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Full Text
ISSN 0008-6495


Caribbean Quarterly
Volume 43, No.4
Dec. 1997



VOLUME 43, No4



(Copyright reserved and reproduction without permission strictly forbidden.)

Conference On Caribbean Culture
In Honour Of Professor Rex Nettleford
The Literature Papers: A Selection
Guest editorial
J. Pereira
'Dub Poetry" 1
Mervyn Morris
Lyrical Liberation: David Dabydeen's Slave Song and Turner 11
Karen McIntyre
Songs of a Surrogate Mother The Nursery Rhyme in a
Caribbean Culture 26
Brian Heap
Blurring Cultural Boundaries: The Balm-yard in Olive Senior's
Discerner of Hearts and Erna Brodber's Myal 37
Velma Pollard
Revisiting Samuel Selvon's Trilogy of Exile: Implications for
Gender Consciousness and Gender Relations in Caribbean Culture 47
Curdella Forbes
Gifts and Games in Frank Martinus Arion's Dubbelspel 64
Maarten Van Delden
Envisioning A Caribbean Humanism in the Words of Two Writers
from the Region 74
I/eana Sanz
Literature and Diglossia: The Poetics of French and Creole "Interlect" 81
in Patrick Chamoiseau's Texaco
Marie-Jose N'Zengou- Tayo

DEC. 1997

Book Reviews 102
Books Received 108


Editorial Committee
'lie I lon. R.M. Neltleford, O.M. Deputy Vice Chancellor, Editor
Compton Bourne, Principal, St. Augustine Campus, UWI
Sir Keith Hunte, Principal, Cave Hill Campus, UWI
Sir Roy Augier, Professor Emeritus, Dept. of History, Mona
Neville McMorris, Dept. of Physics, Mona
Veronica Salter, Office of Deputy Vice Chancellor, Mona (Managing Editor)
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INTRODUCTION :The Dynamic Creolity of Caribbean Culture.

The essays in this volume were initially presented at the First Confer-
ence on Caribbean Culture held at U. W.I., Mona, in 1996 in honour of Rex
Nettleford. The authors come from diverse territories of the region, assessing
Caribbean writing from a perspective of the nineties and covering writers from
across the region: English, French, Spanish and (unusually) Dutch. Yet in this
diversity there is a remarkable repeated problematic: the forging of a creole
culture out of the dialectic interplay of European and non-European patterns,
plural rather than binary in their pressure points and rich in synthetic possibili-
ties. In this regard, the studies reflect tensions that have existed as long as
literature itself in the Caribbean. They bring, however, a strengthened sense
of confidence in the vitality and viability of that creole 'pluriverse' as it
assimilates, adapts and grows richer in its creative interpretation of its world.
Carolyn Allen has been studying creolity in the Caribbean for some
time, and points us to the significance of artistic expression as the domain of
the most advanced expression of the creole nature of our culture. Her
comparative work on the subject points also to the problematic of the popular
culture engaging with and against the dominating tendencies of the elite
models. Velma Pollard elaborates on this inverting of received reality and
subversion of received texts using Olive Senior's and Ema Brodber's use of the
balm-yard as space of contention, distilled in the notion that "One day the
world going spin the other way, though.
Examining Arion's novel Dubbelspel out of Curacao, van Delden shows
how another very popular activity of everyday Caribbean life, the domino
game, can become the arena for exploring Curacao's search for cultural and
economic autonomy through the internal antagonistic forces at play in the lives
of the players. If readers can make comparisons from this with other Carib-
bean texts, Sanz brings to us the only cross-language study, examining
Brodber and Senel Paz, and concludes on their similarities in that Jamaican and
Cuban are both forging a new Caribbean humanism based on the senses, the
imagination, nature and an outward orientation. Such comparative studies are
to be encouraged in the process of understanding the commonalities and
complexities in the region's experiences and cultural expressions.
N'Zengou-Tayo takes us toward the use of language itself in the
artistic dynamism of the plural tensions of the region. Her study of the
Martinican novel, Chamoiseau's Texaco, explores the way in which African
basilects signal an ancient connection at the same time that creole engages
and recreaLes French to serve its purposes: the world spins the other way and

the language of the European is manipulated to serve Caribbean space and
culture. Curdella Forbes takes us through language into another area of
"political" engagements when she examines some of Selvon's works to
establish the way in which everyday interactions and conversations reflect
gendered unconsciousnesss beyond that of the aesthetics of scribal art.
Forbes brings to the volume the problematic of gender assumptions that tends
to play second to the more usual concentration on race and class tensions.
She provides an interesting thesis regarding Selvon's characters grappling with
"ordered society" in their exile context of England.
Language too is central to McIntyre's study of Dabydeen, for it reveals
how the problematic sometimes engulfs the writer who might see himself in a
decolonizing role, yet suffers assumptions regarding the very creole language
being privileged. For Dabydeen speaks of wanting "to show the Creole mind
struggling and straining after concepts of beauty and purity but held back by
its psychologically crude vocabulary And he confesses that "the return to
Creole [after the "Queen's English] is painful, almost nauseous for the lan-
guage is uncomfortably raw... Nonetheless, the artist takes a vehement
position in favour of the Creole. There is a very faint echo of this dichotomy
(albeit based on the intent of the medium rather than any inherent linguistic
limitations) when Morris cites a critic who suggests that dub poetry is largely
protesting, threatening, accusatory, and that we cannot often expect any
subtlety of approach, anything that is inward-looking, musing, quiet, reflec-
tive, tender, delicate... Morris argues the difficulty of containing the notion
of dub poetry in any easy limits, since the very nature of the aesthetic, based
as it is on the interplay of language and rhythm, and the subtleties and range
of intent of the many dub poets points to the evasion of containment in a thing
like classification.
What the studies in this volume show is the way in which language
itself as well as the artistic imagination and expression work away at the edges
of intercultural exchanges both at the macro and micro levels, engaging the
tensions of class, race, gender, geography and geopolitics'. As the creative
writers do so, they contribute to the consolidation of a distinctive Caribbean
aesthetic and humanism, while drawing on and often giving recognition,
respect and promotion to the "grass-roots" traditions as the direction of a
decolonized and authentic Caribbean identity and culture, enriched by the very
vibrancy of that multidimensional struggle for recognition.

Guest Editor

'Dub Poetry'?



The word 'dub' in 'dub poetry' is borrowed from recording technology,
where it refers to the activity of adding and/or removing sounds. 'Dub poetry'
which is written to be performed, incorporates a music beat, often a reggae
beat. Often, but not always, the performance is done to the accompaniment
of music, recorded or live. Dub poetry is usually, but not always, written in
Jamaican language; in Jamaican creole/dialect/vernacular/nation language. By
extension, it may be written in the informal language of people from anywhere.
Most often it is politically focused, attacking oppression and injustice. Though
the ideal context for dub poetry is the live performance, it also makes itself
available in various other ways: on radio, on television, in audio recordings,
video recordings and on film. Many dub poets also publish books.1
'Dub poetry' The term is prefigured in a 1976 article by Linton Kwesi
Johnson, who writes:
The 'dub-lyricist' is the dj turned poet. He
intones his lyrics rather than sings them. Dub-
lyricism is a new form of (oral) music-poetry,
wherein the lyricist overdubs rhythmic phrases
on to the rhythm background of a popular
song. Dub-lyricists include poets like Big
Youth, I Roy, U Roy, Dillinger, Shorty the Presi-
dent, Prince Jazzbo and others.2

But though he knows their immediate context is dub music, Linton calls the
artists simply poets. In similar spirit, the persona of 'Street 66' in Linton's
Dread Beat and Blood (1975), refers to 'the mitey poet I Roy' 3

In his own creative writing, by 1973 Johnson was beginning to be
known as a poet often in tune with reggae rhythms. I remember hearing him
read in London:
night number one was in BRIXTON:
SOFRANO B sound system
was a beating out a rhythm with a fire,
coming doun his reggae-reggae wire;

it was a sound shaking doun your spinal column,
a bad music tearing up your flesh;
and the rebels them start a fighting,
the yout them jus turn wild.
it's war amongst the rebels:
madness... madness... war. 4

Before he ever heard of Linton Johnson, Oku Onuora had been travel-
ling a similar road.5 Like Linton he was inspired by Jamaican popular music and
the poets who wrote the lyrics, especially Bob Marley and the Wailers.6 He
knew that poets might perform their work to musical accompaniment, as was
happening at the Yard Theatre organized by Marina Omowale Maxwell and
Kamau Brathwaite.7 Living in Jamaica in the late 1960s, Oku was also
influenced by Black American trends, including a proliferation of poet-perform-
ers who were steeped in the rhythms of Black music. He read and/or listened
to some of them, including The Last Poets and Gil Scott-Heron. He discovered
the poetry of Langston Hughes, which he often adduced as a model.
The term 'dub poetry' was promoted in Jamaica early in 1979 to
identify work then being presented often at the School of Drama by Oku
himself, Mikey Smith and Noel Walcott. Initially Oku defined dub poetry as
related to reggae rhythms. The dub poem, he said,

is not merely putting a piece of poem pon a
reggae rhythm hence when the poem is read
without any reggae rhythm (so to speak) back-
ing, one can distinctly hear the reggae rhythm
coming out of the poem.

Later he took the position that the music rhythms need not be reggae: so 'dub
poetry' would be poetry into which music rhythms have been dubbed, so to
speak. But that would allow in all sorts of people, including Edith Sitwell.10
So, according to Christian Habekost in Verbal Riddim (1993), a substantially
informative book, Oku now 'sees dub poetry as a form of poetry that can
absorb and incorporate any kind of black musical rhythm'11 (emphasis mine).
Since the definition, even as revised, mainly related to the form of 'dub
poetry' it has been extended to cover political content; to prescribe attitudes.
At a public discussion in January 1986 Oku Onuora said:

Dub poetry simply mean to take out and to put
in, but more fi put in more than anything else.
We take out the little isms, the little English ism
and the little highfalutin business and the little

penta-metre... that is what dub poetry mean.
It's dubbing out the little penta-metre and the
little highfalutin business and dubbing in the
rootsical, yard, basic rhythm that I-an-I know.
Using the language, using the body. It also
mean to dub out the isms and schisms and to
dub consciousness into the people-dem head.
That's dub poetry.12

Similarly, as reported by Aduga Onuora in 1986: 'The aim and purpose of
what I'm doing is to dub out the unconconsciousness out of the people head,
and to dub een consciousness'1 3

Some of the leading 'dub poets' prefer not to be called by that name.
They consider that it limits them or puts them down. They may want to use
some music that isn't really black, or to draw on no music at all. They may
want to write some poems they would not care to perform. They want the
freedom to explore a range of human concerns, and display a range of
attitudes. Consistent with his description of the dj lyricists as 'poets' Linton
Johnson says 'I've always seen myself as a poet full stop.'14 Mutabaruka,
similarly, says 'My poetry is just: poetry 15 Jean Binta Breeze remarks: 'I'd
rather say I am a poet and write some dub poems than say I am a dub poet.'16
Habekost, heavily invested in the term, implies they are ungrateful to a banner
which has helped to market them. As though there is a pattern of individual-
istic selfishness among achievers such as these in fact it's quite the
opposite Habekost argues for collective political action, to storm the
barricades for dub poetry
At the beginning of the 1980s, when a number
of poets started to receive international atten-
tion and the media promoted the term dub
poetry, the opportunity was missed to take
advantage of this situation.... The slogan
'Unity is Strength, a phrase beloved of radical
black artists, was unable to gain currency
among the dub poets.

As we have seen, such an absence of collec-
ive awareness has not hampered the success
of individual dub poets; but has certainly
militated against the general recognition of the
art form among the literary and academic es-
tablishment. The cultural elite tended to en-

dorse dub poets who denied what they were
doing and insisted on being 'poets' without the
allegedly pejorative specificier of 'dub.' It was
easier to accommodate the political and stylis-
tic 'threat' of a handful of individuals than a
potentially general assault by a united group of
determined artists. 17

Members of the 'cultural elite' sometimes also of 'the academic
establishment' are charged with offences inimical to 'general recognition
of the art form' Some, valorizing complexity, have seemed to be dissing dub
poetry; some have censured work they consider weak or metricious; some
have seemed eager to blunt the political force of dub poetry by relating it to
other areas of performance poetry or, worse, (s]ubsuming it under the rather
vague and generalizing term "poetry"' 19
Let us look at examples. In a 1988 issue of Jamaica Journal Victor
Chang reviewed the pioneer anthology, Dub Poetry: 19 Poets from England
and Jamaica, edited by Christian Habekost.20 Since Chang's generalizing
comments are specifically related to the samples Habekost put in front of him,
anyone disturbed by the review should be sentenced to read the whole of the
book it notices. It is the Habekost anthology that has provoked observations
such as these which trouble dub poetry enthusiasts. Chang writes (the
emphases are mine):
The notion... that poems are elevated to 'artis-
tic impressions' by means of 'useless meta-
phors' is strange.... What we are left with,
after shearing all the 'useless metaphors'
away, is language that 'is simple and clear to
get the meaning and message across to any-
one'[p.18]. There we have clearly stated both
the strength and the weakness of Dub Poetry.
It is a poetry of statement, shouted at you from
the platform: it is very public poetry, poetry for
'performance' in truth. Its strengths lie in shrill
denunciation and protest, polarized stances,
confrontational postures... Dub poetry seldom
strays from this approach. When it tries an-
other tack, such as love poetry, it doesn't quite
come off...

[W]hile dub poetry covers a range of topics, its
tonal range as represented here is essentially
limited: protesting, threatening, accusatory.
And we need to recognize this. I am not
saying that this poetry does not have its value
or that it should be like traditional poetry. I
merely want to suggest that we cannot often
expect any subtlety of approach, anything that
is inward-looking, musing, quiet, reflective,
tender, delicate, registering a complexity of
position or feeling.21

Gordon Rohlehr sees more that can be positive in 'dub poetry' but also
firmly indicates how bad it can sometimes be. In his Introduction to Voice-
print he writes, succinctly: 'Dub poetry at its worst is a kind of tedious jabber
to a monotonous rhythm. At its best it is the intelligent appropriation of the
manipulatory techniques of the DJ for purposes of personal and communal

In an essay mainly on work by Mikey Smith and Jean Binta Breeze
which she admires Carolyn Cooper mentions Benjamin Zephaniah, a candidate
for Professor of Poetry at Oxford University in 1989, running against Seamus
Heaney and others. She quotes The Guardian of May 20,1989:
[Heaney's] strongest competition comes from
the Somerset-based poet, author and transla-
tor, Charles Sisson, and the Rastafarian dub-
poet, Benjamin Zephaniah, whose work
includes a New Year Rap for The Guardian with
the prophetic lines:

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

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

Me love me mudder an me mudder love me
We come so far from over de sea

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

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

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

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

Zephaniah poses a difficult problem of assessment. He is the star of Verbal
Riddim, repeatedly approved for political seriousness and communication
skills. There is plenty of evidence that he connects with audiences. But the
words tend to seem inadequate except when he is clearly having a laugh; and
even if one listens to recordings and looks at videos, there will still be crucial
performance elements missing: the interactive occasion, the living audience,
the rhetoric of a charismatic presence. Habekost makes him sound extraordi-
nary (if you go for kinetic excitement):

Benjamin Zephaniah... became popular with
the thrilling presentation of his 'Dis Policeman
keeps on kicking me to death, during which he
turned into a bouncing bundle of high-kicking
boots, facial distortions and flying dread-

If, as some people say Habekost and others the words are transcended
or transformed in performance, is not enough to read or hear about details;
we need to share an occasion we can discuss.

Habekost undervalues the performance potential of stillness. Less
than a page after quoting a valuable observation by Walter Ong ('In oral
verbalization, particularly public verbalization, absolute motionlessness is itself
a powerful gesture'), he notes that '[nlot all good dub poets are equally good
performers' and that Linton Johnson 'remains very static. Johnson, he writes,
'is... capitalizing on the reserve bordering on diffidence that holds him back
from histrionic expression: his frozen appearance is the deliberate attempt to
let the words speak for themselves, undisturbed by additional performative
means that might divert the audience's attention.28

Is there really an attempt 'to let the words speak for themselves' In
performing them Johnson, though relatively still, is a visual focus, made more
compelling by his trademark hat; and his voice (with variations in rhythm,
phrasing, volume, texture) is of critical importance. He makes performance
Words, nevertheless, and our attitudes to them, are the heart of the
matter, the site of contention between dub poetry's true believers and those
of us applauding only some of the talent. Offered Mikey Smith's 'Me Cyaan
Believe It' for example, or Linton Johnson's 'Reggae fi Dada' or Jean Binta
Breeze's 'Riddym Ravings' we can enjoy the value-added of performance. For
though everybody knows that dub poetry is meant to be performed, and
though some poems are most fully realized in performance, people who enjoy
poetry (and not only 'dub poetry') tend to be biased in favour of poems that
offer riches before and after, not only during or because of, performance.
They privilege the word. Like Gordon Rohlehr we are drawn to 'the more
complex abstracts from experience, in preference to simple statement of it, we
need 'to feel that a writer is trying to use language imaginatively-any
language in which he chooses to write.'30

That language is sometimes standard English, as in 'I Write About' by
Oku Onuora.31
You ask: Why do you write
so much about blood, sweat & tears?
Don't you write about trees, flowers,
birds, love?


I write about trees
trees with withered branches
& severed roots

I write about flowers
flowers on graves

I write about birds
caged birds struggling

I write about love
love for destruction'
of oppression

The persona has been accused of being militant (but may be standing
firm against evil, as the Churchill echo implies).32 The poem is a rhetorical
rebuke to the notion that poets should be writing only of the joys of nature. In
the last four stanzas each first line flatters the enquirer to deceive -seeming
to agree with the programme proposed, only to subvert it in succeeding lines.
The trees are symbols of human distress, withered for lack of nourishment, cut
off from their roots (implying, in black Jamaica, Africa). The flowers on graves
suggest at least two possibilities. They may be dead flowers, as in wreaths
laid there during a funeral. But they may also be flowers growing on a grave,
positives that might emerge from what had looked like disaster. The 'caged
birds' are a conventional image of imprisonment, of freedom denied, but they
are given a distinctive life by the addition of 'struggling' which had strong
political overtones in Jamaica in the 1970s when the poem was first publish-
ed. The final stanza is particularly skilled in the ironic use it makes of lineation:
the persona seems to be confirming the enquirer's charge: yes, indeed, the
persona writes about 'blood, sweat & tears': yes, he writes about 'love for
destruction' But the sentence continues, the enquirer is in the line of fire.
Destruction per se is not the point. The persona writes about 'love for
destruction / of oppression'
This well-made poem is included in Habekost's Dub Poetry and quoted
in his Verbal Riddim. Is this an example of 'dub poetry'? It is politically
focused. Is that why it qualifies? If so, then there are many other poems
waiting to be claimed. 'Dub poetry' is only a fraction of what most 'dub poets'
write. To Lillian Allen 'a dub poet is somebody who calls himself a dub poet
and whose major output in terms of the public is dub poetry.' But if we
followed the practice of Linton Johnson and called every poet a poet, we
might focus (with fewer classificatory anxieties) on the merits of each piece.


See Mervyn Morris, 'People Speech' in Reggae International ed. Stephen Davis and Peter
Simon (New York: Rogner & Bernhard, 1982 ; London: Thames & Hudson, 1983), 189-

191. Also, as 'People Speech: Some Dub Poets', in Race Today Review 1983, Vol. 14 No.
5, 150-157; and in The Black Nation Vol. 4 No. 1, Summer/Fall 1984,38-42.
2. Linton Kwesi Johnson, 'Jamaican Rebel Music' Race and Class, XVII, 4 (1976), 398.
3. Dread Beat and Blood (London: Bogle L'Ouverture, 1975),19.
4. From 'Five Nights of Bleeding' Dread Beat and Blood, 15.
5. 1 first met Oku Onuora (who was then Orlando Wong) late in 1975. After he had shown me
several reggae-influenced poems he had written, I introduced him to poems by Linton
6. 'My greatest influence was Bob Marley and the Wailers. In Christian Habekost ed., Dub Po-
etry: 19 Poets from England and Jamaica (Neustadt: Michael Schwinn, 1986),128.
7 Kamau Brathwaite has suggested the likely connection: 'My reading and public lectures must
have influenced, in some way, the development of "dub" In the sixties we had Yard Thea-
tre with Marina Omowale Maxwell in Jamaica and I was reading many of my poems with
Count Ossie on drums. Nathaniel Mackey, 'An Interview with Kamau Brathwaite' in
Stewart Brown ed., The Art of Kamau Brathwaite (Bridgend: Seren Books, 1995),27 The
interview took place on April 5, 1990.
8. See Orlando Wong [Oku Onuoral, Echo (Kingston: Sangster's, 1977), Michael Smith, It A
Come (London: Race Today, 1986), and for Noel Walcott poems Kamau Brathwaite ed.,
New Poets from Jamaica (Kingston: Savacou 14/15, 1979), 91-95.
9. Oku Onuora interviewed by Mervyn Morris, September 16, 1981
10. Edith Sitwell, 'Facade' (with music by William Walton).
Christian Habekost, Verbal Riddim: The Politics and Aesthetics of African-Caribbean Dub Po-
etry (Amsterdam-Atlanta: Editions Rodopi B.V 1993), 4.
12. Oku Onuora at the Jamaica School of Drama, January 17, 1986. Cf Kamau Brathwaite, His-
tory of the Voice (London: New Beacon Books, 1984), which talks about 'nation lan-
guage... that, in fact, largely ignores the pentameter' (13) and mentions 'It]he tyranny of
the pentametre' (30, footnote 40).
13. Verbal Riddim 4. Quoted from a 1986 research paper by Adugo, who was then married to
Oku Onuora.
14. Interviewed by Neil Spencer, New Musical Express, March 17, 1984. Verbal Riddim, 3.
15. Interviewed by Habekost, 1986. Verbal Riddim 3.
16. Interviewed by Habekost, 1985. Verbal Riddim 47
17 Op.cit 43-44.
18. Op.cit. See, for example, 22, 30, 48 ('certain members of the academy'). Also on p. 48 Lil-
lian Allen, the Toronto-based dub poet, is quoted as saying 'the academics are too enthusi-
astically mean-spirited' and bemoaning 'the enthusiastic negativity particularly from the
black academian bourgeo[i]sie. That final phrase turns up, more plausibly, as 'black acade-
mia and the bourgeoisie' in the Habekost interview 'transcribed and edited by Gordon Col-
lier' in Caribbean Writers: Between Orafity and Writing ed. Marlies Glaser & Marion Pausch
(Amsterdam-Atlanta: Rodopi, 1994), p. 59. In Caribbean Writers the interview, cited in
Verbal Riddim as 1989, is dated June 15, 1990.
19. Op.cit. ,3.
20. Jamaica Journal Vol. 21 No. 3, August-October 1988, 49-52. Chang reviews the Habekost
anthology and From Our Yard: Jamaican Poetry Since Independence edited by Pamela Mor-
21 Op.cit. 50.
22. Voiceprint: An Anthology of Oral and Related Poetry ed. Stewart Brown, Mervyn Morris
and Gordon Rohlehr (Harlow: Longman, 1989), 18. See also Gordon Rohlehr, The Shape
of That Hurt and other essays (Port-of-Spain: Longman Trinidad, 1992), 182.


23. Carolyn Cooper, Noises in the Blood. Oraity, Gender and the 'Vulgar' Body of Jamaican
Popular Culture (London: Macmillan Caribbean, 1993), 72.
24. Verbal Riddim 77
25. Notes in Us an Dem (Island Records, 1990). For another version see Benjamin Zephaniah,
The Dread Affair: Collected Poems (London: Arena/Arrow Books, 1985), 36.
26. Benjamin Zephaniah, 'Dis Poetry' in City Psalms (Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe Books,
1992), 12.
27 Verbal Riddim 100.
28. Verbal Riddim 100.
29. Michael Smith, It A Come (London: Race Today, 1986),13-15. Linton Kwesi Johnson, Tings
an Times (Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe Books, 1991),34-36. Jean Binta Breeze, Rid-
dym Ravings (London: Race Today, 1988),58-61
30. Gordon Rohlehr, in 'West Indian Poetry: Some Problems of Assessment', first published in
Tapia No. 20 (August 29, 1970). See Gordon Rohlehr, My Strangled City and other essays
(Port-of-Spain: Longman Trinidad, 1992), 111.
3 1 Echo 44.
32. May 13, 1940. '1 have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.'
33. Caribbean Writers: Between Orality & Writing, 51.

