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Caribbean Quarterly
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Full Text


,-' -,f^ ^^ ^ ^ ^
in S.



Professor Kamau Brathwaite replies after receiving the
Vice-Chancellor's Award for Excellence, UWI,Mona, 1996



(copyright reserved and reproduction without permission strictly forbidden)

The Creole Society Model Revisited
Essays in Honour of Kamau Brathwaite
Guest Editors: Verene Shepherd and Glen Richards
Foreword iv
Rex Nettleford
Acknowledgements v
Introduction vi
Verene Shepherd and Glen Richards
Creolisation and creole societies: a cultural nationalist view of Caribbean
social history 1
0. Nigel Bolland
Creole then and now: the problem of definition 33
Carolyn Allen
Trinidad Yoruba: its theoretical implications for creolisation
processes 50
Maureen Warner-Lewis
Contestations over culture, class, gender and identity in Trinidad & Tobago:
the little tradition 62
Rhoda Reddock
"Yuh know bout coo-coo? where yuh know bout coo-coo?": language
and representation, creolisation and confusion in 'Indian Cuisine' 83
Veronica Gregg
Questioning creole: domestic producers in Jamaica's plantation economy 93
Verene Shepherd
Creolisation in action: The slave labour elite and anti-slavery in
Barbados 108
Hilary Beckles


VOLUME 44, Nos.l&2

The politics of Samuel Clarke: Black creole politician in free Jamaica,
1851-1865 129
Within Wilmot
African sacredness and Caribbean cultural forms 145
Lucie Pradel
Ragamuffin sounds: crossing over from reggae to rap & back 153
Carolyn Cooper
Highway to vision this sea our nexus 169
Mary Morgan
Po'm for Kamau: a tribute 177
Jean Small

Two poems
Angel of Dreamers 183
My Uncle 186
Lorna Goodison
Select bibliography of Kamau Brathwaite's works 187


Editorial Committee

The Hon. R.M. Nettleford, 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)
All correspondence and contributions should be addressed to:
The Editor
Caribbean Quarterly
Office of Deputy Vice Chancellor
University of the West Indies
PO Box 1, Mona, Kingston 7, Jamaica
Tel. No. 876-977-1689, Tel Fax 876-927-1920
Email: vsalter@uwimona.edu,.jm.

We invite readers to submit manuscripts or recommend subjects which they
would like to see discussed in Caribbean Quarterly. Articles and book reviews of
relevance to the Caribbean will be gratefully received. Authors should refer to the
guidelines at the end of the issue. Articles submitted are not returned. Contributors
are asked not to send international postal coupons for this purpose.
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Back Issues and Microfilm
Information for back volumes supplied on request. Caribbean Quarterly is
available on microfilm from Xerox University Microfilms and in book form from
Kraus-Thompson Reprint Ltd.
Abstract and Index
1949-1990 and Supplemental 1991-1996 Author Keyword and Subject Index
available. The journal is abstracted by AES and indexed by HAPI
Subscription orders may be forwarded to the Editor or the Resident Tutor at the
University Centre in any West Indian Territory served by UWI.


This double issue of Caribbean Quarterly is a tribute to the contribution
made by Kamau Brathwaite to the rich dialogue on creolisation which contin-
ues apace throughout his Caribbean, comprising the archipelago of island and
mainland states that are now home to "the people who [originally] came,"
(Brathwaite's "arrivants")-many of them involuntarily, in the beginning. Car-
ibbean Quarterly welcomes the significant contribution made by the Guest
Editors, Verene Shepherd and Glen Richards, in assembling this collection of
essays in the form of serious critique and straight-forward tribute from
academicians drawn from such diverse disciplines as sociology, history, gen-
der studies, literature, linguistics, musicology, and poetry.
Such a range of contributions is fitting since Kamau Brathwaite is
himself not only historian, but also lecturer, critic, essayist, music (jazz)
enthusiast, and always poet, He now has a Chair in Poetry in a United States
university and most of his substantive work since the 1980's has been in the
art of his poetry. He has also held a Chair as Professor in Cultural History in
the University of the West Indies. It was as Professor of Cultural History that
he influenced the two guest editors each of whom also makes substantial
contributions to this volume.
The timing of the double issue is appropriate on this the eve of a new
millennium and on the occasion of the University of the West Indies' 50th
Anniversary. It is an opportune time to look back from whence we have
come, to mark where we are and map our future, cognisant that the map is not
the journey. We thank Kamau Brathwaite for enlightening us on the journey
we must traverse.

As Stewart Brown in his introduction to a collection of essays on the
Art of Kamau Brathwaite, (Poetry Wales Press,1995) and reviewed in this
issue of Caribbean Quarterly reminds us, that "journey" involves the chal-
lenges of "re-birth, re-discovery, reclamation of identity for West Indian people
through an examination of their roots in the African past" The acceptance of
those roots, insists Brathwaite, "will begin to heal the negative self-images
established by the experience of the middle passage, plantation and colonial

General Editor

We would like to thank Hilary Beckles, Carolyn Cooper, Barry Higman,
Rex Nettleford, Joe Pereira and Veronica Salter for patiently listening to our
early ideas, as well as making suggestions of their own, as we sought to
conceptualise and formalise what one could well call the 'Kamau Kollection' in
tribute to the tremendous contribution that Kamau Brathwaite has made to the
History Departments of the University of the West Indies, the Faculty of Arts
[now Arts & Education] at Mona, the wider University community, and more
specifically to Caribbean History, Language, Poetry, Literature and Cultural
Studies. Kamau Brathwaite, of course, hardly needs any introduction to any
audience; but for those in doubt, the contributions by Jean Small and Mary
Morgan should provide excellent background information. Joe Pereira, Dean
of the Faculty of Arts and Education, had long hoped that such a tribute would
originate in the Faculty; and in his capacity as Director of the Institute of
Caribbean Studies at Mona, devoted a lecture series to issues surrounding
'creole' also giving permission for aspects of the papers presented in the ICS
Lecture Series by Carolyn Allen and Maureen Warner- Lewis to be used in this
We thank all the contributors for so willingly and good-naturedly
responding to the call for papers and for working to a really tight schedule in
the submission of their papers. If they frowned in the process of responding to
our requests for clarifications and corrections, they never let us know. A
special thanks to Lorna Goodison for her careful selection of poems offered as
her own contribution to the tribute to Kamau Brathwaite and Jean Small for
allowing us to reproduce her "Po'm to Kamau"
Thanks must also go to Helen Ann Brown and Veronica Gregg for their
contribution to the compilation of a list of Brathwaite's numerous published
works; and to Verene's friends, Hilrett, John, Amma, Jayjom and Jomo
Owusu who provided warm hospitality and endless cups of tea during Can-
berra winter nights while she completed aspects of this special volume after
busy days at The Research School of the Social Sciences at the Australian
National University which granted her a short Fellowship during 1997

Finally, thanks to the staff of Caribbean Quarterly for their patience in
working with us to see this publication through its various stages.

February 1998


Historians have for decades been pre-occupied with the sometimes
contentious issue of cultural changes and the formation of new ethnic identiti-
fications in situations of multiple ethnic contact. They have also attempted to
label the process and end result of cultural changes in the Americas, forming
theories around such concepts as creolisation, ethnogenesis, inter-ethnic
fusion, hybridisation, merger, transculturation and pluralism. In his seminal
work, The development of creole society in Jamaica, 1770-1820 published in
1971, Kamau Brathwaite attempted to expose the essential 'Jamaican' nature
of the identity which developed at the interstices between the cultures of
Europe and Africa. At the time that Brathwaite published this work, the term
'creole' as a description of specific New World cultures and societies was
already in widespread and general use. In a seminar paper presented in 1957
which influenced the evolution of Brathwaite's ideas, Richard Adams de-
scribed 'creole culture' as the "ways of life that have emerged in the New
World specifically in those societies where plantations have served as a
dominant element in the social structure. Brathwaite, however, took the
concept of creole society beyond mere description by articulating a clear and
poetically engaging intellectual model of the process of cultural change which
defines, and distinguishes, creole societies, a process which he termed 'creo-
lisation'? In his subsequent study, Contradictory Omens: cultural diversity and
integration in the Caribbean, Brathwaite defined 'creolisation' as

a cultural process which may be divided
into two aspects of itself-,. ac/culturation,
which is the yoking (by force and example,
deriving from power/prestige) of one culture to
another (in this case the slave/African to the
European); and inter/culturation, which is an
unplanned, unstructured but osmotic relation-
ship proceeding from this yoke. The creolisa-
tion which results (and it is a process not a
product), becomes the tentative cultural norm
of the society- 2

Kamau Brathwaite's creole-society model contrasted sharply with its
predecessor; M.G.Smith's plural-society model, which by the end of the
1960's was perhaps the dominant sociological interpretation of Caribbean
social reality. It was an interpretation of which Brathwaite was cognisant but
did not engage with directly, focussing his attention instead on advancing his
more positive vision of the Caribbean's past and future. His vision found a
responsive chorus among a few contemporary Caribbean scholars, particularly

from his namesake, the late Lloyd Brathwaite. A Trinidadian sociologist and all
important contributor to the concept of creole society, Lloyd Brathwaite, while
recognizing that the fundamental differences in the cultural framework of the
various ethnic groups of his homeland meant that Trinidadian society "could be
accurately described as in some sense a plural society, sought, rather, to
emphasise the incorporation by these ethnic groups of "universalistic values"
which, he argued, made it

possible to conceive of a system of common
values that may overcome the tendencies
toward disintegration already apparent in the
social system

Today, approximately twenty-six years after its public launching,
Kamau Brathwaite's creole-society model is generally accepted as the leading
interpretation of Caribbean society; and as a description of Caribbean society
during slavery seems more appealing to those who question the slave society
and plantation society constructs. It has been widely incorporated into the
scholarship of the region, and resonates in diverse fields of Caribbean Studies,
spreading beyond the confines of the discipline of history.
Kamau Brathwaite's intellectual influence has been widely diffused at
the international level and much of contemporary post-colonial discourse and
literary criticism is infused, although not always acknowledged, with the spirit
and style of Brathwaite's poetic concept. Mary Louise Pratt conveys Brath-
waite's creole-society concept in her use of the term 'transculturation' which
she argues

treats the relations among colonizers and colo-
nized not in terms of separateness or apart-
heid, but in terms of co-prescence, interaction,
interlocking understandings and practices,
often within radically asymetrical relations of

Homi Bhaba's concept of hybridityy' also seems to share in the spirit
and poetic expression of Brathwaite's work when he writes that if

the effect of colonial power is seen to be the
production of hybridization rather than the
noisy command of colonialist authority or the
silent repression of native traditions- then an
all important change of perspective occurs. 5


But Brathwaite's influence has been most strongly felt and is most
clearly recognized in the field of Caribbean Studies which has been the focus
of his scholarship. The breadth and diversity of the articles in this volume
embracing the fields of economic and political history, anthropology and
sociology, linguistics, literary criticism and cultural studies demonstrate his
wide intellectual impact. While these articles are presented as a tribute to
Kamau Brathwaite, it should be stated from the outset that the contributors are
also involved in a process of 're-engagement' with, and a 're-assessment' of,
his ideas. Put differently, this collection represents a dialogue a 'Konversa-
tion' so to speak- with a distinguished colleague and mentor outside of the
context of a conference table. Among the contributors, for example,there are
those, like 0. Nigel Bolland, who feel that there is need for a more dialectical
approach which will acknowledge the "centrality of relations of domina-
tion/subordination, including class relations" in shaping Caribbean society
thereby providing a more realistic understanding of creolisation "not (as) a
homogenising process, but rather [as] a process of contention between people
who are members of social formations and carriers of cultures........ and
Rhoda Reddock who, like Lloyd Brathwaite, points out the problematic issue of
the applicability of the creole society model to countries where the dominant
relations are not black/white. Nevertheless, the very act of engagement is
testimony to the great impact of Kamau Brathwaite's work.
The first two articles, which in a sense set the context for the volume,
intervene in the on-going interpretive debate on the meaning and origin of
'creole' and 'creolisation' In the opening article, Creolisation and creole
societies: a cultural nationalist view of Caribbean social history, Nigel Bolland,
sociologist and historian, undertakes a theoretical exploration of Brathwaite's
creole-society model which he describes as "ill-defined and ambiguous.
Bolland identifies the source of this ambiguity as the false dualism, fashioned
by Brathwaite, between master and slave; black and white; metropole and
colony; colonial and creole. These elements; which Brathwaite presents as
opposites, Bolland argues, are from the dialectical point of view, "the differen-
tiated parts of a whole" which "have no independent existence from each
other, but are defined in their relation with each other. According to Bolland,
Brathwaite's dualistic approach "leads to the portrayal of creolisation as a
'blending' process, a mixing of cultures that occurs without reference to
structural contradictions and social conflict.
In Creole then and now: the problem of definition, Carolyn Allen
explores answers to questions such as: "What do we all mean when we say
'creole' and 'creolisation'? Is 'creole' an expression of the result of the
trans-Atlantic crossing and colonisation or is its origin African? As a prelimi-

nary step towards this major endeavour her article seeks to extract from
dictionary definitions in three languages (English, Spanish, French), concepts
which may serve as the principles of co-identification in the variety of
creole-designated phenomena. One of her quotes, from the Dictionary of
American English, is telling and indicative of the difficulty of the project: "You
might traverse this creole thoroughfare a hundred times without being able to
ordinate the puzzling details of its perspective. More importantly, her article
provides an excellent point for the intervention of the other authors in the
volume. After concluding her discussion of roots and etymology, she admits
that there is still need to examine existing theories of cultural creolisation from
Kamau Brathwaite to the Martinican 'creolites' Spanish American 'criollisimo'
to postcolonial theory to see how they read each of these dimensions and to
what extent we can establish a dialogue among them.

Maureen Warner-Lewis's authoritative discourse entitled Trinidad
Yoruba: its theoretical implication for creolisation processes, examines the
process of creolisation in the field of Caribbean language. In doing so, she
grapples with some of the theoretical and human issues which led to Brath-
waite's formulation of the creole-society thesis. Can human cultures and
behaviours be described as innately 'superior' or 'inferior'? She questions the
"appropriateness of a hierarchical model of language genesis" arguing that the
current linguistic terminology of 'superstrate' and 'substrate' reflects an es-
sentially racist premise which valorises European languages and cultures and
ascribes inferiority to African cultural products. She sees the concept of
'adstrate' or 'donor' languages as more useful tools in enabling us to under-
stand the process of creolisation in the study of Caribbean language.
The articles by Rhoda Reddock and Veronica Gregg show the ways in
which ethnic diversities can complicate meanings and traditional theoretical
formulations. Reddock's Contestations over culture: class, gender and iden-
tity in Trinidad and Tobago: the little-tradition explores the implication for the
post-Columbian Caribbean of the immigration of diverse ethnicities. One
implication is that next to family, the issues of race, ethnicity and social
differentiation have become central to scholarship and everyday life in the
region, giving rise to theoretical formulations to grapple with the evident
sociocultural diversity. She critiques the various theoretical offerings of soci-
ologists and historians and, in particular, explains why the application of
Brathwaite's creole society model to the Southern Caribbean with mixed
ethnic populations is potentially problematic. Her basic point of departure
seems to be that the creole society model was developed in societies charac-
terised by white/black, dominant/subordinate relations and is more difficult to
apply uncritically to places like Trinidad and Guyana where 'creole' signifies

'African/Black' to segments of the population who wish to embrace alternative
cultural norms. She examines the reasons why the construction of group
identify, of a national culture, in places like Trinidad and Tobago would have
been complicated and also, unlike traditional theorists, show the ways in
which gender makes the existing theoretical constructs more complex.
In "Yu know 'bout coo-coo? Where yuh know bout coo-coo?": lan-
guage and representation, creolisation and confusion in "Indian cuisine, "Gregg
acknowledges the 'slipperiness' of Brathwaite's concept of creolisation but
interprets it as a "symptom of the deeply entrenched struggles for and about
language and representation in terms of Caribbean identities" She explores
this 'slipperiness' through her critique of the short story Indian Cuisine written
by an Indian-Caribbean woman, Ramabai Espinet. Gregg suggests that "Indian
Cuisine can be read as a fictional re-working of the concept of creolisation"
using Standard English to represent the rhythms and inflections of Trinidadian
Creole, without departing from Standard English spelling and punctuation, and
through its use of English words, such as 'privilege','agriculture' 'gambler, to
convey Caribbean meanings while retaining their original English. Gregg
highlights the short story's depiction of the process of inter-culturation occur-
ring, in this instance, between the two historically subordinate racial majority
groups of Trinidad, the Indians and the Africans: a process which displays, as
Gregg suggests, the "permeability of boundaries ana identities within a shifting
multiracial society.
The articles by Verene Shepherd, Hilary Beckles and Swithin Wilmot
are located firmly within the historical context of Jamaican and wider Carib-
bean slave and post-slave societies. Shepherd's, Questioning creole: domestic
producers in Jamaica's plantation economy, engages with Brathwaite's dis-
cussion of a 'creole economy' in The development of creole society in
Jamaica. In that work, Brathwaite raised the issue of the need to diversify the
island's colonial economy to combat the effects of over-reliance on external
supplies, a situation which was amply exposed during and immediately after
the American War of Independence. She argues that although non-sugar
producers, specifically the livestock farmers ('pen-keepers') rallied to the call
for diversification and supplied a significant portion of the island's livestock
needs, thus contributing to the local economic sector, they faced tremendous
odds. The conservative planter elite embraced the traditional ties with exter-
nal suppliers of plantation inputs and never seriously challenged the mercantil-
ist arrangements; and the potential for sugar estates to act as a dynamic
element in the development of local industries was never realized. The live-
stock farmers themselves never whole-heartedly embraced the 'creole cul-
ture/society/economy'. Their presence did not alter significantly the

institutional arrangement of the dominant sugar plantation complex and, like
their wealthier counterparts numbered among the sugarocracy,they aspired to
foreign cultural values. Her article expands Brathwaite's and Edward Long's
explanations for the failure of Jamaican society to become truly creolised in all
its dimensions -economic, social, cultural and political- and shows that
there was not necessarily a dichotomy between 'creole' and 'colonial'

Beckles, in Creolisation in action: the slave labour elite and antislavery
in Barbados, focuses on the relationship between the creolisation of the slave
population, occupational ditferentiation as a distinguishing feature of demo-
graphic creolisation, and slaves' anti-slavery politics. He hypothesises that the
politics of enslaved peoples in creole society suggests that they engaged the
classes with a sophisticated dialogue that targeted liberty as the central and
ultimate objective. He uses the case of Barbados, arguably then the most
demographically creolised sugar plantation slave society in the age of abolition-
ism (where in 1800 at least 90% of whites and blacks were locally born), to
explore the extent to which the hypothesis can be supported by evidence
drawn from the culture of everyday life among slaves. Clearly, the high level
of creolisation and community development in Barbados shaped slave poli-
tics in fundamental ways; for enslavers indicated that locally born/creole
slaves were less committed to violent antislavery activities than those who
were African-born. Much of the slave community's rejection of organised
armed violence must then be attributed to the rapidly diminishing numbers of
African-bom slaves. Beckles argues, therefore, that creole slaves, particularly
those among the slave l1ite, seemed more responsive to negotiable arrange-
ments and patronage; and the enslavers no doubt capitalised on this for as
long as they could. But, of course as 19th century events in Barbados were
to show, as soon as the slave Blite perceived that it had maximised the
privileges and rights that seemed possible, it determined to remove by violent
means the remaining obstacles that stood in the path of freedom.

