowed for a great deal of contact with Rastafarians from any or all of these places. There
is a great deal of interchange between Rastas from all of these places to this day. I have met
many Rastas who typify this situation including a Rasta from Statia who lives in Amster-
dam and vacations in Suriname, as well as a Rasta from Suriname who came to Statia to get
a Dutch driver's licence. There are also Rastas working on Statia who hail from Jamaica,
Trinidad, and St. Lucia, and St. Vincent. This allows for the interchange of an extensive
amount of information, ideas, materials, and so forth throughout a vast geographic range. In
my travel to St. Maarten and St. Kitts I noted that local Rastas interacted warmly and
positively with the Statian Rastas and myself, entering easily into conversation or sessions
of casual smoking and reasoning. I was told on several occasions that there was "nuff
dread" on St. Kitts with whom one could get "a deeper reasoning". The larger neighboring
islands are also a source of italfoods, herbs, and "heavy reggae show" as well as various
material goods. Statian Rastas travel very frequently for such purposes.
The Rastafarian population of St. Eustatius is roughly twenty out of nearly three
thousand people. Due to the mobile nature of the population, this figure tends to fluctuate
slightly. Movement to and from peripheral islands, larger Dutch islands, Suriname, Holland
and occasionally the United States is common practice. Emigration of this kind consists
largely of unmarried Antilleans, 18-24, looking for better paying jobs or higher education.
(Koot, 1981-1982.) The Rastafari movement is at present in its first generation. The range
in age is from late teens to mid-forties. Although I'm told that there have been Rastafarian
women living on the island previously, there is only one St. Maartener residing on Statia at
this time. Most of the brethren are local. A few Rastas from Jamaica, Trinidad, and St.
Lucia currently work and reside on the island. An interesting note is that the Rastas from
Trinidad and St. Lucia seem to be tight with each other, with local brethren, but goes back
to Jamaica for special occasions including groundations.
The local Rastas are considered by others to be in the lowest class of the social
hierarchy, despite their often times good paying jobs, material possessions, entrepreneurial
ingenuity, athletic ability, musical talent, and so forth. This emphasizes the fact that
chances for vertical mobility in the island's social ranks is slight, especially for a Rastaman.
That the religion and its followers are not taken seriously became clear to me during my
field research. I have literally been told as much by Rastas and non-Rastas. I have been told
that the Rastas use the religion as an excuse to smoke and play music. People have also
expressed to me their concern that the Rastas will bring drugs to the island, corrupting the
children. Another reason the Rastas command little respect may be because they are not
outspoken and hold no positions of power. Such things as a recent incident involving a
Rasta drug trafficking as well as a tendency for slackness among some of the Rastas who
are always about, have in my opinion increased the negativity and lack of respect toward
the Rastas. This lack of respect is evident in all classes and sectors of the society.
Perpetuation of the Rasta movement on the island tends to be familial. Many of the
brethren are literally brothers, step- brothers, and close cousins. One interesting occur-
rence, or lack thereof, is the lack of outside families and children amongst Rasta men on
Statia. This contrasts with Jamaican Rastas who tend to sow their seeds widely. (Homiak,
personal communication.) What this may infer, I am not altogether sure. It may mean on
one hand that there is a general trend away from outside families and children amongst all
Statians, although evidence clearly does not point in this direction. What this could possibly
mean-is that the Rastas are trying to live up to their ideals in an effort to prove themselves
to society. I have also been told on occasions by several Rastas that they will not "plant their
seed in any any soil" and would prefer a clean, educated and spiritual daughter. Several
other Rastas, however, have entered into conjugal relations with prostitutes from Central
America and Santo Domingo.
Rasta Settlement Patterns
The settlement patterns of the Statian Rastas do not differ from the rest of the popula-
tion. The Rastas live in all areas occupied by the rest of the society with the exception of an
area constituted largely of resident whites from America as well as Holland. Despite age,
income, or the fact that they are Rastafarians, the tendency is to live in the parent's home
until one gets married or enters into a conjugal union and has money to build a house. This
contrasts markedly with the experiences of the first Rasta generation in Jamaica where
assuming a Rastafarian identity entailed disownment from one's family. (Homiak, 1993)
The Rastas live either in Oranjestad, the "city", or Golden Rock, the "country". One section
of Oranjestad where many Rastas live in close proximity is referred to as "the ghetto" or
"drug center" by Rastas and non-Rastas alike. A Rastafarian household physically appears
no different than any other and typifies others in the area. Unlike Jamaica and elsewhere,
Rasta houses don no emblems, flags or Rasta colors. There are no Rastafarian groups living
together communally or practicing subsistence farming. Land on Statia is government
owned and can be purchased or rented. There are Rastas who own land. Squatting is an
unknown phenomenon in St. Eustatius. Despite physically living amongst Babylon, the
Rastafarians perceive themselves as existing physically and spiritually on the periphery of
Rastas Subsistance Patterns
As far as subsistence is concerned, virtually every Statian Rasta works to support
himself and his family, whether it be his wife and children or his mother. In fact, I have
been told that until one is providing for oneself, one should not "put in his locks", especially
while living under his parent's roof. Most qualify as unskilled or semi-skilled labour and
hold jobs in the construction and carpentry fields, fishing industry, on the tug boats, or with
Statia oil terminal or Chicago Bridge and Iron. A handful are musically inclined and play
in bands as well. One Rasta has a successful (non-ital) fast food restaurant. Many of the
brethren have had some form of secondary schooling or technical training qualifying them
for the jobs they hold. These types of education are paid for by the government. Secondary
education allows a chance for travel to Aruba, Curacao, the Netherlands, and elsewhere.