Lyrical Liberation: David Dabydeen's Slave Song and Turner



What we find in this poetry, is firstly a reactive
assumption, an assumption that the words are
transgressive. The writing is an act of opposi-

But opposition to what? To the culture of the
oppressor, of course. But wait how is this
done? Is it done with a rhetoric which, as we
can see, does not read well? Or is it done by a
succession of appropriations?

Which culture is on the move?

The need to "transgess" and to "oppose" is of paramount importance
to many writers, especially those who have lived in colonised or once-colo-
nised countries. It is thus of little surprise to discover, as the above quotation
suggests, that this decolonising impulse is of continual and urgent concern
throughout David Dabydeen's creative and scholarly writing. The validity of
this need is beyond question; the argument for a continual reaction to political
and cultural oppression has been thoroughly and persuasively articulated by
writers and theorists from all over the Caribbean and the African diaspora, as
well as by scholars from Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the Asian
sub-continent.2 What is of critical and creative significance, and which is still
subject to debate, is the ways in which subversion or opposition is registered
and employed in postcolonial writing. Scholarly and artistic preoccupation
with such concerns is explicitly foregounded in Dabydeen's poetry, with the
early collections Slave Song 3 and Coolie Odyssey 4 working to "try out" and
to establish the foundations for the kind of creative d ecolonisation that comes
to full fruition in his subsequent work Turner5 Accordingly, this paper seeks
to explore creative opposition as it is manifested in Dabydeen's poetry, and to
chart the development of his decolonising aesthetic from the award-winning
Creole poetry of Slave Song, through to the intricate workings of the mature

Turner the long poem that has brought him wide critical acclaim in Britain,
and which has earned him the title of "New Generation Poet"6

The emphasis of this paper is on Dabydeen's experimentation: on how
diasporic cultural identity is figured in these poems, and on the ways in which
the complex creative decolonisation that is so prevalent in Turner is tested and
explored within Slave Song and Coolie Odyssey. Much of Dabydeen's early
concern is with history and language, and the primary focus of this paper is on
these two key areas, taking into account not only their thematic and cultural
significance, but also their importance with regard to contemporary theoreti-
cal debates. In Slave Song and Coolie Odyssey, this attentiveness to linguistic
and historical "roots" appears to converge with a negritudinist-style re-asser-
tion of culture grounded firmly in tradition, promoting a unificatory under-
standing of diasporic identity. However, in Turner identity is characterized by
fragmentation and displacement. Yet the closer these texts are explored, the
more apparent it becomes that these formulations co-exist in the works; the
poems depict diasporic identity and culture as having historical premises, but
also as undergoing constant transformation. In the words of Stuart Hall:

cultural identities,far from being eternally fixed
in some essentialised past, [... ] are subject to
the continuous 'play' of history, culture and
power Far from being grounded in the mere
'recovery' of the past, which is waiting to be
found, and which when found, will secure our
sense of ourselves into etemity, identities are
the names we give to the different ways we
are positioned by, and position ourselves
within, the narratives of the past 7

Dabydeen's version of creative decolonisation is grounded firmly in a
continually evolving, but historically attentive engagement with theorisings of
diaspora ranging from the early accounts of Cesaire and Senghor, through
Fanon, to the more recent understandings of identity suggested by Gilkes and
Hall. Contiguous with an investigation of this process, is an exploration of
issues of authority and translation as they arise in these texts.
History we greed for in England,/
Must know coolie ship, whip, brown paddy-

observes Dabydeen in the Coolie Odyssey poem "Homecoming" and it is
partly this apparently insatiable appetite for knowledge that his poetry seeks

to address. Dabydeen's works become part of a fictionalised odyssey that
takes him back to the Caribbean: 0

hungry as any white man for native gold,
to plant flag and to map your mind 9

and in Turner, back to Africa and India, to personally "colonise" colonial
history for his, and his readers' consumption. The role and authority of
Dabydeen is very difficult to disengage from in these poems which sit,
(particularly in the case of Slave Song), firmly cradled in notes, introductions
and translations which seduce the reader into particular, authorisedd" read-
ings that can be hard to resist. This "guidance" may encourage the reader to
pursue a specific decolonised reading of the poems, but it may also serve as
an alternative form of imposition that ultimately thwarts decolonisation, with
the reader, and any readings he or she creates, being controlled by the writer.
True creative decolonisation, like its political counterpart, can be difficult to
establish and maintain.

Dabydeen has written of Coolie Odyssey: the poems offer glimpses
into an odyssey, not a chronicle of threaded events. 10 This disruption of
cohesion or linearity is characteristic of all of his poetry, particularly of Turner.
Many of his poems are chronologically elusive, spanning either the whole
period of colonisation or just a few moments of postcolon ial experience,
according to Dabydeen they are 'a jumble of fact and myth, past and
present'11 If History as a system attempts to regulate and standardise the
world through ethno-cultural hierarchy and chronological progression, as in-
deed, Edouard Glissant has suggested then it is this intense and divisive
structuring that Dabydeen's work may be seen to be reacting against.12
Dabydeen's poems offer the reader glimpses of a possible past, negotiating on
a local level the various histories of peoples located in, or around, the
Caribbean. By focusing on this personalised and localised level, he can engage
with the past without, however, having to situate his works, or indeed himself,
within, the grand narrative of History. Corroborating and elaborating upon this
point, J. Michael Dash has observed that History may even be fissured by
histories.13 If this is the case, then little individual histories would seem to
afford an ideal means for countering'History's attempt to fix reality in terms of
a rigid, hierarchical discourse. By slipping within and between the realms of
fact and fiction, Dabydeen's poems thus effect a creative examination of
various versions of the past without installing a new authoritative account.
Through his interrogation of creative representations of the past, he is able to
avoid merely replacing metropolitan versions of History with a single postcolo-
nial alternative.

Dabydeen's poems do not claim to offer a completely authentic
account of the past or of Guyanese culture, but they are representative. For
instance, the Creole he employs is not original, but is "shape"14 This use of it
was influenced 'not by living in a village in Guyana, but by being in a library in
Cambridge' where he read medieval literature. Just as he has managed to
avoid complicity with the grand narrative of History, so too has he disengaged
himself from the constraints and linguistic authority of any one specific
language. It is this self-conscious undermining of standard notions of history
and of language, coupled with the conversely authoritative nature of his notes
and translations, that makes his poetry so interesting in relation to the issue of
creative decolonisation.
For Wedde, the poetry of Coolie Odyssey 'does not read well' 15 This
is in part, he contends, due to textual instabilities that will not survive
'confident scrutiny'15 These instabilities are the apparently incongruous
associations that inform the second section of the poem "Burning down the
Windrushed the flames reach the shores of
Chars, chamars disembarking from boat-
They will encrust the Shiny monuments,
They will besmirch the White Page with their
own words,
They will cremate their relatives on the River
And the Tiber will foam with halal-blood
And the maidens will faint, or bear bastards
If the lion lies down with the woolly-headed

Certainly this section does seem rather mismatched initially, and
Wedde's further suggestion that the poem does not 'besmirch the White
Page' although Dabydeen 'thinks his oppositional stance constitutes an act of
resistance' appears quite plausible. The eclectic historical references that the
poem supports at first do seem only vaguely connected: a crude historical
discourse intruding and encroaching upon a decolonising creativity that is
subsequently lost. However, this reading disregards the context in which the
poem is set. Recalling an instance of the burning down of cane fields, the
poem provides an historical account of generations of different Icinds of
uprootings and protests, rather than necessarily setting itself up as a specific
act of transgression. The chronology of actual historical events may seem

jumbled, but the curious juxtapositionings that the work supports add to,
rather than detract from, its potency. The poem announces:
You sprinkle oil in a wordless ceremony'
You scratch a match to its heart and await
drum-beat mashing-down-the-road feet
Of creole carnival17

The idea of carnival as it is expressed in this stanza is very significant.
J. Michael Dash has observed that "unfettered by an authoritarian language or
system, the human forest of the carnival becomes an exemplary Caribbean
space"18 Carnival is an ideal means by which authority may be undermined
and subverted, providing a way of introducing alternatives to the status quo
and a method through which creativity may be liberated. Underscoring this
poem is a clearly satirical and carnivalesque echoing of the British right-wing
politician Enoch Powell's "Rivers of Blood" speech, a landmark in history to
which Dabydeen and other exiled Caribbeans have frequently made reference
19 The Indo-Caribbean speaker is portrayed as earnestly pursuing all the
ambitions business success and university education that Powell perceives
to pose a "threat" to Britain's stability, and which he wishes reserved for
as soon as I save up some cash I will open up
a cornershop
I will make the children bum electricity late at
night reading books that will take them to
and give them bright certificate.

Social and behavioral "norms" are challenged and transgressed, and carnival
is repositioned in Britain:

The police will make music with their sirens
And the home-owners will play their burglar
And dance will grip the heels of the crucified
And the wood-chips on the black people's
Will heap up huge bonfires around which
The wretched will gather to give praise
To the overpowering love of God
Who will not forsake his people

But will guide the stone to the thinnest point of
Bank, Bingo Hall, Jobcentre and a Bookshop
Selling slim volumes of English verse.

The power of carnival lies in its demonstration of a cross-cultural
poetics which cuts across and disrupts ordinary assumptions about right and
wrong, historical precedents and about the intersection of culture and moral-
ity. In this poem carnival is synonymous with riot, and is sanctioned by the
highest moral authority: God. Dabydeen's lines recall the many race-riots that
have ignited since the beginnings of immigration, portraying a graphic enact-
ment of Powell's worst fears, and at the same time, an angry response to his
racist pronouncements. Rioting, and the violence associated with it, is usually
seen as indefensible, yet in this instance its transgressive impulse is portrayed
in such a way as to make it seem wholly justifiable a necessary part of the
process towards cultural recognition and mutual respect.

As is illustrated by this poem, the negotiation of the stereotype is an
integral part of this process. According to Bhabha, "a stereotype is a form of
knowledge that vacillates between that which is already known, and that
which must be anxiously repeated; between something that needs no proof,
and yet which can never really be proven" 20 Interestingly the ambivalent and
slippery qualities that Bhabha attributes to the stereotype seem equally appli-
cable to the strategies Dabydeen employs in these early works to disrupt such
knowledge. The stereotype, Bhabha writes, is:
[An] ambivalent text of [..] metaphoric and
metonymic strategies, displacement, overde-
termination, [... ]; the masking and splitting of
"official" and phantasmatic knowledge to
construct the positionalities and oppositionali-
ties of racist discourse.21

The rioting youths, like the ambitious corner-shop owner, clearly
inhabit a space of ambivalence. Conforming to the norms of common British
stereotypes, they neither fully confirm nor dispel the racism with which they
are associated. Dabydeen plays with these knowledge in order to highlight
both their ambivalence and the potential for disruption built into them, and as
a consequence, has precipitated charges of racism that he has not attempted
to either dismiss or confirm.22 Through his poetry, Dabydeen is able to
pinpoint the element of truth within stereotypical formulations, and to contex-
tualise these truths in such a way as to disempower the racist myths that
support them.

This exploration of diasporic identity is more intricately figured in the
long poem Turner. Whereas in Dabydeen's early poetry the emphasis seems
to be very much on a negritudinist re-assertion of cultural roots through the
use of Creole and the recounting of individual histories, in Turner the focus is
on a syncretic understanding of culture and creativity. This is true even within
the title of the poem. Echoing the name of the painter whose seascape
inspired the work, many of the "characters" contained within Turner are also
called "Turner"; the name becomes a fluid, multi-coded nominal with reference
points which switch between the coloniser and the colonised, male and
female, African and Indian: The sense of hybridity that this produces is
indicative of the frustrating search for constituency that is characteristic of
postcolonial and diasporic understandings of identity. Dabydeen "tries on" a
variety of different, disturbing personae that complicate normal under-
standings of what it means to be colonial or postcolonial, slave or master.23
Turner is a paedophilic slaver, the colonisers drowned at sea, and an aborted
foetus created through a liaison between a black slave and a white master.
Situated at various competing moments in the power, racial and sexual
continue, the whole spectrum of colonial, neocolonial and postcolonial identi-
ties and associated cultural and behavioral patterns is intricately refigured. A
drowned African slave colonises the aborted child, but at the same time
decolonises and re-colonises the colonially-constructed land and seascape:

I named it Turner
As I have given fresh names to birds and fish
And humankind, all things living but un-
known... 24

The slave-ship owner exploits his cargo, yet is dependent on his slaves
for both sexual and economic gratification:
He checks that we are parcelled in equal lots,
men divided from women,
Chained in all fours and children subtracted
From mothers. When all things tally
He snaps the book shut, his creased mouth
unfolding in a smile, as when, entering
His cabin, mind heavy with care, breeding

If the white woman is portrayed as a willing victim, then the black man
fares no better He is depicted as an automatic rapist and abuser, with the
act itself, whether literal or metaphorical, becoming an essential condition for

He burnt his mind in acid of his alchemy
Urging song from his hurt mouth
Desperate to colonise her
In images of gold and fertility
To remake her from his famished rib
To redeem her from the white world
That would reduce him to mute captivity. 25

The use of such disturbing and potentially offensive characterisation
would seem to be a highly inappropriate strategy for a decolonising writer 'It
could be anticipated that a poetry refusing colonialism's misconstructions
would displace its premises' notes Parry. 26 Dabydeen's decolonising manou-
vres appear to be conspicuously absent from, and preclude concern with,
issues of misogyny and sexual exploitation. If the woman refuses:
...the embrace of fantasy
Unable to be torn up, transplanted,
Stripped, raped, broken and made to bear
Beautiful bastard fruit

But she is still, nevertheless, 'ravished by the poetry'

Dabydeen's poetry is deceptively complex and always permits the
author to retain the upper hand: however much one dislikes the subject matter,
or the various political positions the poems rehearse and revise, the poems are
captivating and the reader is frequently drawn to read, and even enjoy reading,
what he or she yet finds totally repugnant. This may enable powerful and
profoundly unsettling readings,but does so more by the re-assertion, than by
an overt questioning, of the validity of the characterisation it presents. Turner
demonstrates that it is possible to engage with the horrors of colonialism the
pornographyy of empire" without the need for the stereotypes or the humour
that characterized Slave Song and Coolie Odyssey. The humour that under-
scores this long poem is deeply sardonic and is deployed with much more care;
it forms the foundation of the work rather than the substance of it. Thus it is
not specific colonial practices that Dabydeen gives a grim comic treatment to,
but their causes: the unusual sexual proclivities and enormous greed of the
coloniser "Turner" Sexually-deviant "Turners" are combined with slaver and
enslaved versions of "Tumer" to provide a double-exposure of the evils of
colonial activity Sexual depravity is juxtaposed with other obscenities,
including the horror and indignity of being forced to give birth aboard a slave
ship. Dabydeen portrays the experience with all the pain and violence associ-
ated with sexual violation the probable circumstance of conception:

First a woman sobs
Above the creak of timbers and the cleaving
Of the sea, sobs from the depths of true
Hurt and grief, as you will never hear
But from a woman giving birth, belly
Blown and flapping loose and tom like sails,
Rough sailors hands jerking and tugging
At ropes of veins, to no avail. Blood vessels
Burst asunder, all below-deck are drowned.

What Dabydeen does not manage to avoid in Turner is his impinge-
ment on his readers' own interpretations of the poem. Just as in Slave Song
and Coolie Odyssey, this long poem is prefaced by a fairly detailed introduction
which provides both factual information and authorial comment. The addi-
tional information Dabydeen provides is interesting and generally very useful,
but Dabydeen's explanations and elaborations leave little room for independent
reading. This anxiety to be heard and not misinterpreted or "spoken for' may
be symptomatic of a history of silencing and marginalisation. It could also
suggest a desire for more power or recognition than contemporary Western
literary theory tends to grant writers: itself an interesting illustration of the
continued dominance of the West in certain academic and creative circles.
Tlus Dabydeen's intervention in his readers' understandings could be seen to
serve simultaneously both de- and neo- colonising purposes, its success in
either endeavour are dependent upon the reader's perspective.

Writing about his fascination with Guyanese Creole, Dabydeen notes
that "it's hard to put two words together in creole without swearing' He
describes the language as 'abrupt' and 'barbaric' and for him, it is the
perceived crudity and rawness of the language that makes it so suitable for
articulating violent emotions, or for describing physical abuse. It is not only
the sound of Creole which contributes to this process: 'The English tend to be
polite in "war"("wor') whereas the Creole "warre" produces the appropriate
snarling sound'31 re-acquaintance with the language also demands confronta-
tion with the history that helped to shape it. 'If one has leamt and used
Queen's English for some years, the return to Creole is painful, almost
nauseous for the language is uncomfortably raw, like a wound'27

According to Ashcroft, attempts to reproduce precolonial or indige-
nous languages operate through a process of 'metaphoric embodiment' the
language employed in these processes bearing a'synecdochic relationship with
the original culture' 28 Therefore, such writings do not necessarily embody or
replicate the whole of the culture, but allow for a negotiation with the culture
which the language signals. It would appear that Dabydeen's use of Creole

illustrates precisely the "gap" between culture and its articulation, and the
struggle to bridge it. Indeed, he has indicated that this is one of the motiva-
tions for his use of Creole: 'I wanted to show [... I the Creole mind struggling
and straining after concepts of beauty and purity but held back by its
psychologically crude vocabulary. This is perhaps most strongly evoked in
"The Canecutters' Song" where the Canecutter struggles to articulate the
sensuality of the "white woman, but succeeds only in accentuating his own
Bu when night come how me dream...
Dat yu womb lie like starapple buss open in de
An how me hold yu dung, wine up yu waiss
Draw blood from yu patacake, daub am all over
yu face
Till yu dutty like me an yu halla

In his notes Dabydeen suggests that the song 'expresses what the
canecutters cannot themselves verbalize because of their lack of command of
words' Such a notion is problematical. Dabydeen has condemned those who
parody Creole. Such parodies, he suggests, can serve to promote,and per-
petuate the myths that black people are 'scientifically illiterate' and that they
are 'linguistically illiterate' 29 While Dabydeen's Creole is not parodic, his
relegation of the cane-cutter to this level of articulation can implicate his own
writing in such assertions. But Dabydeen's subtlety can be missed. The idea
that black expression is inferior has been 'firmly entrenched in European
Sir Thomas Herbert in 1634 suggested that
Africans and apes mated with each other, the
evidence for this being that African speech
sounded ,more like apes than Men... their lan-
guage is rather apishly than articulately
founded' 30

Dabydeen repositions the notion that non-metropolitan languages are
inferior and animalistic in a postcolonial context that undermines the racist
logic behind it. By locating the animalistic qualities of the language w' thin he
savage treatment of slaves and indentured labourers the racist foundation and
imperative of the assertion is brought fully into focus and critiqued.

Informing Dabydeen's poetry is the notion that Creole can reflect
aspects of a culture but not its entirety The poem can thus be understood to
illustrate the gap between an "innocent" desire and available language, with

the raw and energetic Creole translating a natural yearning into savage lust.
But the immediate assumption here is that English can succeed where Creole
fails hence another need for notes and translations. Indeed, as the opening
lines of Turner show, it is possible to depict some of the horrors and the
violence of colonialism without recourse to Creole. But it is important to
remember that the Creole Dabydeen employs is non-standard, and inspired, in
part, by his immersion in medieval English -'The sheer naked energy and
brutality of the language' he writes of his first encounter with Sir Gawain and
the Green Knight reminded me immediately of the Creole of my childhood'
Similarly, the English he uses in the translations is frequently non-Standard 31
Thus it would seem that rather than privileging one language over the other,
Dabydeen is, in fact, drawing attention to their similarity and mutuality, while
also asserting the integrity of Creole as a separate language:

People like Brathwaite32 have been arguing for
years that Creole is a different language, suffi-
ciently different from English to be considered
its own language. So therefore the logic would
be to provide a translation, which is what I did.

The integrity of Creole is ascertained in part through the difficulty of
finding quivalence in English, as Dabydeen's notes record:
The extraordinary richness of the Creole lan-
guage defies adequate translation. A breath-
less, hectic line such as 'cutlass for shaap
wood foh chap fence foh build dat bull bruk
dung' (line I 1) becomes quite tame in standard
English, the sinister resonance being lost in

'Cutlass to sharpen, wood to chop, fence to rebuild that the bull broke down'
does seem tame by comparison. In technical terms, Creole is the source of the
text's language and as such it is privileged. Thus the act of translation
facilitates a reversal of the usual colonial formula which places Standard
English in a position of authority. English is able only to attempt to replicate
or approximate rather than initiate, and in some cases, as has been illustrated,
it is unable even to do this.

Some of the problems involved in the translation of Creole into English
are avoided by not always using a standard form, or by retaining those Creole
words which are difficult to translate. Thus in the poem "Nightmare" the
word "Jigga" remains even though it is distinctly Creole. Accompanying the

translation is a note to explain the word's precise meaning: there is no
one-word equivalent or even approximation in English, so rather than provide
an inadequate alternative, Dabydeen retains the original term. Similarly, in
Coolie Odyssey, the Creole poems are left untranslated, with only the occa-
sional, culturally specific word being subject to clarification. Different lan-
guages cannot automatically represent the same social reality, and while
synonymy is a useful vehicle for conveying general meaning, individual lan-
guages contain a multiplicity of non-transferable meanings and associations.
As Daizal R. Samad has explained, 'the experiences that Dabydeen seeks to
capture and articulate are no longer subject to the astringencies of formal
English or rules of literary propriety; the images and rhythms I... I function
outside of conventional English language and experience' 33 By drawing atten-
tion to this in his notes and translations, Dabydeen reveals the gulf between
languages, a space that cannot be easily traversed by interpretation. But these
notes and translations are not merely a source of information, they are also a
literary "in-joke" acting as a counter-parody, in the way that Eliot had
annotated his Waste Land supposedly for the benefit of his lazier reader.
Authority for the inclusion of notes is located outside of the domain of the
defacto author Rather, Dabydeen sites a high profile Western literary prede-
cessor as source of both inspiration, and justification for his actions. By
inviting comparison with Eliot, Dabydeen encourages a re-interrogation of
literary tradition, a tradition in which metropolitan writers 'are still the exem-
plars of [... I civilization against which the barbaric, broken utterances of black
people are judged' Avoiding aligning his writing too closely with any particu-
lar ethnic group, Dabydeen questions the existence of a 'common ancestry'
and 'cultural unity' By oscillating between the voice of his local society and
the language of the Western culture in which he is inevitably embroiled, neither
language or tradition gains precedence. The juxtapositioning of Western and
Caribbean influences is highly developed in Turner, where, particularly in the
later sections of the poem, English expression is fused with Indian and
Caribbean references:
Only Manu knew, stuffed with the yam
Of supplicants. He squats in the midst
Of their gifts of Dozi, plantains, cola seeds,
Rubs his belly and yawns. He will summon up
The spirits in his own time. He chews
A twig, picks the stodge from his teeth, spits,
Whilst his women, fat with child or afterbirth
Mix the ancient ingredients, arrange
The sacred bowls around his body.

Facilitating a simultaneous engagement with the West and celebration
of Caribbeanness that dispels the sense of alienation that can be so pervasive
in postcolonial writing, this kind of technique does not lead to a subsuming of
-the postcolonial within the metropolis. Emphasis remains on mutuality and
cross-culturality, identity and creativity are linked to cultural, familial and
geographical roots, but are also informed by material circumstance.