Wilmot's article The Politics of Samuel Clarke: Black creole politician
in free Jamaica, 1851-1865, explores the intriguing case of one of the earliest,
and largely forgotten black creole politicians in Jamaica, Samuel Clarke, who
became involved in electoral politics in Jamaica as early as March 1849. As
Wilmot points out, the involvement of Clarke, and the black small freeholders
whom he organised in parochial politics, their creation of embryonic political
parties like the 'St. David's Liberal, Recording and Election Association'
founded in 1849, and their full participation as electoral campaigners and
voters in the 1851 general elections to the Jamaican Assembly "underscored
the extent to which rural blacks had been integrated into the political culture
of the island within a decade and a half of the granting of full freedom in

1838." Clarke and his supporters upheld the 'universalistic values' upon which
Creole Jamaican society claimed to be based- peace, freedom and justice-
and demanded that the existing rights and privileges of colonial subjects be
extended to all regardless of race. Wilmot's exploration of the violent and
antagonistic political contest between black creole peasants and labourers, on
the one hand, and white and coloured creole planters and merchants, on the
other, rightly places the focus on colonial power relations and adopts the
analytical approach which as Bolland urges, needs to be integrated into the
creole-society model.

Lucie Pradel and Carolyn Cooper view the issue of creolisation through
the lens of religious tradition and popular music, discussing the impact of
African religious and musical 'sounds' in particular, on contemporary Carib-
bean culture. Pradel, in African sacredness and Caribbean cultural forms,
examines how the 'converging' traditions of religious belief and practice from
four continents have shaped Caribbean spirituality as expressed as much
through the dominant faiths, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, as
through "Vaudou, Santeria and the worship of divinities such as Mariama,
Mahabir or Kali." Her focus, however, is on the impact of one of the religious
'great traditions' in the form of African sacred thought, on Caribbean spiritu-
ality and secular life. Pradel demonstrates the process of creolisation by
showing how the major African divinities, "Ogun Shango, Yemaya Egungun,
Fa, Oshossi, along with a plethora of secondary entities, have been secular-
ised and incorporated into Caribbean oral traditions, literatures and other art
forms, and cultural festivals, including Carnival and Jonkonnu.

Cooper in Ragamuffin sounds crossing over from reggae to rap and
back, uses as her starting point Brathwaite's reverberant metaphor 'bridges of
sound' employed to evoke the adstrate cultural ties that reconnect Africans
on the continent to those who have survived the dismembering middle
passage. She points out that the paradoxical construct, 'bridges of sound'
conjoins the ephemerality of aural sensation with the technological solidity of
the built environment and confirms the capacity of Africans in the diaspora to
conjure knowledge systems "out of nothing as it were. Her article demon-
strates the ways in which Africans were able to rebuild material culture from
the blueprint of knowledge carried in their collective heads across the "musical
bridge/the transitional passage. Reggae, rap and ragga were three of the
products reconstructed in the African diaspora and they all originated in a
complex and contested ideological space in which everyday issues of race,
class and gender were voiced in what she calls "the noisy discourse of African
diasporic popular music.

The final article by Mary Morgan, Highway to vision: this sea our
nexus, is a biographical account of the early life experiences and influences
which have shaped the vision of Brathwaite-the sea, ever present in his early
life, linking Africa to the Caribbean, his mother's insistence on her African
connections and the countless relatives whose stories honed him, sensitising
him to issues little discussed in the colonial educational system to which he
was exposed. After reading this article one is left with little doubt as to the
reasons why Brathwaite's exploration and interpretation of the Caribbean is
one of hope, and an affirmation of the creative possibilities of Caribbean
peoples who have been forged in the cauldron of slavery and colonialism. In
providing an alternative to the pluralist vision of M.G. Smith, Brathwaite's
creole-society model suggests that these societies are not doomed to tear
themselves apart in ethnic and class conflict unless they are held together by
some coercive authority. Brathwaite asserts that the evolution of Creole
Society, and the process of creolisation itself, provides a basis for the creation
of a national society and economy in the Caribbean. Perhaps, most impor-
tantly, the model refutes the nihilistic views of V.S. Naipaul who achieved
notoreity with his description of his Caribbean homeland as "unimportant,
uncreative, cynical" and his conclusion that the history of the Commonwealth
Caribbean "can never be satisfactorily told" because, as he dismissively
observed, "History is built around achievement and creation; and nothing was
created in the West Indies. 6

The Creole Society model will continue to inform debate for some time
to come. David Buisseret and other scholars have already started to mine the
rich historical data of the 17th and later 19th century to test the applicability
of this model for the different periods of Jamaican history; others are probing
the extent to which a creole society persisted in the modern Caribbean. The
field is now being further opened up by those seeking to compare the exact
nature of the Jamaican society of the 18th and 19th centuries with those of
the French and Spanish-speaking Caribbean of the same period. 7

Kamau Brathwaite's hopeful vision, then, has contributed enormously
to our understanding of the evolution and nature of Caribbean societies and
the process of cultural change and interaction in colonial social formations.
This collection is a tribute to Brathwaite's creative intellect and the positive
impact of his vision on those today who are seeking to change Caribbean
reality. It is also an acknowledgement of his inspirational role as a teacher and
mentor to a generation of students, including the editors, at the University of
the West Indies, Mona Campus, who were touched by the poetic vision of his
lectures and who were lifted by his conviction that, in the words of Aime
Cesaire,"it is not true that the work of man is finished ... and no race has a

monopoly of beauty, intelligence, strength, and there is room for all at the
rendezvous of conquest."8

Verene Shepherd and Glen Richards


Richard Adams, "On the relation between plantation and 'Creole cultures'" in Pan American
Union, Plantation Systems of the New World (Washington, D.C.: Pan American Union.
1959), 78. This paper was pre-sented at a seminar held in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in No-
vember, 1957
2. Kamau Brathwaite, Contradictory Omens: cultural diversity and integration in the Caribbean
(Mona: Savacou Publications, 1974), 6
3. LLoyd Brathwaite"Social Stratification and Cultural Pluralism" in Vera Rubin, ed.,Social and
Cutural Pluralism in the Caribbean, (Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. Vol.83,
Art.5, 1960), 826
4. Marie Louise Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writings and Transculturation (London and New
York: Routledge, 1992),7.
5. Homi Bhaba, "Signs take for Wonders" in Bill Ashcroft, et al, eds. The Post-Colonial Studies
Reader (London and New York: Routledge, 1992), 35
6. V.S. Naipaul, 7he Middle Passage (Harmondsworth, England:Penguin Books Ltd., 1969),
7. David Buisseret's January 1998 Lecture to the Jamaican Historical Society on "Creolisation in
Seventeenth Century Jamaica", highlighted aspects of his research. Paul Scott's work on
"Caribbean Creolisation: the long 19th century", paper presented at the 30th annual con-
ference of the Association of Caribbean Historians, Suriname, 1998, explores another di-
mension of this topic.
8. Aime C6saire, Return to My Native Land (Paris: Presence Africaine, 1971), 138-40

Creolisation and Creole Societies: a Cultural Nationalist View of
Caribbean Social History*




The meaning of the term 'Creole' varies in different societies and over
time. It is used in the British, Dutch, French, and Hispanic Caribbean, and also
in parts of the North and Central American mainland, in much of South
America, and in Sierra Leone. Virginia Dominguez, who has studied the
changing usage of 'Creole' in Louisiana since the eighteenth century, con-
A single definition of the term Creole may have
been adequate for all of these societies during
the early stages of European expansion. But
as the Creole populations of these colonies (or
former colonies) established diverse social, po-
litical, and economic positions for themselves
over the years, Creole acquired diverse mean-

Generally, the term 'Creole, referring to people and cultures, means
something or somebody derived from the Old World but developed in the New.
In the United States of America, in accordance with racist pressures in the
nineteenth century, Creole came to refer to Caucasian people of French or
Spanish descent, but elsewhere the term was not so racially differentiated.
'Creole' refers to locally born persons of non-native origin, which, in the
Americas, generally means people of either African or European ancestry, or
both. In Sierra Leone, 'Creole' refers to the 'westernised' community of
descendants of liberated Africans who, in 1787, began to be resettled in the
area that became Freetown. In this case, too, 'Creole' refers to people who
are culturally distinct from the Old World populations of their origin. The
concept of 'creolisation' then, refers to those processes of cultural change
that give rise to such distinctiveness.
In common Caribbean usage, 'Creole' refers to a local product which is
the result of a mixture or blending of various ingredients that originated in the

Old World. For example, in an essay on "West Indian Culture" first published
in 1961, the Jamaican anthropologist M.G. Smith wrote:

Creoles are natives of the Caribbean The
Creole complex has its historical base in slav-
ery, Plantation systems, and colonialism. Its
cultural composition mirrors its racial mixture.
European and African elements predominate in
fairly standard combinations and relationships

Perhaps this combination of European and Afri-
can traditions is the most important feature of
Creole life.2

Smith viewed this 'multiracial Creole complex' as a 'graduated hierar-
chy of European and African elements' with a 'dominant Creole-European
tradition' contrasting with the African Creole culture' at opposite ends of the
spectrum. He concluded, on the eve of the collapse of the West Indian
Federation, that the connection between culture and nationalism was highly
problematic in the West Indies.
The common culture, without which West In-
dian nationalism cannot develop the dynamic
to create a West Indian nation, may by its very
nature and composition preclude the national-
ism that invokes it. This is merely another way
of saying that the Creole culture which West
Indians share is the basis of their division.3

In contrast to Smith, other writers have subsequently emphasised the
potential of creole culture for national integration. In the popular view,
creolisation is a version of the old 'melting pot' hypothesis, which conceives
of a new cultural unity evolving from the blending of diverse original elements.
For example, a recent book on Caribbean festival arts uses the metaphor of
Callalou, a local soup made of diverse ingredients, to describe racial and
cultural relations and the 'pan-Caribbean aesthetic:' "The blending of these
disparate elements is indicative of the creolisation process."4 The 'flavour of
the Caribbean character' is said to be the result of such blending: "The more
diverse the ingredients, the sweeter the soup; the more diverse its people's
racial and cultural backgrounds, the stronger, the better the nation."5 As
popularly conceived, then, the image of Creole culture and a Creole society
emphasises social unity: the new nation as a creole community.

From the perspective of the sociology of knowledge, we may ask why
the conception of a 'creole society' emerges at a particular time promoted by
particular people. In the case of Sierra Leone, it has been argued that the
society has always been socioeconomically and ethnically divided. However,
'creole' intellectuals, especially in the 1950s, sought to emphasise social unity
and a common culture in order to protect their privileged position.6 These
intellectuals are said to have described Sierra Leone as a "unified and self-con-
scious community which identified itself as 'Creole' by the 1840s," though
"There is no evidence that at any time during the nineteenth century the
society of Sierra Leone either shared a common culture or manifested the
solidarity of a unified group. 7 Indeed, it is said that "the Creole community,
as it is popularly known today, did not become politically or socially unified
even during the period 1940 to 1960."8 This is an example of 'inventing
traditions,' in Eric Hobsbawm's words, "establishing or symbolising social
cohesion or the membership of groups, real or artificial communities,"9 for the
purpose of nation-building. The intellectuals of Sierra Leone attempted to
create a sense of Creole identity and unity, and claimed that it had existed for
over a century, in order to maintain their hegemony as the country prepared for
This brief consideration of the case of Sierra Leone indicates that the
promotion of the image of a Creole society is not limited to the Caribbean and
that it is linked to the process of decolonisation and nation-building. The
subject of this article is, in fact, an example of a much broader problem
associated with the role of intellectuals in the creation of images of their
societies, particularly during periods of rapid social transformation.
Hobsbawm has pointed out that all historians are engaged in inventing tradi-
tions "inasmuch as they contribute, consciously or not, to the creation,
dismantling and restructuring of images of the past which belong not only to
the world of specialist investigation but to the public sphere of man as a
political being." This is especially true in connection with the ideologic
symbols, and images of nationalism.
The concept of creole society, as it has been used in the Caribbean,
stresses the active role of Caribbean peoples and the importance of African
cultural traditions. In many ways it is the antithesis of the old imperialist
viewpoint that denies the natives a history of their own and asserts that
nothing of any cultural value was ever produced in the Caribbean. By insisting
on the fact that the common people slaves, peasants, freedpeople and
labourers were active agents in the historical process, the creolisation thesis
has made a major contribution to Caribbean historiography. This thesis, which
reflects the influence of anthropological approaches, has broadened our con-

ception of the scope of Caribbean social history and reconstituted our ways of
looking at the dynamics of social and cultural change. Caribbean societies and
cultures can no longer be thought of as the result of a one-way process, of the
unilateral imposition of European culture upon passive African recipients.
Important as European expansion, slavery, the plantation system and the
deracination of Africans unquestionably are; it is now generally recognized that
the conjoint participation of different peoples, not least those from Africa,
produced from a very early time a distinctive African-American or Creole
culture. 11

The analysis of creolisation as a process of cultural interaction and
synthesis may be understood as part of a broad intellectual trend among
learned humanists and social scientists towards a global-culture history. In this
trend the insights of anthropology are combined with an understanding of the
political economy of the emerging capitalist world-system.12 But the Creole-
society model, as a vision of Caribbean social history, is not limited in its
antecedents and implications to scholarly debates in the international aca-
deme. As the antithesis of the imperialist view of the Caribbean, this model
reflects and enhances the emerging Caribbean nationalism of the third quarter
of the twentieth century. More specifically, the cultural and populist aspects
of the Creole-society viewpoint, with its emphasis upon the origins of a
distinctive common culture as a basis for national unity, constitutes the
ideology of a particular social segment, namely a middle class intelligentsia
that seeks a leading role in an integrated, newly independent society.13 The
Creole-society thesis, then, is a significant ideological moment in the decoloni-
sation process of the Caribbean.14
Nevertheless, the concept of creolisation has not been adequately
defined or clearly located within a broader theoretical model of culture change.
Consequently, the use of the concept is inconsistent and often crude. Here I
will argue that the Creole-society thesis whilst drawing upon anthropological
theories of culture change, lacks a consistent and explicit theoretical basis,
sometimes taking a dualistic and sometimes a dialectical form. William A.
Green, in a recent critique of what he calls the 'creolisation of Caribbean
history' concludes that the notion of creolisation satisfies the needs of West
Indian nationalists but that it is 'in danger of going awry' unless it is disen-
gaged from dialectical analysis. I will argue, to the contrary, that the thesis
of creolisation and the Creole society, as exemplified in the work of Kamau
Brathwaite, is not dialectical enough. The importance of understanding the
process of creolisation in Caribbean history is not merely in order to broaden
the scope of the traditional definition of the subject matter, so that we may
return to our work with the old methods and theories intact, as Green seems

to suggest. Rather, our understanding of creolisation as a central cultural
process of Caribbean history should lead to a reconceptualisation of the nature
of colonialism and colonial societies, as social forces and social systems that
are characterized by conflicts and contradictions, and that consequently give
rise to their own transformation. This dialectical view of Caribbean social
history is often implied but is inadequately developed in the Creole-society
thesis. The purpose of this critique of the Creole-society model from the
viewpoint of dialectical theory is to reveal both its essential contribution and
its shortcomings, and to propose a more adequate theoretical basis for the

Before examining the theoretical ambiguity of the Creole-society model
it is necessary to examine briefly the prevailing images of Caribbean society
that preceded it.
The plantation-society and plural-society models

The two most influential models of Caribbean society among English-
speaking intellectuals in the 1960s were those of a plantation society and a
plural society. 16

The plantation-society thesis identifies the institution of the plantation,
and along with it the experience and legacy of slavery, as central in Caribbean
social life. The social organisation and culture associated with plantation
production is seen as a microcosm of the whole society. The distinguishing
features of the plantation which include mono-crop production for export,
strong monopolistic tendencies, a rigid system of social stratification that
includes a high correlation between racial and class hierarchies, a weak
community structure, the marginality of peasants who engage in subsistence
production as well as periodic work on the plantations- make it the nexus of
cultural and political, as well as economic, activities.

The plantation has been compared to Erving Goffman's 'total insti-
tulion' in which a new 'identity' is imposed upon the inmates.17 Orlando
Patterson emphasises the importance of the plantation as the unit of social
organisation during the period of slavery:

Jamaican slave society was loosely integrated;
so much so, that one hesitates to call it a
society since all that it amounted to was an
ill-organised system of exploitation Jamaica
is best seen more as a collection of autono-
mous plantations, each a selfcontained com-
munity with its internal mechanisms of power,
than as a total social system.18

Other writers, notably George Beckford, stress the persistence of the
characteristics of the slave/plantation society in the present period. Among
these characteristics is the dependency of the plantation upon inputs and
markets in the metropolis, which leads to underdevelopment and so to the
persistent powerlessness and poverty of the majority of the population.
Beckford emphasises the interrelationship between the "plantation as a social
system in the territory in which it is located (the internal dimension) and the
plantation as an economic system both in the territory of its location and in the
wider world community (the external dimension)."19 Individual plantations,
though relatively isolated as social units, are interrelated through their connec-
tions with the political economy of the metropolis and the intra-imperial
system as a whole. The model suggests three distinct but interrelated levels of
social analysis: the plantation as an oppressive local institution, the plantation
society as a weak and dependent aggregation of plantations, and the intra-im-
perial system that is bound up with the world economy. The plantation as an
institution and the plantation society itself are actually conceived as sub-sys-
tems that cannot be understood without reference to the place they occupy in
relation to the intra-imperial social system.

The plantation-society model emphasises the socioeconomic structure
of the plantation, perceived as a central institution which has an all-pervasive
character, essentially coercive and exploitative in nature, in the dependent
society. While it must be said in the model's defence that slavery and the
plantation, which have been so central in Caribbean society for so long,
continue to have an influence on cultural and social organisation long after
they have ceased to be central (or have even ceased to exist), it must also be
said that this model generally underestimates the ability of the victims to
influence the system. Susan Craig has observed that "the appealing attempt to
derive social structure from the plantation experience is too simple and too

The model has also been criticised on the grounds that it identifies the
institutional arrangement of production with the entire society in such a way
as "to leave the analysis at an institutional level" 21 Although the economic
system had distinctive and influential institutional features, it should not be
conflated with the social system which includes features other than those
identified with the plantation as such. Even when we conceive of the planta-
tion in terms of political economy, that is, as production occurring within
political structures, this is still inadequate if it leaves out the cultural issues,
such as conceptions of rights and duties, and the values and visions, beliefs
and ideas, of the various protagonists within the society. These social and

cultural aspects are generally influenced by, but are surely not limited to,
plantation life 22

In fact, the colonial system was never able to guarantee the plantation
sub-system for long without recourse to the use of force because it failed to
achieve cultural hegemony over the producers, whether they were slaves or
legally free labourers. This is why the cultural emphasis of M.G. Smith's
plural-society model made such a valuable contribution. Smith argues that
there was never a consensus of cultural values between Europeans and
Africans, and that there is a 'cultural pluralism' among the diverse peoples in
these Caribbean societies. He focuses on institutions, such as kinship, educa-
tion, religion, property, and economy, as the core of a people's culture and the
matrix of their social structure. In an article first published in 1953, which was
chiefly concerned with the social structure of St. Vincent and Jamaica in about
1820, Smith equated the 'plural society' with cultural pluralism.