There are no Rastas on Statia whom I would consider in economic want. Although I have
been told many times by these Rastas that material things are of no importance, they make
enough money to provide many luxuries for themselves. The very material items which
they decry as "vanity" on one hand, are eagerly sought after on the other. When I inquired
of one Rasta about this paradoxical situation he stated that it was "a good thing for babylon
to see the Rastaman living better than they". I do not believe that the Rastas on Statia have
had to endure anything similar to the economic and political persecution suffered over the
years prior to reggae by the Jamaican Rastas. I also seriously doubt whether they are aware
of or perceive this "sufferation" in the history of the Jamaican movement.
Rasta Social Structure
The structure of the Rastafari movement on Statia is similar to that of Jamaica in that
they are an acephalous group with no formal organization or standardized practice. From
all accounts, by Rastas and non-Rastas, in the mid to late 1980's the movement was more
cohesive and unified, structured, goal oriented, and outwardly driven. It seems that groups
congregated on a more formal and organized level to reason, pray, smoke, play music, and
so forth. It is further stated that some communal agriculture was practiced in more remote
regions. By many accounts, the Rasta population had decreased, and reggae bands and ital
foods have waned in the last half decade. For whatever reason, and accounts pertaining to
this differ, this more formalized organization faltered. Some Rastas with whom I spoke
blame it on external pressure from society, fewer imply that there was internal disagree-
ment. Whereas in Jamaica, organizations mobilized for repatriation or in hopes of improv-
ing circumstances of the economically oppresses and so forth, there seems to be no impetus
on Statia for which to mobilize. Thus the various Rasta gatherings on Statia are necessarily
to different ends and probably serve to promote solidarity, reinforce identity, and perpetu-
Another point of contrast to Jamaican Rasta social organization concerns the presence
of elders. Whereas in Jamaica there is a tradition of leaders or exemplars called elders who
pass on Rasta ideology and livity, whether or not there are elders on Statia is of some
debate. Some Rastas I talked to went as far as to name those they consider elders. Others,
including those named, would deny that there is any such eldership on the island. Those
considered by some as elders were said to have acquired the role, apparently without their
knowledge, because they "know a lot". "Knowing a lot" was described as a role which is
achieved by gaining knowledge through reading the Bible and various other books, as well
as travel. The theme of elders remains enigmatic and criteria for the role ill-defined unlike
Jamaica where a well defined set of criteria exists including oratorical and social skills
allowing one to be a conduit between Rastafarians and the larger community. One interest-
ing note is that those considered Statian elders had previously gone to Jamaica to learn
about Rastafari on a pilgrimage of sorts. A trip to Jamaica, according to any Rasta on Statia
would be a very positive spiritual experience. A pilgrimage of this type is often discussed
in terms of Jamaica, and not Africa.
Determining the specific ideology in such a limited amount of time seemed a fruitless
endeavor due to the fact that this kind of information was not freely discussed or volun-
teered. I was however able to establish some major similarities and differences between
Statian Rastafarians and Jamaican Rastafarians. The ideology seems to have changed
substantially due to factors unique to Statia in terms of cultural environment, social
circumstance, and time. Statian and Jamaican Rastafarians are in agreement that Blacks are
the true descendants of ancient Israelites, and that the Bible is a holy book. Statian Rastas
look to the Bible for education and clarification on all sort of issues. They take seriously
and literally all dietary and hygienic, and other codes set forth in the Bible.