One of the aims of creative decolonisation is to establish a new form
of creativity that is quite distinct from Western canonical writing, and which is
imaginative and exploratory rather than predicated on an atavistic desire for
the revival of precolonial creative traditions. Yet this is not to say that neither
Western nor precolonial African and Asian languages, rhythms and traditions
should have a place within a decolonised form of writing. As Dabydeen's
poetry reveals, an artful juxtapositioning of different linguistic registers, com-
bined with a negotiation and recounting of specific or representative historical
events and cultural practices can provide for a fruitful creativity devoid of
totalising tendencies. By exploring the physical and psychological effects of
colonialism on a local level, providing a carnivalesque "playing" with the
knowledge and politicised assumptions that underlie stereotypical notions of
identity, and by exanining the intersection of expression and articulation in a
variety of modified linguistic codes, Dabydeen's work renegotiates standard
conceptions of diasporic identity and culture. Binaristic modes of perception
are undermined and syncretism supplants divisive or regressive under-
standings of what it means to be Caribbean, postcolonial, and indeed, the
inheritors of a once-colonial world.

Notes and References

Wede,l.(1989):"Dreaming of A WhiteMyth" Landfall Vol 43 part2, 237-242.
2. Cesaire,Fanon,Glissant,Tiffin,SlemonandBrydon are just a few of the many writers that have
dealt with decolonising creativity in their work.
3. Dabydeen, David (1984): Slave SongLondon and Mundelstrup: Dangaroo Press
4. Dabydeen,(1 988): Coolie Odyssey London and Mundelstrup:Hansib and Dangaroo Press.
5. Dabydeen, David(1994): Tumer,London: Jonathon Cape
6. Other writers to have shared this accolade include Glyn Maxwell, Mick Imiah and Carol Ann
Duffy. For more information on the ideas behind the 'New Generation' event, and the
judges and publishers involved, see Poetry Review Special Edition Spring 1994 volume 84
number 1.
7 Hall, S.(1994) 394
8. Dabydeen, Coolie Odyssey, 18-19
9. Dabydeen, Coolie Odyssey, 24-25
10. Dabydeen, Coolie Odyssey, 10

Dabydeen, Coolie Odyssey, 10
12. Glissant, Edouard (1989): Caribbean Discourse: Selected Essays Charlottesville: University
Press of Virginia,
13. Dash,J.Michael(1989):Introduction to Edouard Glissant CaribbeanDiscourse:Selected Essays
Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia,
14. (1989):Interview withWolfgang BinderJournal ofWestlndianLiteratureVol.3no.2.67-80.
15. Wedde,"Dreaming of A White Myth",240
16. Dabydeen, Coolie Odyssey, 24
17 Dabydeen, Coolie Odyssey, 24
18. (1990):"Introduction to Slave Song "Literary Review vol. 34 no.
19. Dabydeen, (1989):Interview with WolfgangBinder. 30-35
20. Bhabha, Homi K.(I 994):The Location of Culture Routledge, London.66
23. Bhabha, Homi K.(I 994):The Location of Culture, 81-82
22. Samad, Daizal R. (1993): "David Dabydeen" in Writers of the Indian Diaspora A Bio-Bibliog-
raphical Sourcebook Emmanuel S. Nelson (ed) Connecticut and London: Greenwood Press.
23. As Dabydeen himself has noted: 'writers are absolutely privileged to have this kind of plural,
complex, contradictory background. Art is nourished by paradox. So, in terms of self-defi-
nition I am glad I'm, if you like, a three or four footed creature, a kind of latter-day Anancy
as many West Indians are... ibidd: 113). For more on this see my: "Throwing Overboard the
Dead and Dying: Turner and the reconstruction of the Self', (1995); "Necrophilia or Still-
birth? Turner as the Creative Embodiment of Postcolonial Creative Decolonisation" (1995).
On the subject of masks see Mark McWatt: His True True face: Masking and Revelation in
David Dabydeen's Slave Song" (1995). Mark McWatt has also written an interesting paper
on Turner: "Migrating from the Void: A Voice Beneath the Metonymic Sea: David Daby-
deen's Turner"(1995).
24. McIntyre, Karen (1995): "Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying: Turner and the Recon-
struction of the Self, paper presented at the "A Sense of Identity: English and the Writee'
conference, University of Bradford. and (1995b): "Necrophilia or Stillbirth?: Turner as the
Embodiment of Postcolonial Creative Decolonisation" Paper presented at the Nineteenth An-
nual Conference of the Society For Caribbean Studies, Institute of Commonwealth Studies,
25. Dabydeen, Coolie Odyssey, 1-7
26. Parry, Benita (1988): "Between Creole and Cambridge English: The Poetry of David Daby-
deen" Kunapipi vol X no. 3. 1-14.
27 (1990c): Interview with Frank Birbalsingh, Kunapipi Vol. X no. 3 104-120.
28. Ashcroft, W.D.: (1988) "Is that the Congo? Language as Metonymy in Post-Colonial Writ-
ing" Literature and National Cultures Brian Edwards (ed) Geelong Victoria Centre for Stud-
ies in Literary Education, Deakin University.
29. (1990b):"On Not Being Milton: Nigger Talk in England Today" in Christopher Ricks and
Leonard Michaels (eds.) The State of the Language, London: Faber and Faber,
30. "On Not Being Milton: Nigger Talk in England Today" ,6
31 In the translated version of "Two Cultures" a poem very much concerned with language
the old man's speech remains non-standard. Similarly,in"Men andWomen",the line "But
when yu grow old an yu voice weak an yu mout dribble' translates as :'But when you've
grown old, and your voice weak, and your mouth dribbling'
32. As Brathwaite has explained, submergence (of indigenous languages] served an interesting
interculturative purpose, because, although people continued to speak English as it was
spoken in Elizabethan time and on through the Romantic and Victorian ages, that English
was, nonetheless, still being influenced by the underground language, the submerged lan-
guage that the slaves had brought. And that underground language was itself constantly

transforming itself into new forms', Brathwaite, E. K. (1984): The History of the Voice Lon-
don: New Beacon,7
33. Samad, Daizal R. (1993): "David Dabydeen" in Writers of the Indian Diaspora: A Bio-Bibliog-
raphical Sourcebook, 74


Bolland, Nigel 0. (1992): "Creolisation and Creole Societies: A Cultural Nationalist View of Carib-
bean Social History" in Alistair Hennessy (ed.) Intellectuals in the twentieth Century Carib-
bean Volume I Warwick: Warwick University, Macmillan.
Forbes, Peter (ed.) (1994): Poetry Review Special Edition, Vol. 84 no. 1.
Fanon, Frantz (I 986): Black Skin, White Masks London:Pluto.
Griffiths, Gareth (1987): "Imitation, Abrogation and Appropriation. The Production of the Post-
colonial Text" Kunapipi Vol. IX no. 1.
Huggan, Graham (1989): "Opting Out of the (Critical) Common Market: Creolisation and the
post- ColonialText',Kunapipi VoI.XI no 2. 740.
Lanming, George, (I 971): Water With Berries, London: Longman.
McWatt Mark(1995):"Migrating from the void:A voice Beneath the Metonymic Sea:David Daby-
deen's Turner" paper given at the 14th Annual conference on West Indian Literature An-
tigua State College.
Mcintyre, K. (1995b):"HisTrueTrue Face:Masking and RevelationinDavidDabydeen's SlaveSong"
Kunapipi Vol.XVII no. 2. 22-29.
Radhakrishnan, R. (1993): "Postcoloniality and the Boundaries of Identity" Callaloo Vol. 16 no.4
Zabus, Chantal( 1995):"Relexification"inAshcroftB.,Griffiths,G.andTiffinH.(eds .) The Post-Colo-
nial Studies Reader London:Routledge.

Songs of a Surrogate Mother The Nursery Rhyme in Caribbean


Eeny Meeny Miny Mo
Carolina a di best
Instant Whole Milk Powder
to make you grow
mix it fresh
I have to confess
Carolina a di best (etc.)

This jingle from a recent Jamaican television commercial sung by
popular DJ Papa San is the latest incarnation of what many of us may know
as a rather nasty racist rhyme which emerged in North America around the
Eeny Meeny Miny Mo
Catch a nigger by his toe
if he hollers let him go
Eeny Meeny Miny Mo

In their Dictionary of Counting-out Rhymes1 Roger D. Abrahams and
Lois Rankin devote almost three pages of footnotes to this one version of the
rhyme alone, pointing out along the way that the unfortunate 'N' word, as it
became known during the O.J. Simpson trial2 was at different times replaced
by Hitler, Tojo, Castro, and Vietcong, as American sensibilities, though not
necessarily sensitivity, changed.
Dozens of variations of this rhyme, with its ancient counting system,
are in existence worldwide. This writer grew up in the North of England with
a tinker being caught by his toe, and with what was in all likelihood a children's
parody of the rhyme:
Eeny Meeny Miny Mo
Put the baby on the po
when he's done
wipe his bum
Eeny Meeny Miny Mo

Perhaps this was meant to be a rehearsal for some of the rigours of
parenting to be experienced in a future adult life.

It is hardly surprising then, that the rhymes of the English Nursery,
given their wide geographical distribution, should have remained deeply en-
trenched in the Caribbean as part of the language legacy of colonialism.

In their scholarly introduction to the Oxford Book of Nursery Rhymes'3
which has been taken as the authority for the purposes of this paper, lona and
Peter Opie point out that apart from a few rhyming alphabets and lullabies,
very little in the Nursery Rhyme Canon was ever actually intended for use in
the nursery. Much of the material, the Opies contend, consists of folk song or
ballad fragments, remnants of old customs and ritual, street cries, extracts
from mummers plays, proverbs, prayers, refrains from taverns, rude jokes,
songs of rebellion and satirical epigrams to be recited at the expense of people
in high places.

What this paper seeks to show in some small measure is that through
the processes of cultural resistance and creativity nursery rhymes have recov-
ered in the Caribbean many of their original functions ie. as vehicles for
protest, satire, ridicule and rebellion.
American writers have actually dared to suggest the existence of
Mother Goose the alleged writer of these nursery rhymes, as a historical
personage, a theory pretty much discredited by lona and Peter Opie.

Marina Warner in From the Beast to the Blonde4 advances her own
theory that the idea of Mother Goose can be traced back to the visit of the
Queen of Sheba to King Solomon, and an incident recorded in the Koran in
which she is tricked into revealing her disfigured legs an altogether more
satisfactory explanation for a culture imbued with Rastafarian sensibilities.
The preservation of these rhymes in the nursery is traced by the Opies
to the somewhat liberal parenting practices of the Stuarts and Hanoverians
saw nothing unusual in their children hearing
strong language or savoring strong drink......
The spectacle of their fathers asleep under the
table and in other even more lamentable posi-
tions would not be unfamiliar to them.

This historical note also points to the great antiquity of some of the
rhymes in question. Although the Opies tend to be somewhat cautious in their
dating of the rhymes, they are still willing to accept evidence for the existence
of over forty per cent of them before 1800, and when pressed are willing to

concede that as many as twenty five per cent are likely to have existed before
The Opies also highlight a number of points which are likely to be
important when considering the transfer of these rhymes to the Caribbean. In
the first place they suggest that the written word could have had little to do
with the rhymes' survival prior to the nineteenth century because of the
frequency with which they were recorded. In addition Jack Goody, writing in
1987, in 'The Interface between the Written and the Oral' makes the important
point that:
Mass literate cultures are the product, even in
the most developed of nations, of the last 100

The Opies' second point is that a rhyme does not necessarily cease to
be passed on b',' word of mouth simply because it has been written down, but
perhaps the most important point with respect to this present paper is, an
observation made by Lhe Opies' in their introduction to 'The Lore and Language
of Schoolchildren' in which it is stated:
By its nature a nursery rhyme is a jingle pre-
served and propagated not by children but by
adults, and in this sense it is an adult rhyme. 6

Having said this; in that same volume the Opies' point to the fact that
children have always parodied the rhymes one of my favorites being:

Mary had a little cow
It fed on safety pins
And every time she milked the cow
The milk came out in tins
(Wishful thinking on Mary's part one suspects.)

Jean D'Costa in 'Voices in Exile' co-edited by her and Barbara Laila
gives us a parodic grace from Jamaica in the 1940's:
"Matthew, Mark, Luke and [Jan]
Man fi pudung knife an'faak
An nyam widim han"'7

This is a parody on a nursery prayer known as the White paternoster,
possibly referred to by Chaucer in The Miller's Tale8 (c 1387) in the Jamaican
version of which the African practice of eating with the hands is celebrated,
something which is still a great source of pride to the Ettu people of Hanover.

This tendency to parody the rhymes is illustrated by Roger D. Abra-
hams10 in 'Man of Words in the West Indies' this time among adoles-
cents/adults. The first of the two examples cited formed part of a group of
songs and speeches performed by a group of adult players in the community
of Brown Hill on Nevis in the 1960's. It is a version of: 'Hark, hark the dogs
do bark' the first written evidence for which is dated 1672. It goes:

Hark, hark the dogs do bark
Beggars are coming to town
Some give them white bread
Some give them brown
But I just give them a big cut ass
And send them out of town.

The comic collapse in the fifth line is still relatively close to the
Nineteenth Century original from which it was probably derived: 'Some gave
them a good horse whip And sent them out of town. But the effect is
startlingly different.
The second of Abrahams' examples was collected in a 'Rhyming
contest' among fourteen and fifteen year old boys in Tobago in 1965 and is a
variation of: 'Ding Dong Bell / Pussy's in the Well' (which dates from 1580),
used, for obvious reasons, in reference to the female genitalia which in this
version are compared to a conch shell. While all this remains quite within the
practice of parody, as well as the absorption of rude jests into the tradition of
the Anglo/American nursery rhyme, it is the extent of the abrogation of the
original which gives the process in the Caribbean its vitality.
It can hardly be coincidental that one of the acknowledged founders of
rap music in the United States, Clive Campbell a.k.a. Kool Hero was born in
Jamaica and who would, it was said:

Play a popular dance over and over again,
throwing in rhymes and adding sound bytes
from other records to create a new kind of
dance mix.9

So that out of this culture emerges the controversial Luther Campbell
and 2-Live Crew, also with Jamaican/Caribbean links, and their recording of
dirty nursery rhymes, a creation of spectacularly pornographic proportions in
which Jack and Jill, Little Miss Muffet and even Abraham Lincoln engage in a
veritable orgy of sexual excess. But seen in the light of cultural resistance it
makes total sense as an example of Paule Marshall's exhortation to; "take your
mouth and make a gun"10

But there is gun and there is gun.

This extreme tendency in rap contrasts with the more subtle sexual
innuendo of a form like Calypso developing within the Caribbean itelf. Gordon
Rohlehr in 'Calypso and Society in Pre Independence Trinidad11 writes at length
about the controversy in 1933 surrounding Calypsonian King Radio's "Country
Club Scandal", a calypso based on a real incident in which the Inspector
General of Constabulary was alleged to have been caught in 'flagrante delicto'
with a certain highly placed lady. The calypso itself contains these delicious
lines as the wronged husband confronts his wayward wife:

Darlin' I don' believe what I see
I mean to say you never do that to me
She tun and tell her husband wih scorn
My boy blue have a better hom.

As I said previously there is gun and there is gun, and here the nursery
rhyme is used to devastating effect. "Boy Blue" here used to depict the
policeman, in fact retrieves some of the meaning of the original rhyme which
has become lost to us.

The original 'boy who looked after the sheep' is generally agreed to
have been Thomas Wolsey, Archbishop of Canterbury, so that the rhyme was
indeed intended to poke fun at a figure of authority.
Similarly Mikey Smith uses it in 'Mi cyaan believe it'to protest political

One little bwoy conie blow im hom
An mi look pon im wid scorn
An mi realise how me five bwoy picni
was a victim of de trick
Dem call partisan politics.12

So that the rhyme once again is turned against an authority which
should know how behave better Jamaican poet, Louise Bennett's, pioneering
work in writing dialect verse13 what Kamau Brathwaite has termed 'Nation
language'- needs little introduction.14
Louise Bennett's use of the nursery rhyme in her poem 'Bedtime Story'
is both multi-layered and multi-textured. As she cleverly juxtaposes the telling
of 'the bedtime story' (Mary had a little lamb and Jack and Jill) with the coded
revelation of a sexual scandal to a friend.

"Ah long fi see yuh tell ah short
We yuh deh all dis time?
Dah pickinni yah woan go sleep,
she waan me tell her rhyme.
Mary had a little lamb
Miss Mattie li bwoy Joe
Go kick May slap pon har doorway
His feet was white as snow
An everywhere dat Mary went
-Him modder never know,
An when she hear she ongle seh
De lamb was sure to go.
She ongle seh de bwoy too bad
And tell May nuffi- bawl
Jack and Jill went up de hill
An dat was all an all
May might go to hospital
-To catch a pail of water;
Jack fell down and bruk him crown
Jus like Miss Mattie daughter
Yuh never know de baby bawn?
Him pa gi him name Marta
Teng God him drop ento a doze
An Jill come tumblin after

The ambiguity is laid before us even in the title of the piece, "Bedtime
Story" being equally applicable to the child and to the sexual scandal.

Mervyn Morris points, in the annotated "Selected Poems15 of Louise
Bennett, to the double meaning throughout, producing an overall effect of
tragic proportions for the fate of the fallen girl may very well be what lies in
store for the sleeping child. Politically the statement is strong without being
underscored, as the seemingly innocuous rhymes of the English nursery are
revealed to be far removed form the reality of existence among the Jamaican
It is the oblique approach in the poem that makes it so powerful a fine
example of artful, controlled resistance.

Mutabaruka16 in contrast deals with Mother Goose head on in his
'Nursery Rhyme Lament' Variously dealing in the one poem with Jack and
Jill, Little Boy Blue, Bo Peep, Tom the Piper's Son, Little Jack Horner, Mary and
her lamb, the Old Woman who lived in a shoe, not to mention Cinderella, her

fairy Godmother, and the Pied Piper of Hamelin. It appears almost as if he
were trying to erase the entire European nursery canon at one go.

Christian Habekost in his "Verbal Riddim:The Politics and Aesthetics
of African-Caribbean Dub Poetry",17 identifies the nursery rhyme as part of the
raw material of oral tradition used by Dub Poets, and states that they "are used
most ruthlessly in dub poetry to unveil their meaninglessness in the reality of
a poverty-stricken ghetto"

Perhaps not so much to unveil their meaninglessness as to unveil their
true meaning. "Nursery Rhyme Lament" illustrates just how deep the Nursery
Rhyme form runs in the psyche of the Caribbean. In actual fact the final lines
of the poem

'First time
man used fe love dem
but dis is not de time fe dem cause
dem deh days done
an wi write

are loaded with irony. The very fact of the nursery characters reappearance
on the printed page would suggest that their days, in whatever form are far
from done. an wi write is charged with the continuing tension which
exists between orality and literacy, since the writing is referring here to an oral
form, now preserved for posterity in the printed word.

Songs used to commemorate visits of great personages to the Carib-
bean or to mark significant events are a common feature of the region. After
the devastation of Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 the practise of Caribbean peoples
to 'tek bad sinting, mek joke' was manifested most notably in Lloyd Lovin-
deer's song 'Wild Gilbert':

"Water come inna mi room
Mi sweep out some wid di broom
The lickle dog laugh to see such fun
And di dish run away wid di spoon
Oonoo see mi dish?
Oonoo see mi dish?"

Here the nonsense rhyme of "Hey diddle diddle" focuses on the new
meaning of dish (satellite) for Caribbean people the means by which informa-
tion and North American culture bombard the region and takes a side swipe
at Jamaica's middle classes; the vulnerability of whose entire dish culture was
exposed by the passing storm.

Barbara Gloudon in her theatrical review 'Candlegrease' also satiris-
ing 'Gilbert' used the 'Twelve Days of Christmas' a work of great antiquity,
which though better known to many as a Christmas song, has remained firmly
within the nursery rhyme canon. Here in Gloudon's 'Candlegrese Christmas'
the focus was the relief and re-building process, so that the list of things which
"My true love gave to me" became:
"12. Red Cross Blanket
I I. Water boot
10. Powersaw
9. Generators
8. Ton a old clothes
7 Foot a lumber
6. Lively linesmen
5. Building Stamp
4. Foreign Chicken
3. Bully Beef
2. Roof nails
and a zinc sheet in a pear tree.

Humpty Dumpty has the dubious distinction of being a riddle to which
everybody knows the answer 'What is Humpty Dumpty?' Is the question left
out of the rhyme which is recited for the pleasure of the images of the clues
themselves. In the dub poem: 'Mi Caan believe it' Mikey Smith writes:
Waan good
Nose haffi run
But me naw go siddung pon higk wall
Like Humpty Dumpty
Me a fi face me reality 19

Juxtaposing proverb and nursery rhyme to formulate a synthesis of contempo-
rary urban philosophy of survival to achieve anything means taking risks but
not to the extent of stupidity.

For Kamau Brathwaite in Sappho Sakyi's Meditations,20 Humpty
Dumpty provides irresistable imagery;
"While we move forward into Space
The deep-sea angler-fish, as wierd
As any robot-ship the planeteers have
Planned, squats, patiently among the nether
Bracken of the tide Pouched, frog
Headed, Humpty-Dumpty -round around

The mouth, horned like a basilisk
Determined as an owl, this ghoul-eyed
Monster lights a lovely lantern to attract
Those unsuspecting, unsophisticated fish
That wish that such extravagance was theirs.

Brathwaite's haunting description creates an image of the angler-fish closer to
Jabba the Hut than Humpty Dumpty.

In the hands of yet another distinguished Caribbean poet Edward
Baugh, to whom I am indebted for a pre-publication copy of this work entitled
"Picking up the pieces" Humpty Dumpty yields sentiments of an entirely
different kind.
His alabaster egg, his worry stone
it fell and broke in two,
Your worries are over now, they said
Not true, not true!
He rushed a petition
to the King, but all the King's
horses and all the King's men
were out on another mission
while the lady who gave him that comfort
stone had gone away
had gone.

Sometimes Rex Nettleford's, "Rhythm of Africa" 22 alone is sufficient
to subvert the cultural meaning of a rhyme. There is no further need to adjust
the language as in the ska version of Humpty Dumpty:
"Humptee Dumptee
Sat on a wall
Humptee Dumptee
Had a great fall
All the King's horses and all
the King's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again
Whoa oh! Whoa oh!"

Here the rhyme is met with the simple resistance of rhythm.

The greatest problem with a thematic paper like this one is that once
you begin to write, further examples start to appear from all over the place all
of which could yield rich areas of study and discussion.

Sparrow's calypso "London Bridge is falling down" or his taking issue
with the the West Indian Education System and in particular the relevance of
the West Indian Readers 23 'Dan is the man in the van, Tony Rebel's 'Babylon
bridge is burning down' and 'Hey diddle, diddle' in / smell a revolution',
Snippets of rhymes like Papa Sam's use of eeny meeny miny mo in 'A who
dem a program?' The use of many different nursery rhymes during Jamaica's
Ska music era, all of these demand further investigation and study.

But finally, here is a poem by the late Dennis Scott entitled 'Birdwalk':

"Sing a song of duhny
belly full a win
scrubbin all de mawnin
Ole, an thin
'Now de day is ova.....
trying' nat to cry
blackbird in de gyaden singing
hangin'out to dry.
Mister in de counting house
Countin up de money,
Missis in de dinin room
eatin off de honey
Gatta in de gyaden
Praying nat to dead
Waitin fe de blackbird
walking through she head.24

Scott's poem remains faithful to the rhythm and meter, of the original
'Sing a Song of Sixpence' but brilliantly shifts the focus away from the 'dainty
dish set before the King' to Gatta the maid. King and Queen have been
replaced by Mister and Missis doing the same things that Kings and Queens
were wont to do, with Gatta the maid, struggling with her lot in life.

Here perhaps is an example of this minor branch of literary history
transformed into something, like so many of the examples already given,
which has helped people like Gatta to find de 'blackbird'walking through their
own heads.

Notes and References

Abrahams, Roger, D. and Rankine, Lors (eds.) Counting-out Rhymes: A Dictionary Publica-
tions of the American Folklore Society Bibliographical and Special Series, Vol.31, Austin
and London: 1980. University of Texas Press).