The three principal sections of colonial society,
namely the whites, the free people of colour,
and the slaves, were differentiated culturally
that is, by their adherence to different institu-
tions In effect the population of a British
West Indian colony at this period was culturally
pluralistic, that is to say, it contained sections
which practiced different forms of the same
institutions. Thus the population constituted a
plural society, that is, a society divided into
sections, each of which practised different cul-

Soon after, Smith described contemporary Jamaica, for the first time,
as a plural society of three culturally distinct social sections which could be
distinguished as white, brown and black by reference to the modal race of
most of their members. 24

Later, Smith distinguished between cultural pluralism and a plural
-society. In his own words,
Having identified pluralism with the condition
of institutional and cultural diversity within a
given population, I went on to distinguish plural
societies as those culturally split societies gov-
erned by dominant demographic minorities
whose peculiar social structures and political
conditions set them apart .25

What distinguishes a society exhibiting cultural pluralism from a plural
society, then, is the fact that in the latter cultural groups act in the public
domain as corporations:

Plural societies are constituted and distin-
guished by corporate divisions that differ cul-
turally, and....these may be alligned in differing
ways to create hierarchic, segmented or com-
plex pluralities In short, while the coexis-
tence of culturally distinct aggregates is
sufficient and necessary to constitute plural-
ism, to constitute a plural society such divi-
sions must also operate as corporations, de
jure or de facto, within the public domain. 26

The undoubted strength of the plural-society model is that it draws
attention to the cultural and institutional differentiation and complexity of
Caribbean societies. However, when the model is applied to particular cases,
the racial, cultural and class categories tend to become conflated in a simple
social hierarchy. For example, when Smith analyses the political scene in
Jamaica in the 1980s, he argues that
Different sections of the society pursue and
interpret party politics in radically different
ways. The murderous 'tribal warfare' between
supporters of rival political parties in Kingston
and other Jamaican townships is confined to
the poorest and least educated strata of the
black population, not all of whom are lumpen-
proletariat, but who live in the most over-
crowded and insanitary conditions. At the
other end, the directorates of the political par-
ties and industrial unions consisted almost ex-
clusively of the 'brown section' or 'coloured
middle class' not all of whom are phenotypi-
cally brown Beyond and above the brown
political lite stand [sic] a tight handful of expa-
triate and Creole whites who, by virtue of their
economic assets and contacts, are largely able
to dictate economic conditions to the people
and government2 7

It appears from this account that all the cultural sections are partici-
pating in the same economy and polity,and that it is differential access to and
control over certain economic and political resources that determines inter-
group relations. In other words, though Smith labels the social sections by
colour, they are really distinguished in terms of social class. Contrary to the
plural-society model, these social sections all participate in the same political
parties and trade unions, though, not surprisingly, they do so in different ways
according to their position in the class structure.

M.G. Smith adhered to the notion that, in Caribbean societies, class
structures are subsumed within those wider racial and cultural, divisions that
together constitute the corporate macro-structure of these societies,28 but he
acknowledged that "the decisive structural determinant has been and remains
the distribution of power among and within institutionally distinct groups and
categories having modally different racial cores, numbers, histories, cultures,
wealth and prospects. 29 All we can conclude from this is that a discussion
of cultural pluralism and racial groups should not exclude a consideration of
social classes and power, just as the analysis of the political economy and
class structure should not exclude consideration of culture and race. Though
Smith conceives of the plural society as inherently unstable, barely held
together by one cultural section's monopoly of power, he says little about the
nature and direction of social change.30 He appears to be saying, that the most
important feature of the social structure is the fact that the principal social
sections are differentiated culturally, but that the structure is actually deter-
mined by the distribution of power

The problem with the plural-society model is that, if it is to have any
explanatory power as a theory of social change, rather than being merely a
simple and static classificatory scheme,31 it must account for the distribution
of power that determines the social structure. Such an account cannot be in
terms of cultural differentiation, but must be in terms of the conditions of
inequality and exploitation that are generated by the political economy of

The Creole-society model

The model of a Creole society, like the plural-society model but unlike
the plantation-society model, focuses on the importance of culture in Carib-
bean societies. However, in contrast to the plural-society model, which
stresses the persistence of social segmentation and of conflict between racial
and ethnic groups, the Creole-society model draws attention to an evolving
cultural unity which "could well support the development of a new parochial
wholeness."33 Unlike the plural-society thesis, then, the notion of the develop-

ment of a Creole society is predicated on a concept of social and cultural
change. This is the concept of 'creolisation,' a concept that is now widely
used to refer to processes of cultural change in the Caribbean and elsewhere.
The creole-society model, as exemplified by Kamau Brathwaite's study of
Jamaica between 1770 and 1820, acknowledges the existence of internal
cleavages and conflicts in the slave society, but also stresses the processes of
interaction and mutual adjustment between the major cultural traditions of
Europe and Africa. The central argument of the creole-society model is that the
Europeans and Africans who settled in the Americas contributed to the
development of a distinctive society and culture that was neither European nor
African, but Creole.
Brathwaite, a Barbadian poet and historian, developed his conception
of Jamaican society in reaction to Orlando Patterson's. In a review of The
Sociology of Slavery, Brathwaite criticises Patterson's 'disintegrationist con-
cept of society. 34 In contrast to Patterson, Brathwaite cites Elsa Goveia's
study of the Leeward Islands, in which she found a "firmer sense of living
wholeness" in the slave society:
The slave society of the Leeward Islands at the
end of the eighteenth century was divided into
separate groups, clearly marked off from each
other by the differences of local and social
status, of political rights and economic oppor-
tunity, and of racial origin and culture. The
existence of these separate groups is so strik-
ing that it tends to obscure the existence of the
community of which they were all a part. But
this community did exist, and its fundamental
principles of inequality and subordination
based on race and status were firmly im-
pressed upon the lives of all its members. It
was these basic principles, embodying the ne-
cessities of the West Indian slave system
which determined the ordering of the separate
groups as part of a community and held them
all together within a single social structure 36

Brathwaite criticised Patterson for "largely ignoring the white group of
masters and the role of the free coloured population who could be seen as an
integrating force."37 In conclusion, however, Brathwaite argues that Patter-
son, "in pointing out that within the system the slave was still able to retain
areas of activity, recreation and belief for himself ... makes his most important

contribution to our understanding of the reality of Jamaican slavery."38 In this
review of Patterson's book, published in 1968, lie the essential themes of the
creole-society thesis.

In The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica, 1770-1820, Brath-
waite defines the process of creolisation as a cultural change "based upon the
stimulus/response of individuals within the society to their environment and
as white/black, culturally discrete groups to each other. 39 And he empha-
sises that this 'intercultural creolisation' is a 'two-way process.'40 While
acknowledging that one of these groups has power over the intercultural
other, Brathwaite's purpose is to show the integrative effect this evolution has
in the emerging society. To this end, he draws attention to the importance of
the expanding intermediate group that resulted from miscegenation: "the large
and growing coloured population of the island, which acted as a bridge, a
kind of social cement, between the two main colours of the island's structure,
thus further helping (despite the resulting class/colour divisions) to integrate
the society. 41
Brathwaite refers to Robert Redfield's conception of the interdepend-
ence in a civilisation of the great and little traditions when he discusses the
'folk' culture of the slaves, the culture of the mass of ex-Africans who found
themselves in a new environment and who were successfully adapting to
it."42 He stresses that the 'great tradition' of Jamaica's slaves was in Africa,
but he deliberately eschews any discussion about African survivalss' or 'reten-
tions' nor does he make any distinctions between the varieties of African
cultures from which Jamaican 'folk' culture was derived.43 He mentions the
importance of the abolition of the slave trade in 1807 which cut off the
possibilities of demographic and cultural renewal from Africa, and the increas-
ing tendency of the more privileged among the blacks and browns to imitate
European models.

But the African influence remained, even if
increasingly submerged, as an important ele-
ment in the process of creolisation. European
adaptations or imitations could never be whole-
hearted or complete. There might be apparent
European forms, but the content would be
different. There was developing a European
oriented creole form (Euro-creole) and an Afri-
can-influenced creole form (Afro-creole); and
they existed together within, often, the same

Brathwaite's distinction between the 'Euro-Creole' and 'Afro-Creole'
variants of Jamaican 'folk' culture implies that creole culture and society is
only a potential unity, as yet unfulfilled, and that the differences between
these variants were 'developing' in the early nineteenth century. This image
of the divisions in Jamaican culture is similar to that depicted by M.G. Smith
in 1961, as we saw at the beginning of this essay. Despite the unifying
tendencies of the creolisation process, then, Brathwaite understands Jamaican
culture to be deeply divided.
Here, in Jamaica, fixed within the dehumanis-
ing institution of slavery, were two cultures of
people, having to adapt themselves to a new
environment and to each other The friction
created by this confrontation was cruel, but it
was also creative. The white plantations and
social institutions reflect one aspect of
this. The slaves'adaptation of their African cul-
ture to a new world reflects another. The fail-
ure of Jamaican society was that it did not
recognize these elements of its own creativ-

Though this recognition of the 'two cultures' appears similar to the
view of the plural-society thesis, Brathwaite sharply distinguishes his orienta-
tion from that of M.G. Smith.
The educated middle class, most finished prod-
uct of unfinished creolisation, influential, pos-
sessed of a shadow power rootless
(eschewing the folk) or Euro-orientated with a
local gloss; Creole or Afro-Saxons. For them
the society is 'plural' in so far as it appears to
remain divided into its old colonial alignments.
They are 'West Indian' in that they are (or can
be) critical of the colonising power But they
are also dependent upon it The concept of a
'plural society' would appear to be a colonial
rather than a creole contribution

In this ideologically loaded passage, Brathwaite dissociates himself
from the plural-society protagonists and identifies with what he calls, appar-
ently interchangeably, the Afro-Creole or 'folk' orientation. In another passage,

he suggests that this identification and commitment is connected with the
emerging cultural nationalism of the 1960s.

Some understanding of the nature of this folk
culture is important, not only in terms of the
Creole society to which it was to contribute
within the time limits of this study, but also
because the changes in Jamaican society after
1865 involved the beginning of an assertion of
this folk culture which was to have a profound
effect upon the very constitution of Jamaican
society. This assertion has become increas-
ingly articulate, since the gaining of political
independence in 1962 and is now the subject
of some study by scholars and intellectuals.
This 'folk culture' is also being made use of by
many Jamaican and West Indian artists and

Brathwaite concludes his study of the development of creole society in
Jamaica between 1770 and 1820 with speculation about whether the process
of creolisation will be resumed in such a way that the 'little' tradition of the
(ex-)slaves will be able to" provide a basis for creative reconstruction. Such
a base could well support the development of a new parochial wholeness,
a difficult but possible creole authenticity. 48The question, for Brathwaite, is
whether the political power that had come into the hands of the black majority
of the population with independence in 1962 could mediate the development
of a national culture. His answer is that an understanding of Jamaican history
points to the process of creolisation as the source of authentic Jamaican
culture, rooted in the descendants of the ex-slaves.
Brathwaite was not alone among West Indian intellectuals exploring
these issues in the post-independence period. I will briefly discuss contribu-
tions by three others, Rex Nettleford, Mervyn Alleyne and Orlando Patterson,
selecting these, not because they are 'typical, but because they have devel-
oped interesting variants on the theme of creolisation.
Rex Nettleford, Deputy Vice Chancellor and Professor of Continuing
Studies at the University of the West Indies, as well as the Artistic Director of
Jamaica's National Dance Theatre Company, clearly longs for a creole culture
in which the African heritage is given its due. He has sensitively discussed the
delicate interplay between Old World cultures to "form an organic whole
inextricably bound up and expressive of a new and rich phenomenon which is

neither Africa nor Europe, yet embodying the two in unprecedented and
creative modes of relationship. 49 Noting that Jamaica is officially committed
to multi-racialism, Nettleford observes that 'Europe's melody' nevertheless
predominates in a 'lop-sided creole culture'50 in which 'Africa's rhythm' is
largely submerged. In his judgement, claims of 'harmonious racial heterogene-
ity' and of 'cultural consensus' are exaggerated. He sees the creolisation
process to be more one-sided than does Brathwaite: "Jamaican life has been
determined by a process of assimilation with one culture absorbing another
rather than by one of mutual acculturation which could produce that new and
vital other force after which so many hanker "51 Nettleford concludes:
One thing is certain: there must be the libera-
tion of the Jamaican black, whether he be
peasant, proletarian or struggling middle class,
from the chains of self-contempt, self-doubt
and cynicism. Correspondingly, there will have
to be the liberation of Jamaican whites, real
and functional, from the bondage of a lop-sided
creole culture which tends to maintain for them
an untenable position of privilege. Then the
harmony which so many well-intentioned Ja-
maicans claim to exist will begin to transform
itself from fiction into fact.52

Nearly two decades later, Nettleford refers to the outcome of the
creolisation process as 'Euro-African' or 'Afro-Creole' culture. Now, like Brath-
waite, Nettleford stresses the creative contributions of Africans in the Carib-
bean: "The Africanisation of the European was no less important to the
creolisation process than the Europeanisation of the African."53
Mervyn Alleyne, bom in Trinidad, is Professor of Socio-Linguistics at
the University of the West Indies in Jamaica and a student of creole languages.
He argues that the predominant languages in the Caribbean colonies, whether
creoles or non-standard dialects of European languages, were the conse-
quence of a prolonged struggle between the masters and their slaves over the
medium of communication. The outcome of this struggle reflects the metro-
politan hegemony, and becomes a further means of maintaining social inequali-
ties. Alleyne reminds us that an important element of cultural imperialism:

Is that the Europeans viewed the cultures of
peoples over whom they ruled as 'savage'or
'primitive' and the Creole cultures of the Carib-
bean were not considered 'culture' at all. The

Creole languages developed by Africans and
their descendants were evaluated by Europe-
ans as pathological versions of European origi-
nals, as 'deficiencies' corruptionss' and

Alleyne leaves us in no doubt about the political significance of this
evaluation of the development of creole languages in a colonial society. An
important part of the colonial syndrome is the acceptance by the colonised of
the coloniser's interpretation of them. Caribbean people have largely accepted
Europeans' views of their language behaviour as part of a more general
self-deprecation and negative evaluation of their cultural behaviour.55 While
this is probably overstating and over-generalizing the case for the 'internalisa-
tion' of the coloniser's norms and values, there is certainly a strong association
between the use of creole languages and low status in Caribbean societies,
and elites have used language distinctions as a way of maintaining oligarchic
power. Alleyne argues that, just as this pattern of language use has contrib-
uted to the existing cultural hegemony:
The use of creole languages, the mass ver-
naculars of the Caribbean, is now a vital factor
in the democratisation of national life and insti-
tutions and in the accessibility of these institu-
tions to the mass of the population.56

More recently, Alleyne has emphasised the African contribution to
Jamaican culture, particularly in religion, music and dance, and language. As
in his earlier work, he stresses the continuing struggle in the process of cultural
African surface forms of culture have become
progressively diluted in the behaviour of most
Jamaicans But the African heritage survives
Jamaican culture is indeed a 'degradation'
or 'corruption'- not so much of European cul-
ture as of African culture. The cultural history
of Jamaica is one in which Black people con-
stantly struggled to maintain their African heri-
tage in the teeth of slavery, colonialism,
neocolonialism, and imperialism in the guise of

Two decades ago, in the years immediately after constitutional inde-
pendence, many West Indian intellectuals, such as Brathwaite and Nettleford,

drew attention to and contributed to the revitalisation of their Afro-creole
culture with some self-confidence. But Alleyne warns that today "this culture
is under relentless siege" despite the search for African roots and campaigns
to preserve the folk culture. "It is ironic" he says," that British, European, and
North American influence in Jamaica is now stronger than it ever was,
although today the island is politically independent ,,58

Orlando Patterson, the Jamaican novelist, sociologist, and scholar of
comparative slavery, believes that the process of creolisation was much less
developed than Brathwaite portrays. Patterson distinguishes between 'seg-
mentary creolisation' which resulted in two kinds of culture, namely the
Euro-West Indian and the Afro-West Indian (and largely peasant) Creole
cultures, and 'synthetic creolisation' which
Draws heavily on Euro-West Indian culture for
its instrumental components and on Afro-West
Indian segmentary Creole sources for its ex-
pressive institutions and symbols. The politi-
cal, economic, educational, and legal
institutions of synthetic Creole are, essentially,
slightly modified versions of Euro-West Indian
segementary Creole; whereas its language,
theatre, music, dance, art, and literature are
actively drawn from Afro-West Indian segmen-
tary Creole sources.59

Segmentary and synthetic creolisation are basically antithetical, with
the latter seeking to unite the segmentary cultures which resist such unifica-

The synthetic creolisation period is said to have started in the
1950s,60 but the process of national cultural unification is far from complete,
according to Patterson: 'Caribbean societies are, today, best seen as neo-colo-
nial systems with enormous class cleavages.61 While members of the middle
and upper classes identify with a synthetic Creole culture, which some of them
self-consciously promote, the majority of the lower classes adhere to the
segmentary Afro-West Indian Creole culture. Patterson, more than the other
intellectuals cited, reconciles aspects of the cultural analysis of the plural-soci-
ety and Creole-society models with a strong emphasis on the class character
of Caribbean societies, a character that stems from the socioeconomic struc-
tures of the colonial plantation system.