There are two major tenets on which Statian and Jamaican ideologies differ. While
traditional Jamaican ideology defines Haile Selassie I as Jah (God) incarnate, Statian
ideology defines him as a prophet. When I directly asked about Haile Selassie, I found that
he is here considered to have been imbued with the spirit of god as a prophet. They also
consider Jesus, Marcus Garvey, and Bob Marley to have been prophets. This divergence
concerning the role of Haile Selassie I believe to have been a natural response and
adaptation to the death of the emperor in 1975, at which time the religion was still rather
new to Statia. Another major difference in ideology pertains to the repatriation of
Rastafarians to Africa. While a Jamaican Rasta may consider repatriation literal, a Statian
Rasta does not. To a Statian Rasta, Africa is a symbol of peace, freedom, love, and heaven
on earth. I have been told that a state of "Africa" could therefore be attained in the heart by
living up to Rastafarian ideals. References to Africa are infrequent. I had to probe to find
the local understandings of Africa and its meanings.
Livity, which I would describe as practical application of Rastafarian ideology, encom-
passes numerous things. The word "livity" itself is unknown to Rastas in Statia. In St.
Maarten, however a Rasta fellow I talked to asked me how was the livity in the United
States, and defined the word as lifestyle. The word may not be known on Statia, the concept
however is. In my day to day contact with the Statian brethren, it has become very lucid that
the concept of livity permeates every aspect of life. Day to day adherence to Rasta codes of
behavior, hygience, spirituality, and so forth are an important means of keeping a strong
faith, I believe. Under the broad rubric of livity, I have taken into account such things as
adherence to Biblical codes, reasoning, smoking, gatherings, ceremony, observed holidays,
language, and music. These are categories which I have imposed. As in Jamaica, the livity
of Statian Rastafarians range- anywhere from ital to soft, ital being the most pure and soft
meaning lax or slack.
Diet and Hygiene
Codes of diet and hygiene are well known to Statian Rastas and can be related to many
of the same concerns, physical and spiritual, found among Jamaicans. (Yawney, 1983)
These codes have often been cited to me in their traditional form, and are ideals. I have
noticed that the ideals are not always strictly maintained. A good number conscientiously
follow these restrictions and rebuke those who stray. I have heard admonishments being
spoken where one Rasta will tell another it is not good to eat this or that, drink heavily,
behave or dress in a certain manner, and the like. I have heard it said by a couple of the
brethren while speaking on this issue, that "if you can't swim, don't jump in the water".
The ideal ital diet is concentrated with fish, rice and peas, potatoes, lentils, fruits, and
other ground foods, I am told. It should be noted that the term "ital" is used on the island,
however its meaning and usage is restricted to that of natural foods as just described.
Natural drinks such as fruit juices and bush teas are also preferred. There are no restaurants
on the island which deal specifically in these ital foods, unlike neighboring islands. I have
also noticed that the Rastas here will not eat at just any restaurant or in anyone's home. It
has been explained to me that once you know "how a person stays", referring to their
cleanliness and lifestyle, it is safe to eat by them. Biblical restrictions also include such
things as alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. There are stated exceptions to this rule. Such
things as beer as well as some kinds of tobacco are not considered harmful in moderation.
Stout and malt are actually considered healthful drinks which "build you up".
In following with the Biblical hygienic code, and in the tradition of Jamaican Rastafari,
dreadlocks are worn by Statian Rastas as elsewhere. The dreadlocks, also called "locks" or
"roots" by Statian Rastas have symbolic importance as well and are taken very seriously by
some. Among other things they consider them symbolic of their role outside society, and
devotion to Jah. Brethren with whom I spoke stated that the length of the locks may indicate
one's religiousity or how long one has been devoted to Jah. Non-Rastas are referred to as
baldheads by the brethren. The significance of the locks to Statian Rastas can be noted in
many ways. If asked, a Rasta will recite the proper procedures by which one can "put in his
locks" or "lock it up", as well as procedures to maintain them. Ital sensibilities extend to the
proper care of the locks. Dreadlocks are further a focal point for younger Rastas, who seem
preoccupied with the care and display of the locks. Gathering to wash their locks with
prepared cactus, called captus, prickle, or tuna, is frequent and the Rastas may lime a while
or eat ital in the same yard when finished. This type of gathering occurs mostly on the
weekends. Colored tams, called simply "hats" are worn by most during the day I am told to
keep the locks from becoming dusty and dingy, not in an effort to hide them from society.
Locks are proudly displayed when liming at night, on weekends, and at times of social
intensification. The hair is adorned by some with red, gold, and green beads, as well as local
blue glass beads which to some are highly prized items. Locks are often used as descriptors
amongst Statian Rastas. For the purposes of identification, the physical appearance of a
person's locks are described. The locks are sort of metonymic reference for the person.
Statian Rastas further stated that one should avoid trouble with the police so as not to have
one's locks cut, thereby losing one's identity.