2. O.J. Simpson, Black American football superstar was acquitted of the murder of his former
wife and her companion in a criminal court,which captured the media attention for several
months but later found reliable for their deaths in a civil case.
3. Opie, lona and Peters (eds.), The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, Oxford: Oxford Univer-
sity Press, 1951,1989.
4. Warner, Marina, From the Beast to the Blond, London: 1994, Chatto and Windus.
5. Goody, Jack, 'The Interface between the Written and the Oral', Cambridge: Camb. University
Press, 1987
6. Opie, lona and Peter, The Lore and Language of School Children, Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1959,1987
7 D'Costa, Jean and Lalla, Barbara, Voices in Exile: Jamaican Texts of the 18th and 19th Cen-
turies, Alabama: University of Alabama Press, 1989.
8. Chaucer, Geoffery 'The Miller's Tale' in Canterbury Tales, Trans. Nevill Coghill, London: Pen-
guin Books, 1951, 1956.
9. Abrahams, Roger D. Man of Words in the West Indies: Performance and the Emergence of Cre-
ole Culture, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983.
10. Stanly Lawrence A. and Morley Jefferson (eds.) Rap:The Lyrics, London: Penguin Books,
11 Marshall Paule, unpublished Annual Sir Philip Sherlock Lecture, Philip Sherlock Centre for the
Creative Arts, UWI, Mona, Jamaica, 1996.
12. Rohlehr, Gordon Calypso and Society in Pre-lIndependence Trinidad, Port of Spain Trinidad:
Gordon Rohlehr, 1990.
13. Smith Mikey 'Mi cyaan believe it', in interview with Mervyn Morris, Jamaica Journal,
Vol.18 no.2 Institute of Jamaica Publications, Kingston, Jamaica: 1985.
14. Bennett, Louise, Labrish, Jamaica: Sangster's Bookstores, 1966.
15. Brathwaite, Kamau, History of the Voice: Development of Nation Language in Anglophone
Caribbean Poetry, London and Port of Spain, 1984.
16. Bennett, Louise, Selected Poems, in M. Morris, (ed.), Kingston, Jamaica: Sangster's Book
Stores Ltd., 1982, 1987
17 Mutabaruka, 'Nursery Rhyme Lament", in Pamela Mordecai (ed.) From our Yard: Jamaican
Poetry since Independence, Jamaica 21 Anthology Series, Kingston Jamaica: Institute of
Jamaica Publications Ltd., 1987
18. Habekost, Christian 'Verbal Riddim: The Politics and Aesthetics of African-Caribbean Dub Po-
etry' Amsterdam-Atlanta, Georgia: Cross Cultures 10, Editions Rodop, 1993.
19. Gloudon, Barbara, 'Candlegrease' unpublished revue, Kingston, Jamaica: 1988.
20. Smith, Mikey, Mi cyaan believe it'
21 Brathwaite, Kamau, 'Sappho Sakyi's Meditations' Mona. Jamaica: Savacou, 1990.
22. Baugh, Edward, pre-publication manuscript courtesy of the author, Kingston, Jamaica: 1996.
23. Nettleford, Rex Mirror Mirror: Identity, Race and Protest in Jamaica, Jamaica: William Col-
lins and Sangster (Jamaica) Ltd. 2nd impression, 1972.
24. Cutteridge, J. 0. Capt. West Indian Readers, London: Routledge.
25. Scott, Dennis, Dreadwalk, London: New Beacon Books, 1982.

Blurring Cultural boundaries: The Balm Yard in Olive Senior's
Discerner of Hearts and Erna Brodber's Myal.



Edward Brathwaite, discussing the fate of African culture in the
post-emancipation Caribbean, described it as coming under attack from several
quarters including the missionaries and the education process. Of the latter in
relation to the ex-slaves he comments:
They began to learn to read and write so
that they were diverted from the oral tradition
of their inheritance; they became literate in a
language which was foreign to them (1974:75)

Thus a dichotomy was early established between the spoken word of
the Afro/creole culture and the written word of the Anglo/creole culture
reflecting the dichotomy between the public Eurocentric and the private
Afrocentric worlds in which the ex-slaves functioned. Within the cultural
space of the Anglo/creole world, the received information with regard to
African culture, was that Africans had lost it in the Middle Passage. The fact,
in Brathwaite's (1974:73) words, was that; 'African culture not only crossed
the Atlantic, it crossed, survived, and creatively adapted itself to its new
It is important to note the received information and to appreciate the
extent to which the African culture was either denied or simply overlooked by
the brokers of power in plantation societies. It helps to explain the conflict of
cultures, certainly in the personality of the educated descendants of ex-slaves,
and their ambivalence towards things African.
A century after Emancipation, Edward Baugh, West Indian man of
letters and literary critic, would comment on that dichotomy, including in it
considerations of colour He refers to a clash in West Indian writers between
the publicised European culture of the elite and the suppressed native, African
culture of the underprivileged; between literature and history on the one hand
and the oral tradition on the other (1978: 10) The creative literature gave
implicit support to an improbable but politically real situation in which the
language and culture of the numerically greater, was always less highly valued

than that of the numerically smaller; the cultural artifacts of the minority
considered mainstream, and those of the majority parochial. The critical
literature eventually characterized it in the Prospero/Caliban dichotomy which
became the commonplace for describing that reality.1
But even in the acceptance of the Prospero/Caliban characterization
there was a signal that the status quo could change. After all Caliban
eventually leamt Prospero's language and was able to use it to his advantage.
The present paper isolates one significant location from the supressed
culture the balm yard and examines it within two texts, Olive Senior's short
story Discerner of Hearts and Erna Brodber's novel Myal. Its treatment in
these texts is seen as an inversion of the received reality, subversion of the
received texts, 'calibanizing' of what has been Prospero's domain. In both
texts a cultural coup is achieved by writing in the perception of the suppressed
within a discourse tradition formerly reserved for the suppressor. In both the
Euro tradition becomes of "other" within deceptively ingenuous narrative and
dialogue. Senior contrasts two views of the balmer and his balmyard in
conversations which the audience overhears between the child whose sociali-
zation has been Euro/creole and the household helper whose socialization has
been Afro/creole. In Brodber's work the comparison is less explicit, the
centrality of the Afro culture taken more for granted. Some discussion on the
yard in general, the Balm Yard in particular, and the Balmer/healer, is in order.
The yard, in the context of Caribbean poverty is an extension of the
house. The house is small and used mainly for sleeping. Most other activities,
of work as well as recreation, take place in the yard.
Anne Raver in an article in the New York Times compares the swept
yards of Nigeria with those of Georgia in the south of the USA. The
photographs accompanying that text could easily have been taken in the
Caribbean. The clean swept yard, entirely bare of grass is represented in that
article as part of 'the tradition that the ancestors (of slaves) brought from the
Gold Coast' (1993: 1).
The balm yard is clean swept like the yards of Nigeria and the
American south. But it is more than just another yard. It is the residence of
the man who heals. In English, "balm" is a noun that describes an ointment
for soothing pain. In Jamaican it is, in addition, a verb describing the act of
physical or spiritual healing. So the Balmer or Balm-man who operates in the
Balmyard, balms the individual and makes him/her whole.
The Dictionary of Jamaican English (Cassidy and LePage 1980:22)
defines the balm-yard as 'The headquarters and ritual site of a Balm-man... It
goes on to describe some of the ritual that may take place in a balm yard. In

the further definition the balmer becomes a religious leader. This is interesting
in the context of Afro/Caribbean culture. Brathwaite in the article referred to
the above and makes some statements which might usefully be considered
together here: '(E)veryone agrees that the focus of African culture in the
Caribbean was religious... (1974:73)
A study of African culture reveals almost without question that it is
based upon religion- that, in fact, it is within the religious network that the
entire culture resides

....... (S)tarting from this particular religious
focus, there is no separation between religion
and philosophy, religion and society, religion
and art. Religion is the form or kernel or core
of the culture. (1974:74)

The balmer is a religious man (though not necessarily a Christian man).
The balm yard is the centre of operation of this person who represents what
remains of a cultural whole which came through the crucible of the Middle
Passage as fragments. His location is centre for one part of the society, the
part that has largely ignored the invitation of the cultural west.
Olive Senior's short story, Discerner of Hearts uses Mr. Burnham
(Father) the balmer and his balm yard as symbols of the powerless black
majority which must function in the shadow of the powerful brown majority.
She points also to the (doubtful) faith of that majority that things will, at some
point, change. At the end of the first movement of the story Cissy, the helper
in the house of the brown (muattto) family, reprimands her charges for their
disrespectful attitude to Father Burnham:
Yu can gwan run joke. Think Father is man
to run joke bout? Father is serious man. But
yu is just like yu father. Have no respect for
people. Unless their skin turn and they live in
big house and they drive up in big car. But one
day, one day the world going spin the other
way though. And then we will see. (1995:7)

Divergent ways of seeing this man, as an illiterate trickster and as a
great healer, supply the tension that informs this story. As with most of
Senior's stories, the wisdom is given the reader by children. In this case the
children know that Mr.Burnham is illiterate because he brings documents for
their father to read. Their father also is the scribe who writes his letters.

Once a month Mr Burnham pays for his milk; always with bags of
bright sixpences (an act which has a certain significance for those who know
that spiritualists in Afro/Jamaica are paid in small silver coins). On occasion
their father might laugh and quip 'You old reprobate' and Mr.Burnham would
laugh as well and say 'Good day, Justice' While "Justice" is a term used to
address the Justice of the Peace, the local representative of the law in a small
village, it is semantically significant here, poised against "reprobate"
Prospero jokes with Caliban addressing him with a negatively valued word,
Caliban jokes back using a positively valued word.

Cissy, representing the black majority, describes Mr.Burnham (Father)
as a great man, a famous healer and says that people come from all over the
world to have him read them. The literary artist works a major pun on the item
"read" The illiterate Mr. Burnham "reads" people far and near. "Reading"
here is about forecasting people's futures or telling them about past events he
could not, under normal circumstances, know about. He is at worst a
magician at best a seer Finally he is a physical and psychological healer.

Note the following significant dialogue between Cissy and Theresa,
one of her charges, the little heroine of the story:

"What's a balmyard, Cissy?"
"Where people go for healing"
"What is healing?"
"What people need when they have sickness"
"Why they don't go to Dr. Carter?"
"There is sick and then again, there is sick."
"But Mister Burnham isn't a doctor"
"There is doctor and there is doctor."(1995:3-4)

These views are so interesting to the inquisitive young mind that when at last
the opportunity presents itself she visits Mr Burnham's house which might
have been described as a "lair" by those who call him "reprobate"

Senior takes the opportunity to describe the artifacts in the surround-
ings including calabashes perched on top of bamboo poles, dovecots full of
birds, plants growing everywhere. What attracts her most however, is a
building in an area like that described in Raver's article mentioned earlier The
authorial comment runs:
But what really drew her was the building right
behind the house, separated from it by a clean
swept yard. It was a rectangular structure,
much bigger than the house itself. The narrow

side nearest the house was walled in wattle-
and-daub... (1995:21)

The artifacts she could see inside the room, suggested a world entirely
outside of her experience

every inch of the wall behind it including the
door cut into it was covered with paintings.
She recognized scenes from the Bible, Jesus
and his disciples and signs and symbols like
those in her church. But these didn't look
quite like the religious scenes they got on their
Sunday School picture cards. For one thing
they all ran into one another with nothing to
define each one, and they were much more
colourful and lively. And all the people, Jesus
included, were black... (1995:21)

The last sentence is of great cultural significance and must be read
bearing in mind Cissy's reference to the colour of those people who are
considered to be anybody, in contrast with her own colour. Note for example:
'Eh, just because my skin black people think I am idiot, eh. People think I fool.
Just because I couldn't get to go to school like some backra people chil-
dren' (my emphases)(1995:4)
Mr. Burnham's qualifications, written on a large board near to a
platform, are impressive:

Father Burnham. MHC, GMMW, DD, KRGD.
Bringer of Light
Professor of Peace
Restorer of Confidence
Discerner of Hearts

and his service

"Consultation and Advice" (1995:22)

The story "Discerner of Hearts" is about a young woman, Cissy, and
her striving for and eventually obtaining, with the help of Father Burnham, a
child by a man she loves who has another claimant to his affections. But the
true text is the changed vision of an inquisitive young mind brought up with
Euro/creole sensitivities, concerning a spiritual/cultural leader from within the
Afto/creole world, the kind of leader usually ridiculed by her kind.

In fact Theresa's interaction with Mr. Burnham has a positive effect on
her. Although she had gone about Cissy's welfare, he took the opportunity
provided by her visit, to build up her confidence. He told her to stop worrying
that she was not pretty, pointing out that flowers, clouds and butterflies did
not worry. He complimented her on her big heart and advised her to stop
feeling negatively about herself. She lost her shyness and grew up overnight.
And she was not ashamed to treat Mr. Burnham with the respect all adults
deserve, whenever he came to pay for milk:
Much to their astonishment, when next Mister
Burnham came to pay for them milk, she ran
out from the side verandah where the girls
usually hid to giggle as they watched him pour
out silver sixpences, and rushed to greet him at
the gate before he even opened his
mouth.'Good morning Father Burnham' she
called in her strong new voice. (1995:37)

If Theresa is the representative of a new generation, the story hints at
hope that with exposure, might come respect of the Afro tradition by people
socialized to the other tradition. Brodber's novel Myal goes further in the
direction taken by Senior's story. The task of saving a nation is given to
another balmer in another balmyard.
Anna Rutherford (1992: vi) includes Ema Brodber among those writers
who "challenge the accepted histories and canons" Myal is the story of a
young brown (mulatto) woman who marries a white film producer. What he
produces as a result of his entry, through her, into her cultural world is not a
description to inform but rather something like a minstrel show for white
people to laugh at. So upset is the young woman by the misrepresentation of
her world that she falls seriously ill.
Helen Tiffin (1992:434) summarising the action in Myal notes that the
heroine becomes ill with an 'apparently incurable internal swelling' as a result
of being 'horrified by the violent misrepresentation, in which construction she
can (now) perceive her own unconscious collusion'
Ella O'Grady, the young woman, is eventually cured not by Western
medicine but by the ancient Afro-Jamaican skills of Maas Cyrus who in
another commentary (Puri 1993:109) is described simply as a "herbalist"
Brodber's conceptualization is elaborate. The swelling in the young
woman's belly is the sum of the Euro-cultural baggage Ella must discard before
she can be whole. She is the woman who as a girl had internalized the
Euro/creole world of books and had genuinely identified with its contents. She

had recited 'take up the white man's burden' with no sense of the inherent
irony in her presenting it. Until her Jewish husband misrepresented her people
she was unable to "see"
Ella is taken back to Jamaica from America whose doctors had failed
to cure her As a last resort she is taken to Maas Cyrus, the Myal man, the
Balmer man. Cissy's words to Theresa (quoted earlier) in the other story,
come to mind: 'There is doctor but then again, there is doctor' Maas Cyrus is
the representative of the cultural core of the Afro tradition. It is to him and his
concerns that nature around his dwelling reacts. The coming of Miss Ella into
his grove brings a dissonance in nature that man might dismiss at his peril.
Nature informs Maas Cyrus that what is in the belly of his patient is "the
stinkest, dirtiest ball to come out of a body since creation. (Myal, Brodber
1988:2) So bad it is that he will not have it dislodged in his grove. Relatives
are asked to come for the patient on the seventh day of treatment which is the
day she is to pass the ball from her stomach. She will pass it; 'but not in this
grove though. A man has a right to protect his world' (1988:4)
Maas Cyrus speaks loudly enough for all nature's creatures to hear.
He needs to assure them that he is not about to contaminate their space with
what will go from Miss Ella's belly in seven days. What is happening is so
grave that it 'shakes up the whole place' An electric storm which is averted
from Maas Cyrus' grove causes great quantifiable loss including;
71,488 coconut trees
3,470 breadfruit trees
901 residences totally
203 residences partially
1,522 fowls, 115 pigs etc. (Myal page 4)
All this destruction is the result of a young woman having gone too far.
Ella O'Grady 'had tripped out' in a foreign country. Pride of place is given in
Myal to a space despised and indeed feared by people of the Euro-tradition
(identified here as in the other story by lightness of skin tone), which ironically
is the world of writing, of books. The novel opens in the balmyard where
Maas Cyrus, the balmer/healer is thinking about events which are explained as
the story unfolds. Since much of the narrative is retrospective, the reader gets
a chance to watch Ella's guardian Rev. William Brassington take her to the
balmyard and to note the comment:
He did wonder as he made his way along the
narrow track, his jacket entangled now and
again with prickly tree limbs, about Saul and
the witch of Endor. (Myal page 94)

The reference is to an unsavory and suspect character of the Old
Testament. It is the perception of the representative of the Afro tradition by
the representative of the Euro tradition. The symbolism is similar to that
represented where Justice jokingly refers to Father Burnham as "old repro-
bate" The thought does not prevent Reverend Brassington from approaching
Maas Cyrus' grove. In fact he has no choice. It is his last hope. Western
medicine in which his socialization has led him to have faith, has failed. And
when the healing is effected he rationalizes and describes what has been done
in terms that would describe treatment within his Eurocentric world, using
formal language usually accorded phenomena from that world. The author
reports his thinking thus:

And the cure? Obviously a herb cure.
There was nothing unorthodox about that.
The science of homeopathy was an old one.
He did credit the herbalist though with a thor-
ough understanding of his craft (Myal 95)

In the last of those sentences Brodber replicates precisely the grudg-
ing compliment, the condescending tone of the Anglican prelate, the pseudo
Englishman. It is that kind of talk, typical of "in-between colours people" that
irritates Maas Cyrus when the novel begins and he is asked to cure Ella of what
they suggested might be worms and black boil. His meditation upon it runs:
Now if they think of worms and black boil,
why come to me? I am not that kind of doctor.
No. They know it is something else Another
kind of people would have said 'Maas Cyrus
we need help' Just that and shut up. (Myal
page 1)

Immediately the Euro-arrogance is contrasted with the Afro-humility.
Even in a situation where he desperately needs the power and skill of the
healer, the individual with a "bakra" orientation, is unable to use a vocabulary
of humility. The grey mass that is dislodged from Ella's stomach lives up to
Maas Cyrus' expectation. People who feel impelled to comment on it compare
its smell to intolerable rotting things. The healer has dislodged masses of
white/Euro culture from this lady who after the experience will be able to see
another reality and to interpret what she has learned from books in a new and
acceptable way. Ella O'Grady becomes Miss Ella the dedicated teacher who no
longer accepts unequivocally the perceptions offered by western scholarly
tradition. She spends her life reinterpreting stories where necessary so as to
give the children she teaches truth, as she sees it. She wishes them to have

positive images of themselves and confidence in what they are able to

The re-xamination of the behaviour of the characters in the readers
provided for the primary school classes she teaches, as well as Miss Ella's
findings could be the subject of another paper It is enough to say that
Reverend Simpson, the leader of a group of characters whose concerns may
be described as nationalist, is overjoyed at the critical turn Miss Ella's con-
sciousness has taken. Her question to him about one of the books is
instructive: 'The major problem is this; there are alternatives. Why are they
never presented in this book?' (Myal p 105)

The activity in the balm-yard is a metaphor for cultural healing; cultural
restoration; its place in the novel represents the 'calibanisation' of Prospero's
literary space. It is instructive to look at this point at the representation of the
balm-yard and activity associated with it in an earlier text, one which conforms
to the stereotype which the texts under review seek to destroy. Alice Durie in
her novel One Jamaica Gal, published in Jamaica in 1936, describes the
balm-yard in which, the narrator comments, the domestic helper Icilda finds
'spiritual comfort' and 'escape from life's realities':

An enclosure fenced about with flattened oil
tins adjoined her room. Here a priestess of a
religious cult kept a "balm-yard" where she
professed to heal diseases and where those of
more primitive instincts could find emotional
relief in nightly shouting and dancing.. ( 59)(my

I have italicized the value-laden words which we might want to assess
in the light of the possibilities to which Senior and Brodber have alerted us. The
narrative voice in the text speaks from the orientation which we have noted in
Justice, the father of the child Theresa in Senior's story, and in Reverend
William Brassington of Brodber's novel. Icilda the domestic helper is another
version of Senior's Cissy.

The balm-yard is not the main space of Durie's novel. It is part of a
small comment on the life of the household helper The further description of
the balm yard focuses more on activities usually associated with worship
involving spirit possession and the more dramatic representations of belief, than
with healing. If there is confusion, this is not surprising since the narrative
voice is clearly identified as that of the uninterested outsider. The central
voice is Prospero's. Caliban's space is defined in terms associated with that

In both the texts discussed in this paper, the central space, the
balm-yard, is Caliban's space. What these texts share with Durie's text
quoted above, is the vehicle, the literary text, and that is part of Prospero's
tradition. This then is the nature of the coup to which reference was made
earlier. Caliban has become literate enough to challenge Prospero on his own
turf and to win. The choice of the balmyard for the central position is in
neither case accidental. That yard is the religious and cultural centre of the
Afro/creole world. In the words of Cissy in Discerner of Hearts quoted earlier,
'One day one day the world going spin the other way though' The challenge
that these two texts face and meet, is the beginning of the spinning to which
Cissy refers.


For a detailed commentary on the treatment of the Caliban/Prospero paradigm in the literature
of Post-Colonial Africa and the Caribbean see Nixon 1987


Baugh, Edward. 1978: Derek Walcott, Memory as vision: Another Life. Harlow, Longman.
Brathwaite, Edward Kamau. 1974: "The African Presence in Caribbean Literature" Daedalus
Vol. 103 No. 2 Spring.
Brodber, Ema, 1988: Myal London: New Beacon Books.
Cassidy, F.G. and R.B.LePage 1980: Dictionary of Jamaican English (2nd. edition). Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Durie, Alice. 1936: One Jamaica Gal. Kingston: The Jamaica Times. 18.
Nixon, Rob. 1987 "Caribbean and African Appropriations of The Tempest" In Politics and Po-
etic Value, Robert von Hallberg (ed.) Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.
Tiffin, Helen. 1992 "Transformative Imageries" In Anna Rutherford (ed.) 428-435.
Puri, Shalini. 1993: "Erna Brodber's Myal" Ariel 24:3 95-115.
Ravers, Anne. 1993: 'In Georgia's Swept Yards, a Dying Tradition" New York Times, Aug. 8.
Rutherford, Anna (ed.) 1992: From Commonwealth to Post-Colonial, Sydney: Dangaroo Press.
Senior, Olive. 1995: "Discerner of Hearts" In Discemer of Hearts and Other Stories, Toronto:
McLelland and Stewart.

Revisiting Samuel Selvon's Trilogy of Exile: Implications For
Gender Consciousness and Gender Relations in Caribbean


Any serious consideration of Caribbean scribal art must of necessity
engage at some point with the issue of exile, since exile, however we define
the term, has always been a major preoccupation of our scribal artists seeking
to reflect/refract our societies back to themselves. This paper addresses
migration as one specific aspect of the larger question of exile to which so
many of our writers address themselves. The concern with migration may
itself be taken for granted as this activity- quite apart from its role in the
forced beginnings of Caribbean history- has been an integral part of our
socioeconomic culture since the mid 19th century with Caribbean nationals
out-migrating to sister territories as well as Europe and North America in
search of economic settlement, educational and career opportunities, in
search of escape routes from some of the harsher imperatives of home and
even arguably sometimes in search of the powerful myths of European and
North American cultural supremacy.
West Indian writers have always been a significant subset of migrant
populations. It is not surprising then to find them preoccupied with the
concept of exile not only as material condition but also as cultural and psychic
loss and dissonance: among the writers who started earlier, Brathwaite's
concern with exile as the loss of root and tradition, Naipaul's with the idea of
exile as hopeless and irretrievable fragmentation, Lamming with the paradoxi-
cal pleasures of the state of exile. Among the more recent comers, exiles in
different metropoles, the emergence of voices such as Michelle Cliff's, inscrib-
ing the female West Indian Creole's particular experience of exile, and Caryl
Phillips sharing stories of the first generation born of migrant parents in the
British metropoles.
But regardless of the approach taken by the particular artist writing in
and about exile, their scribal texts have this one thing in common: a privileging
of the experience of gender, whether overtly or in some form of covert,
transgressive discourse on the subject. And this is not surprising, since the
experience of gender that is, of discovering oneself a gendered being in
society is a fundamental aspect of any cultural process, and must automat-

ically emerge in any authentic representation of a society's experience. Yet
very few responses to the work of our 'verbal artists' particularly of the older
generation of writers, have examined their treatment of this issue. Similarily,
though numerous studies have been done on the economic and social effects
of migration in both home and receiving countries, very little research has
addressed the question of the impact of migration on gender, gender con-
sciousness or gender relations among migrants or the implications of these for
Caribbean culture.