Having examined some of the chief variants of the creole-society
thesis, I will now explore its theoretical ambiguities, and will seek to develop
an alternative, more consistent theoretical basis for the thesis.
A dialectical view of creolisation

Caribbean nations were created in the crucible of the prolonged and
pervasive experience of slavery and colonialism, and survive today in a fragile
state, threatened by external political, military, economic, and cultural forces
beyond their control. They have a desperate need for a coherent national
ideology and cultural identity. The creole-society thesis offers an approach to
national integration by seeking to unite people of diverse origins in an over-
arching ethnicity based on the recognition and creation of a developing creole
culture. The creation of a creole identity and the vision of the nation as a creole
community constitute a synthetic mode of nationalism.62

The idea that the synthesis of new cultural practices emerges from the
struggle between conflicting social forces is certainly not new as an interpre-
tation of Caribbean history and society,63 but the development of the creole-
society thesis gave this idea new urgency and specificity. Implicit in the
Creole-society thesis is a dialectical view of social dynamics and cultural
change. Conceptually, however, 'creolisation' and the 'Creole society' remain
ill-defined and ambiguous. On the one hand, the vision of a creole nation rests
on the axiom that the individual is the elementary unit of social life, and hence
that 'society' is the aggregate of its individual citizens, and cultures are simply
the aggregates of what individuals believe and do in a society. Related to this
axiom is the dualistic conception of the 'individual' and 'society' a portrayal
of social dynamics in mechanical terms, and a separation of cultural processes
from social structures. When the Creole-society thesis leans on this concep-
tion of society, for example, the social structure is portrayed simply as a
'black/white dichotomy' 64 and the creolisation process as a cultural response
by individuals of different groups to their environment and to each other.65
This dichotomous model of the society becomes modified with the expansion
of the intemediate 'coloured' population which helped to integrate the soci-
ety.66 Brathwaite refers to 'the juxtaposition of master and slave' 67 as if
these are individuals who have an existence independent of each other, rather
than social roles that are mutually constitutive and defined by their relation-
This dualistic view of society leads to the portrayal of creolisation as a
'blending' process, a mixing of cultures that occurs without reference to
structural contradictions and social conflicts. For example, in an overview and
analysis of music in the Caribbean, Kenneth Bilby describes the creolisation

process as the "blending of two or more older traditions on new soil" resulting
in "a broad spectrum of musical forms, ranging from purely European-derived
examples at one extreme to what have sometimes been called neo-African
styles at the other."61 This view of a simple 'blending' and 'spectrum'
obfuscates the tension and conflict that existed, and still exists, between the
Africans and Europeans who were the bearers of these traditions. The cultural
process of music, in other words, becomes isolated from the historical process
of domination/subordination in the wider society.
On the other hand, elements of the creole-society have drawn atten-
tion to precisely these conflicting relationships and the tensions that exist in
processes of social and cultural change. Brathwaite himself described the
creolisation process in a dialectical manner, as "a way of seeing the society,
not in terms of white and black, master and slave, in separate nuclear units,
but as contributing parts of the whole" 69 Mervyn Alleyne's analysis of the
development of Creole languages also implies a dialectical outlook when he
characterises Caribbean societies as "contradictory, conflict-prone and inse-
cure, ambivalent in outlook and attitudes, ambiguous in their formation and in
their functioning... The language situations existing in the Caribbean are
mirrors through which the complex cultural history of the region may be

The dialectical analysis of society draws attention to the interrelated
and mutually constitutive nature of 'individual' 'society' 'culture',and of hu-
man agency and social structure. Dialectical theory conceives of social life as
essentially practical activity, and of people as essentially social beings.
Hence, society consists of the social relations in which people engage in their
activities, and is not reducible to individuals. Marx drew attention to the fact
that people make their history and society, but under conditions and con-
straints that they find already in existence: "Men make their history, but they
do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances
chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly found, given and
transmitted from the past. 71 Culture in the form of traditions, ideas,
customs, languages, institutions, and social formations, shape the social
action of individuals, which in turn maintains, modifies, or transforms social
structure and culture. This mutually dependent relationship between social
structure and human agency has been referred to as the "dialectics of
structuring" 72
Dialectical theory draws attention in particular to conflicts in social
systems as the chief sources of social change. Many important social relation-
ships are defined and differentiated in terms of power, between the dominant
and the subordinate. As the forms of oppression vary from one society to

another (indeed, we often distinguish between types of society in terms of
these prevailing forms), so do the locations and kinds of social change. Marx
focused most of his attention on Western European capitalist society in the
nineteenth century, and correctly identified the relationship of social class as
decisive to the understanding of the dynamics of that society. But that does
not mean, of course, that class is the only relationship of domination/subordi-
nation. On the contrary, various forms of oppression are based on status
inequalities, defined in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, age, and legal status,
or a combination of these, as well as class. Such status-based inequalities may
or may not coincide with the class relationship, and may vary in the nature of
their connections with class, but it was Marx's key insight that no society has
been free from the social conflicts and changes caused by relations of
domination/subordination, of 'oppressor and oppressed' Marx also drew at-
tention to the interrelations between the systems of exploitation that were
based upon slave labour in the Americas and wage labour in Europe:

Liverpool waxed fat on the slave-trade. This
was its method of primitive accumulation
...Whilst the cotton industry introduced child-
slavery in England, it gave in the United States
a stimulus to the transformation of the earlier,
more or less patriarchal slavery, into a system
of commercial exploitation. In fact, the veiled
slavery of the wage-workers in Europe needed,
for its pedestal, slavery pure and simple in the
new world.73

Oppressive regimes are sustained by the manipulation of consent as
well as by force. Antonio Gramsci's work on cultural hegemony has shown
how the persistence of a regime of exploitation often depends on the capacity
of the rulers to persuade the oppressed of the justice, or at least the
inevitability, of the system. Hence, too, the importance of understanding the
political nature of processes of cultural resistance. As Peter Worsley has

The great strength of Marxism is that, analyti-
cally, it does focus upon material interest, on
the economic power and status rewards en-
joyed by those who control society, and the
exploitation suffered by the great majority who
do the producing, and upon the mechanisms
which justify these basic inequalities and
which cope with resistance to them.74

The work of Michel de Certeau on the "practice of everyday life" offers
important insights on the central problem of the creole-society thesis, namely,
how the dominated people in a society can shape their own culture and make
their own history. De Certeau rejects the 'social atomism' that posits the
individual as the elementary unit of society. His analysis of everyday practices
"shows that a relation (always social) determines its terms, and not the
reverse, and that each individual is a locus in which an incoherent (and often
contradictory) plurality of such relational determinations interacts."75 He
shows that those people whose status in society is that of domineee' are
neither passive nor docile but, on the contrary, their actions frequently subvert
the goals and structures of the dominators. For example, he refers to:
The ambiguity that subverted from within the
Spanish colonisers' 'success' in imposing their
own culture on the indigenous Indians Sub-
missive, and even consenting to their subjec-
tion, the Indians nevertheless often made of
the rituals, representations, and laws imposed
on them something quite different from what
their conquerors had in mind; they subverted
them not by rejecting or altering them, but by
using them with respect to ends and refer-
ences foreign to the system they had no choice
but to accept. They were other within the very
colonisation that outwardly assimilated them;
their use of the dominant social order deflected
its power, which they lacked the means to
challenge; they escaped it without leaving it.76

De Certeau's formulation is appropriate to the study of the historical
process of culture formation during the period of slavery and colonialism in the
Caribbean, and is also relevant in the post-independence or neo-colonial period
today.77 Though there were many direct challenges to the dominant social
order, often courageous in nature, there were also less visible 'murmurings' in
every-day practices. We should not look just for those 'outward' external
manifestations that suggest either assimilation (acculturation) or its opposite
survivalsls' or 'retentions'). For obvious reasons, cultural resistance in social
contexts of domination is often not externally manifested, and the modes of
action of those whose status is subordinate often conceal their contributions
to the formation of culture. Within relations of domination, the subtle art of
bricolage enables the oppressed to avoid repercussions while making "innu-
merable and infinitesimal transformations of and within the dominant cultural

economy in order to adapt it to their own interests and their own rules."78
Hence, the weak must make use of the powerful by ingenious ways, seizing
their opportunities on the wing, smuggling in their hidden agendas, infiltrating
their own innovations: in these ways, they "lend a political dimension to
everyday practices" 79 It is highly significant that Anansi, the spider trickster
of West African tales, who 'play fool fe catch wise' became the folk hero of
slaves and their descendants throughout the Caribbean.

The creole-society thesis needs a general theoretical framework, incor-
porating dialectical theory, for the analysis of social and cultural change.
Roger Bastide, the French sociologist-ethnologist, articulated such a general
framework within which he studied the African religions of Brazil. He stressed
the connections between religious beliefs and activities and the conflicts in the
wider society, in particular the relation between religious ideologies and
practices, on the one hand, and the issues and relations of domination/subor-
dination, on the other For Bastide, the process of cultural change is not to be
understood as the clash of 'cultures' but rather as the activities of individuals
who are located in institutions and differentiated by power:
There are never cultures in contact but
rather individual carriers of different cultures.
However, these individuals are not inde-
pendent creatures but are interrelated by com-
plex webs of communication, of
domination-subordination, or of egalitarian ex-
change. They are a part of institutions, which
have rules for action, norms and organisa-

Bastide's achievement, as Richard Price has said, "is to analyse within
a single conceptual framework, individuals, culture, and social and economic
infrastructures, and to clarify the dialectical relationship between the historical
transformation of these infrastructures and the religious phenomena in ques-
tion."81 The West Indian advocates of the Creole-society thesis have not
articulated such a single conceptual framework'and, as a consequence,their
analysis too often fails to make specific connections between social organisa-
tion and cultural process. Three brief illustrations of this problem must suffice.
I. Obeah

First, with regard to the question of African cultural retentions, the
practice of magic, or obeah, is often cited as an example of continuity.
Brathwaite, for example, says "in African and Caribbean folk practice, where
religion had not been externalised and institutionalized as in Europe, the

obeah-man was doctor, philosopher, and priest." 82He contrasts obeah with
European religion, but makes no distinction between varieties in the practice of
obeah in Africa and the Caribbean. In this view, the individual practitioner is
isolated from his social context, a context that differs in Africa and the
Caribbean in crucial ways. The specific forms of social organisation to which
magical practices are linked in African societies did not exist in the Caribbean
slave societies. Among the Ashanti, "witchcraft (hayi) is believed to be
effective only within the lineage" '3 while among the peoples of the Nuba Hills
in the Sudan, witchcraft "is powerful only within the clan. In this connec-
tion, Bastide observes:
In moving from Africa to America, magic
breaks the bonds that linked it to a certain form
of social organisation In America the effec-
tiveness of witchcraft is not determined by
affiliation with a lineage or clan or even a
'nation'; the formidable power of the witch
doctor serves the struggle of one entire race
against another

Thus magic was detached from its social
frameworks, and the detachment was certainly
facilitated by the disappearance of the lineages
and clans and by the creation of a new solidar-
ity, the solidarity based on the slaves' depend-
ence on their white masters

In failing to note the links between the activities of obeah-men and
specific social organizations, Brathwaite fails to note that obeah has taken on
a whole new meaning in the societies of the Caribbean, a meaning derived
from the power structures, the social opposition, in these societies. So, when
Brathwaite states that the shift in the public leadership of slaves from
obeah-men to black preachers following the influx of Baptist slaves to Jamaica
after the American Revolution, is "evidence, certainly, of creolisation" 86he
obscures a crucial point, namely, that the activities of obeah-men were already
creolised when they extended their practices in entirely new ways in Jamaica.
Cultural practices such as obeah do not exist, either in Africa or the Americas,
apart from the social structures in which they are conducted and to which they
relate. In the Caribbean there was, from the earliest days of slavery, "a great
deal of syncretistic mixing of variants of West African culture" 87 including
obeah, that both reflected and promoted the identify of all Africans vis-a-vis
Europeans. One of the consequences of the fact that these practices took
place in relation to new social structures is that they promoted new social

identities, including that of 'Creole' by defining one set of people with respect
to another To understand the nature of the changes in these practices,
therefore, we need a conceptual framework and general theory that focuses
on the dialectics between religious values, beliefs and activities, on the one
hand, and social structures, on the other.

2. Jonkonnu

It is not enough to say simply, as Brathwaite does, that creolisation is
a "two-way process" that "worked both ways" or to say that "it was in the
intrinsic area of sexual relationships that the greatest damage was done to
white creole apartheid policy and where the most significant and lasting
inter-cultural creolisation took place" resulting in the "social cement" of the
coloured population.89 In his search for historical precedents for an integrated
society, Brathwaite obscures the obvious fact that in most of these sexual
relationships, 'intimate' though they were, there was an overlap between
relationships of domination defined in terms of gender, race, and legal status-
or, more bluntly, that black women, whether slave or free, were often raped
by white men. In other words, consideration of the 'intercultural creolisation'
process must take account of the often brutal realities of power Elsewhere,
Brathwaite does distinguish between two aspects of creolisation:

acculturation which is the yoking (by force and
example, deriving from power/prestige) of one
culture to another and inter-culturation,
which is an unplanned, unstructured but os-
motic relationship, proceeding from this yoke.
The creolisation which results (and it is a proc-
ess not a product), becomes the tentative cul-
tural norm of the society. 90

Here he acknowledges the importance of power, but the relations are
conceived as being between 'cultures' that are reified and disconnected from
both individuals and specific social formations.

This aspect of the problem becomes clearer when we examine Brath-
waite's account of street processions or festivals, which he describes as "a
brilliant fusion of African and European elements" 91 and, specifically, of
Jamaican John Canoe orjonkonnu. These masked bands that danced, and still
dance, in the streets during the Christmas holidays, are described in terms of
a simple African-European, or 'Afro-creole'-'Euro-creole' spectrum:

This process of creolisation from African motif
to something local but (externally) European-in-
fluenced may be studied in the development

of the masked (masque) bands like John Canoe
[T]he brown girls were the ones most
noticed, representing as they did, the Euro-ten-
dency of this part of creole society

But the African influence remained, even if
increasingly submerged, as an important ele-
ment in the process of creolisation There
was developing a European-orientated creole
form (Euro-creole) and an African-influenced
creole form (Afrocreole); and they existed to-
gether within, often, the same framework
There were also large areas of public entertain-
ment that remained intransigently African or
Afro-creole. Those bands, for instance, who
continued to dramatise or satirise aspects of
the slave society their and their masters'
condition. 92

Brathwaite merely hints at an aspect of these masked bands that is
really essential for understanding them, namely their dramatisation of the
central relations of the slave society. To picture Jonkonnu only in terms of
African influences and European orientations, existing together within a com-
mon framework, obscures the fact that the dancers were participants in a
political process of cultural resistance and self-definition. There are, of course,
legacies of the African heritage, including the characters with animal masks,
cowhead and horsehead, as well as European influences, such as the sailor
costumes and the fife and drum music, in Jonkonnu. The English residents
often patronised these events and, by lending money or costumes, influenced
the African performers. But the evidence of satire, in songs and white face
masks, shows that there was more conflict involved in the performances than
is suggested when they are described simply as 'syncretic forms' of African
and English folk theatre.93 When Jonkonnu is viewed as an activity within a
broader political and cultural process, we can understand it as one of the many
ways in which individuals drew upon elements from a wide repertoire of
cultural traditions in order to express their human, social condition. Their
choice of 'intransigently African' elements of costume, song, and dance or of
satirical expressions of master/slave relations, even in circumstances that
were not of their choice, was a contribution to their own social and cultural
history, a way of redefining themselves as a new collective identity vis-a-vis
the Europeans.

3. Colonial or creole?

The conceptual ambiguity of the term 'creole society' may also be
illustrated with reference to Brathwaite's chapter called 'Jamaica: Colonial pr
Creole?' He identifies 'colonial' as metropolitan and reactionary, and 'creole'
as local and creative, a simple dualism in which the interaction between the
parts is mechanically conceived: "At every step the creatively 'creole'
elements of the society were being rendered ineffective by the more reaction-
ary colonial.94 Then, in posing an empirical question, Brathwaite reveals his
conceptual problematic: "Was the dichotomy already described related only to
Jamaica's 'external' (colonial) relationship with the Mother Country; or was
the external dichotomy a reflection of a deeper cleavage of attitude and action
within the society itself"95 Brathwaite here appears unsure whether 'coloni-
alism' is 'external' to Jamaican society, or whether it has somehow penetrated
to the nature of the society itself. In a later paper he continued to conceive of
colonialism as an 'outside influence' on the creole society.96 From the view-
point of dialectical theory, however, the fact that the metropole is geographi-
cally overseas does not obscure the social reality that colonialism is
constitutive of Jamaican society, not external to it. The colonial relationship
between Europe and the Caribbean is, by its very nature, neither 'internal' nor
'external' because it refers to parts of a single social system, not to discrete
units, geographically defined.

From the dialectical viewpoint, 'metropole' and 'colony' 'coloniser'
and 'colonised' like 'master' and 'slave' are the differentiated parts of a
whole, constituting a unity of opposites. They are parts of a system that have
no independent existence, but are defined in their relation with each other
Brathwaite's question, 'Colonial or Creole?' implies a dualism that obscures
the true meaning of colonialism and, hence, of the 'creole society' Rather than
thinking in terms of a dichotomy of 'Colonial or Creole' we should think in
terms of 'Colonial and Creole' where the phenomena of colonial domination
and of creole responses to such domination are but two aspects of the same
system. As Peter Worsley has said, "Despite the political power of the
conqueror, each colony was the product of a dialectic, a synthesis, not just a
simple imposition, in which the social institutions and cultural values of the
conquered was one of the terms of the dialectics" Dialectical theory draws
attention, unequivocally, to the elements of resistance that are inherent in the
domination/subordination relationship between the metropole and the colony,
and shows how resistance and conflict are therefore constituent aspects of
the cultures and social and economic structures of the colonial society. 98

Karen Judd, in a recent paper on creolisation in Belize, argues that the
concept will remain imprecise as long as it is used to describe what are

essentially two processes: 1) a retrospectively observed pattern of cultural
change over the colonial and postcolonial period, and 2) an active political
process, occurring during periods of social or political crisis, in which individual
struggles to define ethnic identity become collective. 99
This helpful distinction draws attention to the two elements that lie
within the Creole-society thesis, as we have examined it. The work of
Brathwaite and others has stressed the former, while I am stressing the latter.
Dialectical theory, by drawing attention to the centrality of relations of
domination/ subordination, including class relations, provides the explicit and
unambiguous theoretical foundation for the analysis of processes of social and
cultural change, whereas the Creole-society thesis has generally left these
political aspects implicit and ambiguous. As Judd points out, the appropriation
of the term 'Creole' by different groups in society, is itself affected by the
successive struggles between and among active agents rather than on their
cumulative outcome at any given time.100 Creolisation, then, is not a homoge-
nizing process, but rather a process of contention between people who are
members of social formations and carriers of cultures, a process in which their
own ethnicity is continually re-examined and redefined in terms of the relevant
opposition between different social formations at various historical moments.

Among the social formations and relations that the Creole-society
thesis neglects is that of class. The cultural and political nationalism implied in
the Creole-society thesis is based on a populist conception of cultural homoge-
neity that overlooks class distinctions and hostilities. This populist image of a
unified nation emerging from the colonial oppression and cultural pluralism of
the past has also been promoted in a number of West Indian nationalist
slogans, such as 'Out of Many, One People' (Jamaica) and 'All o' we is One'
(Trinidad). We need to comprehend the nature of the transition from slavery to
post-emancipation society in ways that the creole society model does not
accommodate. A class analysis is required to understand the nature of the
system of domination that followed the abolition of slavery.101 The Creole-so-
ciety thesis does not enable us to see how or why the system of domination
in the colonies changed from status inequalities during slavery to class
inequalities after legal emancipation, as a consequence of both the social
dynamics within the colonies and the colonies' relations with the metropoles.
In sum, Brathwaite's vision of the creole society is an advance on the
plantation and plural-society models in so far as it emphasises the active role
of Caribbean people and the importance of African cultural traditions in the
development of Caribbean cultures and societies. He asserts that, for the
Caribbean, as elsewhere, the basis of culture lies in the folk, and that by folk
we mean not in-culturated, static groups, giving little; but a people who, from

the centre of an oppressive system have been able to survive adapt, recre-
ate." 102But this undifferentiated notion of the 'folk' ignores the complex class
character, and hence the continuing conflicts, within post-emancipation, and
also post-independence, societies. Brathwaite himself has called for more
complex, historical/sociological models to enable us to see 'the plural/whole'
of the Caribbean, in which cultural orientations and influences are related to
"class consciousness and class interests" 103 The Creole-society thesis, how-
ever, cannot accomplish this so long as it remains a theoretically ambiguous
analysis of Caribbean social history, and this underscores the need to develop
an explicitly dialectical model.