The smoking of marijuana, called ganja or herb by Statian Rastas, is a significant part
of their livity. Ganja is considered a natural herb rather than a drug. Ganja is smoked for the
purpose for spiritual upliftment, enlightenment, and meditation. It is thought to have
additional healing or curative properties as well. For the most part, herb comes from other
islands. Smoking seems primarily to be done on a very informal basis, done alone or with
others, and is non-ritualized. Smoking is done mainly in non-public places such as private
homes. Unlike Jamaica, smoking does not generally take place in private yards unless they
are well secluded. Ganja is smoked in the form of spliff cigarettes. I never saw a chalice or
pipe used, and when asked about pipe use, I was told that this is not a frequent occurrence
although not unheard of. Although ganja is often times shared, spliffs are made to be
smoked individually. Herb is often mixed with wild or Dutch tobacco to make it "more
sweeter". All smoking to which I was witness was a non-ritualized process in that the herb
is neither blessed nor are prayers spoken. This contrasts the Jamaican smoking which can
be highly ritualized. (Yawney, 1984). My further inquiries about the blessing of ganja and
or prayers backed up what I had seen. Reasoning may or may not occur in conjunction with
smoking. It is this sacramental smoking of ganja which causes the most friction between the
Rastas and the rest of the society. The prevailing attitude among non-Rastas toward
marijuana usage is extremely negative. People fear that marijuana use will negatively
influence children on the island and increase its importation as well as the importation of
other illegal substances. The latter has in fact previously occurred. The Rastas are con-
stantly searched by the police for such purposes, as are those who are associated with them
in any way. I reminisce other than fondly of having my own residence and belongings
searched by police due to my association with the Rastas.
Reasoning is also a part of Statian livity. Reasoning, a term used by Statian Rastas, is
considered conversation which is spiritually uplifting or enlightens in some way similar to
Jamaican reasoning. It is always carried out in a positive manner. Reasoning may occur in
any situation, formal or informal, spontaneous or planned. Subject matter ranges from the
philosophical to the mundane. I have heard it stated that one cannot reason with Babylon or
those blind to the light of Rastafari. For reasoning on a higher level, one has the option of
In relation to reasoning as a communicative event, of interest is Rasta talk. On Statia,
unlike Jamaica, there is relatively little Rasta talk. Whereas on Jamaica, Rastafarians
continually create and speak a unique language, transforming the Jamaican Creole. This is
done in an effort to improve the Queen's English by reaffirming more positive vibrations
and creating a language worthy of emperor Selassie. Perceived negative connotations,
death vibrations and opposing connotations are changed. Social possessives are also omit-
ted, and variations of "I & I" are substituted. My experience is that this creative process is
only practiced on a very small scale in Statia, borrowing from the Jamaican. This could well
be attributed to the lesser status placed on Haile Selassie I, from which the I & I is believed
to have derived. Also the fact that Statia is not a British island and never endured similar
social and economic conditions which led to an aversion by many to things British,
including the language. There is no heavily inflected Rasta talk, and therefore, not a great
degree of code shifting. Any time Rasta terms came up in the course of a conversation in
which I was a participant, they would be defined as well. Unlike Statian Rasta talk, the
Jamaican has contributed to a unique nation language which has diffused through the whole
of Jamaica. (Brathwaite, 1984) Also of interest is that the oral tradition indicative of
Jamaican Rastafari does not extend to St. Eustatius. While in Jamaica ideology may be
perpetuated orally, some Statian Rastas make use of their public library to read about
Rastafarianism, Garveyism, and other Black history. Rasta books are also brought from
Holland to those in Statia, many of which were offered to me as something I should read.
Despite the literacy of this group of Rastas, they do not perpetuate or codify their ideology
in any written manner. Rastas on Statia are also unlike Jamaican Rastas in that they do not
memorize or recite any Biblical verses or special prayers,
One area in which Statian and Jamaican livity differ markedly is in the holding of
meetings, ceremonies, and the observance of holidays. As previously stated, it is asserted
that in the not so distant past there were meetings or gatherings organized to play music,
and practice various types of agriculture. This is not at present true. Occurrences of the kind
happen only occasionally or coincidentally. It would also seem that the observance of
specifically Rastafarian holidays is non-existent. Annually observed ceremonies known as
"Nyabinghi" in Jamaica and elsewhere are apparently unknown or observed on Statia. Until
recent years, July 1 was celebrated as "African Liberation Day" by Statian Rastas. In
commemoration of the emancipation of African slaves, the Rastas sponsored a day of ital
food and music. Holidays observed by Jamaican Rastafarians pertaining to Haile Selassie
such as the commemoration of his visit to Jamaica, or the Golden Jubilee pass unnoticed.
This is due no doubt to the differing status placed on Selassie in Statia.