This paper seeks to make a contribution to debate in this area, by
looking at one artist's representation of the psychic space occupied by gender
in a particular Caribbean migrant community: The West Indian community in
London during the early years of the first great wave of Caribbean migration to
Britain. The examination is of Samuel Selvon's trilogy of exile: The Lonely
Londoners, Moses Ascending, and Moses Migrating. 1 The paper argues that
among the male characters of Selvon's fiction, there is a psychic absence of
gender which shades into and represents a virtual flight from gender, the latter
in turn predicated upon a larger mechanism of escape, which may be described
as a flight from ordered society, within which gender is constructed. This
condition of flight, it is suggested, is a direct response to a social situation
which is unbearably anomalous, requiring the assumption of responsibilities
where the circumstances of existence appear to the subject as a predisposition
to failure. While no attempt is being made to equate the creative artist's ways
of seeing with the sociologist's, the paper argues that the artist's repre-
sentation has resonances with the sociological data, and implications for the
future of Caribbean societies in so far as social process has to do with the
ways in which men and women perceive themselves and relate to each other.

Establishing the Argument:'The Absence of Ordered Society is a pre-condition
for the Absence of Gender in Selvon's Trilogy of Exile'

The first part of the paper explores Selvon's portrayal in The Lonely
Londoners, of his protagonists' flight from ordered society, as the basis for
the discussion in Part Two of the flight from gender in all three books of the
trilogy. Although images of the larger social flight pervade all three novels,
Londoners is chosen as the point of departure and the definitive context as it
is the only one of the three novels which describes the phenomenon as it
characterizes an entire community. Moses Ascending and Moses Migrating,
which both have a single protagonist, narrow the focus to an individual rather
than a representative consciousness, but it is the condition described in
Londoners that forms the basis for all other modes of escape in the sequels.

To say that gender is a construct of ordered society that is, that it
is one strand in a complex network of social identities, relations and responsi-
bilities within which it is made possible and without which, conversely, it does
not exist is merely to state an obvious truth. But it is not often that the
condition for its psychic absence that condition being the loss of a
psychological link with ordered society is described with the absolute direct-
ness that characterizes The Lonely Londoners.
Here, the West Indian "boys" in Selvon's London are cast adrift in a
situation which is essentially anomalous: for while they are circumscribed by a
social structure, that is, the structure which is British society, they are not part
of that structure. As the first-comers in the West Indian migrant wave to that
society, they find no artifacts of their own society, and therefore no real
accommodation. The result appears to be a kind of panic, leading to negation.
We are struck by the fact that no attempt is made by Selvon's boys to
replicate in London's wasteland the structures of home: these have dissolved
both materially and psychologically
The psychological absence appears in the relative absence of any
reference to West Indian social structures, and even when such reference is
made, it is only as a momentary admission to consciousness, quickly dis-
missed. So absolute is the negation that a sense of a moment of crisis
suggesting a process of psychological disengagement from the structures of a
known world, eludes us. It is as though this conflictual process of disengage-
ment had not taken place at all, or if it has, it has done so in a middle passage
outside the action of the novel, between shipboard and arrival.
We soon come to reallse that this absence is the manifestation of a
sense that it is futile to think about home, a banishment rather than a literal
forgetting. Memory as resistant residue does break through the psychic
barriers, resulting in sessions such as the extended dialogue between Moses
and Galahad, in which Moses in particular expresses a deep nostalgia:
"Boy you know what I want to do? I want to
go to Trinidad and lay down in the sun and dig
my toes, and eat a fish broth and go Maracas
Bay and talk to them fishermen, and all day
long I sleeping under a tree, with just the old
sun for company that is the life for me, boy
no ballet and opera and symphony."'2

But the thought is quickly suppressed:

"You know, "Galahad say, last year I had a
feeling to go back too, but I forget about it. It
ain't have no prospects back home, boy."3

With it is suppressed the idea of ordered society, as in Moses' later declaration
in which marriage becomes metonymic for such society: 'Boy when I see thing
like that happening to other people I decide I would never married.'4

The loose gatherings "limes" in Moses' room become part of the means by
which nostalgia is recuperated/dismissed. These seem to be as much as the
boys are willing to invest in social systemisation, and they constitute a
reduction to the most rudimentary form of social organization within which
human intercourse can functionally exist.

It may be argued that the boys do exhibit, behaviourally if not by
conscious voicing, a sense of and desire for community and the social codes
and relations which characterized life back home: they not only "lime" to-
gether, they also demonstrate the habits of West Indian hospitality, for
example. Moses goes to meet Sir Galahad, a complete stranger, off the train
at Victoria Station and offers him sanctuary; he visits the sick and as quasi
father confessor to the boys performs an almost priestlike function which is at
the heart of communal rituals.

But these are liminal vestiges, not unequivocal embracements
indeed they are sought as a refuge from social order and as long as they
provide some sense of comfort and security, there is no impetus towards a
more complex form of living beyond the drifting:
How many Sunday mornings gone like that? It
look to him as if life composed of Sunday
morning get-togethers in the room...

Every year he vowing to go back to Trinidad,
but after the winter gone and birds sing and all
the trees begin to put on leaves again and
flowers come and now and then the old sun
shining, is as if life start all over again, as if it
still have time, as if it still have another
chance. I will wait until after the summer, the
summer does really be hearts.

But it reach a stage, and he know it reach that
stage, where he get so accustom to the pat-
tern that he can't do anything about it. Sure, I

could do something about it, he tell himself,
but he never do anything.
'Five' have woman all over London, and no
sooner he hit the big city than he fly round by
Moses to find out what happening, which part
have fete and so on.

Ira de Reid in The Negro Immigrant, his study of black immigrants in
the USA, draws attention to a critical phenomenon which occurs as a result of
the absence of structure social and economic in the life of the immigrant:

The foreign-born worker does not accept [the
necessity of doing low-class jobs] without a
struggle. His new job is seldom in his old line,
it is always more hurried and harried than it
was when he was a worker at home. Security
on the job is relatively unknown, the job exists
from week to week, and creates a new per-
sonal type. Eventually the immigrant does not
worry, because sooner or later he will either
find something else, go into a business of his
own, or return home' (emphasis added)6

Selvon's boys are involved in this hurried, harried activity of work that
de Reid mentions: whether they are in search of work, escaping from work,
or going to work, work represents the highest level of structure in their lives.
It is by implication casual work, and the boys' over-riding concern is to escape
worry, either by fantasies of the type indicated by de Reid, or by the actual
immersion in work for its own sake, or by immersion in sex with women's
Ten years Papa, ten years the old man in Brit'n
and what to show for it? what happen during
all that time? From winter to winter, summer
to summer, work after work. Sleep, eat, hus-
tle pussy, work.

It is striking that work is not linked to any project of social responsibility. This
contradicts our prior expectations, for historically, West Indians migrated in
order to better their own economic situation and that of their families left at
home; remittances by post formed and continue to form a major part of the
economy of the islands. In addition, men who migrated often sent for their
wives and children.9 Apart from the Jamaicans, who appear as an anomalous

subset bringing their families and social structures with them, and therefore
soon drop out of the general circle, Selvon's boys exist without reference to
any such activity or project. Selvon would appear then to be inscribing the
story of a category of West Indian migrant that became lost to the Caribbean

All of this, the flight, the forgetting, escape and frenzied immersion,
constitutes the quintessential exile's anomie. We note again that this is
essentially an avoidance of panic in the face of the helplessness confronting
the first-comer to the "new world" of the host country. It is also the
manifestation of the absence from consciousness ot ordered society, where
absence appears as part of the resolution of panic. Absence here is to be
understood both as banishment, an active admission to consciousness fol-
lowed by deliberate rejection, and as amnesia, the absolute not knowledge
which represents sublimation below consciousness. It is in this area of
absence that gender is (de) constructed in Selvon's trilogy of exile. Part Two
looks at the gender specific aspects of this problem of absence in the areas of

The Flight from Gender in the Absence of Ordered Society

The flight from gender in The Lone/v Londoners appears in two related
factors: the virtual absence of women except in casual sexual encounters, and
the absence of a concept of manhood among Selvon's male protagonists, as
seen in the fact that throughout they are generically termed "the boys"
Selvon has written no novels of childhood, but is appears from the trilogy and
others of his novels such as A Brighter Sun and Turn Again Tiger that
ideologically for him, masculinity becomes an issue in the context of adult
relations and responsibilities the boy is not fully gendered, or more accu-
rately, is not required to confront the issue of gender. Certainly adult respon-
sibilities and relations include (A Brighter Sun) assumption of the responsibility
of work not for its own sake but as a means to an end, primarily the ability to
provide for a family but also the legitimation of authority over a family. We
have already seen how the boys of Londoners engage in work as the avoid-
ance and expression of panic. The avoidance of gender is manifested first in
an interesting linkage between sex, whiGh precedes gender, and work, which
together keep the boys on the outer edges of the most primitive relation to
ordered society.
This linkage is illustrated by the oddly rhapsodic despairing stream of
consciousness passage in which Moses expresses the unreal yet welcomed
hinterworld the boys inhabit in summer, when they immerse themselves in
sexual activity.

the boys making contact and having big
times with the girls working during the day and
coming round by the yard in the evening for a
cuppa and to hit one or two but anyone of
Moses encounter is big episode because coast-
ing about the water it ain't have, no man with
a sharper eye than he not even Cap and one
summer evening he was walking when he spot
a number 10

The linkage of work and sexual escapades in the same "sentence" indicates
their relationship in a cycle of futility; the stream of consciousness with its
dissolution of ordered sentence contours inscribes the dissolution of, and
flight from, ordered society. Indeed, in this scenario the boys seemn to have
reconstructed work as the avoidance of gender They work, turn to irrespon-
sible sex for relief, work, turn to sex and so on, as both gender and ordered
society upon which it is predicated are kept at bay. The acceptance of work,
however, may be seen as a curious honouring of gender in the breach: that is,
the use of work to escape the responsibilities implied in the conferral/accep-
tance of "manhood" implies all acceptance, or knowledge of, this conception
of manhood as something required by society. But this knowledge must be
rejected, or negatively responded to, for the assumption of manhood in these
terms becomes an intolerable burden in the unaccommodated situation in
which the exiles find themselves. The odds are stacked against a successful
appropriation of the freedom to become men in the socially acceptable sense.
The freedom to acquire that identity occupies the same psychological moment
as the fear of failure; consequently neither the fear nor the social expectation
is admitted to consciousness.

This explains the boys' refusal to enter into relationships with women.
Woman, as a gendered creature, is never admitted to consciousness: this is
signified in the words the boys substitute for woman, words which are not
only dehumanizing but also dissolve feminine gender in order to reconstruct it
as a metonym for transience, something incapable of fixing in one place the
speaker in flight: thus "bird" (a creature in flight); "sport" ( an activity of the
moment); "thing" (an indefinite and therefore scarcely perceivable object),
"craft" (a passing vessel in a changeful sea); "number" (a manipulable cipher
in the uncertainty of gambling). The woman is reproduced in a reductive
process which throws her back on her biological sex (all these terms being
synonyms for sex-object) and the reductive process linguistically removes the
latent threat of gender. Only in this way can the female be accommodated.

Significantly too, all encounters are with white women. The white
woman poses no threat as there is little or no possibility of socially accepted
relations with her.11 Black women appear as shadows in the stream of
consciousness celebration of sexual encounters with prostitutes but even as
prostitutes they represent the threat of responsibility, since they may at any
moment decide to "become serious" Tellingly they are referred to as
"spades" a term used to refer indiscriminately to black male and female alike,
'and a spade wouldn't hit a spade when it have so much other talent on
parade' 12 Here black women are linguistically returned to the state in which
they existed in slave society, undifferentiated from men and therefore ungen-
This denial of feminine gender as a means of avoiding "masculinity"
appears in interesting variations in Moses Ascending and Moses Migrating. In
the former novel, Moses acquires a house in Shepherd's Bush, becomes a
landlord, acquires a white "Man Friday, and begins to write his memoirs in his
peculiar version of "The Queen's English, all of these representing a bid for
assimilation into the structures of British society, a bid which is continued in
the sequel. In these two novels, Moses' bid for assimilation sets him apart
from the other boys, who have not moved beyond the time and space warp in
which we left them in Londoners. It also inscribes a strategy of survival which
belongs to the later years of that first migration wave: the 1 960's early 1 970's
when West Indian migrants were more "settled" in England and therefore
presumably may have moved away from that first response of panicked
dissolution. Yet Moses' "development" in this context is at best equivocal,
representing a voluntary "colonization of the mind" and therefore a continued
flight from the responsibilities implied in (re) creating West Indian structures as
a space of being in the material condition of exile. Moses finds refuge in the
British establishment precisely because as an outsider he is absolved of
responsibility. Assimilation then appears as an illusion, for assimilation must
be predicated upon the receiving society's acceptance of the surrendering
individual, and it is manifestly clear that 'Brittania' will never accept Moses in
this way. The conclusion that escapes Moses has to do with the need to
create an area of difference/deference for himself to inhabit. Such an area
must essentially be a creatively ordered social structure (and process) whose
point of reference is itself and in which gender is spontaneously and freely
assumed. Quite simply, Moses' need is to be a West Indian man. Instead, he
becomes a pseudo-Englishman. To the extent that his attempted assimilation
represents a flight from confrontation with authentic West Indian possibilities,
and to the extent that he grows increasingly confused about the world he
"Inhabits", the structures of ordered society remain absent from Moses' mind.

The shifts in gender relations which occur in the passage from London-
ers to Moses Ascending, are located in the surface shifts in his relation to
ordered society. In keeping with his more settled lifestyle, women have a
more concrete and sustained presence, particularly in the form of Brenda, the
attractive young Black Power activist, and Jeannie, the wife of Moses' white
"Man Friday" Bob. These are neither nebulous sexual exotica nor faceless
spades, but concrete presence which force Moses to a confrontation with,
though not a responsible admission of, gendered identity and social structure.
The crucial shift in which woman, encountered within the context of ordered
society (however illusory the context may be) becomes a contender for social
and psychic power, exercises all Moses' ingenuity to keep her deconstructed
and therefore a safe area.
If Bob facilitates Moses' "entry" to ordered society by making him an
employer, Jeannie accommodates his secret flight from that very society by
the illicit sexual relations which keep him in the same subversive relation to
woman that characterized his encounters with prostitutes in Londoners. His
facetious comment that he lures Jeannie into bed to "keep marauders away"
exposes the real reason for his relations with her the fear of an invasion of
psychological territory. The issue is that Moses needs to prove to himself that
though Jeannie is both white and married a dual artefact of ordered society
he is able to keep her a mere sex object and thus to erase any obligatory social
considerations such as honour and trust which will threaten his paradoxical
freedoms. What emerges most clearly in Moses' treatment of Jeannie, when
taken with the type of sexual encounters which occur in Londoners, is that for
Selvon's West Indian males in exile, gender, where gender involves relations
with women, is the most feared aspect of ordered society.
Black women appear sharply distinguished from white women in ways
which show the former as the greater threat because of her power to order
social relations. And, in contrast to white women, black women are a threat
that refuses to be contained. This is exemplified in the figures of Tanty in
Londoners and Brenda in Moses Ascending. Tanty is the type of the Caribbean
matriarch14 tough, cantankerous, aggressive, supremely confident, blissfully
de trop and therefore marvellously subversive: above all, possessed of a
reforming zeal which is the very essence of social order, albeit social order in
an iconoclastic mode. Far from being in flight from society, Tanty brings it
with her, as aggressive argument against the British status quo. She proceeds
to attack the latter and to impose Caribbean social systems on British eco-
nomic activity.
Where the boys accept their subjugation to this activity by avoiding
confrontation with it, Tanty establishes herself as a Subject in its transactions.

'The Jewish shopkeeper begins to give 'trus'(credit) before he knows what has
hit him. Tanty also brings some sense of integrated community, exemplified
in her gate-crashing the dance and in the role she plays in encouraging Agnes
to leave her abusive husband Lewis and subsequently to take him to court.
Here Tanty not only reinserts ordered society into the boys' experience by
having recourse to the systems by which society protects its relations and
institutions, she also supports gender relations within guidelines that take
women's equality as read. In doing so she highlights some of the problems
created for a man by his gendered status.15
The boys' response to Tanty is a horrified, if feeble effort at contain-
ment, signified is Moses' accosting of Tolroy at the dance "You think this is
Jamaica? You bring old hen to dance?" But Tanty refuses to be contained,
"Don't push!"
In the final analysis a crucial point must be made regarding Tanty: her
advent signals a curious gender distinction which appears also in Brenda in
Moses Ascending and in another novel of exile, The Housing Lark: the women
bring with them, wherever they are, ordered structures for social interaction,
which seem in Selvon's treatment to be an extension of a peculiar gendered
consciousness, fundamentally different from men's consciousness, and which
sustains them in ways radically different from the modes of male/masculine
Brenda combines Tanty's formidable spirit, energy and pre-occupation
with the creation/imposition of social order (of a subversive kind) with a
blatant sexuality which sharply distinguishes her from the older black woman;
indeed, the latter, by reason of the absence of a sexual expectation, appears
as less of a threat than her younger counterpart. Brenda's sexuality early has
Moses on the ropes: he does not rest until she goes to bed with him, and then
he breaks forth into mesmerised accolades: when I tell you that there is no
business like black business, you know that I am not talking through my
hat."16 Brenda dictates the terms of her own sexual activity, establishing a
powerful sexual economy (Moses' black business) in which she receives as
much as she bestows. In this way she bribes Bob in order to obtain access to
Moses' Memoirs and her mockery of the latter's linguistic efforts may be read
as a trope of the threat posed to the unstructured worlds inhabited by Selvon's
male protagonist. At any moment he is subject to the (de) constructive power
of ridicule.
In the progress from Moses Ascending, to Moses Migrating, the most
important development with regard to gender has to do with the "love" affair
with Doris in the latter novel, the last of the trilogy. Moses returns home to

Trinidad for a nostalgic holiday facilitated by Enoch Powell, the well-known
racist who is making every effort to repatriate unwanted West Indians.
Moses' situation on arrival is interesting: in Trinidad he immediately recognizes
a different set of rules from those which obtain in England. These are rules to
which he is expected to conform, on two grounds: that he is received as a
returning member of the society, and that as a "privileged son" who has
enjoyed the advantages and prestige of foreign residence, he is expected to
behave responsibly. What becomes apparent is that it is far more difficult to
escape ordered society of which one is a part, when one is actually inside that
society, than it is when one is in physical exile. Moses automatically gives
assent to the rules (for example, he feels he must offer Tanty Flora at least
some token of financial support and that he must offer Doris more than casual
sex. But the habit of escape is strong upon him, and as a successful escapee
he remains in an at best ambiguous relation to any concept of masculine
Identity that would accommodate a relationship with Doris. The concept of
responsibility remains the major problem.

To complicate matters further, he needs a relationship with Doris in
order to revalidate himself to himself, for his permitting himself to "love" her
constitutes a slippage in his carefully constructed self-image.

Versed in the arts of negation, Moses set the wheels in motion to
deconstruct, absorb and contain Doris. His favourite weapon is still linguistic
annihilation: by having touched a very private part of his consciousness, Doris
cannot so easily be produced as thing, bird, craft, or piece, but Moses does the
next best: he resorts to the language of romantic fantasy and thus effectively
neutralizes Doris into a dream.

Aye, that was a happy night, the happiest
night in my life, because although it had others
which were more intimate, it was the first time
I take Doris out, and there was a kind of
innocence and breathlessness and pristine
quality about the whole excursion which I
never ever experience again. So much so, that
when I try to remember it, is like the poetry I
wrote for Doris, I can't remember how or when
or why or what or where the lines come from,
and similarly, (the events of that blissful night
remain wishful and tantalizing on the edge of
my memory, and I would rather they stay there
than brutalize them by taxing my brains to

Of course, in real life one goes on from climax
to climax. The onliest thing I know that have
one definite climax is fairy tales, because all of
them finish by saying that they live happily
ever after. Even Doris had to go with the tide,
for it appear she slip away while I was in a
pleasant doze 18

The first passage, using language incongruous in the mouth of the
hardboiled, cynical Moses and at the same time emphasizing the relationship
as evanescent memory and dream, points the unreality of the affair in his mind
and we are not at all surprised when having got Doris into bed he decides it
can't work and takes himself off to England. The second passage well
expresses the facile philosophical response which suggests Moses has not
allowed himself to be seriously touched. As he leaves Trinidad, all fantasies
survive intact: the dream of Britannia (snooty non-handshaking British airport
official notwithstanding) and the dream of romance which represents his
demolition of the last and most fearsome frontier: woman. He has success-
fully taken her on where she is strongest, on home ground, and kept his
promise made to himself in Londoners, "I would never married. More, he has
effected an escape in the face of the most formidable feminine ammunition:
Doris' beauty allied with Tanty's support: for Tanty Flora is the type of
Caribbean elder woman already recognized in Tanty of Londoners.
Yet in the same way that Tanty subverts the boys in Londoners, and
Brenda diminishes Moses by the power of ridicule, Doris achieves a kind of
triumph by exposing Moses' own triumph as delusion: she preempts the facile
apology that would have inscribed his superiority over her, and shames him
into silence.
She bend down suddenly and give me a hard
slap on my face. It make he happy. "I deserve
that, I say,"I would never give you what you
deserve, Moses, she say, and open her palm
to show me the mosquito splatter on her palm,
that she slapped dead to stop it stinging me.
And I feel like Peter must have felt when he
deny Christ.19

Looking to the Future: Questions and Implications for Gender Relations

In the final analysis, our overriding consciousness on reading these
three novels is a sense of dissonance on several levels: the material and

psychological retreat of a group of West Indian men in exile, from responsible
relations to society in any form; a pretence of acceptance of a form of social
order and relations which is not theirs to accept and therefore can only be
either a delusion or deliberate continuation of the flight from responsibility: the
implication of gendered identity: as a subset of the larger problem and the
concomitant flight of men in exile from socially approved concepts of mascu-
line identity: the dysfunction between feminine socialization and aspirations on
one hand, and masculine socialization and aspirations on the other, all of these
making for a presentation of a fundamentally dysfunctional subculture in
London and its "West Indian suburbs.

In addressing the question of the implications of Selvon's presentation
for Caribbean peoples at a remove of forty years, it is necessary first to
examine the solutions the artist himself offers.