One of the reasons why the Creole-society model has been so
attractive in recent years is its nationalistic insistence on the validity of creole
culture and its potential role in national integration in societies that have
recently become independent. What distinguishes the Caribbean intellectuals
of the late-twentieth century from their African and Creole progenitors is their
conscious use of the creole-society thesis in their claim to a national birthright.
The emphasis on a common rather than a plural culture involves an attach-
ment to a 'homeland' as well as a sense of social identity, thereby sharply
distinguishing Caribbean people frorn expatriates. It was the innumerable
every-day practices of these progenitors, slaves and freedpeople, Africans and
Creoles, throughout the political process of Caribbean history, that made this
nationalist claim possible. Their daily struggle was, and continues to be, the
central dynamic of Caribbean social history.

The Creole-society thesis has contributed to our understanding of
Caribbean cultures and societies by drawing attention to the creative activities
of Caribbean peoples. It has encouraged us to look for the various ways in
which Africans and people of African descent manipulated the structures of
domination of which they were a part and, in so doing, contributed to the
development of Creole cultures and societies. However, the recognition of the
inherent conflicts and contradictions of colonial societies, both during and
after the period of slavery, requires a reconceptualsation of such societies in
dialectical terms. Dialectical theory enables us to understand African 'continui-
ties' and Creole culture 104 as aspects of the continuing transformations of
activities by, and relations between, innumerable individuals in their daily
confrontations with the dominant political, economic, social, and cultural
forces in their societies.

Notes and References

This article was previously published in Intellectuals in the Twentieth Century Caribbean,
Vol.1. A. Hennessy (ed.), London and Basingstoke: 1992, 50-79. I am grateful to several
friends and colleagues who have made helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper, in-
cluding Salvatore Cucchiari, David Hess, Karen Judd, Michael Peletz, Mary Turner, and, es-
pecially, Arnold Sio and Gary Urton, whose criticisms have helped me to formulate and
clarify my ideas. I also wish to thank Ellen Bolland for helping me to clarify the prose.
However, they are absolved from responsibility for any remaining shortcomings in this pa-
1. Virginia R. Dominguez, White by Definition: social classification in Creole Louisiana (New
Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1986),13.
2.- M.G. Smith, The Plural Society in the British West Indies (Berkeley: University of California
Press, 1965), 5-6.
3. Ibid., 9.
4. John W. Nunley and Judith Bettelheim, Caribbean Festival Arts (Seattle: University of Wash-
ington Press, 1988), 37.
5. Ibid., 31.
6. David Skinner and Barbara E. Harrell-Bond, "Misunderstandings arising from the use of the
term 'creole' in the literature on Sierra Leone", Africa 47:3 (19771,305.
7. Ibid.
8. Ibid., 314.
9. Eric Hobsbawm, "Introduction: inventing traditions", in Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger
(eds) The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 9.
10. Ibid. 13.
An excellent discussion of this cultural process and the social context in which it occurred
is Sidney W. Mintz and Richard Price, An Anthropological Approach to the Afro-American
Past: a Caribbean perspective (Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues,
1976). This paper was originally presented at a symposium on "Creole societies in the
Americas and Africa" at the Johns Hopkins University in 1973.
12. On the importance of the concept of culture in world history, see Eric R. Wolf, Europe and
the People Without History (]Berkeley: Los Angeles and London, University of California
Press, 1983) and Peter Worsley, The Three Worlds: Culture and the origins of World Devel-
opment (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1984); and on the world-system approach, see
Immanuel Wallerstein, The Modern World System: multiculturalist agriculture and the ori-
gins of the world economy in the sixteenth century (New York: Academic Press, 1974).
13. Raymond T Smith has pointed out that Brathwaite, a leading exponent of the creole-soci-
ety thesis, comes from Barbados, the only ex-British colony that was never subjected to
Crown Colony rule, that "retained a resident White upper class, and is the one country
that developed a deep sense of national unity and a common 'culture' even if it appeared
abjectly pro-British at times"; "Race and Class in the Post-emancipation Caribbean," in R.
Ross Racism and Colonialism (The Hague: Boston: and London: Martinus Nijhoff, 1982), p.
11 8. Gordon K. Lewis has drawn attention to the sense of a 'colonial aristocracy' that de-
veloped among the Barbadian planters in the latter half of the seventeenth century. But
this early 'creole' viewpoint was not much more than an 'emergent sense of collective
planter identity' rooted in their divergence of interest from the British mercantilists, and, as
such, is quite distinct from the popular nationalism in the twentieth-century West Indies;
see Lewis, Main Currents in Caribbean Thought: the historical evolution of Caribbean soci-
ety in its ideological aspects, 1492-1900 (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University
Press, 1983), 72-5.
14 The first British Caribbean colonies to become independent were Jamaica,and Trinidad and
Tobago, in 1962, followed by Barbados and Guyana in 1966.

15. William A. Green, "The Creolisation of Caribbean History: the emancipation era and a cri-
tique of dialectical analysis", Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 14:3 (1986),
16. Raymond T. Smith described Guyanese history as a sequence of stages, each with a distinct
socioculturall model': plantation society, creole society, and 'open democratic' or modem
society. He called M.G. Smith's plural-society thesis a 'most successful failure' See "So-
cial Stratification, Cultural Pluralism and Integration in West Indian societies," in S. Lewis
and T. Mathews Caribbean Integration: Papers on Social, Political and Economic Integra-
tion, (Rio Piedras: Institute of Caribbean Studies, 1967), 227.
17. Ibid., 229-32.
18. Orlando Patterson, The Sociology of Slavery: an analysis of the origins,development and
structure of negro slave society in Jamaica (London: MacGibbon & Kee, 1967), 70.
19. George Beckford, Persistent Poverty: underdevelopment in plantation economies of the Third
World (New York: Oxford University Press, 1972), 10.
20. Susan Craig, "Sociological Theorising in the English-speaking Caribbean: a review," in Susan
Craig led.) Contemporary Caribbean: a sociological reader (Port of Spain: the author,
1982), 150.
21. Clive Y Thomas, Plantations, Peasants, and State: a study of the mode of sugar production
in Guyana (Los Angeles and Kingston: Center for Afro-American Studies and Institute of So-
cial and Economic Research, 1984), 9.
22. Marc Bloch made a comparable point when he deemed it important to maintain a distinction
between the manor, as an institution, and feudalism, by not equating the manorial system
with feudal society; see Feudal Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961), 279.
23. M.G. Smith, The Plural Society in the British West Indies (Berkeley: University of California
Press, 1965), 111
24. M.G. Smith, Culture, Race and Class in the Commonwealth Caribbean (Mona: University of
the West Indies, 1984), 7; he refers to A Framework of Caribbean Studies as published in
1956, but it was actually published a year earlier (Kingston: University College of the West
Indies, Caribbean Affairs Series, 1955), and reprinted in The Plural Society. 18-74.
25. Smith, Culture, Race and Class, 29.
26. Ibid., 32.
27 Ibid., 34.
28. Ibid., 141
29. Ibid. 140; emphasis added.
30. 'Given the fundamental differences of belief, value, and organisation that connoLe pluralism,
the monopoly of power by one cultural section is the essential precondition for the mainte-
nance of the total society in its current form'; M.G. Smith. The Plural Society 86
31. Malcolm Cross, "On Conflict, Race Relations, and the Theory of the Plural Society" Race
12:4 (1971), 484.
32. 0. Nigel Bolland, Colonialism and Resistance in Belize: essays in historical sociology (Benque
Viejo de Cannen: Mona and Belize City: Cubola Productions, Institute of Social and Eco-
nomic Research and Society for the Promotion of Education and Research, 1988), Introduc-
33. Kamau Brathwaite, The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica, 1770-1820 (Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1971), 311.
34. Kamau Brathwaite, "Jamaican Slave Society, a Review," Race 9 (1968), 336.
35. Ibid., 333.
36. Elsa V. Goveia, Slave Society in the British Leeward Islands at the end of the Eighteenth Cen-
tury (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1965 249-50.

37. Brathwaite, Jamaican slave society 337.
38. Ibid. 341.
39. Brathwaite, The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica, 296.
40. Ibid., 300. This contrasts sharply with the view of Africans, stripped of their cultures, be-
coming Europeanised: "If Europe dominates West Indian political and economic life, in
terms of culture the West Indies are also Old World appendages. No other ex-colonies are
so convinced they are British or French or cling more keenly to their European heritage
Englishness, Frenchness, and even Dutchness and Americanness permeate all aspects of
West Indian life (I)n the Caribbean, European culture and institutions, artifacts and
ideas, are the only generally recognized heritage"; David Lowenthal, West Indian Societies
(New York: London: and Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1972), 5.
41. Ibid., 305. See also Arnold A. Sio," Marginality and Free Coloured Identity in Caribbean
Slave Society", Slavery and Abolition 8 (1987), 166-82.
42. Ibid., 212
43. Brathwaite's tendency to refer to 'African culture', in the singular has been justly criticised.
Richard Price, for example, has commented that the simple model of cultural interaction be-
tween Africans and Europeans pays too little attention to the cultural heterogeneity of the
Africans and envisions culture as "some kind of undivided whole"; Richard Price, "Commen-
tary" in Vera Rubin and Arthur Tuden (eds) Comparative Perspectives on Slavery in New
World Plantation Societies (New York: New York Academy of Sciences(1977), 497
44. Brathwaite, The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica, op. cit. (1971), 231-2.
45. Ibid. 307
46. Ibid., 311.
47 Ibid., 212.
48. Ibid., 311.
49. Rex M. Nettleford, "The Melody of Europe, the Rhythm of Africa," in Mirror, Mirror :Identity,
Race and Protest in Jamaica (Kingston: Collins andSangster, 1970), 173
50. Ibid., 211.
51. Ibid., 210.
52. Ibid., 211.
53. Rex Nettleford,"Implications for Caribbean Development", in Nunley and Bettleheim, Carib-
bean Festival Arts, 1988, 194,
54. Mervyn C. Alleyiie, "A Linguistic Perspective on the Caribbean, in Sidney W Mintz and
Sally Price (eds) Caribbean Contours (Baltimore and London:The Johns Hopkins University
Press, 1985), 160.
55. Ibid., 160.
56. Ibid., 175.
57 Mervyn C. Alleyne: Roots of Jamaican Culture (London: Pluto Press, 1988) 1 52.
58. Ibid., 161.
59. Orlando Patterson, "Context and Choice in Ethnic Allegiance: a theoretical framework and
Caribbean case study," in Nathan Glazer and Daniel P. Moynihan (eds) Ethnicity Theory and
Experience (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1975), 319. For a com-
patible analysis of the development of two segmentary creole cultures in nineteenth-cen-
tury Jamaica, see Philip D. Curtin, Two Jamaicas: the role of ideas in a tropical colony,
1830-1865 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1955).
60. Patterson, in Glazer and Moynihan, "Context and Choice"334.
61. Ibid., 319.

62. See Worsley, The Three Worlds 252, and Bolland, Colonialism and Resistance i) Belize,
(1988), 204-5.
63. Melville J. Herskovits's work on 'the amalgamation of cultures' and the concept of 'syncre-
tism' was pioneering in Caribbean anthropology; see, for example, Life in a Haitian Valley
(New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1937).
64. Brathwaite, The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica xiv.
65. Ibid., 296.
66. Ibid. 305.
67. Ibid., xvi.
68. Kenneth M. Bilby, "The Caribbean as a Musical Region," in Mintz and Price, Caribbean Con-
tours, op. cit. (1985), 182, 185.
69. Brathwaite, The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica, 307.
70. Mervyn C. Alleyne, in Mintz and Price, Caribbean Contours, 158.
71 Karl Marx, "The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte", in Robert C.Tucker (ed.), The
Marx-Engels Reader (New York: W.W. Norton, 1972), 437.
72. Philip-Abrams, "History, Sociology, Historical Sociology," Past and Present, 87 (1980), 13.
This is similar to the theory of 'structuration', in Anthony Giddens, Central Problems in So-
cial Theory: action, structure and contradiction in social analysis (Berkeley and Los Ange-
les: University of California Press, 1979).
73. Karl Marx, Capital, in Tucker, The Marx-Engels Reader, 314-315.
74. Peter Worsley, Marx and Marxism (Chichester: Ellis Horwood, 1982), 67.
75. Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. by Steven F. Rendall (Berkeley: Los
Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1984), xi.
76. Ibid., p. xiii.
77. 0. Nigel Bolland," United States Cultural Influences on Belize: television and education as 've-
hicles of import' Caribbean Quarterly 33 (1987), 60-74.
78. De Certeau, The Practice, xiv.
79. Ibid., xvii.
80. Quoted in Richard Price, 'Foreword' to Roger Bastidc. "African Religions of Brazil" trans. by
Helen Sebba (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978), x.
81. Ibid., x.
82. Brathwaite, The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica. 219.
83. Meyer Fortes, "Kinship and Marriage Among the Ashanti", in African Systems of Kinship and
Marriage (A.R. Radcliffe-Brown and Daryll Forde (eds)] (London: Oxford University Press,
1950), 258.
84. S.F. Nadel, "Dual Descent in the Nuba Hills", in Radcliffe-Brown and Forde, African systems,
op. cit. (1950), 345.
85. Bastide, op. cit. (1978), 400.
86. Brathwaite, The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica, 162.
87 Alleyne, Roots of Jamaican Culture, 79.
88. Brathwaite, The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica, 300.
89. Ibid. 303, 305.
90. Kamau Brathwaite, Contradictory Omens: cultural diversity and integration in the Caribbean
(Mona: Savacou Publications, 1974), 6.
91. Brathwaite, The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica, 228.

92. Ibid. 229-32.
93. Judith Bettelheim, "Jamaican Jonkonnu and Related Caribbean Festivals', in Margaret E. Cra-
han and Franklin W. Knight (eds), Africa and the Caribbean: The Legacies of a Link (Balti-
more and London: The John Hopkins University Press, 1979), 87.
94. Brathwaite The Development of Creole Society, I 00.
95. Ibid.,101.
96. Kamau Brathwaite, "Caliban, Ariel, and Unprospero in the Conflict of Creolisation:a study of
the slave revolt in Jamaica in 1831-32", in Rubin and Tuden, Comparative Perspectives on
Slavery, 42-3.
97. Peter Worsley, The Three Worlds, 4.
98. 0. Nigel Bolland, Colonialism and Resistance in Belize
99. Karen Judd, "Who will Define us? Creolisation in Belize" Cimarron (forthcoming).
100. Ibid., 79
101. 0. Nigel Bolland," Systems of Domination After Slavery: the control of land and labour in
the British West Indies after 1838", Comparative Studies in Society and History (1981),
591-619 Walter Rodney argued that the indentured Indians in late-nineteenth-century Guy-
ana were becoming creolised, but that the 'existing aspects of cultural convergence were
insufficiently developed to contribute decisively to solidarity among the people of the two
major race groups. The obverse of this race-class conjuncture is that the development of
class forces and class consciousness was inadequate to sustain unity of the working peo-
ple across the barriers of racial exclusiveness, and the separate trajectories created by legal
distinctions, and class struggles against the domination of capital which effect two semi
autonomous sets of people and important aspects of culture. There was the one con-
ducted by the descendants of ex-slaves and the other by indentured labourers and their fel-
low Indians pursuing their legitimate aspirations, these two ethnically defined sectors
ot'the labouring people could and did come into conflict with each other. A History of the
Guyanese Working People, 1881-1905 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins Univer-
sity Press, 1981).
102. Brathwaite, Contradictory Omens, 64-103
103. Ibid., 64.
104. See 0. Nigel Bolland, "African Continuities and Creole Culture in Belize" in Charles V.
Carnegie (ed.) Afro-Caribbean Towns and Villages in the Nineteenth Century: a Historical
Perspective", (Kingston: African-Caribbean Institute of Jamaica, 1987), 63-82.

Creole Then And Now: The Problem Of Definition



Chief among the ideas which Kamau Brathwaite has elaborated for our
benefit is an understanding of the cultural dimensions of Caribbean history as
a process in which the arrivants and their progenitors forge a complex dynamic
of group identity and interrelations. Choosing 'creole' as the root term, he
labeled the process 'creolisation,' a concept which is receiving increasing
recognition in an age highly attuned to indeterminacy and cross-cultural
hybridity. Non-Caribbean scholars are turning to the region for tools to deci-
pher global culture "It is the Caribbean which has been the crucible of
the most extensive and challenging post-colonial theory"1 as regional
scholars like Edouard Glissant look outward to the world.2
General interest notwithstanding, creole and creolisation hold particu-
lar significance for the region. For Sidney Mintz and Sally Price in Caribbean
Contours,3 it is first among aspects of development which suggest the
legitimacy of discussing the Caribbean as a unit, despite internal diversity.
Almost twenty years after defining the concept, Rex Nettleford4 notes its
continued importance in Inward Stretch, Outward Reach: "Addressing creoli-
sation brings the student of Caribbean affairs closer to the deep social forces
as well as the complex, contradictory and dialectical reality of Caribbean life."5
This interest on the part of social scientists is not accidental, says Jean
Casimir in La Carai'be Une et Divisible To paraphrase in English, creoles and
the creolised are fundamental to the network of lasting relationships on which
these colonial societies are built.6 In the 1988 publication Pidgins and Creole
Languages, Suzanne Romaine observed that creole studies constituted the
fastest growing field in linguistics.7 Something of the interest of literary
theorists -especially in the growth field of postcolonial studies- is indicated
in the quotation above from Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin. Given the continued
attention of historians, 'Creole' might logically be considered a useful area of
interdisciplinary study of the region as a whole.
Yet one important question immediately comes to mind. Do we all
mean the same thing when we say 'creole' and 'creolisation'? The "difficulty
of defining this word with precision,"8 obliges writers to state the meaning
they intend. Nigel Bolland (this volume), Mintz/Price and Brathwaite all give
brief accounts of its varied applications. In Contradictory Omens, the survey

goes from Peru to Sierra Leone via Louisiana, clearly indicating how meaning
differs according to location, as it does with historical period 9 and from one
discipline to another 'Creole' is, among other things, language type, person,
style and culture. Given the range of meanings, it is not surprising to find
contradictory claims. According to the late Samuel Selvon, who saw himself
as "completely creolised, it is a term used in Trinidad "meaning you live
among the people, whatever races they are, and you are a real born Trini-
dadian...."1 With an emphasis on a cultural nationality, racial indeterminacy,
and implicit social class, this differs from the mutually opposed definitions of
Brathwaite and Mintz/Price. 11 How feasible is dialogue in the abstract when
the concrete term itself is so unstable?

If the value of the concept is not to be compromised by this variety
and contradiction, we must approach an understanding of why this single
designation is appropriate in each case. What is the basis of the fundamental
commonality among these phenomena? If it is feasible to consider 'creole' a
genus (a group having common structural characteristics distinct from those of
all other groups and containing several species), then the challenge is to
identify its characteristic elements.