Informal meetings which serve to keep the group unified and strong spiritually are far
more frequent. On a weekly basis, Rastas meet to play seasonal sports, both with and
against the rest of the community. Two Rastas instructed me on the importance of keeping
the body physically as well as spiritually fit. A particularly popular sport in which many
Rastas participate is football. I am continuously reminded by the players that Bob Marley
was a football player. Each weekend, Rastas gather in the ghetto in one yard to eat ital and
often to wash their hair. Both the food and the cactus shampoo are prepared by the
brethren. On almost a nightly basis many Rastas get together to play music informally in
improvisational type jam sessions. A few also play weekends at local restaurants.
Reggae music as an important part of Statian livity cannot be over emphasized. Not a
few of the brethren have proclaimed to have discovered Rastafari through reggae music.
The role of Bob Marley as a prophet is a marked one here. Marley is quoted more often than
the Bible. Statements which impart wisdom often begin, "According to Bob.....". Whereas
some Jamaican Rastafarians may consider reggae music too commercial and therefore
profane in a way, Statian Rastas do not see it so. This is probably because it was through
reggae music that many became interested or enlightened, giving the music more of a
sacred and prophetic quality. Playing reggae music allows for the expression of spirituality
and several local Rastas hope to pursue musical careers in Jamaica or Europe. Music
considered sacred in Jamaica on the other hand, Nyabinghi drumming, is unknown in
So it seems that the seeds of Rastafari have been firmly embedded in St. Eustatius soil.
The unique outgrowth is due in part to the differing social circumstances than was true of
Jamaica. The Rastafarian religion on Statia reflects a lack of poverty and overt oppression,
as well as a lack of political content. The religion is a product of its time and its limited
universe, reflecting the importance of reggae music and responding to the death of Haile
Selassie. It seems that it has become more a religion practiced at a personal or individual
level than a unified movement actively pursuing ideological goals such as the Garvey
movement and the Jamaican Rastafari Movement. The Rastafarians of Statia seem at once
to live their lives and practice their religion individually and yet there is still an underlying
cohesiveness, camaraderie, and sense of group identity. They lack the focal point regarding
Selassie and Africa which bind Jamaicans together, drawing an apparent contrast. Goals,
aspirations, and Rasta spirituality are to be expressed through the mundane events, one
trying to lead a morally and spiritually pure life first and dealing with societal change "in
the future". This emphasis on the personal aspect of religion may be the reason that the
Rastafarian way of life on Statia has not affected or permeated the community as it has in
Jamaica. It may also in part be due to the paradoxical nature of Rastafarian ideology versus
practice on the island. Such paradox as setting oneself apart ideologically from an oppres-
sive society and yet continuing to live, work, and vote with that same society. For this
reason, and those discussed previously, Statian Rastas are not taken seriously by the larger
Black community, who the Rastafarians insist are blind to psychological oppression at the
hand of the government.
To some it might seem impossible that such a religion could exist if it served no
apparent need or purpose. I would maintain that this religion serves a very basic need,
identity. The religion addresses a need central to all people, the need to be part of a
collective consciousness, the need for identity. One can attain this identity by exploring his
roots through Rastafari. Exploring literal African roots leads to the establishment of
symbolic ideological roots which serve both to eliminate confusion and chaos as well as
guidelines by which to live. The ultimate goal being a state of "Africa" in the heart. The
Africanness of the majority of the population is in no way addressed by any other means or
embraced wholly by any other religions present other than Rastafari. I would further
maintain that the island itself has a rather ambiguous collective identity in that the vast
majority of the population is of African decendency, yet African culture is not practiced
here. St. Eustatius is an island which from the time of its colonization has changed hands
some twenty- three times between the Dutch, French, and the English. The island has had
during that time massive population fluctuations including substantial changes in ethnic
and racial make-up. Statia has been under Dutch rule for about 175 years and has never
manifested any desire for independence. Although technically the island is Dutch, English
is spoken and few adults have Dutch proficiency. It is an island with more than five types
of religions. Neither Dutch culture, education, nor religions present on the island address
the African identity of the people. I have been told by one older Rasta that Rastafari is a
need in life, and I can only deduce that this is identity. Roots and culture. Rastafari, a
positive religion offers Blacks a documented history and heritage, codes to guide one
through life, and goals for inner peace and future salvation. It further serves to unify Black
people under the leadership of a Black god and Black prophets. It would seem an appropri-
ate if not natural choice.