The first of these is a linguistic aesthetic, and (being an aesthetic of
this kind) is perhaps more readily appropriated by the creative artist than by
the average person seeking to impose order on the social text).
In Londoners, Selvon's linguistic aesthetic is represented by the use of
a modified Creole narrative voice which bridges the gap between European
reader and West Indian consciousness, even while retaining the rhythms
nuances and picaresque humour of the real dialects. This narrative voice is
reminiscent of the calypso in its subversive capacities: a picaresque rhythm
which constitutes an answer to the alien and alienating British society, as it
inscribes its own kind of order into the social text. This is the order brought
by the unapologetic use of language which is not the master's, within the
culture of the master, and which asserts its own legitimacy by its exclusive
ability to articulate the experience of its marginalised owners. The narrative
voice goes further to represent the adaptation of language as an instrument
of creative survival the very ethos of West Indian creolisation. Selvon's use
of the modified Creole voice has thus been celebrated by various commenta-
tors as the assertion of West Indian folk culture and the search for a West
Indian identity. But it has been the premise of this discussion that imposition
of order is a deliberate act of consciousness. In this light, the Creole narrative
voice as a site of social/political or individual empowerment for the boys of
Londoners remains a possibility only. The boys fail to recognize the possibili-
ties of their language as an area for the creation of alternative structures. In
flight from all known social structures, both at home and abroad, they have
removed themselves from such possibilities, for language is first and foremost
a tool and product of community. In this respect it is noteworthy that their
speech is both fragmented and static, expressing the immediate mood rather
than any progression of thought or awareness. The narrative voice, in

contrast, despite its fragmentary, episodic structure, which is simply a faithful-
ness to the experience it recounts, subsumes a process of ordering by the
mere fact of narration, and reinforces this by the narrator's humourous
interpretative commentary on the recounted events. It is entirely appropriate
that the narrative voice is just on the edge of Moses' consciousness, for its
nearness and its peripherality signify both its immanent possibilities and
Moses' failure to recognize these. If there is triumph as a result of the triumph
of language, it must be Selvon the artist's, for certainly the characters who
people his fictional world have not discovered this power.
The problem reappears in Moses Ascending. Here Moses' attempt at
assimilation reaches its high point in his search for linguistic legitimacy,
symbolised in the writing of his Memoirs, but his adoption of the 'Queen's
English' for this project simply highlights his failure to recognize and, appropri-
ate the possibilities of his own language as inscribed in the narrative voice of
Londoners whatever subversive capital is gained by his "calibanising" of the
English tongue, what Brenda refers to as his criminal sentences, belaboured
cliches and figures of speech falling between 10 and 20, emerge from Selvon's
satiric intent and not from any understanding on Moses' part his failure of
appropriation here then exactly parallels his failure in Londoners.
In the final analysis, the insertion of the Creole narrative voice and
Moses' powerful malapropisms into literary discourse becomes not merely a
Manichean opposition to British colonizing projects, but more primarily the
assertion of a creative essence in the speech of West Indians. It expresses
faith in the ability of the language to carry the burden of their searches through
to acceptable resolution, and becomes a ground of possibility for the discovery
and creation of psychic and social order and therefore of a liveable relation to
constructs of identity which are essentially gendered. But the essential tragic
view with which Selvon confronts us is in his protagonists' failure to appre-
hend all of this.
Interestingly, when Moses returns home in Moses Migrating, a sec-
ond possibility is suggested: for Moses is subverted by the self-confidence of
those who have remained at home shaping the social text in the era of
nationalistic and regional awareness, without the physical and psychic disloca-
tions experienced by the first comers to London. Moses, now a fully-fledged
psuedo-Britisher and self-styled ambassador for Brittania, comes to Trinidad to
play mas as Brittania triumphant, with Bob and Jeannie pulling the float. The
float is received with wild cheers and awarded the top trophy, for the people
read his parade as an ironic "colonization in reverse," a delightfully satirical
subversion of which Moses is again unaware.

Tens of thousands of Caribbean nationals continue to migrate annually
to Europe and North America.21 The metropoles, the circumstances, the
period and the profile of the migrants are in many ways not quite the same as
those about which Selvon wrote. Quite conceivably, Caribbean migrants now
confront the "First World" with the confidence with which Columbus con-
fronted the New, when he noted that in making his declaration of Spanish
supremacy "[H]e was not contradicted. So many Caribbean nationals now
live abroad that the concept of the Caribbean as a set geographical space is
now obsolete, which makes it imperative in our ongoing search for develop-
ment, to do some serious research around the issues Selvon raised forty years
Is it possible, for instance, that the ongoing establishment of "Carib-
bean" communities abroad is a phenomenon more imagined than real? More
specifically, how much are Caribbean nationals merely becoming assimilated
rather than creating their own psychic and cultural spaces in new geographical
locations? Have we been able to exhibit in our encounters with geographical
exile the self-confidence which comes from the psychological experience of
power, and in this regard have thirty or fewer years of Independence been
enough for us to speak of empowering traditions which serve us as well
abroad as at home?
Obviously, related to these questions is the need to decide what we
mean by a Caribbean community, particularly given our traditional acceptance
of creolisation that amazing adaptability and eclectism which does include
forms of assimilation as the very essence of Caribbeanness. By extension,
perhaps it is necessary to determine whether it is possible to define a model by
which we recognize Caribbean, or West Indian, without running the risk of a
rigid, traditionalist anti-dynamism.
Any strengths or anomalies we discover must necessarily have impli-
cations for our gendered relations both to ourselves as individuals and to each
other as men and women, as Selvon's trilogy demonstrates. Certainly recent
research has made it clear that serious dysfunctional anomalies between the
consciousnesses and modes of socialization of Caribbean men and women
exist in the home societies in manifestations very similar to the manifestations
explored in Selvon's exilic world.22 That is, the experience of exile
merely complicates an already existent problem, and this problem has scarcely
changed since Selvon wrote. The issue of what it is in our home societies that
creates the conditions for this type of situation as opposed to the conditions
inherent in exile, also needs to be addressed. In what relations to ordered
society do we stand at home? And this question needs to be addressed as

Selvon at the deeper level certainly addresses it beyond the Manichean terms
that present the problem as purely the result of British colonialism.

Of extraordinary interest is the experience of Caryl Phillips, one of a
number of male West Indian literary artists, recently writing out of England on
the West Indian migrant experience in that country. Phillips represents another
set of first comers: the first generation of the children of West Indian migrants
born in Britain, a group to which we may well, without conscious irony, refer
to as the "native exiles. Phillips own personal odyssey, re-counted in The
European Tribe 23 suggests that indeed the Caribbean seeded no tradition, or
frames of reference, by which the native exile was able to articulate their own
self-definitions. Further, his fictional attempts to articulate the stories of the
first migrant generation provoke the conclusion that in the eyes of some of this
group at least, our peculiarly conflicted gender relations have remained pretty
much unchanged.

Phillips makes a very interesting observation: that part of the crisis of
the second generation of "Black British" is the lack of a "viable alternative
in either language or religion."24 This mention of "language" leads me back to

Selvon suggests that in some way we need to reshape our speech, or
arrive at a new consciousness of the possibilities of speech not only in the
aesthetics of scribal art, but speech in all its forms, including conversation.
His work shows women speaking in constructive ways that men neither
approximate, understand nor care to emulate, nor does Selvon proffer
women's strategies as an answer to the gender divide. This paper does not
suggest women's answers as the definitive answers. Neither does it suggest
that existent socially accepted ideas of responsible manhood/womanhood are
ideal or "correct" But it does suggest that this idea of speech needs to be
taken seriously, and that in the critical process of building new Caribbean
societies abroad, microcosmic issues such as gender consciousness and
relations in everyday interactions should no longer be shunted aside under a
concern with the overarching "nationalistic" and "regional" paradigms within
which the work of our scribal artists has traditionally been read.

Notes and References

Page references in this paper are to the following editions: The Lonely Londoners Longman
Caribbean Ltd. Trinidad 1972; Moses Ascending, Heinemann Oxford 1975 Moses Migrat-
ing Longman Harlow, Essex 1983.
2. Londoners, 114.
3. Londoners, 114.

4. Londoners, 115.
5. Londoners, 94.
6. De Reid, Ira The Negro Immigrant, NY: Arno Press, 1969, 119.
7. Londoners, 13.
8. Richardson, B. C. Caribbean Migrants: Environment and Human Survival on St. Kitts & Nevis
Univ. of Tennessee Press Knoxville Tenn 1983; and Marshall, Dawn "A History of West In-
dian Migration: Overseas Opportunities and Safety Valve Policies" in B. B. Levine (ed) The
Caribbean Exodus Praeger NY 1987.
9. Davidson, R. B. Black British Published for the Institute of Race Relations by Oxford Univ.
Press London 1966; and Hall, Stuart "Migration from the English-speaking Caribbean to the
U.K. 1958-1980" in Reginald Appleyard (ed) Trends and Prospects in International Migra-
tion Today vol. 1. UNESCO & Univ of Western Australia Centre for Migration & Develop-
ment Studies 1988.
10. Londoners, 87.
11. An interesting variation appears in the case of the Nigerian Cap, who is identified with the
West Indian boys when a Frenchwoman tries to coopt Cap into ordered society by marry-
ing him, and by implication reforming him into a breadwinner. Cap subverts the project by
having the woman support him instead, as though he were the woman and she the man,
if we apply gender terms in their traditional applications. The point is that the assumption
of gender roles in this context is no problem because of the nature of the assumption: the
roles are assumed in reverse and so effectively deconstructed.
12. Londoners, 91.
13. Moses Ascending, 125.
14. The term "matriarch" is used in the colloquial sense, bearing in mind that West Indian socie-
ties are patriarchal, despite the widespread existence of matrifocal households (that is,
households with female heads). "Matriarch" here capitalizes on the popular loose usage of
the term to indicate Tanty's regal self-preservation.
15. The Tanty/Lewis/Agnes household is a Jamaican one. Selvon consistently presents the
Jamaicans as different from the other West Indians, seeming to bring with them a stable
set of social structures including a psychological acceptance of traditional gender roles. Le-
wis is the only married character in the novel.
16. Moses Ascending,26.
17 Moses Ascending, 107
18. Moses Ascending, 167
19. Moses Ascending, 179.
20. Rohler Gordon "The Folk in Caribbean Literature" in Tapia 17 December 1972, and Gonzales,
Anson (ed) "First of the Big Timers Samuel Selvon" Trinidad & Tobago Literature on Air
Port of Spain 1974.
21. George Gmelch in Double Passage: The Lives of Caribbean Migrants Abroad and Back Home
Univ. of Michigan Press 1992, indicates that Caribbean migration since 1950 constitutes
20% of all voluntary international migration, or 5-10% of the total population of nearly
every Caribbean society. This is a higher proportion than for any other geopolitical region.
22. Miller, Errol Men at Risk Jamaica Publishing House Kingston 1991; Senior, Olive, Working
Miracles: Women's Lives in the Enplish-speaking Caribbean ISER, UWI Cave Hill, with
James Curry, London, and Indiana Univ. Press, Bloomington, 1991, and Chevannes, Barry
"Male Socialization in the Caribbean: Community Profiles" Paper prepared as part of
UNICEF funded Gender Socialization Project, UWI, Mona, 1995.
23. Phillips, Caryl, The European Tribe Faber & Faber London 1987.
24. lbid.125-126.

Gifts and Games in Frank Martinus Arion's Dubbelspel



Frank Martinus Arion's Dubbelspel1 a brilliant exploration of
Curacaoan society in the wake of the riots of May 30, 19692 opens with three
epigraphs, two of which help to establish the decidedly ironic tone of the
novel. The first epigraph is from an essay by Bertrand Russell, in which
Russell speaks of how Tsar Nicholas Il's indifference to politics was matched
only by his passion for dominoes. Apparently, on the very eve of the 1917
Revolution the Tsar wrote a letter to his wife mentioning how much he was
looking forward to taking up dominoes again in his spare time. This can be
read either as a testimony to the Tsar's frivolity and short-sightedness, or as a
token of the seductive power of the game of dominoes. In the novel's third
epigraph, Arion offers another example of how a passion for dominoes can
disrupt one's usual sense of what's important and what's not. Arion cites a
report claiming that the Dutch managed in 1625 to take the fortress of El
Morro in San Juan, Puerto Rico only because the fort's Spanish defenders
were busy playing dominoes. Inthis case, the game constitutes a distraction
from events in the real world, but it also helps shape the outcome of these
Dubbelspel centres on a game of dominoes that takes place one
Sunday afternoon in the month of November in Wakota, a suburb of Willem-
stad'. The four players-Manchi Sanwitonio, Janchi Pau, Chamon Nicolas, and
Boeboe Fiel, at whose home they gather-reflect at different moments in the
novel on the intense pleasure they derive from their weekly games. Every
Sunday afternoon they can enjoy a few hours of relaxation and agreeable
sociability, and forget about their everyday worries. Yet it is clear that for
Arion the game in Dubbelspel is not so much a world apart, as a microcosm of
the wider society. The very setting in which the game is played makes this
clear. In the first paragraph of the novel, the narrator informs the reader that
Wakota is located between Blenheim, a seventeenth-century Jewish cemetery
and Campo Alegre, a prostitute camp. He goes on to describe this location as
entiree medio"(in between), explaining that this is the expression Curacoans

generally use when they are asked how they are doing. "Entre medio, then,
refers not only to the space in which the four men will play their game of
dominoes, but also to a characteristic state of mind of the Curacaoan.
The air of normality, of everydayness, suggested by the term entiree
medio"proves to be misleading. On the first page of Dubbelspel, the narrator
invites the reader, who is addressed here as a tourist, to come to Curacao,
where the sea is beautiful and the air is pure. "And if you come, the narrator
continues, "may I suggest, just for fun, that you go for a stroll in Wakota, that
quiet little village where the houses are still set far apart from each other. But
the narrator's voice here is a ruse, for his glowing evocation of a simple and
untroubled community, offering a kind of escape to the harried metropolitan
tourist, soon gives way to a portrait of a small world ripped apart by the
currents of rivalry and desire, of need and ambition, pursued by these currents
that run through it. It is by following the paths that the reader can reconstruct
the outlines of Arion's view of Curacaoan society.
The society Arion describes is defined by the networks of exchange in
which his characters participate. The game of dominoes itself illustrates this.
The players have decided that on this particular day the stakes in the game will
be ten pairs of ladies' shoes. Manchi, who is employed as a process-server in
the Willemstad courthouse, and thus enjoys the highest social status of the
four men, provides the shoes, which he has obtained by plundering his wife's
closet. But in this game the players do not compete in order to claim the shoes
for themselves; rather, they compete for the privilege of giving a pair of shoes
to their opponents. The narrator explains this aspect of the game bv recalling
the special place occupied by shoes in the social history of the Antilles (pp
99-100). Since slaves generally did not own shoes, to go barefoot came to be
associated in the islands with poverty. The narrator mentions that up until
World War II people who went barefoot were exempt from paying the toll that
was charged to cross the Emmabrug-the bridge linking the two parts of the
port of Willemstad. Shoes, then, are linked to a particular form of class
consciousness, a class consciousness that enters into the game in a somewhat
paradoxical fashion, for the players seek to associate themselves with soci-
ety's upper echelons not by accumulating possessions, but by giving them
away. The ostensibly philanthropic gesture serves as a demonstration of
one's social rank. Giving is a status symbol.The players in Dubbelspel com-
pete not for some material gain, but for the less tangible gain associated with
the power of giving. The account of the game of dominoes is intertwined with
several sub-plots, in which shoes also play a central role. Boeboe Fie's wife
Nora spends the day frantically trying to raise the money she needs to buy her
son Ostrik a pair of shoes,without which he will not be able to go to school the

next day. She manages to obtain ten guilders on her way to church in the
morning by having sex in the cemetery with the grave-digger Diego Manuel.
But Nora is still five guilders short. Her plan is to get the money from Chamon,
one of her husband's fellow players, with whom Nora has been having an
affair for some time.This particular day is not the first time Nora finds herself
in difficult financial straits. Nora's husband Boeboe works as a taxi-driver, but
generally fails to provide in an adequate manner for his large family, in part
because of his fondness for drinking and gambling. On one occasion, Boeboe
had placed his wife in a particularly difficult position, for in spite of many
promises he had not succeeded in bringing home the two hundred guilders
Nora needed to pay for a dress and a cake for their daughter Erika's Holy
Communion. Suspecting that her husband's friend Chamon was not as poor
as he looked, she had asked him for a loan. Indeed, Chamon, had managed to
make himself into a "small capitalist" (p.1 17), with two thousand guilders in
the bank, and a steady rental income from two shacks he owned, thanks to
years of stealing supplies from the oil refinery where he used to work. Nora
had received the money she needed from Chamon, but finding herself unable
to return the full amount she borrowed, she ended up having sex with him
instead, a transaction that paved the way for a steady and mutually beneficial
relationship, one that allowed Chamon to enjoy the pleasures of regular and
uncomplicated sex, while it helped Nora supplement the family income.
Unfortunately for Nora, the day she needs to buy her son a pair of shoes is also
the day Chamon decides to terminate his relationship with her. Chamon has
concluded that it is simply too risky for him to carry on an affair with the wife
of a friend, in light of that friend's physical prowess. But Chamon's decision to
get out of trouble's way by breaking with Nora is precisely what precipitates
the final catastrophe. Nora desperately wants to speak to Chamon, but
Chamon is determined to ignore the signals she sends him as she circles
around the table where he is playing dominoes with her husband. The only
effect of the increasingly overt strategies Nora devises to attract Chamon's
attention is to make Boeboe suspicious of her. So when Nora finally manages
to corner Chamon at the back of the house, Boeboe is nearby and overhears
their conversation. Thus Boeboe discovers that Nora and Chamon have been
having an affair. But it is not this discovery that propels him into a murderous
rage. Boeboe can forgive Nora for having had sex with another man, he
understands that economic necessity drove her to it and can forgive Chamon
for having betrayed him, for he understands that this is what men do to each
other in the normal course of things. But he cannot forgive Chamon, first for
the fact that Chamon and his partner Janchi have given Boeboe and Manchi a
terrible thrashing in that afternoon's dominoes game, a thrashing Boeboe now
attributes to the distraction he suffered as a result of the surreptitious goings

on between Nora and Chamon, and second for the fact that Chamon refuses
to help Nora in her moment of need. It is in order to avenge his own
humiliation, as well as his wife's abandonment, that Boeboe emerges from his
hiding-place to attack his rival. The novel's terrible irony evolves from Arion's
skilful juxtaposition of the two plot-lines: on the one hand, the account of
Nora's brave efforts to raise the money she needs to buy her son a pair of
shoes, efforts that help trigger the novel's final catastrophe, and on the other
hand, the account of Manchi and Boeboe's resounding defeat in the dominoes
game, a defeat measured in terms of the number of shoes they accumulate.
Just as Boeboe is acquiring an impressive collection of shoes, albeit ladies'
shoes, Nora is finding it well-nigh impossible to acquire just one pair of shoes.
The wasteful economy of the game, in which objects serve only to
measure a person's social prestige, stands in ironic contrast to the frugal
economy of the real world, in which objects are valued to the extent that they
constitute an investment in the future (Nora hopes her son will become a
doctor). But Arion does not present the two economies as completely discon-
nected from each other As we have seen, Nora struggles to stay afloat in the
real economy of scarcity and deprivation, but she also participates in the
economy of display and gift-giving. In fact, her participation in the latter
economy alters one's understanding of its nature. Having finally managed to
obtain the money she needs for her son's shoes, she returns home to find a
crowd gathered around the table where her husband and his friend are playing
their game of dominoes. Swept up by the excitement of so many guests, Nora
cheerfully offers everybody a glass of rum. But many of the spectators drink
more than their share, and soon the rum begins to run out. Nora is in a terrible
quandary, for her reputation for hospitality is on the line. So what does she
do? She takes the fifteen guilders she has scraped together that day, and
gives them to her son Ostrik, with instructions to run to the store for another
gallon of rum. When Ostrik protests, she tells him not to worry about his
shoes, and asks him, "You don't want us to lose face here in front of all these
people now, do you?" (p.339).
The narrator tries to help the readers understand Nora's behavior by
reminding that "Maria, the mother of Christ was seized with panic when the
drinks ran out during a feast offered by an acquaintance of hers. He points
out that "tropical people, Old Testament or primitive people, poor people
appear paradoxically to share a belief in hospitality, in comparison with which
everything else is regarded as secondary" (p.338). The narrator's observa-
tions echo ideas put forward by Marcel Mauss in his work on gift-giving in
archaic societies.3 Mauss demonstrates that the ability to be generous with
gifts is intimately tied in such societies to a sense of honour and social status.

He also argues that the giving of a gift is not in this context an isolated and
disinterested act; rather, it creates in the recipient of the gift the obligation to
reciprocate. Gifts are part of a cycle in which goods are exchanged between
different social groups. But such exchanges are in no way futile, for they work
ultimately to solidify communal bonds. Mauss did not just believe that there
were in practice no free gifts; as Mary Douglas phrases it in a commentary on
Mauss' work, he believed that "There should not be any free gifts," for "A gift
that does nothing to enhance solidarity is a contradiction."4 Mauss opposes
the economy of the gift, with its social orientation, to the economy of the
market, with its basis in individual self-interest.
Mauss' work casts light on the underlying significance of Nora's
hospitality, as well as on the reasons for which the players in the dominoes
game compete in order to give rather than receive. In both cases, gift-giving
is linked to the striving for honour, and to the fear of losing face. But there is
also a difference between these two modes of gift-giving. Nora's hospitality
may be a self-interested act, insofar as it serves to exalt her own reputation in
the community, but it is also an act that affirms and solidifies the social bond.
In the dominoes game, however, gift-giving is associated exclusively with the
humiliation of one's opponents, and unless the opposite party also wins and
has an opportunity to return the gifts received-and this is precisely what fails
to happen in the game in Dubbelspel- there is no reciprocity. And it is this
absence of reciprocity that explains why the game at Boeboe's house ends as
badly as it does. The gift in Dubbelspel can bind the characters to each other,
but it can also tear them apart.
The role of the gift in Dubbelspel cannot be fully understood unless it
is set in the context of another of the novel's plots, the story of the affair
between Janchi and Solema, Manchi's wife. It is through Solema and Janchi
that the novel projects a vision of an alternative future for Curacao, a future in
which the island succeeds in freeing itself from the debilitating condition of
dependency of which the economy of the gift is a symptom. Solema is an
educated woman, who after studying in Europe returns to Curacao with a
strong desire to promote the development of an Antillean identity. She falls in
love with Manchi because she is impressed by the tenacity with which he
devotes himself to building his own house on a hill in Wakota, a tenacity
Solema links in her mind to a broader social ideal of self-reliance and autono-
mous action. But once she marries Manchi, Solema suffers a grave disappoint-
ment: Manchi turns out to be an authoritarian husband who does not want his
wife to have a life of her own. The result is that Solema begins to seek solace
in extramarital affairs. One day Manchi catches his wife making love to
another man. In his own eyes, Manchi manages to transform this moment of

humiliation into a moment of triumph by promptly demanding that the other
man pay for the sexual services he has obtained from Solema. In effect,
Manchi demands compensation for the illegal use the other man has made of
what Manchi regards as his property. The man takes all the money in his
wallet-a mere five guilders -and gives it to Solema, who in turn hands the
money to Manchi. Manchi believes he has devised an efficient way of
impressing on his wife that by committing adultery she has turned herself into
a whore. And in order to remind her of this fact, and so to dissuade her from
ever repeating the transgression, Manchi institutes a little domestic ritual:
every day at dinner-time Solema shows Manchi the bill she had received from
her lover. As Anil Ramdas points out, Manchi's ritual turns the bill into a
symbol of male dominance,5 yet Manchi's strategy fails, for at the beginning
of the novel Solema has already become involved in another affair, this time
with her husband's own fellow dominoes player Janchi.
Solema, like Nora, is an adulterer, though for very different reasons.
The very title of Arion's novel signals the importance of the theme of adultery.
The term dubbelspel refers in the first place to a specific move in the game of
dominoes. The winner of a game is the first player to divest himself of all of
his pieces, unless everyone is forced to pass, in which case the winner is the
player whose remaining pieces add up to the lowest number of points. But
when a player can place his last piece at both ends of the game, he scores
what is known in Papiamento as a change, and in Dutch as a dubbelspel, a
double play. Arion further uses the term "double play" to draw attention to
the fact that the players are competing with each other on two different levels:
while they are engaged in a seemingly amicable game of dominoes, the men
are also involved in a competition for the women in the book. The link
between the game of dominoes and the sexual competition is underlined by
the fact that in Dutch the word for adultery is overspel, which literally means
"overplay." In his classic work on adultery in the novel, Tony Tanner argues
that the nineteenth-century European novel's intense concern with the theme
of adultery reflects an awareness of the unstable and provisional nature of the
bourgeois social and economic order. Insofar as marriage is regarded in
bourgeois society as the central contract on which all other contracts in some
way depend, adultery becomes "not an incidental deviation from the social
structure, but a frontal assault on it.6 Tony Tanner explains that "if rules of
marriage, economic rules, and linguistic rules are in some way systematically
interdependent, then the breakdown of one implies the possible breakdown of
all three" (p.85). In Dubbelspel, Arion, too, links the theme of adultery to a
broader critique of the existing social and economic order, though his point of
view is perhaps not as sweeping as the one put forward by Tanner. In
Dubbelspel, the significance of adultery varies according to the person com-