This is the aim here, based on an hypothesis born of curiosity. Given
the close association between the emergence of the term and the phenomena
it names, perhaps we can derive functional principles from an investigation
into the very 'history' of its use. The undertaking is modest and exploratory,
working from a survey of dictionary definitions in three languages (English,
Spanish and French) and selected scholarly pieces, primarily on the Caribbean,
in a range of disciplines. The concepts extracted as the principles of co-iden-
tification in the variety of creole-designated phenomena may facilitate dialogue
which currently seems hazardous.
Creole [native to the locality, 'country'; be-
lieved to be a colonial corruption of criadillo,
'bred, brought up, reared, domestic' Ac-
cording to some 18th Century writers originally
applied by S. American Negroes to their own
children born in America as distinguished from
Negroes freshly imported from Africa; but
D'Acosta, 1590, applies it to Spaniards born in
the W. Indies]12

The origins of the term creole are obscure. Acknowledging this fact,
the Dictionnaire de la langue Francaise gives three possibilities: Caribbean
origin; an invention of the Spanish conquistadors; a derivation from Spanish

'criar' By most other accounts however, it derives from Portuguese (Brazil),
with the Latin root "to create" referring in this context to servants born and
brought up in the master's house. Yet, this received opinion does not fully
account for what some etymologists have acknowledged as an uncharacteris-
tic suffix.13 Among available sources, the Diccionario Critico Etimol6gico de la
Lengua Castellana gives the most extensive examination of possible transfor-
mations, but is unable to come to any definite conclusion in the absence of
systematic study of suffixes in sixteenth century Portuguese, and Brazillian
speech. What it is quite decisive about is its earliest use by Blacks in Brazil, a
notion also acknowledged by a few other sources. Recent research by
Maureen Warner-Lewis reinforces the notion of possible African origin. 14
Among other terms thought to be of Portuguese or Spanish origin, she posits
a Kikoongo root for 'creole' meaning 'outsider' which coincides with the
attitude perceived among Africans towards their locally born offspring, by at
least one often quoted source:

Garcilaso el Inca (Peru 1602): Es nombre que
inventaron los negros y asi lo muestra la obra.
Quiere decir entire los negros, nascido en In-
dias; inventaronlo para diferenciar los que van
de ac6 les decir, del Viejo Mundo, que incluye
Africa], nascidos en Guinea, de los que nascen
alia [Am6rical, porque se tienen por mas honra-
dos y de mas calidad por haber nascido en su
patria, que no sus hijos, porque nascieron en la
ajena, y los padres se ofenden si les Ilaman
criollos. Los espanoles, por la semejanza, han
introducido este nombre en su lenguaje, para
nombrar los nascidos all.15
[It is a name invented by the negroes Among
the negroes it means born in the Indies, they
invented it to distinguish between those born
here [that is, in the Old World, which includes
Africa], born in Guinea, and those born over
there [America), because they consider them-
selves more honourable and of higher status
for being born in their homeland, and not their
children who were born abroad, and the par-
ents are very offended if they are called cre-
oles. The Spanish, likewise, introduced this
name into their language, to identify those born
over there.](My translation.)

The Africans born in the mother country saw themselves as more honourable
and of higher quality by virtue of their place of birth.

In both accounts 'creole' is and expresses the result of the Atlantic
crossing and colonisation. Evident in the etymology are fragmentation, obscu-
rity, possible invention or corruption, and adaptation. If we take the Warner-
Lewis account, the term will have passed from the African to the European
-serving the same purpose, if not with the same connotation- a phenome-
non which accentuates the dimension of cultural contact and transfer associ-
ated with the term. There is also clear evidence of another dimension of
cultural contact and transfer across the region, from one colonial enclave to
another. The etymological notes suggest a sequence which goes from Portu-
guese to Spanish to French to English. With closer attention to dates and
sources this would no doubt provide an outline to the progressive colonisation
of the region. Creolisation is a common pattern.
We also have an indication of its multiplicity. A creole might be white
or black with no intent or likelihood of co-identification between the two:
In the West Indies and other parts of America,
Mauritius, etc. orig. A person born and natu-
ralised in the country, but of European (usually
Spanish or French ) or of African Negro race:
the name having no connotation of colour, and
in its reference to origin being distinguished on
the one hand from born in Europe (or Africa),
and on the other hand from aboriginal. 16

Here we find a principle of duality consequent upon cross-cultural encounter.
The 'but' indicates the value of 'creole' as a marker of difference. The New
World-born offspring of Old World parents had one identity by blood and
another by place of birth, being simultaneously the same and different, colonial
'other' It is worth noting -though the majority of sources do not that this
difference also had a dual quality, distinguishing the creole from his/her parent
on the one hand and from the aboriginal or indigenous population, also locally
born, on the other. Originally then, 'creole' was an intermediary category,
defined primarily by its relationship to others, rather than by an essence.
Retaining this quality, shifts in application occur consequent upon changes in
context. The question of race provides a useful illustration.

There is no consensus on whether 'creole' was first applied to Blacks
or Whites. While some sources question its legitimacy with reference to
Blacks, others (like the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) ) claim it has no racial

implication at all. The major debate, however, concerns its application to
persons of so-called 'mixed blood' European and African in particular In
French, dictionaries of proper usage and special difficulties highlight the
(erroneous) practice of not distinguishing between a creole, of pure white
blood, and a 'm6tis' the accurate term for a person of mixed blood: "Un creole
n'est pas un metis, il est ne aux Antilles, mais d'origine blanche." [A creole is
not a 'm6tis' he is born in the Indies, but of white origin.]17 Fowler's
Dictionary of Modern English Usage agrees, giving 'mulatto' as the appropriate
term in English for a person of mixed blood.18 These efforts, especially
noticeable in the nineteenth century, are significantly outweighed by the many
sources which list the mixed-blood definition among creole's legitimate appli-
cations. In Jamaica Talk, Cassidy illustrates how this shift occurred, noting
similarly futile attempts at 'correction':

The term 'Creole' has no reference to colour,
as is commonly supposed by Europeans, but
merely means 'native' We speak of a Creole
horse, or of any vegetable or esculent not
common to the country.19

Ironically, Carol Barash claims the opposite:

In England, 'Creole' means Jamaican, outsider;
in Jamaica, 'Creole' means a person of mixed

Here it is the English who perceive 'creole' as implying belonging to the
location rather than as a racial term. What both writers maintain however, is
a difference between local and foreign usage. The insider/outsider opposition
appears once again. It is perhaps inevitable that a term which marks differ-
ence, should vary with the perspective and context of the user.

Creole. A term applied with varying connota-
tion to a person of European stock or of mixed
blood. 21

These "varying connotations" no doubt include those of visiting Euro-
peans who wrote about the local white population, as well as attitudes
perceived among the blacks. In the case of Jamaica for example, Edward
Long and Lady Nugent suggest that creole whites were culturally inferior to
their British-born counterparts. (This corresponds perhaps to the Old World
superiority noted among the early Africans.22) According to at least one writer,
Negroes shared this perception of the creole whites. 23 Pejorative connota-

tions are also noted in French and Spanish American usage: in the outdated
reflexive verb 'se creoliser' meaning to take on certain characteristics of a
creole and in the definition "Nacional, vernaculo, indfgena o propio de los
pauses hispano-americanos y por lo mismo de calidad inferior a lo extranjero,
principalmente europeo" meaning indigenous and therefore of inferior quality
with reference to that which is foreign, especially European.24

Also important historically, is the antipathy between locally born
Blacks and new African arrivants. From the vantage point of the coloniser, it
was the creole Black, who quite rightly thought himself/herself superior:

The Creole Blacks differ much from the Afri-
cans, not only in manners, but in beauty of
shape, features and complexion. They hold
the Africans in the utmost contempt, styling
them 'salt-water Negroes' and 'Guinea birds';
but value themselves on their own pedigree.

Les noirs creoles [de Saint-Domingue] profes-
saient le plus profound m6pris pour les noirs
congos. [The creole Blacks [of Saint-Domin-
guel expressed the greatest contempt for the
Congo Blacks.]

The farther back the negroe could trace his
Creolism, the more he valued himself 25

These attitudes had political implications for movements of resistance against
slavery, 26 reminding us forcefully of one effect of the creole's difference and
intermediacy social tensions, a manifestation of the hierarchical structure of
colonial society, the racial and social divisions which made the forging of
national identities truly challenging across the region.

Yet, even as it carried the burden of social tensions, 'creole' would
become the watchword of nationalistic movements. One reason for this is the
importance of nativity within the concept, a role closely associated with the
adaptation which made of the creole a distinctive type. Not unlike the plants
and animals which grew differently in the tropical zones, humans were
perceptibly modified by climate and surroundings. Habits of behaviour, atti-
tude, speech, cuisine and more, came to be identified with creole populations.
It is extraordinary to witness the immediate
effect that the climate and habit of living in this
country have upon the minds and manners of

Europeans they have become indolent and
inactive, regardless of every thing but eating,
drinking and indulging themselves 27

So closely was this lifestyle associated with creoles, that a verb form was
coined to name their characteristic way of lounging. In both French and
English we read of 'creolising':

La marquise y gagna une prostration maladive,
qui fit d'elle une creole des images, passant sa
vie sur une chaise-longue. [The marquise took
on a bad habit of prostrating herself, which
made of her the image of the creole, passing
her life away on a lounge chair.]

The ladies generally creolised the whole day
in a delectable state of apathy... Creolising is
an easy and elegant mode of lounging in a
warm climate.

A word now out of use, but which we have
found earliest in Jamaica, is to creolise that
is to lounge easily and elegantly, as Lady
Nugent learned to do after she had been in the
island for a time: After breakfast, the usual
routine; writing, reading, and creolising. This
word, obviously, would be used by outsiders,
not by creoles, in explanation of the informal
dress and relaxed habit, that they adopted
because of the climate. 28

This no doubt contributed to the association of both indolence and
grace with creoleness. In territories across the region, creole attributes also
include nonchalance, cowardice, simplicity, lack of etiquette. Though it is not
clear whether these perceptions are consistently those of outsiders, it is fairly
certain that they were considered the 'trademarks' of a quintessential local
type, perhaps as much influenced by climate as by association with the
'Other' Franklin Knight's commentary on Creole slaves, and their advantages
over the Africans, points to a corresponding adaptation:"They were physically
acclimatised as well as mentally socialised to the conduct and routine of the
plantation and local culture, and in some cases they spoke and understood the
local languages." Perhaps more important than race then, is the creole's

affinity to place, having intimate knowledge of it and being committed to it by
experience and/or attachment.30
This identification between inhabitant and land, especially in the
colonial situation, is an important moment, signaling a turn away from the
'mother country' and an embryonic national consciousness which would
develop into the anti-colonial movement towards self-possession and defini-
tion. Here the duality and intermediacy of the creole become argument for
claiming power. Who better to represent the new, multifaced society? Who
was more settled and committed to the future of the country?

the initial emergence of a national culture
and ideology in Caribbean societies, seems to
have depended to a great extent on the possi-
bilities for growth of a 'creole' group (i.e. of
Old World origin, but born in the New World)
whose primary identities were with the new
society, rather than with their ancestral cul-
tures of origin. Such creole stabilisation oc-
curred most clearly in the Hispanic Caribbean,
where colonists came to stay and, early on,
began to create genuine insular cultures.31

This movement had its parallel on the continent, the locally born
population claiming the legitimate right to rule,32 so that among creole whites
of Spanish America, 'criollismo' became synonymous with nationalism, and
the term took on the definition "tendencia a exaltear lo criollo" [a tendency to
exalt the creole]. The ultimate success of these movements may be seen in
the evolution of creole into a synonym of 'native' especially throughout Latin
America, though not exclusively, as we observed earlier in the discussion of
race. One Cassidy/LePage source states "A creole is a Jamaican..." The
Dictionaiy of American English records "Creole is a word signifying 'native',
and applies to all kinds of men and things indigenous to New Orleans,"34
Haitians and Martinicans alike use it to refer to local culture. Since, as the
OED observes, "local use varies, the specific manifestation of creoleness will
vary from place to place. As a result, though 'creole' may be shared by all the
territories of the region, it must be recognized as belonging to each in its own
In one respect at least, the nature of this difference has been a source
of debate. For the creole culture of Haiti and Martinique is not that of the
descendants of European settlers, as in the Spanish American territories, but
rather the culture of the creole-speaking majority, largely of African descent.

The seed of this distinction may be seen in the early dual application of 'creole'
to both Blacks and Whites, native-born. It owes something also to the
extension of the meaning of the term to apply to languages which emerged
typically out of colonial encounters, thus creating an apparent anomaly in its
L'etymologie indiquee par Littre montre bien
que I'emploi de creole pour designer les Noirs
des Antilles n'est pas une faute grossi6re.
Cependant le 'bon usage' a impose de n'em-
ployer creole que pour les Blancs. II reste que le
dialecte antillais dit, 'creole' est plut6t parle
par les Noirs.35
[The etymology indicated by Littre clearly
shows that the use of creole to refer to Blacks
in the West Indies is not a gross error. How-
ever, proper usage insists on reserving the
term for Whites. Notwithstanding, the West
Indian dialect called 'creole' is largely spoken
by Blacks.]

This duality becomes controversy when we move from person and language to
the abstract, the understanding of the creolisation process out of which our
cultures have emerged.

on the mainland there sprang up a Creole
culture in which the American-born Spaniard,
the Criollo, felt himself different from the Span-
iard born in Spain, the Gachupine. In the is-
lands it was the African who gave a distinctive
character to the new communities that were to
come into existence.36

Is it legitimate to consider, to name the latter also, 'creole' cultures? This is
where the theorists are divided.

Endorsing Philip Sherlock's distinction between mainland and island
culture, Jean Casimir points out the risk of referring to these African-based
cultures as 'creole' the risk of confusing the creations of the dominated with
the adaptations of European institutions by the dominant.37 In 1972 Sylvia
Wynter held a similar position. For her, creolisation represents a "false
assimilation" in which the dominated adopt elements from the dominant
culture in order to obtain prestige or gain status. This is in keeping with the

perception of the creole black of the colonial period, acculturated to European
ways and perpetuating prejudices against Africa, denying (and hindering ) its
energising role in Caribbean culture.

It is the African heritage which has been the
crucible of the cultural deposits of the immi-
grant peoples, transforming borrowed ele-
ments of culture into something indigenously

Consequently, avoiding the risk of confusion, Wynter calls this process indi-
genisation. She depicts it as secretive, a kind of maroon activity, by which the
dominated culture resists and survives.

It is precisely this activity which other writers call 'creole' David
Nicholls, for example, points specifically to Voodoo, in his discussion of
stubborn, particularly countryside, resistance to cultural imperialism in Haiti.39
The Voodoo religion, he says, "is a genuinely Creole phenomenon," because
along with other recognisable Caribbean practices and institutions, it incorpo-
rates elements of Christianity within its development of African religions.
Nicholls identifies Rastafarianism in Jamaica, with its revulsion against West-
ern civilisation, as another genuinely Creole phenomenon. For his part, Rex
Nettleford uses 'creolisation' and 'indigenisation' almost interchangeably, giv-
ing direct challenge to the Wynter reading.

The term 'creolisation' is sometimes used in a
pejorative sense to denote the tenacious hold
that the conceivably superordinate metropoli-
tan forces of Europe maintain over the cultural
apparatus of the Caribbean. But more properly
it refers to the agonising process of renewal
and growth that marks the new order of men
and women who came originally from different
Old World cultures and met in conflict or
otherwise on foreign soil. 40

It is simple enough to argue that this is merely a disagreement about seman-
tics. Nicholls' use of the French makes it clear that, unlike Wynter, he
associates the term with the emergent, local culture of the creole-speaking,
predominantly Afro-Caribbean, community. This endorses its validity as
Edouard Glissant's choice for the culture of Neo-America, the region in which
Africa is predominant in the populations 41 But Nicholls' italics also suggest
that 'creole' in English would not be satisfactory since it does not carry similar

associations. In territories like Jamaica, it lacks the currency of everyday use.
Though its principles of cross-cultural interaction may be expounded on
platforms, usually through metaphors like melting-pot and callaloo, it has not
become a catch word. Nevertheless, Michael Dash suggests that (some of)
the blame for muddling its meaning must be borne by governments, whose
"ideological appropriations" of the concept have so emphasised harmony and
unity, at the expense of tension and conflict, that "the notion of creolisation
still remains ill-defined and fraught with ambiguities." Nigel Bolland directly
addresses this nationalistic exploitation of the Creole-society model, acknow-
ledging its reluctance to deal with sources of conflict and social tension.43

Robert Young's reading of Brathwaite might suggest aligning him with
the politicians, since fusion is seen as the end result of an organic hybridity set
against a conscious, oppositional, open-ended notion of Bakhtin 44 Yet, even
a cursory reading of Contradictory Omens would make this difficult to accept,
given the doubt it casts on the possibility of synthesis. There is a clear
distinction between the syncretic model and the Creole society:
Based on the concept of interculturation,
where the various segments are seen to share
certain institutions and tools, though these
may/will be used/interpreted differently while
the several segments vie for cultural hegem-
ony, and in which external and/or political in-
terference with the process could be

We hear echoes in Bolland's definition, which takes us further:

Creolisation, then, is not a homogenised proc-
ess, but rather a process of contention be-
tween people who are members of social
formations and carriers of cultures, a process
in which their own ethnicity is continually re-
examined and redefined in terms of the rele-
vant opposition between different social
formations at various historical moments.46

Clearly, academic discourse on the concept of creolisation has moved
its definition far beyond Wynter's application. In fact, the recognition which
she claims for the active role of Africans, is precisely what the creole society
model has emphasised, Bolland claims, insisting on the active agency of the

common people, and offering an "antithesis [to] the old imperialist viewpoint
that denies the 'natives' a history of their own.. "4
When we consider the continually extended definitions and applica-
tions of the term 'creole' itself, the inconsistencies in the understanding of the
concept and related cultural process are much less surprising. Paradox is
almost inevitable. Since attempts to iron out these ambiguities must ulti-
mately meet with frustration, we look instead for underlying genetic charac-
teristics, in the hope of facilitating dialogue among these definitions.
1. A movement away from origin and the difficulty of reconstructing a path
back to the sources) suggested in the etymology of the term.
2. The inescapability of difference, recalling that creole was introduced to
mark the appearance of a simultaneously similar/dissimilar type.
3. With the historical experience of colonialism which gave rise to its use,
the primacy of cross-cultural encounter and the location of creoleness at an
intersection, negotiating between identities and forces, and defined by its re-

4. The consequence, however strongly resisted, of a modification of type in-
volving rejection, adaptation, accommodation, imitation, invention.
5 The value of nativisation or indigenisation, marking the point of recogni-
tion of that new type as belonging to the locale.
6. Yet, the difficulty of fully accounting for this type which does not become
a fixed form but continues in a dynamic process of interaction with new in-

7 The multiplicity of creole forms/types making context and point of view
crucial to understanding.
All of these principles can be seen at work in the language definition of
creole which took hold only fairly recently -the first international conference
on creole linguistics was held in 1959-though its use has been recorded as
early as the sixteenth century.48 Dictionary definitions some decades ago
carried the pejorative connotations noted earlier with reference to Creoles
(persons).They indicate the perception of creole languages as inferior, savage
corruptions, or merely simplified versions of civilised European languages.
Advancements in the field of linguistics have erased these comments from
more recent editions, no doubt another effect of decolonisation. Encounter,
nativity and process are significant elements in the linguistic definition.
In sociolinguistic terms, [creole languages]
have arisen through contact between speakers

of different languages. This contact first pro-
duces a makeshift language called a pidgin;
when this is nativised and becomes the lan-
guage of a community, it is a creole The
process of becoming a creole may occur at any
stage as a makeshift language develops from
trade jargon to expanded pidgin, and can hap-
pen under drastic circumstances.49

Note the use of the plural. Here creole truly designates a genus.
There are several creoles (within and beyond the Americas), derived from a
variety of languages, many with individual names at home. The difference
between a pidgin and a true creole is important to note native tongue and
extension. The hybrid language must become the mother tongue of a speech
community. This stage is unlikely to be reached until the language has
developed by expansion a range and capacity suited to the needs of the
community, a process which occurs over an extended period of time. This
process of becoming is what they have in common, though the products differ.
The multiplicity and relativity of creoleness being undeniable, since what it
means to be creole in actuality, shifts with each context, it is best understood
with reference to a specific field of signification. But linguistic studies also
provide schematic outlines of the process which may be appropriated to
enhance the analysis of other cultural phenomena.
Within this framework nativisation becomes one important stage,
rather than an alternative or other process. Brathwaite's formulation in
Contradictory Omens actually allows for the inclusion of different kinds of
creolisation -European, African and mulatto- accommodating both sides,
Wynter and Nicholas, Casimir and Bolland. In fact, Roger Andersen's defini-
tion of nativisation shifts the grounds of the debate.
it is the individual's mental capacity to con-
struct such a linguistic system that makes it
possible for a new 'native' language to arise,
as in the case of the creation of a creole
language. Each individual has the potential for
creating his own system. New input then must
assimilate to his system. This process of cre-
ating an individual autonomous system I call
na tiviza tion

Here assimilation is redefined (in terms somewhat similar to Senghor's) as an
active response of the receiver, challenging the presumption of passivity. One

might extend this notion to the discussion of the artistic strategies of writers
attempting to represent the nature of this culture, their methods of devising a
poetics of creolisation.