The way in which Statian Rastafarians will continue to develop and flourish remains to
be seen. The history of Rastafari on St. Eustatius remains in its infancy. A second genera-
tion of Rastafarians is conceivably close at hand, the manifestation of which will yield
important information as to the continuing evolution of the religion.
liming liming is a term used in St. Eustatius as well as throughout the Eastern Caribbean mean-
ing gathering in a public place for entertainment purposes.
cooling-out- a term used by Statian Rastas to mean relaxing or resting especially in one's home,
smoking is often done at this time.
livity- practical application of Rastafarian ideology, lifestyle; term used in Jamaica but not in
outside family- a situation in which a man creates and often supports a family secondary to his
wife and children.
reasoning- conversation usually among the brethren which is positive, uplifting and serves to en-
lighten and expound upon various issues, spiritual or mundane.
ital- a term which means vital, natural, pure, or wholesome and can refer to many things includ-
ing food and livity.
herb & ganja- interchangeable terms referring to marijuana, both terms commonly used on
Babylon- the Rastafarian term for Western society as well as for the police.
ground foods- foods from the ground which are pure and natural and unprocessed, usually
Rasta talk- called lyric in Jamaica, a unique Rastafarian language which transforms the Jamai-
can Creole striving to make it more assertive and positive.
1. Chevannes, Barry. Social Origins of the Rastafari Movement. Mona, Kingston: Institute of So-
cial and Economic Research, University of the West Indies, 1978.
2. Faristzaddi, Mallard. Itations of Jamaica and I Rastafari. New York: Grove Press, 1982.
3. Homiak, John P. Dub History: Soundings of Rastafari Livity and Language. 1993.
4. Koot, Wim. "Socio-economic Development and Emigration in the Netherlands Antilles." In
Contemporary Caribbean: A Sociological Reader, ed. Susan Craig. Maracas, The College
5. Lee, Barbara Makeda. Rastafari: the New Creation. 2nd ed. Kingston: Jamaica Media Produc-
tions (P.O. Box 33, Kingston 2), 1981.*
6. Lowenthal, David, and Lambros Comitas. Work and Family Life: West Indian Perspectives.
Garden City, New York: Anchor Press, 1973.
7. Nicholas, Tracy, and Bill Sparrow. Rastafari: A Way of Life. Garden City, New York: Double-
8. Smith, M.G., Roy Augier, and Rex Nettleford. The Rastafari Movement in Kingston, Jamaica.
Mona, Jamaica: Department of Extra-Mural Studies, University of the West Indies, 1960.
9. Waters, Anita M. Race, Class, and Political Symbols: Rastafari and Reggae in Jamaican Poli-
tics. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Books, 1985.
10. Williams, K.M. The Rastafarians. London: Williamsburgh Printing Ltd., 1981.
11. Brathwaite, Edward Kamau. History of the Voice: the Development of Nation Language in An-
glophone Caribbean Poetry. London: New Beacon Books Ltd., 1984.
12. Yawney, Carole D. "Dread Wasteland: Rastafarian Ritual in West Kingston, Jamaica." In An-
thropological Investigations in the Caribbean: Selected papers, ed. Basil C. Hedrick. Greeley:
University of Northern Colorado, 1984.
13. Gjerset, S. Don't Vex Then Pray: The Methodology of Initiation Fifteen Years Later. Paper pre-
pared for Qualitative Research Conference, University of Waterloo, 1985.
14. Elliott Leib and Renee Romano. Rastafari: Conversations Concerning Women (Video Project,
1983) (86.2.2) 12 hrs. Video documentation
15. Elliott Leib and Renee Romano (directors) Rastafari Voices (1978). 58 min.
C.L.RJame's Caribbean, edited by Paget Henry and Paul Buhle, Durham NC: Duke
University Press, 1992, pp287.
C.L.R.James was one of the most prolific and talented intellectuals of the Twentieth
Century, as well as a pioneer among West Indian writers, many of whom followed his route
to Britain or the United States. James was a giant among Marxist thinkers; a Pan-African-
ist; a brilliant, original literary critic (Mariners, Renegades and Castaways, 1953, discusses
the ship in Moby Dick as a factory or proletarian society ruled by the entrepreneur/Stalin-
figure Ahab); briefly a nationalist politician in his native Trinidad; a great apologist for the
game of cricket as an art form (the highly original Beyond a Boundary, 1963); and a
novelist (Minty Alley, 1936).
Yet despite his breathtaking range of interests and accomplishments, and though one
biography has been published (C.L.R. James: The Artist as Revolutionary by Paul Buhle,
1989), and another is on its way C.L.R. James: A Political Biography by Kent Worcester,
due in 1994), James is little remembered outside the West Indies. Perhaps just because he
was such a prolific intellectual, and such a pioneer, James is difficult to pigeonhole, hence
C.L.R. James's Caribbean is a collection of mostly well written and challenging essays
that set out to offer a biographical, historical and theoretical base from which a reader can
begin to comprehend James. Notable are Selwyn Cudjoe's lucid biographical piece on
James's Trinidadian background, Paget Henry's discussion of the Caribbean economic
tradition, Walton Look Lai's history of Trinidadian nationalism, Paul Buhle's interview
with the West Indian novelist George Lamming, and (first things first) a valuable portrait
by Stuart Hall to open the book.