mitting the act. If we focus on the female characters in the novel,we see that
while Nora's acts of adultery are more or less forced upon her by her
husband's irresponsibility, and constitute an emergency response to a situation
of great economic need, Solema's acts of adultery express at bottom a
laudable striving after personal and political autonomy. Tanner detects a
tension in the bourgeois novel between "a strictness that works to maintain
the law, and a sympathy and understanding with the adulterous violation that
works to undermine it' (p.14). In the story of Solema, this tension disappears,
for Manchi is the novel's least likeable character, and when Solema finally
picks up enough courage to leave him for Janchi, the reader can only applaud
her decision. At the very moment Solema is preparing to leave Manchi for
good; Nora arrives to ask her for a loan. Solema remembers the five guilder bill
she had used day after day in her little ritual of submission to her husband, and
gives it to Nora. Solema's gift to Nora constitutes an act of solidarity, but it
also signals Solema's rupture with her past, her claim to independence. It is
significant that Solema inspires in Janchi an analogous desire for autonomy.
Solema gives Janchi the idea of starting a furniture factory, an idea that
symbolizes the promise of a different kind of economy in which Curacao will
no longer depend on others for its survival. Janchi hopes that his furniture
factory will prove wrong all those people who say that the island of Curacao
cannot produce anything. In a discussion that develops during the game of
dominoes, Janchi notes that if Curacao were to find itself cut off from the
outside world, its people would starve, since they do 'not produce their own
food' Janchi blames this situation on centuries of colonialism, a history that
led to the destruction of the island's natural resources,7 but that had the
perhaps even more pernicious effect of inculcating in the Curacoans the belief
that others will always be there to take care of them. Solema speaks of how
the people of Curacao "were dumped here by the Dutch and left behind like
orphans who can barely fend for themselves" (p.31).
In Arion's third novel, Nobele Wilden, the protagonist is a young man
from Martinique who suffers from always being at the receiving end of
life.(p.118) Wishing to reverse the condition of dependency brought about by
colonialism, he decides to join the Roman Catholic Church in order to revolu-
tionize it from within. In Arion's fourth and latest novel, De laatste vril/jheid,
colonialism is framed as a discursive problem: the novel opens with an
epigraph by Ivan Illich denouncing the power exercised over our lives by
sundry experts.(p.119) In the spirit of Illich, the novel mocks the knowledge-
systems brought to bear by metropolitan "authorities" on non-metropolitan
societies, in this case by focusing on the failure of the experts to predict the
behaviour of a volcano on the fictional Caribbean island of Amber In Dubbel-
spel, too, Janchi is troubled and angered by the mistaken views of Curacao

propagated by the colonizers. The Dutch regard Curacao as a barren island,
and they have misled the Curacoans into accepting this view. But what about
Israel? Janchi wonders. Isn't Israel as dry as Curacao? And isn't everybody
talking about planting trees in Israel? Then why not in Curacao? Indeed, there
already is a tree that grows everywhere on the island: the wabi-tree with its
twisted trunk and long thorns. The tree is generally scorned, but Janchi had
once made tables of wabi-wood, and he now envisions exploiting this plentiful
resource on a larger scale. The furniture factory he founds at the end of the
novel is an homage to Solema, and proof to the world that Curacao can also
bring forth a productive economy, and thus achieve an independent existence.
Solema and Janchi have generally been regarded as the positive heroes
of Dubbelspel 10 While this view is certainly not incorrect, one must note in
the first place that the ideal of cultural and economic autonomy for which
Janchi and Solema stand is a highly complex one, and in the second place that
the novel's meaning is not exhausted in the roles of these two characters.
Arion depicts an opposition between an economy of production and an
economy of the gift, yet his support for the former does not mean that he
rejects the latter. Solema herself engages in heated arguments with friends
who claim that the characteristic Antillean hospitality so dear to Solema is in
fact mere wastefulness (p.62). And a subtle bit of word-play links Janchi's
venture into a market economy (he sold the few tables he had made in the past
to visiting tourists) with the concept of the gift. Janchi believes the Curacoans
have failed to develop an industry and agriculture of their own because they
do not care for the land on which they live. But in Dutch 'to care for' is
geven om literally, to give for. Thus, when Janchi decides to exploit one of the
island's natural resources for his factory, his act expresses not only economic
self-interest, but also the sense of caring and connectedness, in this case,
connectedness to a particular place, implicit in the notion of the gift. In using
the wood of the wabi-tree in his factory, Janchi is not only taking, but also
giving, in that he is acknowledging his bond with the land (and we must
assume that Janchi will plant new trees in the places he has cut them down).
The bridge between the two modes of economic activity is drawn tighter by
the fact that Janchi's factory is a cooperative, that is, an organization that
binds together the forces of economic self-interest with the spirit of solidarity.
Arion refrains from telling us whether Janchi's factory is a success.
This element of open-endedness is important because it draws attention to a
disjunction between the overall thrust of the story of Janchi and Solema and
the general tone of the novel. Arion may use Solema and Janchi to articulate
some of the novel's ideological positions, yet there is a certain grimness in
particular to Janchi's character, which makes him less likeable than some of

the other characters in the novel, and contrasts rather sharply with the playful,
ironic tone of the narrator. Janchi and Solema offer a call to political
awareness, but the narrator also offers the possibility of humour and laughter.
How the narrator shifts between these two registers is perhaps best illus-
trated in the novel's final lines. There the narrator speaks hopefully of the
possibility that Solema will become the first female prime-minister in the
Americas. He points out that this would be a particularly significant develop-
ment for Central and South America because of the miserable condition of
women in these parts of the continent. As a kind of afterthought, the narrator
adds that the condition of men in Central and South America is pretty
wretched, too. Whereupon he concludes by saying that this is the case even
though the men "play a lot of dominoes" (p.65). The sequence is immensely
rich in irony: by stressing the fact that the men are wretched with the fact that
they play dominoes all the time, the narrator forces upon the reader a final shift
in perspective. The game of dominoes which the novel had forced us to see
as an arena for the fighting out of deep-seated personal and social antago-
nisms is returned once more to the realm of pleasure and escape.

Notes and References

Frank Martinus Arion, Dubbelspel (Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij, 1973). Page references will ap-
pear in parentheses in the text. Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own.
2. A labour conflict involving workers at the Shell oil refinery in Curacao escalated into a full-
scale riot on May 30, 1969, causing several deaths and much damage to property. See
Luis H. Daal and Ted Schouten An tilliaans Verhaal: Geschiedenis van Aruba, Bonaire, Cura-
gao, Saba, St. Eustatius en St. Maarten (Zutphen:DE Walburg Press,1992). Daal and
Schouten point out that in the aftermath of the riots new political parties were formed,
and the Antilleans began to forge a stronger sense of their identity. Arion participated in
the political and cultural ferment of these years through the journal Ruku, which he
founded in 1969, and edited until 1971, at which point it ceased publication. See Ineke
Phaf, "Frank Martinus Arion: Een Inleiding," in Maritza Coomans -Eustatia, Whm Rutgers
and Henny E. Coomans, eds., Veelvoud Boeli van Leeuwen. Tip Marugg, Frank Martinus
Arion (Zutphen: De Walburg Pers, 1991 )4 -19.
3. See Marcel Mauss, The Gift: The Fonn; in Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies, trans-
lated by W.D. Halls (New York:Norton, 1990).
4 Mary Douglas, "Foreword," The Gift, by Marcel Mauss, vii.
5.- Anil Ramdas, De Striod van de Dansers: Biografische.
6. Vertellingen uit Curacao (Amsterdam: SUA, 1988) 6.Tony Tanner, Adultery in the Novel: Con-
tract ang Transizression i altimore: The John Hopkins UP, 1979), P 17 Further page refer-
ences will appear in parentheses in the text.
7 Janchi recalls that the Dutch in the seventeenth century simply took all the brazilwood they
needed from the island, without thinking of planting new trees (332). J.M.R. Schrils states
that there is reason to believe that Curacao was much more wooded in the past than it is
now, but notes at the same time that opinion is sharply divided on the issue. See Een
democratic in gevaar:een verslag van de situatie op Curacao (Assen: Van Gorcum, 1990),
pp. 35, 237. Writing about Curacao, Goslinga reports that "it has been suggested that


prior to the arrival of the Spaniards the ground was covered with a lush growth and occa-
sional forests, but this seems unlikely.
8. Frank Martinus. Arion Nobyle Wildern (Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij, 1979), P. 45.
9. Frank Martinus Arion: De laatste vrijheid (Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij, 1995), P. 5.
10. See, for example, Walter Palm, "De politicke boodschap van Frank Martinus Arion's Dubbel-
spel" in Coomans-Eustatia, Rutgers and Coomans, eds.,(Drie Curagaose Schrjvers,)499
11. See A Short History of the Netherlands Antilles and Surinam (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff,
1979), 5.

Envisioning A Caribbean Humanism In The Works Of Two
Writers From The Region



Humanism is a term used to designate different philosophical currents
which in some way try to tell us what man is and should be. A new vision of
man and the world had already arisen in Europe, when the enterprise which
would signal a global change and leave its indelible stamp on this side of the
hemisphere was undertaken more than five hundred years ago. Renaissance
humanism destroyed the conception of man as predestined and antihistorical
by establishing the indissoluble relationship between historicity and humanity,
which constitutes the essence of the modern spirit. Subsequently, the phi-
losophy of Hegel proposed a concept of Man as a Being which constructs
himself through a necessarily historical process.
The contribution of Marxism was to define the concept of the social
being and posit the fulfilment of the development of man in and through
society. All these achievements constitute the basic theoretical premises
which would together form the core of what could be called the heritage of
modern humanism.
At present, there is a proliferation of greatly diverse tendencies which
propose a specific human ideal. From existential humanism based on the
fundamental principle of the concept of Man as process, his existential being
resting in the means by which this process is realized to postmodern
theories which proclaim the "death of the subject" Europe established a
paradigm for the development of philosophical ideas in the West. This
European Vision discounted the existence of other conceptions of the world.
The indigenous peoples) of America belonged to civilizations which possessed
their own concept of Man, but this humanism was suppressed by the act of
conquest. In the Caribbean, the presence of a people originating in Africa with
a worldview arising from their own reality, contributed to breaking down the
monopoly of Europe as the totality of humanist thought and the ideal of Man
as an abstract essence. This concrete Caribbean man is the result of a
historical and cultural synthesis which nourishes this humanism; a humanisn
where man is not above nature but part of it, linked to the ideal of equality.
This humanism is deeply rooted in the continuing struggle since the first

Europeans arrived to this side of the world and the first African slaves were
dragged to this land.

This Caribbean perception, this project of human being found in the
oral tradition, in popular Wisdom, in the way of life, and in the sensibility is
what creative artists from the region have so successfully grasped and
reflected in their works. They have been ahead of philosophers, historians,
social scientists in describing our gaze, our ways of seeing and experiencing
sustained in a rich imagination, a close relation with nature, in the making the
community as the source of values. In short, in the conformation of a human
ideal with its own history, tradition and customs.
In this study I explore the shaping of a human project in the works of
two Caribbean writers: Erna Brodber from Jamaica and Senel Paz from Cuba.
In Jane And Louise Will Soon Come Home, a novel by Brodber, we witness
the creation and fulfilment of Nellie Richmond as a human being: a deep and
revealing transformation which takes place in the depths of her being. Al-
though Nellie's self-assertion is an act of individual freedom, it could not be
achieved without the participation of the community.
"I was willing to learn their ways but someone
had to show me, to born me. Someone had to
help me make my debut. Someone had to help
me test my feet outside the kumbla"

In order to come out of the kumbla- a metaphor effectively used by
the author to represent the sheath which wraps the character, Nellie will have
to fulfil three conditions: discovering the key to her past, getting rid of foreign
values, and assuming her condition as a woman.
Nellie discovers the keys to a past which formal schooling had not
offered her, in concrete family values and practices. And so, sequences Of
family history follow each other as in a skilful cinematographic montage.
Characters of the family saga illuminate a past which is initiated by the white
great grandfather "an abstract being, embodiment of all that was good and
desirable"; and the great grandmother Tia weaver of the first kumbla on his
children; and the beautiful and subversive grandmother Kitty, lover of drums
and of the sound of the axe cutting on a tree. Microhistories which, when
unravelled on the individual plane, reveal a past of injustices, prejudices and
distortion of values, also a macrohistory marked by slavery, racism and the
negation of the original values of the people:
"It was time to ask questions now. They
played the whole reel again for me, questions

and answers. I saw that I only had half of the
questions and answers and they the other

As the links between past and present are established, historical
continuity is emphasized. These bonds are created not only by the genealogi-
cal succession but above all by the co-incidence of their lives. This prevents
an over-estimation of the past and successfully establishes a sound balance
which allows the character to fully insert herself in her historical moment. The
recognition of the historicity of man in close contact with his past attains a
unique expression in the novel. Nellie Richmond, in the process of construct-
ing herself, unravels and recovers this history and underscores her sense of
continuity by connecting it with the present wisdom, present in all humanism
as a stage of perfection of the human, acquires its own matrix within the
novel. Knowledge does not lie in assuming the colonial paradigm but, on the
contrary, in challenging it. Values, attitudes, perceptions proceed from a
discovery of the human value of wisdom. Wisdom which in the Jamaican and
Caribbean context implies a questioning of what is offered to us as a paradigm
and a validation of a legacy which historically has been distorted and ignored.
The Jamaican identity which radiates in the work is expressed through
innovative narrative techniques which derive from the oral tradition. Bold and
imaginative metaphors, which carry great symbolic value, enrich the novel and
extend its meaning.
Her sexuality is the third condition Nellie must assume. To accept
herself as black and woman is to face a past of violations, humiliations and
taboos which, to a greater or lesser extent, are still being dragged around in
the present. But it is also to possess the ability to engender a new being. The
womb, receptacle of lechery, angers, mistakes, is also where love can be
deposited. Nellie has been preparing herself. On this winding road of her
deconstruction and reconstruction all the characters have accompanied her
Each one has satisfactorily fulfilled the function whcih explains his/her pres-
ence in the work: whether to illuminate, question and support, or to correct,
judge or warn. The humanist vision which the writer offers underlines the
importance of the transformation of the self. It clearly stresses the depth of
what the individual must assume in order to create a human being in harmony
with herself, capable of lashing out against the world or reconciling with it.
The road which Nellie Richmond travels in her transformation and acquires
historical continuity through her experience, the development of an individual-
ity in close relation with the others and the discovery of the human value of
wisdom. Without disdaining the universal value of premises essential to
European humanism, Erna Brodber succeeds in putting forward a human
project representative of an alternative humanism.

Un Rey en el Jardin by the Cuban Senel Paz recalls the childhood of a
poor peasant boy in a rural community between 1956 and 1959. If in Jane and
Louisa we see the transformation of the self; in Paz's novel we witness the
emerging of the foundations of the individual. These foundations primarily lie
in a very close and personal relationship with nature, the extended family and
the community as the source and basic nourisher, the value of the collective
memory and the development of a rich imagination. This peculiar relationship
with nature of the Caribbean man is expressed in the novel by erasing the
boundaries between human beings and other elements of nature. All are
active characters of the actions narrated: flowers can judge, butterflies heal,
the whole garden can turn into an army This total identification reaches its
climax in the child turning into a sunflower:
En cuanto abuela me echaba de menos,
mandaba a las hermanas a buscarme, no fuera
a coger tabardillos. Ellas iban sacudiendo gira-
soles, uno por uno, pero ninguno era yo. Aun-
que a veces me sacudian a mi y no se daban
cuanta: este tambien es un girasol, decfan, y
segufan de largo.(p. 124)

Nature is also the great source of knowledge and the grandmother the
great transmitter of it. While Brodber's character has to challenge a Western
paradigm in which education and knowledge are equated with formal school-
ing and diplomas, the child in Un Rey en el Jardin is trained in the cultivation
of memory, the identification with nature, and the development of creative
imagination as the essential clues for the assertion of the human being. The
grandmother, the storyteller, a key character in the novel reveres memory and
explicitly instructs the child in the conservation and 'Love of all the little things
and animals that have accompanied them the road through life': pots,
dishes, clothes, as well as the red hen which provides the daily egg, or
Caridad, the female goat which saves the child's life by jumping into its cradle
and feeding him. Knowledge is also revealed to the child through his senses.
The cultivation of the senses is highlighted in the novel explicitly stated by the
grandmother, the child is stimulated to develop them.
"Me acuesto bien pegadito a la tierra y me
pongo a oler y mirar Eso es lo que hago. No
hay nada que me guste tanto como mirar Y
oler. (12)

The links between past and present, between the history of the
country and the individual are established in the novel through memory and the

restoration of the word. Glimpses of Cuban history which are part of the
family saga nurture the child's memory. But it is not the history of great events
nor of grand battles. It is the subjective history of survival, of the everyday-
heroism, of the creative imagination to cope with the hardships of life. Thus,
in the stories told by the grandmother we know about a great grandfather who
was a "mambi"1 But there's no epic intention in describing heroic deeds from
the Independence War in Cuba. What the grandmother has zealously kept and
transmitted to her grandchildren are life stories historiess de vida Thus, the
image given of that war is one of the great grandmother following the great
grandfather with a bundle of clothes in a pillow case:
y andaba por esos montes y batallas con su
bulto para aca y para alla, que n lo soltaba por
nada del mundo' (p.34).

But although there is no epic intention, by tracing back his ancestors
to a "mambi" history is placed in the right perspective. While Nellie Rich-
mond needs to reassemble her past and reconcile her ancestors, this child is
fed with a national identity deeply rooted in a historical past of the struggle
against the Spaniards and the defence of the land as symbol of a sense of
belonging. Historical reference is made much more precise when dealing with
events taking place within the historical framework of the novel. It is a yellow
butterfly "una mariposa amarilla me dijo donde podia encontrarte" which puts
the child in contact with a "barbudo"2 who assigns him a concrete task and
bestows upon him the rank of commandant:

Yo estoy en la guerra y quiero que una manana
Ilames a las flores, al girasol, las mariposas, los
zunzunes, los cocuyos, y te los Ileves por el
camino en una larga y retada fila hacia donde
se esconde el sol, todos ustedes por el camino.
Eso es lo que hay que hacer, todos hacia
Occidente como Maceo y sus mambises. Tu
seras el comandante y por los pueblos se te
uniran otros ninos con sus Jardines, verde,
muchas matas caminando... (p. 60)

By making reference to the legendary figures of Antonio Maceo and
the "mambis" historical continuity is stressed. With the creation of the
natural army, total identification between history and nature is established: a
harmless army which beacons the new era to which the child is called upon to
contribute to its realization. The King commander has been trained to carry out
this task, to inaugurate a new era. The life stories of his family unravelled by

the grandmother have nurtured him: the hardworking great grandfather,
founder of the red hen story; Felix, the grandfather, full of fantasies, lover of
drinks, embodiment of all the gentleness, generosity and joy for life; the
naivety and tenderness of her winged and beautiful mother; but above all, by
his grandmother, owner of a popular wisdom which does not come from the
written word but from the oral tradition, forged out through centuries. The
human project we perceive in Senel Paz's novel is an individual nourished by
values, traditions and customs that stem from family, community and country
The child has a wisdom sustained by imagination, the senses and the relation-
ship with other, a great sensibility and intuitive sense of justice. The whole
novel is a defence of the creative imagination which is considered in the
grandmother's words as "God's gift" and a basic capacity for the individual's
full realization.

Paz's novel ends by inserting the individual within a new social project.
The train, symbol of the new era, and which the grandmother has been
waiting for since she was a girl, has finally arrived. It will conduct the child to
inaugurate a new epoch in which miracles will be possible:

un tren verisimo, cubierto de un musgo
tierno y de florecitas bequenas con el centro
lila o amarillo... Arriba, arriba, grita el conduc-
tor agitando una campanilla para que las ma-
dres terminen los besuqueos, estos muchachos
van a partir, dice, van a inaugurar una nueva
6poca, a comenzar otro mundo.

The fish, symbol of a new self, which Nellie Richmond dreams she is
carrying in her belly lives although it still has not gone outside. But there is the
certainty that it will be born. All humanist philosophies privilege a faculty
which becomes a fundamental principle that defines Man. The capacity for
abstraction and development of the intellect have been worshipped by Euro-
pean humanism. Caribbean humanism, on the other hand, is built on Man
sustained by the imagination, the senses, a very personal relationship with
nature and an outward turning. Both works convey new Caribbean ways of
seeing, a Caribbean way of feeling, a perception of a human being that stems
out of a Caribbean culture and is the core of our humanism.

Notes and References

A term used to designate the members of the Liberation army during the Independence War
in Cuba.


2- "Barbudo": term used to designate a member of the Rebel Army fighting against the Batista
regime in the late fifties.


Broadber, Erna. Jane and Louisa Will Soon Come Home. Villiers Publications Ltd., London,
1988. All quotations are taken from this edition.
2! Paz, Sene. Un Rey en el Jardin. Coediciones Un libro para Cuba, M6xico y Universidad Na-
cional Aut6noma de M6xico, 1996. All quotations are taken from this edition.

Literature and Diglossia: The Poetics of French and Creole
'Interlect' in Patrick Chamoiseau's Texaco*



When Patrick Chamoiseau's Texaco was published in 1992, it was
widely acclaimed by Paris literary critics and reviewers as the most important
event of the literary season. It was then awarded the Prix Goncourt, a most
coveted French literary prize. The Czech novelist, Milan Kundera was among
the firsts to praise this novel. In an earlier review article on Chamoiseau
(Kundera, 1991), he had claimed that one of the best qualities of
Chamoiseau's writing came from his use of French, adding that Chamoiseau
had done more than 'creolizing' the French language: he had 'chamoisified' it.
Any reader familiar with Eloge de la cr6olit6 (In Praise of Creoleness) will
recognize the allusion to various statements made by the Bernab6 Chamoiseau
Confiant group in this pamphlet. The three writers claimed that they refused to
play on either 'creolizing' French or 'frenchizing' Martinican Creole:
Ce ne sera pas forcement du francais creolis6
ou r6invente, du creole franchise ou reinvent,
mais notre parole retrouvee et finalement
decidee. Notre singularity expose explosee
dans I'Etre. (Eloge, p. 46)

[...] It won't be necessarily a Creolized or
reinvented French, nor a Frenchized or rein-
vented Creole, but our own finally recovered
and decisive language. Our singularity ex-
posed-exploded in language until it takes shape
into Being. (Translation, M. Taleb-Khyar, p.

As we know that shifting from one language to the other creates
necessarily some linguistic contamination, we cannot but wonder about the
feasibility of such a literary project. In addition, as there is no written tradition
in Martinican Creole (no official spelling, no monolingual dictionary) how can
one be sure that these writers' Creole is not a 'reinvented' one? This paper
seeks to identify how Creole is used by Chamoiseau in Texaco. It examines
how Chamoiseau transfers in his literary work the theoretical position on

language developed in Eloge de la creolit6. It will try also to question the
literary 'sustainability' of such a project in the long term.