[language] is at the crux of the struggle to
forge a genuinely indigenous literary idiom.
The essence of that idiom must itself be a
dramatic example of the dynamic process of
creolisation, of the cultural confrontation and
creation it attempts faithfully to examine and

In a recent article, Jahan Ramazani discusses the significance of the
wound in Derek Walcott's Omeros as a polyvalentt metaphor" which in its
knittingig together [of different histories of affliction" "exemplifies the cross-
cultural fabric of postcolonial poetry but contravenes the assumption that
postcolonial literature develops by sloughing off Eurocentrism for indi-
geneity. The issues considered here are closely linked to those outlined in
the seven-point principles of creolisation and the discussion of its 'history':
"interpretive opacity" "hybrid, polyvalent and unpredictable"; "tropological
binding up of seeming antitheses"; "cultural convergence in the Americas [and
its] violent genesis"; "the twists and turns of intercultural inheritance"; "Wal-
cott's appropriation resembles other well-known indigenisations"; "the
metamorphosis is more tangled for it invokes shifts"; "Walcott has
spliced a variety of literary genes [sic] and even antithetical cultures to create
a surprisingly motley character" with a "multiple and contradictory parent-
age" 53 Ultimately, the article, not unlike the linguist's definition above,
argues for a more complex understanding of 'nativisation':
the post-colonial poet's seeming capitula-
tion to or subversion of European influences
needs to be rethought as a more ambiguous
and ambivalent synthesis than is usually ac-
knowledged. 54

This, we have seen, also applies to the term 'creole' from its etymol-
ogy to its many definitions varying with period and place, and its extended
forms and designations. Variety and contradiction notwithstanding, there is
an identifiable, though not stable, group of principles associated with the
notion wherever it is found. To the range of metaphors invoked by various
scholars to enhance our understanding of creoleness -melting pot, quilt,
rhizome root55-we may add yet another, the mathematical formula which
involves a 'chaos'-producing factor, creating a variety of curves despite the

constant relationship among its parts. A grasp of the formula may hopefully
facilitate dialogue.

Notes and References

Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin, The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice
in Post-colonial Literatures (London & New York: Routledge, 1989) 145. See also J. Mi-
chael Dash in "Psychology, Creolisation and Hybridisation" in James Clifford's The Predica-
ment of Culture where the Caribbean is seen as a "paradigm for modem syncretic
cultures." (Typescript from the author. Recently published in Bruce King edited collection
on post-colonial literature.)
2. In his Introduction A une poetique du divers (Paris: Gallimard, 1996), Edouard Glissant also
sees the implications of studying creolisation as going beyond the region, to offering a new
approach to the spiritual dimension of the humanities.
3. Sidney Mintz and Sally Price, Caribbean Contours (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins UP,
(1985) 6.
4. Rex Nettleford, Caribbean Cultural Identity (Kingston: Institute of Jamaica, 1978) 2.
5. Rex Nettleford, Inward Stretch, Outward Reach: A Voice from the Caribbean (London and Bas-
ingstoke:Macmillan, 1993) 64.
6. Jean Casimir, La Caraibe Une et Divisible (Port-au-Prince: CEPALC/Nations Unies/Henri
Deschamps, 1991) 27 "La mise en place de groupements et de rdsaux de relations dur-
ables suppose un certain degr6 de connaissance du mode de fonctionnement de la society.
Dans une situation colonial, cette mise en place est done I'oeuvre des creoles on des creo-
licas. Ce n'est pas par hasard que les specialists des sciences sociales de la region,
s'emancipant de la tutelle metropolitaine, s'efforcent de mettre au clair ce que sont le
crdole et le processus de creolisation."
7 Suzanne Romaine, Pidgin and Creole Languages (London: Longman, 1988)1
8. Noted in entry on "creole" in A Dictionary of American English (Chicago: University of Chi-
cago Press, 1940).
9. See Frederic G. Cassidy, Jamaica Talk 1961 (London/Kingston: Macmillan Caribbean/Sang-
ster's, 1982) for changes in Jamaican usage. Also Bolland's reference to Virginia R. Dom-
inguez' study of the meaning(s) of 'creole' in Louisiana since the eighteenth century.
10. Quoted by Stefano Harney in Nationalism and Identity: Culture and the Imagination in a Car-
ibbean Diaspora (London and Kingston: Zed Books and UWI, 1996) 95.
According to Brathwaite: ...in Trinidad, it refers principally to the black descendants of
slaves Contradictory Omens, 10. Mintz/Price: "In modem settings, it refers in some areas
(e.g., coastal Suriname) to Afro-Americans and in others (e.g., Trinidad) to persons of Euro-
pean ancestry. Caribbean Contours (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins UNiversity
Press,1985) 6.
12. Oxford English Dictionary Vol.11 (Oxford University Press,1193311961),1 163
13. To give just a few examples: Dictionnaire de la langue franchise (Paris: Hachette, 1878)
"L'origine de criollo est douteuse; si I'on faith venir de 1 'espagn. la formation est tout A
fait irregulaire d'Espagne. Oscar Bloch and Wlather von Wartburg, Dictionnaire Etymolo-
gigue de la langua franca(Paris: Presses Universitaires, 1975 6th ed.) "dbr. De criar lat.
Creare, avec un suff. peu clair. An Entymological Dictionary of the English Language. (Ox-
ford U P, 1987) a corrupt word made by the negroes; said to be a contraction of
14. Maureen Wamer-Lewis, "Posited Kikoongo Origins of some Portuguese and Spanish words
of the slave period. Paper presented to Tenth Biennial Conference of the Society for Carib-
bean Linguistics, Georgetown, Guyana (August 1994). For further support and connnen-

tary on the African origins of linguistic creole formation see William Washabaugh and Sid-
ney M. Greenfield, "The Development of Atlantic Creole Languages," Ellen Woolford and
William Washabaugh eds., The Social Context of Creolisation (Ann Arbor: Karoma, 1983)
15. Diccionario Critico Etimol6gico de la Lengua Castellana (Bema: 1954.)
16. Carol Barash, "The Character of Difference: The Creole Woman as Cultural Mediator in Nar-
ratives about Jamaica," Eighteenth Century Studies 23.4 (1900) 424
17 A Dictionary of American English University of Chicago Press, 1 940
18. H.W.Fowler, A Dictionary of Modern English Usage.2nd ed.London:Kingston:MacmillanCarib-
bean/Sangsters)[ 1 961 1 982), 162.
19. See Frederic G. Cassidy, Jamaica Talk 1961,162
20. Carol Barash, "The Character of Difference: The Creole Woman as Cultural Mediator inNarra-
tives about Jamaica" Eighteenth Century Studies,23: 4(1990),424
21. A Dictionary of American English (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1940).
22. See Warner-Lewis extract above. Edward Long, The History of Jamaica, 3 Vols.(London:n.p.
1774) Philip Wright led.), Lady Nugent's Journal of her Residence in Jamaica, 1801-1805
(Kingston: Institute of Jamaica,11907) 1966).
23. Southall quoted in Cassidy and LePage, 130, Also Jean Rhys Wide Sargasso Sea for a fic-
tional representation. Discussed by Carole Barash.
24. Tresor de la Langue Francaise: Dictionnaire de la langue du XIXe et du XXe siecle. (16
vols.)Vol.6(Paris:Eds.Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 1978). Franscisco J. San-
tamaria, Dictionariode Majicanismos. (Mdjico: Editorial Porrua,1959).
25. Edward Long qouted in Cassidy, Jamaica Talk 156; Victor Hugo (1826)cited in Tresor de la
Langue Francaise J.Ramsay (1788) quoted in the Oxford English Dictionary
26. As Cudjoe notes in Resistance and Caribbean Literature (Chicago: Ohio UP, 1980), "Given
these divisions, it became impossible for Africans to maintain the sense of cohesiveness
necessary to overthrow the Europeans and develop their own national state." For a more
extended discussion of Haiti, see David Nicholls, From Dessalines to Duvalier.
27 Philip Wright led.), Lady Nugent's Journal of her Residence in Jamaica, 1801-1805 (King-
ston: Institute of Jamaica,[1907] 1966)98
28. Radliquet (1923) cited in Tresor de la Langue Francaise: J. McLeod (1818) in Oxford English
Dictionary; Cassidy Jamaica Talk, 153
29. Franklin W. Knight, The Caribbean: The Genesis of a Fragmented Nationalism. 2nd edition.
(New York: Oxford UP, 1990) 128.
30. Kamau Brathwaite "Creative Literature of the British West Indies during the period of slav-
ery," Roots (Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1993) 129.
31 Sidney Mintz, "The Caribbean as a Socio-cultural Area," Michael M. Horowitz ed. Peoples
and Cultures of the Caribbean (New York: Natural History Press, 1971) 34.
32. Discussing the racial politics of Mexican independence for example, Chester Hunt and Lewis
Walker state, "Mexican independence and Mexican nationalism were first stimulated to
serve the interests of the criollos Ethnic Dynamics: Patterns of intergroull relations in
various societies (Homewood: Dorsey Press, 1974) 141.
33. Cassidy and LePage, Dictionary of Jamaican English. (Cambridge: Camb University Press,
34. Joseph Tregle's discussion of the political importance of creoleness in Louisiana is instruc-
tive, in "Creoles and Americans", Creole New Orleans, Arnold R.Hirsch and Joseph
Logsdon.eds. (Baton Rouge and London:Louisiana State University, 1992), 131-185.
35. "Creole, Encylopedia du Bon Francais dans I'usage conteporain. Vol. I (Paris: Editions de
Trevise, 1972).

36. P. M. Sherlock, West Indian Nations: A New History (London: Macmillan and Kingston:Ja-
maica Publishing House, 1973) 32.
37. Jean Casimir, La Carai'abe Une et Divisible. (Port-au-Prince:CEPALC/Nations Unies/Henri
Deschamps,1991),44. My translation. "Qualifier la culture locale de culture creole fait
courir le risque de confondre les creations des ethnies dominoes avec les adaptations des in-
stitutions europdenncs par 1 ethnice dominante" Casimir 44.
38. Sylvia Wynter, "Creole Criticism A Critique, New World Ouarterly 5.4 (1972): 12-37
39. David Nicholls, Dessalines to Duvalier Warwick University Caribbean Studies (London & Bas-
ingstoke: Macmillan Caribbean. 1988) 248-49.
40. Rex Nettleford, Caribbean Cultural Identity (Kingston: Institute of Jamaica, 1978) 2.
41. Edouard Glissant, "Creolisations dans la Caraibe et les Ameriques, Introduction A une po-
etique du divers (Paris: Gillimard, 1996) 14.oet
42. J.Michael Dash, "Psychology, Creolisation and Hybridisation," ts 2-3.
43. O.Nigel Bolland, "Creolisation and Creole societies: a cultural nationalist view of Caribbean
social history." in Alistair Hennessy, ed.lntellectuals in the Twentieth CentruryCaribbean.
Vol.1- Spectre of the New Class:The Commonwealth Caribbean. Warwick University Carib-
bean Studies, (London:Macmillan Caribbean, 1992),50-79.
44. Robert J. C. Young, Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture and Race (New York: Rout-
ledge, 1995) 20-22.
45. Kamau Brathwaite, Contradictory Omens. (Mona, Jamaica: Savacou,[ 1974]1985),58
46. O.Nigel Bolland, "Creolisation and Creole societies: a cultural nationalist view of Caribbean
social history." 72.
47 Bolland,52
48. "Creoles and Pidgins., The Linguistics Encyclopedia (London and New York: Routledge,
1991) 82. For a more detailed account with quotations but later dates see Peter Stein,
"Quelques dates nouvelles de I'histoire du mot 'creole' Etudes Creoles, 5.1-2 (1982):
49. Oxford Companion to the English Language (Oxford and NY: Oxford UP, 1992) 270-1
50. Kamau Brathwaite, Contradictory Omens. (Mona, Jamaica: Savacou,[1974]1985),58. Roger
Anderson et.al., Pidginisation and Creolisation as Language Acquisition. (Rowley and Lon-
don: Newbury House,1983),11
51. Roberto Marquez, "Nationalism, Nation and Ideology: Trends in the Emergence of a Carib-
bean Literature, The Modem Caribbean, Franklin W. Knight and Colin A. Palmer eds.
(Chapel Hill and London: U of North Carolina Press, 1989) 330.
52. Derek Walcott, Omeros. (NewYork:Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1990). Jahan Ramazani, "The
Wound of History: Walcott's Omeros and the Postcolonial Poetics of Affliction," PMLA 112
(1997): 405-417 Quoting from Abstracts, 536.
53. Jahan Ramazani,PMLA 112:3 (1997),405-41 7,passim.
54. Jahan Ramazani,PMLA 112:3(1997),409.
55. The difficulty of thinking outside the habits of mind which privilege the linear structure
makes metaphors both useful and attractive. All three embrace the essential ingredients of
multiplicity and encounter or relationship, but each contains a limitation: in the melting pot
original identity is lost; with the quilt each element remains discreet, unaltered; the 'parts'
of the rhizome root may have little relation to each other outside the point of origin.

Trinidad Yoruba:
Its Theoretical Implications for Creolisation Processes



'Creolisation' is a regional term for intense and sustained culture
contact; its regional scope takes in the Caribbean, Latin America, and the
Francophone areas of the United States South. The abstract concept has been
derived from the person- and culture-specific referent creole, a term which has
been in historical use since at least 1580 when it first appeared in Spanish,
being recorded by Garcilaso, the Hispanicised Inca, as a word used by Africans
in Brazil to designate their own children born and socialised in the Brazilian
slave regime and therefore culturally alien from their parents.1 Through the
lens of African survival cultural artefacts in the Caribbean, this essay attempts
to analyse various configurations of creolisation, which must be understood as
a varied, dynamic, on-going, and often paradoxical process.
The main point of entry into an examination of these processes is the
recovery of African language texts in Trinidad during the 1960s and 70s.
Recognition of these African language residues exposes an over-emphasis in
Caribbean social history of the notion that Africans were deprived of their
languages by the harshness of slave laws and the plantation system.2 This
one-sided interpretation ignores the gaps which have always existed between
laws, their implementation and their observance. Indeed, the periodic re-intro-
duction of the same slave laws indicates constant breakdowns in reconciling
theory and practice. Another assumption is that on any one plantation-par-
ticularly on large ones-there were no two slaves who spoke the same
language.3 This flies in the face of the laws of probability, and ignores
evidence that sizeable ethnic/national groups arrived on each shipment. This
clustering further increased the probability that a buyer purchasing more than
one slave might well have come away from the auction with at least two
compatriots. In any case, there is evidence that, on the one hand, buyers had
ethnic preferences and, on the other, that slaves of the same linguistic group,
within estate communities and across neighboring plantations, formed them-
selves into social and mutual aid groups.
As such, the evidence of African linguistic enclaves in the Caribbean
shows that trans-Atlantic slavery precipitated experiences and responses

generally classified as typical of exile, and that Africans functioned under
these conditions as do any other migrant group. Such evidence exists for
Trinidad Yoruba and other African languages based in large measure on the
experience of post-slavery immigrants as recounted by their twentieth century
descendants; but there is also evidence, both oral and written, that even
during slavery there was continued use of African languages: slaves sang work
and 'pleasure' songs in African languages, and used coded messages to one
another in non-European tongues. This language usage was possible given
factors such as ethnic clustering and language loyalty; the latter encouraged
affective and symbolic roles for mother tongues as well as conscious language
transmission to subsequent generations. Language loyalty was also particu-
larly felt by enslaved adults, persons who by late teenage had become
sufficiently socialised in their language habits, for whom the acquisition of new
languages posed some difficulty, and who remembered their family, associ-
ates, and native land with nostalgia and a sense of loss. As such, African
languages functioned actively in domestic domains dominated by African
adults, in ritual activity and in work arenas involving ethnically homogeneous
individuals and groups. In such environments, an African language could
become the mother-tongue of second generation descendants and could
entrench itself in the child's formative years in situations where the ethnic
group was demographically well represented. The retention of African names
by migrant Africans as well as their use by first- and second-generation
Caribbean-born descendants is one of several areas of language loyalty.5
Conversely, aptitude in, and the functionality of, African languages
declined in environments where and at periods when the removal of children in
particular, and even adults, from African-speaking locations was endemic.
Furthermore, perhaps only in circumstances of maroonage, i.e., physical,
socio-political and economic estrangement of African language groups from
non-African linguistic environments, could African languages flourish inde-
pendently, in conditions closely akin to those in Africa. Even so, maroon
settlements were multilingal as well as multi-ethnic, which meant that proc-
esses of linguistic convergence also operated there.6
The linguistic complexity of plantation and European colonial environ-
ments meant that Africans and their descendants had to accommodate them-
selves to both active and passive use of European languages as well as other
African languages as well. A profile of second and third generation Yoruba,
Koongo, and Hausa encountered in Trinidad in the early second half of the
twentieth century indicates that they began as African mother tongue speak-
ers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, but soon proceeded to
become in their lifetime both French Creole and English Creole primary speak-

ers with English Creole assuming predominance in the second half of their
lives. Such a progression in primary language use must necessarily have
involved the dialectical process whereby (a) some language traits were trans-
ferred from the first language to the second and third, and (b) the restructuring
tendencies produced by language trauma-the encounter with other lan-
guages-affected the recessive (African) languages. These processes are
instructive with regard to earlier language behaviours under plantation slavery.