James's work "has never been critically and theoretically engaged as it should be,"
argues Hall. "Consequently, much writing on James is necessarily explanatory, descriptive,
and celebratory." C.L.R. James's Caribbean is all three, yet avoids either fawning or being
superficial. Readers who find this collection rewarding and intriguing are urged to delve
into C.L.R. James Reader (edited by Anna Grimshaw, Blackwell Publishers, 1992)
Lucy, by Jamaica Kincaid, Farrar, Staus, Giroux Publishers, NY, 1990, ppl64
"An ocean stood between me and the place I came
from, but would it have made a difference if it had
been a teacup of water? I could not go back". from
"Lucy" by Jamaica Kincaid, (c) 1990
It took only a moment for me to recognize author Jamaica Kincaid in the crowd at a
public library in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she recently read from her book,
She was perhaps the tallest and most simply dressed woman in the packed room. Yet,
she was exotic. She might have been somewhat intimidated by video lights and the
clickety-clack of cameras. But, her eyes hurled back a light of their own.
I know something about those expressions fixed upon her nut brown face; outlined by a
cascade of braided strands of hair. Like my mother of West Indian ancestry, Kincaid's face
is firm. Yet it is rounded and soft. It conveys unerring determination. Yet, it is pained by
resignation to ugly worldly truths.
A year before this encounter, I had reviewed Kincaid's book, "A Small Place" for a
national magazine. Her explosive essay recounted much of the social and political corrup-
tion on the tiny West Indian island of Antigua, surrounded by the Caribbean Sea and the
Here is where I first recognized this now literary heroine who came to the United
States as an au pair in 1966 at the age of 17. "A Small Place" is based on her observations
after returning to that island at the age of 36.
My mother's parents were born on an island possibly smaller than the ten by twelve
mile stretch called Antigua. Without ever having stepped foot on either of these secluded
lands, I can still grasp what any human being on their 'terra firma' must mean when they
assert, as does Kincaid, that no race of people should ever impose their culture on another
place abundant with its own 'native' customs.
A past visit to Haiti, one of the poorest black republics in the Western Hemisphere,
cleared my head of all the tourist-oriented brochures could say about a place that, on closer
examination, was really not all that quaint.
Kincaid's book, "Lucy", is spun-woven with paradoxes. It could be about any emerging
artist (in this case a writer) who claws and fights her way out of subservience in search of
where that God-given gift might take her.
Like the author, the book's protagonist, Lucy, leaves her isolated home to become part
of a family very different from the one she left; an Anglo-American family with four small
girls she is to care for. The maid would clean the house. She would attend classes at night.
This culture is understandly foreign to a young girl from a tropical island to whom
things such as tiled bathrooms are unknown.
"...The sun was shining but the air was cold....But I did
not know that the sun could shine and the air remain
cold; no one had ever told me...",
writes Kincaid in Lucy's voice when she arrives to the United States.
It is just this strangeness of circumstance, place and routine that provokes Lucy's inner
thoughts about her past and ultimately her future.
In an interview with the Boston Globe, Kincaid talked about her returns to Antigua
where she remains a citizen.
"Everyone (in Antigua) is a great artist. They spin
tales...", she stated. "...But, to be writers they would
have had to leave".
The short eye might see the book as simply another spiritual journey story, but on closer
examination, it defies definition. The quest to find that inner voice is complex and the only
definitive discovery here is that to make this journey at all, one must put distance between
self and past.
Lucy's past is almost entirely dominated by her mother who remains in Antigua. It is
her mother's grip she is trying to escape. Kincaid has publicly referred to this grip as the
"magic" that all parents have over their children.
"The magic is they carry so much you don't know about. They know you in a way you
don't know yourself', she stated.
In the book, Lucy's mother writes her long, plaintive letters from home about the
dangers of big city living; horror stories about riding on underground trains. So many of our
parents have hammered us with the terrors of venturing out on our own. Lucy attempts to
ignore these letters, but the unavoidable contrast between her familiar past and unfamiliar
present continues to haunt her.
"I had come to feel that my mother's love for me was designed solely to make me an
echo of her", reflects Lucy in the novel. "...but, I felt that I would rather be dead than just
an echo of someone".
Because the central character is West Indian, it might be easy to compare her experi-
ences to those of some Africa-Americans. But, as the author herself has asserted, the book
is not about race and class; it is about a person trying to figure out how to become an artist.
The pages are full of personal irony because Lucy is so mysterious and exploring. This
irony prevails admirably throughout Kincaid's third work of fiction, because it chronicles
one of the most illusive things on this universe; the nature of self.