First, I would like to recall the status of Creole in most Caribbean
societies and in Martinican society in particular. As the Haitian sociologist,
Jean Casimir notes in his essay, La Caraibe une et divisible, (The Caribbean:
Between Unity and Division):

[L]a communication parlde reproduit la nature
particulibre des relations entire colonists et
colonisateurs. Les changes sociaux qui
6chappent a I'imposition colonial vie
privee en tout premier lieu- sont reserves aux
langues cr6oles. D'autres activities soci6tales
sont I'apanage de la langue du maitre. (p. 121)

(Oral communication reflects the peculiar rela-
tionship between colonized and colonizer. So-
cial relationships that do not fall under colonial
control firstly in private life make a privi-
leged use of Creole languages. Other social
activities make an official use of the Master's

This is confirmed by French linguist Robert Chaudenson (1989) who
shows the 'diglossic' situation of the French Caribbean territories:
Les DOM [Departements d'Outre-Mer] presen-
tent des situations qu'on peut qualifier [...] de
"diglossiques" en marquant par l que se
retrouvent, dans la meme aire et au sein de la
meme communaut6 linguistique, deux langues
(le francais et un creole) de statut social inegal
et de repartition fonctionnelle en gros com-
pl6mentaire (le francais dans les situations for-
melles et/ou publiques; le creole dans les
situations informelles et/ou privees). (p. 192)

(There are situations in the DOMs [French
Overseas Department] that can be termed as
'diglossic' which means that two languages
are found in the same area and linguistic com-
munity: French and a Creole language with an
unequal social status but with roughly a com-

elementary functional distribution French is
used in official or formal situations, Creole in
non formal or private situations.)

In Martinique, the linguistic question has always been addressed
mostly by intellectuals and writers as they resented acutely this situation as
ambiguous because of its colonial overtones. More recently, younger writers
of the Cr6olite Movement have revived the debate more intensely than their
elders of the Negritude Movement trying to define the French-Creole dichot-
omy and how they could relate to it. Some French Caribbean linguists have
shown how the very notion of diglossia is associated to colonial context
(Prudent, 1981) and linguistic prejudices that were disseminated as such.
Statements made by the authors of Eloge must be read against this
ideological background:

La litterature creole d'expression francaise aura
donc pour tache urgente d'investir et de reha-
biliter I'esthetique de notre language. C'est
ainsi qu'elle sortira de I'usage contraint du
francais qui, en 6criture, a trop souvent ete le
notre. (Eloge, p. 46)

(Creole literature written in French must there-
fore soon invest and rehabilitate the aesthetics
of our language. Such is how it will be able to
abandon the unnatural use of French which we
had often adopted in writing). (Translation,
Taleb-Khyar, p. 107).

To solve this problem, the writers of the Cr6olite Movement developed
many literary strategies in their writings. One of them is the deliberate use of
interlanguage contact in order to "amplifier I'audience d'une connaissance
litt6raire [d'eux]-memes" (Ibid., p. 48) (to increase the audience of a literary
knowledge of themselvese. [p. 109]). These writers challenge French literary
canons. They extend the boundaries of the Baroque2 exploring the literary
potential of this style within the framework of Caribbean multilinguism:

Le jeu entire plusieurs langues (leurs lieux de
frottements et d'interactions) est un vertige
polys6mique. La, se trouve le canevas d'un
tissu allusif, d'une force suggestive, d'un com-
merce entire deux intelligence. Vivre en mdme
temps la poetique de toutes les langues, c'est
non seulement enrichir chacune d'elles, mais

c'est surtout rompre I'ordre coutumier de ces
langues, renverser leurs significations 6tablies.
C'est cette rupture qui permettra d'amplifier
I'audience d'une connaissance litteraire de
nous-memes. (Eloge, p. 48)

(The interaction of many languages (the points
where they meet and relate) is a polysonic
vertigo. There a single word is worth many,
there one finds the canvas of allusive issues
of a suggestive force of commerce between
two intelligence. Living at once the poetics of
all languages is not just enriching each of
them, but also, and above all, breaking cus-
tomary order of these languages, reversing the
established meanings. It is this breech that is
going to increase the audience of a literary
knowledge of ourselves.) (Translation, Taleb-
Khyar, p. 109)

This is the aesthetic project at work in Texaco. However, the question
remains of identifying Chamoiseau's stylistic techniques. How does he carry
his reader away in this 'polysonic vertigo'? Where do we locate the 'meeting
points' between the two languages and how to point out the 'breech' in their
'customary order' as well as the subversion of the 'established meanings?' It
is interesting at this point to signal in this phrasing of the Creolite project the
implicit references to Nietzsche and Mallarmd. We recognize Nietzsche philo-
sophic project of "renverser le code des signes quotidiens"3 (to subvert the
signs of our daily code) and Mallarm6's poetic aesthetics "A donner un sens
plus pur aux mots de la tribu" (to give the purest meaning to the Tribe's
It is necessary however to remember that literary use of Creole and
French is not new. Whether he likes it or not, Chamoiseau belongs to a literary
tradition that attempted to take advantage of a diglossic situation. As early as
the 18th century, the Guadeloupean Creole, Moreau de Saint-Mery, wrote
down the words of a Creole song "Lisette quitt6 la plaine" in his Description
de la parties franchise de Saint-Domingue. Nineteenth-Century French writers
introduced some words in Creole in their novels, to create an exotic atmos-
phere (e.g. Stendhal, Le Rouge et le noir). In Haitian literature, Creole was
inserted in novels by the end of the 19th beginning of the 20th century. For
example, Haitian novelist, Justin L'herisson quotes Creole speeches in his
novel, Zoune chez sa nainnaine (1906). Creole sentences are italicized but

untranslated. The use of Creole here was related to the Realist Aesthetic
Movement of the time. Creole is used for two reasons: on the one hand, it is
supposed to give a flavour of authenticity to the text (the use of the 'vernacu-
lar' helps to identify working class characters in Zoune chez sa ninnaine); on
the other hand, it helps to convey social satire (the Nouveau-riches are
betrayed by their use of Creole in La Famille des Pitite-Caille). This literary use
of Creole has nothing to do with exoticism as these texts are not aimed at a
foreign audience (absence of translation) and most of the time are published in
the local newspapers and magazines or by vanity press4. Creole was used
consistently in Haitian Literature following that pattern up to the publication of
Jacques Roumain's Gouverneurs de la rosee (Masters of the Dew), (1945). In
this novel, Roumain achieved an aesthetic project that was considered a
literary 'revolution' in the sense that he was consistently mixing a grammati-
cally correct and ordinary French to a 'Creolized' French. This technique was
to be revived and systematized by Guadeloupean female writer, Simone
Schwarz-Bart with Pluie et vent sur Telumee-Miracle (1971)(The Bridge of
Beyond) and Ti Jean L'horizon (1979), (Between Two Worlds).
What should be understood by 'creolized French'? From a linguistic
viewpoint and in the context of two co-existing languages, Creole and French,
one can speak of creolization of the French language in a context where a text
that is considered as 'French' (because of its lexicon, spelling and syntax)
presents however many linguistic occurrences that will be identified as 'non-
French' by a native speaker and belonging to Martinican Creole. For French
based Creoles, however, the question arises of how to identify as Creole a
word whose spelling has been etymologically reconstituted. As a result, it
appears that the boundaries between French and Creole can be blurred easily
and that it might be easier to spot the use of an English word/expression than
a Creole one. By being so close and so different simultaneously they offer a
great stylistic opportunity to the writers of the Cr6olit6 movement as it makes
possible a literary style based on Freud's 'unheimliche'5 (disturbing strange-
ness). Chamoiseau (1994, p. 156) defines it as 'l'6tranget6 creole' (Creole
strangeness). It disturbs the French reader (a non-Creole speaker) as he is
confronted with a text that looks French (the known) yet whose meaning and
structure are foreign to him (the strange). In the light this interpretation of
Freud's concept of 'disturbing strangeness' it is possible to understand the
notion of 'opacite'/'opaqueness' claimed by these writers under the influence
of Glissant's thought.
Notre plong6e dans la Creolite ne sera pas
incommunicable mais elle ne sera non plus pas
totalement communicable. Elle le sera avec

ses opacit6s, I'opacit6 que nous restituons aux
processus de la communication entire les
hommes. (Eloge, p. 53)

(Our submersion into Creoleness will not be
incommunicable but neither will it be com-
pletely communicable. It will not be conveyed
without its opaqueness, the opaqueness we
restore to the processes of communication be-
tween men. (Translation by Taleb-Khyar, p.

Though it is more difficult to establish a clear-cut distinction between
the two languages, it is possible however to identify some constructions
(morphology, syntax). In such case, this hidden presence of Creole in the
literary text shows the author's creativity as he plays on both languages. He
creates a style based on code-switching6 but undocumented in any of the two
languages. This is how I would like to interpret Kundera's coined expression
of 'Chamoisified French'
At the opposite extreme I will place the Haitian writer, Frank Etienne
(Franketein) who writes either in French or in Creole as he prefers to offer two
different versions (translation/re-writing) of the same text as he did with D6zafi
(1979) / Les Affres d'un ddfi (Anguish for a Chal/enge)(1980) and P&lin tet
(1982) (Brainwash)which was published in French in the journal Conjonction.
This double publication signals the author's wish of keeping both languages
apart'7 Similarly, Martinican writer, Gilbert Gratiant, had always been writing
in Creole long before the founding of the Creolite movement (Fab Compe
To measure fully the interplay French-Creole in Texaco, one has to
keep in mind how Creole is usually inserted in French literary texts. In a paper
on Creolite Pascal DeSouza was able to identify three stages in the literary
use of Creole:
[...] trois tapes caract6risant chacune une
phase de I'6criture un temps ou le creole
apparait en citations uniquement, une phase
d'integration partielle du creole au francais,
enfin une creolisation du francais. (p. 174)

(three specific stages corresponding to a period
of writing: a phase when Creole is used only in
quotations, a phase when it is partially inte-

grated to the French text; and finally a creoliza-
tion of French.)

DeSouza adds that these stages are not chronological as they can be
used by contemporary writers in texts published approximately at the same
period. She gives Texaco as an example of this third stage of 'Creolization of
French' However, the reading of Texaco by using her own model shows a
simultaneous use of the three stages (quotations, partial integration and
Creolization). For example, when the author uses direct speech for Creole
speakers, his Creole sentence is italicized and followed by its French transla-
tion. Compared to other writers, Chamoiseau's creativity appears in the way
he juxtaposes the two languages instead of using an explanatory footnote.

Alors elle m'abaissa la tete et me dit Predie
ba papa'w ich mwen, Prie pour ton papa, mon
fils (Texaco, 48)

(Then, she made me to bow my head and said:
Pr6die ba papa'w ich mwen, Pray God for your
father my son )

another example

M6 ola Matinityez-1 pase6-6, Mais ou est
passee la Martiniquaise, oh? (Ibid., 248)

(Me ola Matinityez-1pase6-6, But where did the
Martinican woman go? oh )

In so doing he obtains what I would call an echoing sound effect, and
as this, as a result contributes to 'renforcer [son] message' (reinforce his
message) as noted by DeSouza. There are however some cases where Creole
expressions remain untranslated. For example, a proverb is not italicized; a
folk-tale sequence and an insult are reported in italics but not explained (p. 108
"sa ki pa bon pou zwa, pa pe bon pou kanna"; p. 126 : mi ta'w, mi ta mwen,
mi ta'w mi ta mwen; p. 127 AIe koke manman zot).10
In other cases, the French equivalent is a free translation of the Creole.
The creole sentence, "Man Ibo ho, Man Ibo sa ta la te ye. (literally Mere Ibo,
He Mare Ilbo, qu'est-ce que c'etait?" approximately in English Mother Ibo, ho,
Mother Ibo what was that?) becomes "Madame Ibo, qu'est-ce que c'etait
dites donc eh bien bon dieu (p.111) "Mistress Ibo, what was that? Tell
us, please, good gracious" I would interpret this free translation as refusing
literal translation in order to stress the gap between the two languages and
rejecting the commonly accepted view of Creole as a 'corrupted' French.

I would like also to draw attention on the fact that Texaco signals the
absence of two forgotten 'mother' tongues. On the one hand, the African
basilect(s) and on the other, the 'Pure' Creole of the Maroons. The African
base overshadows the text through Ninon's Mother, the 'African impyok' (i.e.
an unbaptized African) who speaks a languagee bati avec les langues qu'elle
avait c6toy6es" (p. 109)('a language built from the various languages she had
encountered'). It is referred implicitly to when allusion is made to the language
of the Mentors. For example, after the news of emancipation broke through
the island, the narrator witnessed the passage of a group of four Maroons.
Informed of the news, they ignore the former slaves and prefer to speak
instead to an old Ibo woman who had been marginalized by the slaves. The
narrator is then struck by this unknown and mysterious language, with no
terms of references "une langue sans veut-dire" (a language without meaning):
Le Mentor lui [la negresse Ibo] parla dans une
langue sans veut dire, ou inaudible, ou bien mal
prononcee, en tout cas diff6rente. A croire
qu'ils avaient tous deux vendus leur diction-
naire chr6tien, elle lui repondit de la meme
maniere, et d'une voix qui depuis charge d'an-
nees n'etait plus de ce monde. (p. 111)

(The Mentor spoke to her [the Ibo Negress] in a
language without meaning, or inaudible, or
may be improperly articulated, a different lan-
guage however One would think that both
had sold their Christian vocabulary, she an-
swered in the same way in a voice that had not
been from this world for ages)

It is worth noting that none of the Creole Negroes can understand an
African language though Africans lived in their midst. For instance, though
Ninon lives very closely with her mother, she does not know her mother's
language (she does not seem even trying to learn it). On the contrary, it is left
to the latter to mix up the various languages she has been exposed to in an
attempt to make herself understood. In the above mentioned quotation, the
choice of certain words convey all the derogatory values surrounding the
African heritage and the rejection of its paganism ("langue sans veut dire": a
language without meaning; "vendus leur dictionnaire chrtien". sold their Chris-
tian vocabulary with the implicit connotation of selling one's soul to the
devil). In addition, the Mentors' Creole is different from the Bekes' one both
in its rhythm and its suggestive power (p. 65).

Concerning the interplay between French and Creole in Texaco it is
possible to identify three levels of interaction: lexicon, syntax and speech. We
will not detail here the numerous expressions and structures used by
Chamoiseau in his four hundred and twenty-six page-long novel, it would be a
fastidious list and we would run out of space. We attempted to identify the
various techniques used by the author to create what I call a 'Creole-like
effect' as to account for a stylistic practice that may not exactly fit the 'true'
Creole speech of the average Martinican.

At the lexical level, this effect is obtained through various techniques.
The first one reverts old French words that had passed on to Creole, back into
French. For example, 'to give' (donner) is 'bay' in Creole, from the Old French
'bailler' therefore it replaces systematically 'donner' in Texaco with its French
spelling. Similarly, 'Piece' (piece) which was used in Old French with the
meaning of 'none' and 'not' is revived by Chamoiseau. In another technique,
Chamoiseau transcribes French words with their Creole pronunciation i. e. with
a Creole spelling. For example, 'fouet' (whip) is spelled 'fouette' (p. 61)
following the Creole pronunciation. Similarly, 'mulatre' is systematically writ-
ten 'milates' (p. 96) and 'la croix' in one hyphenated word 'la-croix' (p. 59) to
show the phenomenon of agglutination that took place in Creole.
In other cases, Chamoiseau uses French words known from non Creole
speakers but with a Creole meaning. As a result, the reader is puzzled since
the context does not allow for the meaning he was expecting. For instance,
the word 'virer' belongs to the navy lexicon and means in Creole turnerr dans
I'autre sens/ to turn in the other direction' It is however employed systemati-
cally where the ordinary French reader would expect to find 'revenir' (to come
back) ou 'retourner' (to return) 'Crier' (to shout, to scream) is used in the
novel in contexts in which it means obviously 'to be named' or 'to call'
Another example is given by the use of 'bagage' (luggage). In the Larousse
Dictionary it means 'objets qu'on emporte avec soi en voyage' (things that are
carried with when one is travelling). In Creole, however, 'bagage' means
simply 'thing' as a result in a sentence like the following
Bagage bizarre, I'habitation etait pour lui de-
venue une sorte de havre. (p. 61).

(strange luggage [strange thing], the plantation
has become a kind of haven for him)

with no clue to help to understand the meaning, the French reader gets the
feeling of an incongruous association between 'bagage' et 'habitation' There
is a deliberate will to mix up the reader as illustrated by another example:

Ces deux mots portaient le meme bagage (p.
85) [avaient le meme sens].

(These two words carried the same lug-
gage)[had the same meaning].

where the use of 'porter' (to carry) indicates the deliberate intention of
stressing the French meaning of 'bagage' This time, such construction aims
at puzzling the Creole reader. These examples, I think, justify Milan Kundera's
allusion to Lautdramont11 in his review article on Texaco ("Beau comme une
rencontre multiple" [as beautiful as a complex encounter] paraphrasing Lau-
treamont's "Beau comme la rencontre d'un parapluie et d'une machine b
coudre [as beautiful as the encounter of an umbrella and a sewing

There are cases where Creole words are inserted in the text with no
identified French equivalent. For instance, 'sandopi' is used to characterize a
skinny and ill-looking man (Texaco, p. 22). This interpretation is possible
because of the following simile ("sandopi comme ces negres nes sous une lune
descendante p. 22) / as 'sandopi' as those negroes born under a declining
moon). In another occasion we come across the verb 'zinzoler' [possible
contextual meaning: to brush 'against with a zigzagging movement] (pp. 62,
129 or 'longviller' [possible contextual meaning: walking along the walls in the
city streets] (pp. 72, 129). We would like to assume that these words that
cannot be explained constitute the 'opaqueness' claimed by Eloge de la
We would like to mention also, as all articles on the literary use of
Creole do usually, that the Creole vocabulary permeates the French text when
Caribbean space and culture are concerned (Fauna, Flora and Folk Tradi-
In addition to Creole quotations in the text, one has to count with other
lexical constructions that are linked with derivation. They are obtained by
suffixation (instruction > instructionn' p. 24, 'qui a de I'instruction'/ who
is learned, educated) or truncation (l'habitation >'bitation'). At times, it is
very difficult to decide if they are authentically Creole or coined by the author
They could be created either by analogy with other existing Creole forms or by
using the linguistic potential of French suffixes. In my opinion, it is at this level
that Chamoiseau proves the poetic potential contained by Creole and makes
the maximum use of it. I would say that he plays on this linguistic capacity
and obtains what I would identify as an 'effet de creole'/ 'Creole-like effect'
(paraphrasing Barthes' expression 'effet de r6el' (reality-like effect) when he

analyzes efforts towards realism in the 19th Century novel). In fact, I would
add that Chamoiseau uses French according to an 'anarchical'14 Transforma-
tional Model (Cf. Chomsky). He 'generates' sentences that are not certified in
the actual linguistic practice of his Creolophone readers but that are recogniz-
able according to the principle of deductive analogy (Chomsky's Compe-
tence/Performance). As a result, he creates a new language strange but
familiar at the same time for both Creolophone and non Creolophone readers.
Due to the French Caribbean attitude towards the French language, Creolo-
phone readers are used to consider as a 'creolism' any utterance that is not
standard 'hexagonal'15 French (Damas' Francais-francais16). They are all the
more eager to endorse Chamoiseau's use of the language as a 'creolism' and
to 'identify' these utterances as originating from the Creole language. As
Prudent (1984) points out in his article on 'Interlect'

L'ins6curit6 grammaticale des creolophones (et
plus particulibrement des migrants) est at-
test6e. La force symbolique du francais,
langue standard de la reussite economique, ne
se discute pas.

(The insecurity of Creole speakers mostly
migrants with grammar rules is documented.
The symbolic power of French as the linguistic
standard of economic success is beyond dis-

Similarly, due to the French (non Creolophone) readers' relationship
with their own language, they are willing to accept this unexpected and
disturbing [(strange/foreign] use of French.18

Creole syntax also influences Chamoiseau's Texaco. The standard
French structure is distorted in its basic structures. For example, the article is
suppressed in some constructions ("danser calenda" p. 60). The possessive
case construction is modified by the juxtaposition of the two nouns instead of
using the connecting preposition 'de' ("trous-nez" p. 82, instead of "trous du
nez" [holes of the nose] instead of "narine" /nostril). In the negative turn, one
of the terms used to express negation (ne pas) is omitted ("mais c'est pas
le travail" 19 p. 129). In addition, compound verbs are utilised to describe
actions. It may be interesting to note this function of compound verbs since
action is then fragmented in its different stages. Such a mechanism has been
defined by French linguist Claude Hagge as 'an hyperanalytical and documen-
tary vision' of action (of the world).20 Concerning this notion, we would like
to point out that Chamoiseau limits himself to the juxtaposition of only two

verbs (prendre-courir, p. 28 [take-run, .e. start running]; ramener-venir, p. 106
[bring back-come, i.e. to return; aller-devirer, p. 117 [to go-turn around, e.
to go to and fro]; appuyer-monter, p. 135 Ito lean against-climb, to climb
while having a support; Etc, ) where Creole allows for longer combinations
(I fek/sot/rive/keyi yon kok, [litt: il vient de sortir, arriver, cueillir une noix de
coco, / he only did came out, arrived, picked a coconut.]21 i.e. il vient tout
just de cueillir (he has just picked a coconut). Chamoiseau changes also
the construction rules of French verbs. For example, 'agriffer' is an intransi-
tive reflexive verb in French, however the author uses it in a transitive
construction; the result is the impression of a Creole construction [and in fact
I almost missed the modification and thought that it was a lexical transforma-
tion by prefixation of 'a-' to 'griffer']
"le dement agriffa le beke a la gorge" (p. 56)

instead of

"le d6ment s'agriffa a la gorge du beke" (the
madman clawed the Beke's throat)

Chamoiseau also shifts words from one syntactic category to another: nouns
are used as adjectives or vice versa, verbs used as nouns [something feasible
in French but more important in Texaco than the normal usage]. Even more
so, he combines this syntactic transfers with a lexical twist meaning
creating an image-word as it is the case in the following. "echassier" (n.)(ani-
mal) > "6chassiere" (adj.) posee sur des echasses (resting on ) (p. 28).
It can be objected that these are not specific to creole usage. However, in
Texaco, they differ of Metropolitan practices because of the context in which
they appear. For instance in sentences like the following

(1) Aucun calculer ne leur fut ce jour-la neces-
saire. (p. 22) (No 'counting' was necessary on
that day.)

(2) D'6tre renvoye au champs devint pour
lui une crainte permanent, le raide des chati-
ments. (p. 55) (To be sent back in the fields
became a permanent worry, the 'rough' of

The underlying presence of Creole is easily identified as no Metropolitan
French, even in slang, would use this type of construction.

Creole is also present in the text through orality. It is possible to
identify this presence through the abundance of multiple onomatopoeic excla-
mations, the use of 'oui' (yes) at the end of sentences and 'comme ca' before
a completive clause, all forms that are typical of Creole prosody. Similarly,
word repetition (doubling) to mark the superlative reflects the Creole usage
and mark orality in the text
soudain la ligne devint molle-molle. (p.
22); "un bel-beau male a jabot" (p. 23);
semblait content-content" (p. 64) Libert6 et
Ninon se melerent si tellement dans sa tete-
mabolo. (p. 97)
(suddenly the wire became 'slack-slack'; a
'handsome-handsome' male wearing a jabot;
he looked 'happy-happy'; Freedom and Ninon
got mixed up 'so-so much' in his crazy head).

In addition, the apostrophes to the narratee/listener/author (Oiseau de
Cham, Chamoiseau, Ti-Cham) recall the Martinican story-tellers' techniques
and their relationship with their audience. They also inscribe the author's
presence within his text.
We must acknowledge that Chamoiseau exploits to the maximum the
literary poetic potential of Creole. Compared to Chronique .and Solibo
Texaco represents the most achieved expression of this work on style that is
more apparent in this novel than the others. As noted by Delphine Perret
[...] Or si le narrateur semble alors se moquer
gentiment de celui-ci [Ti-Cirique, I'Hatien,
repr6sentant des "Belles-Lettres"], sa propre
ecriture et la "parole" rapport6e de Marie-So-
phie ont en fait, pr6cisement, un caractere
assez recherche. Eux aussi semble parler
comme on 6crit. Qu'en penser?23

(. Though the narrator seems to mock him
[Ti-Cirique, the Haitian who represents the
'Belles-Lettres'] gently, his own text and
Marie-Sophie's reported 'talk' are in fact and
precisely extremely researched. They them-
selves seem to talk like one writes. What to
think about it?)

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