"Cambridge" a Novel, by Caryl Phillips, Bloomsbury Publishing Co. Ltd. UK
The pervasive, almost hypnotic influence of Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea is evident
in Caryl Phillips' latest offering from the Bloomsbury Publishing Company, "Cambridge",
A carefully crafted invoking of early Nineteenth Century plantation life, it is yet
difficult to avoid the judgement that Mr. Phillips' inspiration is a little more subtle than his
scope. The seemingly effortless and natural growth of plot from character and passion that
has given Jean Rhys' masterwork its marvelous strength is absent from Cambridge despite
that Mr. Phillip's skill should neither be ignored nor slighted. Passage after passage in this
audacious attempt to recapture the West Indian sense of identity are rendered with sensitiv-
ity and considerable felicity of style. The unnamed sugar isalnd on which the English
heroine lives out haplessly her confused drama is presented with a felt urgency that conveys
the physical world with distinction. However, Mr. Phillips is not always in full control of his
method when it comes to holding character and surroundings together in a convincing
The English sugar heiress is arbitrarily introduced to us on her way to the West Indies as
her absentee father's agent of inspection. In the terms of realistic fiction her background in
England, her sheltered training and her age (nearly thirty) make this an unlikely mission.
Her arrival on the neglected plantation and her attempts to relate to the limited, often brutal,
society she finds are authentically summarised from what we know of journals and diaries
of the period. But too often, the presentation becomes a guided tour of a period which will
already be well-known to West Indian readers. Mr. Phillips does not quite persuade us but
these digressions in the narrative are essential to the novel as a construct. Nor do the
secondary characters have enough solidity of dimension to carry the full burden of what
could be a fully realized drama. Similarly the increasingly hallucinatory nature of the
heroine, Emily Cartwright's experience never has the nightmare authority we remember in
Jean Rhy's Antoinnete Cosway's descent into dark madnesswas presented as inexurable:
the individual borne along on an overwhelming current of history. We do not so willingly
suspend our disbelief as we are asked to accept the disintegration of Emily Cartwright's
character and reason. The emphasis given to the slave representatives in Mr. Phillip's work
sometimes seems almost obligatory and artificial. His black body servant, Stella, never
becomes the disturbing other that Miss Rhys' Christophine becomes to Antoinnete Cos-
way. The enigmatic Christian African, Cambridge, is not given the meaningful part that his
moral stature plainly demands. The white overseer, Arnold Brown, who father's Emily's
monstrous natural child, is similarly not integral to the plot's major statement. He is merely
an agent of generation.
Emily's stream of consciousness, through which much of the narrative unfolds, slips
uncertainly from such observations as might have been made by a proper Jane Austin miss
of the period to a shrewd scientific appraisal of the evils of the slave system to a disconcert-
ing and tortured Twentieth Century feminism.
But despite any reservations we may have about Mr. Phillips' mastery of technique, it
cannot be denied that Cambridge is a bold and original attempt to explore the sad labyrinth
of our past. The miscarried childbirth scene with which the book ends Emily alone in a
half-ruined cottage on the estate, her distant father bankrupt, friendless and not quite sane
- is nearly unbearable as a metaphor for the distorted West Indian beginnings it is
brilliantly conceived and starkly presented. What the book has lacked up to then is the
accumulated development of characters that would have completely involved us in the
tragedy. In the novel, as in life, 'low ambition not failure is a crime'. Mr. Phillips is a talent
of whom we will obviously hear more. He has made an impressive attempt to find a modem
significance in the too often superficially handled confrontation of souls on the old planta-
tion. That he does not always succeed shows us, perhaps, that we have not yet properly
assimilated the crushing experience of the West Indian past.
(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,
BWilliams, $US 18.50 (P), US$34.95 (Cloth) Duke University Press
Caribbean Poetry Now, S.Brown, UK15.99, July 1992, Edward Arnold, Hodder & Stough-
The Military and Society in Haiti, M.LaGuerre, US$29.95 (Cloth), University of Tennessee
The Premise and Promise: Free Trade in the Americas, US Third World P(olicy Perspec-
tives No.18, 282pp, US$15.95 (p) US$29.95(c) Feb. 1993, Transaction Publishers,
Rutgers-The State University of New Jersey.
Economic Development and Social Change :United States Latin American Relations in the
1990s, A.Jorge(ed) US$15.95(P) 142pp. 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 (Ed.)
US$18.45 (P) Jan. 1993,Transaction Publishers, Rutgers-The State University of New Jer-
NOTES ON CONTRIBUTORS
is a professor at the University of S. Florida
is a professor of English at University of S. Carolina
is a free-lance researcher from the Netherlands
is an ethno-musicologist, University of Michigan
is a professor, University of Puerto Rico
is a lecturer, Department of Spanish, UWI, Mona
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