With regard to Yoruba to English Creole transfer, the following catego-
ries of influence are apparent in Trinidad English Creole as a legacy of the
contact between these two languages on the island: there were lexical loans
and calques (translations of loan words and idioms),7 recourse to discourse
analogies, and instances of Yoruba idiomatic and syntactic formulations in
Trinidad English.9 Such instances of language transfer do not of themselves
register an exclusive role for Yoruba in the surface and underlying African
component of Trinidad's Creoles, since other African languages predated
Yoruba in the Trinidad environment and, even more importantly, other African
mother-tongues arrived with slaves brought into the colony from French
territories-New Orleans, Saint Domingue, Guadeloupe, Martinique and Gre-
nada among them-during the closing years of the eighteenth century and the
early decades of the nineteenth. But lateness of arrival need in no way debar
a culture from making its impact on the pre-existing cultural amalgam once
other factors allow it some advantage. In Trinidad, moreover, the notion of
lateness is noticeably relative, given that the slave population became signifi-
cant only in the late eighteenth century, after 1783. By the time slavery was
abolished in 1838, that institution had reached its apogee within Trinidad itself
only during the preceding fifty years! The French and English Creoles spoken
on the island must then in large measure have reproduced Creoles native to
other environments.

The Yoruba and Trinidad Yoruba10transfers into Trinidad Creoles,
rather, provide concrete instances where a language present in Trinidad's
socio-historical evolution has influenced the lexicon and expressive discourse
of a succeeding language. Some of the transfers may originate uniquely in
Yoruba, but only further work will indicate the extent and nature of reinforce-
ment from convergent features in other contact languages, whether typologi-
cally similar or diverse, whether African or European. We will need to consider
inter-African contact features, borrowings from African into European speech
cultures, and vice versa. Insights into language universals provide a useful key
to contact phenomena, but address to a more abstract level of language
processing ought not to be exclusive. Cultural and historical specificities,

rather than being bypassed, anchor the processes of change in concrete data
and thus merit insertion into the paradigm of genetic relationship.
The relationship of Trinidad Yoruba to Trinidad's Creoles raises at least
two conceptual and procedural issues. One concerns the interrelation be-
tween earlier and later inputs into a new cultural/linguistic entity Does it
involve the dominance of the primary input over later inputs, or the displace-
ment of the primary input by later elements? Clearly, both processes can come
into play. While a founder language is well placed to stamp its imprint on new
language formation, the possibility of late arrival communities inputting idioms,
calques, and grammatical particles must be admitted.11 need, the very late-
ness of the input may account for its salience and may even lead to the
displacement of earlier lexical, grammatical and phonological characteristics.

The complexity of the processes at work in culture contact situations
may be illustrated by using comparative data from other disciplines. These are
discussed here with specific reference to the African contribution to Caribbean
culture. Such research indicates, first of all, the need for sensitivity to factors
of heterogeneity and chronological change within cultural experience. So that
African retentions in the Caribbean may thus be categorised as:

1. the result of historically recent cultural inputs, which because of their re-
cency have not been supplanted by other African, Creole, and/or European
modalities, but are nevertheless affected by them, or

2. constructs based on a formal and/or conceptual framework established by
another or an earlier group, whether Aboriginal, African, Asian, or European.

A Both 1 and 2 produce syncretic forms since they assimilate elements from
other cultures. Syncretism may produce:

i. additional morphologies-an element not present in the original structure.
These may be absorbed by a group through culture contact with another; even
so, the donor group in one instance may also be the receptor in another. E.g.
consultation of orisha priests/priestesses by non-orisha worshippers, on the
one hand, and the use of the shepherd's crook and lighted candles from
Christian iconography in orisha ceremonies; the 'pretty mas' aspect of Trinidad
carnival grafted onto the 'ole [old] mas' component-the former, a decorative
and colorful extension of European masked ball costumery, the latter-African
in origin, at times raggedy in appearance, satiric in emphasis, and using African
religious color symbolisms.

parallel morphologies, e.g. the Catholic saint and Rada vodun identities
of orisha (deities), in addition to their Yoruba and Fon (Dahomeyan) nomen-

synthesised morphologies, e.g. bubulups, fat: Koongo bubulu, fat,
ungainly English word-ending -ps, suggestive of (mis)chance, error, by analogy
with 'floops/floopsy'
iv. within a given typology, the replacement of morphological ele-
ments, their re-distribution, and re-constitution into novel combinations. For
example, steamed starchy flours are common as a carbohydrate meal base in
Africa. Also, boiled starches are pounded together to constitute a meal base.
These two types of foods are retained to varying extents in the Caribbean. But
extensions to the morphology and changes of methodology have taken place.
In the Eastern Caribbean, cassava flour is mixed with grated coconut and
optionally with grated pumpkin. To this spices, sugar and fat are added, the
pappy mixture baked to make 'pone' In Jamaica, grated sweet potato, grated
coconut and wheat flour constitute the pap to which sugar and flavourings are
added, and the mixture baked. The identity of the carbohydrate base of such
foods and their consistency are such that Africans can recognize a cognate
food. However, in the Caribbean, 'pones' being sweet, are eaten as cake or
dessert. Such changes may be analysed as due to a use of high-profile
agricultural products in the environment, such as sugar, coconut, and pumpkin
(a low prestige food in parts of West Africa), and contact with non-African
cultures, in this case European. Europe has contributed the concept of dessert
and the salience of sweet foods.

B. Contact phenomena also include fragmentation of various kinds:

v. polyvalency of a cultural label, e.g. candomble in Brazil applies to a religious
ceremony and religion, in Uruguay candomble applies to a musical type;
kandongo in Puerto Rico pertains to a type of secular dance,13 in Jamaica it is
a name for a religious ceremony;

vi multiple labels for the same cultural item within a given geographical area,
e.g. kumina is also called kandungo;14 marijuana-an Aboriginal term-is
called in Jamaica ganja (Hindi), dyamba, chianga, makoni (Koongo).15

vii. re-allocation of function. Yoruba akara is composed of the flour of ground
beans which is seasoned, made into a paste and fried. In the Caribbean wheat
flour is the base of akra, to which is added seasoning and pieces of cooked or
salted fish. The paste is fried. Process iv is involved here. With regard to
function: in both locales, the food is primarily a breakfast meal, but can be
publicly bought as a snack. In recent years in the Caribbean, it also serves as
a cocktail hours d'oeuvre, known in Jama a as 'stamp an' go'.

C. Contact situations also give rise to new cultural items and behaviours.
These may be

viii. inspired by or patterned after features peculiar to artefacts/habits/con-
cepts within one or more cultures in the environment. Trinidad steelband is a
case in point. It was developed out of the percussive emphasis in African
music and instrumentation. In addition, the concept of an orchestra composed
of the same instrument bearing differing pitch levels has many African prece-
dents, and the orchestra incorporates a cognate of the African gong-gong as
metronome. But the instrument itself is neither African nor European. In
recent years European traps have been added to the orchestra, and in certain
situations an orchestral conductor directs.

ix. entirely new and outside the previous experience of the community. The
satellite dish and the computer are cases in point with respect to Caribbean

Some of the instances of syncretism and bifurcation as well as the
factors of chronology and simultaneity may be elaborated by reference to
Jamaican kumina, and Trinidad orisha, calypso and b1le. Kumina is an
ancestrally focused religious ceremony and belief system practised, apparently
since the latter part of the nineteenth century, by Koongo of various sub-ethnic
groups and their descendants. It appears therefore to be a recent cultural
input and utilises a Koongo cosmology and sung liturgy. But its name (akom,
possession + ana, ancestors), its drum rhythms, and oral traditions of Ma-
roon/Koongo fraternal relations, suggest a previous identity and/or association
with Akan-based Maroon religious ritual. The latter is still practiced but carries
the English-lexifer label-'business dance' 'play' or 'Kramanti play' 16
For its part, the Eastern Caribbean dance form and social event called
bele, by the turn of this century, became synonymous in certain contexts with
the Yoruba and Hausa religious ancestral ceremony, saraka. On such occa-
sions, it retained saraka religious elements such as animal sacrifice and
offerings of food to the ancestors, but it now became an African-European
trans-national event, known in Carriacou and Trinidad as 'nation dance' and
also in Tobago as 'reel dance' Such a b6le event was an outgrowth of
originally African ethnic-based socio-religious ritual. It later in some situations
gave way to a fully Creole dance form and secular occasion. However, all
form/function layers could co-exist simultaneously in a geographical locale.
In the case of Trinidad's calypso (originally kaiso, a word of Efik/Kala-
bari provenience), it would appear that in the melodic line and rhythm of some
early nineteenth century performers, it manifested Niger Delta and Senegam-

bian influence, since two of the earliest cited singers were Ofuba and Soso
respectively. Other African adstrates have been the Koongo-Mbundu ka-
lenda, Yoruba orisha chants, and Efik/lbibio/lgbo 2/2 staccato rhythms, not to
mention the input of Portuguese fado chord progressions, Latin American
rhythms and tempo, and of African-American popular melody. A calypsonian
may use either of these adstrates as a dominant form or elect to blend them.
But can we any longer find evidence of its earliest layer? Was that earliest
form itself monolithic? Or may it not have evinced different styles according
to the ethnic provenience of its singers and in keeping with various song types
even within the same ethnic culture? Has not the form itself changed radically
and periodically, with certain news, satiric and entertainment functions re-
maining constant? All the same, if an earlier function such as lament now
seems incongruous, functional change has certainly affected this artistic act as

What we are dealing with is the dialectical relationship between
dynamism and homeostasis-in nature, human society and culture. Dynamism
suggests the capacity of an entity to generate new ideas, new institutions,
new speech forms; on the other hand, homeostasis allows a community to
absorb new features while retaining enough of its conventions to allow the
community to recognize itself as the same as, or similar to, what it was before
it admitted innovation. This is why innovation tends to carry the germ of some
precedent. So the form/meaning/function correspondence between the old
and the new cannot match exactly, and thus would be an inadmissible
requirement for genetic relationship to be acknowledged.
The other conceptual issue raised by the relationship of Trinidad
Yoruba to Trinidad Creoles concerns the appropriateness of a hierarchical
model of language genesis. This model has arisen from the historical recency
and therefore relatively detailed documentation of European maritime trade
and African slavery, together with the unequal power relations thus engen-
dered. These particular circumstances have, for better and for worse, laid
their stamp on analyses of the process of Creole language formation and
acquisition, and of language creation and learning in general. The debate over
Creole language genesis has been dominated by reference to the relationship
of the Creole to its 'substrate' and 'superstrate'-hierarchical terms which
seem to me misleading and unhelpful in the understanding of linguistic and
cultural synthetic (creolisation) processes. The most consensual definitions of
'substrate' and 'superstrate' concern inferiority and superiority in socio-politi-
cal and economic power relationships.19 While these relationships accord with
the historical realities under which Creoles were formed, the term 'superstrate'
infers that it is more important than the 'substrate' as regards attention

merited, more powerful in terms of influence, and structurally better-notions
which once openly bedevilled the literature on creolisation, but which still
inform the subtext of the debate.

In addition, the concept of a substrate and a superstrate with reference
to any one Creole or group of Creoles suggests monolithic uniformity within
each stratum, a concept which belies the linguistic reality of synchronic
variability.20 Furthermore, the notion of a target language-the superstrate, of
course!--implies that the language community in question shares a consensus
as to what homogeneous language they aim to approach and/or command.
The reality, on the other hand, is far more varied: differing sectors of the
language community resist or, on the other hand, desire achievement of such
a goal. Yet the ideological assumption within creolistics has tended to an
exclusively unidirectional ('upward') flow of cultural attraction.
But if even one were to go along with the notion of a 'substrate'
language, one would also need to take cognisance of the fact that any one
speech community contains within it not one substrate, but several. In the
context of Caribbean social history, any one locality would have hosted
speakers of more than one African language (not to talk here of class and
(non-)occupational jargons which are capable of making tremendous inroads
into mainstream art and speech-forms). This is not to deny the usefulness of
identifying the preponderant African ethnicities in specific locales at particular
periods with a view to more concretely guaging the impact of a particular
African mother tongue on the Creole which evolved there. But there are at
least four factors which undercut, or at least qualify, the appearance of
certainty about this suggested pre-condition for positing African linguistic

One, the most obvious, is that such information may not be available
in every instance, because of paucity of records, their deliberate eradication,
loss by fire or natural disasters, the extensive contraband trade in slaves, the
geographical movement of masters, slaves and runaways during the long
slavery era.
Two, considerable controversy surrounds quantitative historiography
with regard to the slave trade. While Philip Curtin, a pioneer in this field, is
often quoted in linguistic treatises, other historians have challenged or modi-
fied his estimates.21
Three, African language artefacts are themselves of considerable
importance in the reconstruction of Caribbean social history and the determi-
nation of cultural, if not also numerical, weight. They provide verbal archae-
ological evidence of the presence of particular ethnic groups in a particular

locale, and indicate by their semantic content the areas of human activity
which that people emphasised. Indeed, the retention of a single African word
within a particular domain may indicate the salience of the involvement of an
ethnic group in relation to a particular activity. For example, kalinda in
Trinidad, a martial art/game/dance/song, was dominated by Central Africans.
On the other hand, the retention of several words of Ewe/Fon provenience on
the island of Curacao in respect of folk festivals and religious belief reveals
Curacao as an area of not insignificant Ewe/Fon ethno-cultural influence. This
finding is further supported by the tonality and melodic line of certain archaic
'Guene' songs known by elderly people on the island. But similar investiga-
tions also establish the cultural prominence of Central African song and
musical instrumentation in the cultural amalgam of Curacao. So that proof of
ethnic presence and impact may proceed from linguistic and other cultural
evidence rather than from historical documentation.

Fourthly, as advanced in the previous paragraph, trans-disciplinary
research into the dynamic impact of Africa on cultural forms in the Americas
has demonstrated that one particular ethno-linguistic group did not necessarily
dominate cultural domains across the board. Rather, it is evident that syn-
chronically (and also, but not necessarily, diachronically) a linguistic group may
have put its stamp on religion, another on a musical form, yet another on
masquerade, etc. Analogically, then, may the influence of one ethno-linguistic
group not be more significant in regard to lexis, another in relation to syntax,
another with respect to segmental phonology, another- suprasegmentals? The
same argument holds in respect of European languages. There was no one
superstrate, but an adhesion of differing regional and class varieties, with
some dominating at one historical period, and being diachronically superceded
by others.
It therefore seems to me that adstrate or donor language is a more
useful and less negative, less exclusive concept than are substrate and
superstrate. 'Adstrate' and 'donor' emphasise a concern with convergent
features of languages and dialects, a focus which nullifies the assumption of
homogeneous language systems as conveyed in the terminology 'substrate'
and 'superstrate' Abandonment of 'sub' and 'super' terminology would also
modify the emphasis on dominance of one language over another, given that
elements of two or more donor languages are likely to be very closely
interwoven at all linguistic levels of the new synthesis. Indeed it is, more
precisely, features of adstrate or donor languages which need to be identified,
since languages in contact would tend not to borrow entire systems, but
would borrow selectively, a process which would be even more a propos in the
context of the evolution of a new language synthesis. Furthermore, as

dialect-based variability within Trinidad Yoruba and Yoruba shows, and as can
be demonstrated in Yoruba syntactic options in Trinidad English, more than
one lexical token, more than one grammatical form is available from within a
given African language. Judgements about what is or is not permissible in
African languages cannot be pronounced on the basis of documented or
standard language forms only. Indeed, the retrieval and analysis of Trinidad
Yoruba has profitted from some of the available analyses in Yoruba dialectol-
ogy. Furthermore, this line of research has helped in elaborating the still
insufficiently under-differentiated mapping of the African-Caribbean and Afri-
can-American social, historical and linguistic past and the way in which
Africans of varying ethno-cultural origins have shaped patterns of thought, life,
and behaviour in this hemisphere. It also involves a recognition that conditions
did exist for the survival of African languages and culture patterns on this side
of the Middle Passage. The assumption that African languages died out once
a slave was 'seasoned' derives ultimately from racist premises which dissoci-
ate Africans from culture, cultural loyalty, an affective being, and intellect.
With minds unclouded by such racist notions, linguists and other academicians
would realise how preposterous it is to conceive of any body of immigrants not
carrying in their memories and somatic behaviour certain parameters of knowl-
edge and conditioned motor skills. From this angle, the attempts to shunt
aside African influence in Creoles is ideologically suspect, in addition to which
it runs counter to observations of African retentive or inspirational influence in
other cultural areas such as dance, vocal style, musical rhythm and composi-
tion, not to mention oral literary traditions and religion. Both the socio-cultural
and formal linguistic data also point to the need to approach human phenom-
ena-including language convergence and linguistic change-with an apprecia-
tion of multidimensionality and dialectics as fundamental to nature, human
experience and behaviour rather than by way of exclusive, unilinear, and
deterministic interpretations. The Trinidad Yoruba language texts and their
speakers provide a microcosm of the multiplicity of subjective and objective
factors at work in the process of individual, generational, and communal
language loss/recession and second language acquisition, and this among the
very ethnic groups and in the very locations--though in a later time-
frame-where the Atlantic Creole languages had been developed, if not
necessarily engendered.

Notes and References

See Valhoff, Marius. 1966. Studies in Portuguese and Creole, with special reference to South
Africa. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press ; Ortiz, Fernando. 1986 (1926-28).
Los Negros Curros, Havana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales. 1986: 12.In "Posited Kikoongo
Origins of Some Portugese and Spanish Words of the Slave Era" paper presented to the
10th Biennial Conference of the Society for Caribbean Linguistics, 1994, I proposed a
Koongo origin for the term nkuulolo meaning 'alien person', or 'outsider' Transposition of I
and r, even their indistinguishibility, is common not only in Koongo but many other African
languages as well.
2. Philip Sherlock, West Indies (London: Thames and Hudson, 1966),137
3. Frederic Cassidy, Jamaica Talk:three hundred years of the English Language in Jamaica(Lon-
don:McMillan, 1961), 17-20. See also Derek Bickerton, Roots of Language (Ann Arbor:
Karoma Publishers, 1981), 48-50
4. For comparable arguments,to the contrary, see Fleschmann Ulrich, Los Africanos del Nuevo
Mundo, America Negra, 6, (1993), 11-34. Evidence of African ethnic-based solidarity is
plentiful: for the Caribbean, see Schuler, Monica. 1970. Akan Slave Rebellions in the Brit-
ish Caribbean. Institute of Jamaica Research Review 1, 81-128 ; for Cuba, see Cabrera, Ly-
dia. 1986a (1954). El Monte: Igbo-finda, Ewe Orisha, Vititi Nfinda. Miami: Coleccion de
Chickereku Ediciones Universal Schuler (1970), Moliner Castaneda, Israel, (1986) Las Suble-
vaciones de Esclavos en Matanzas. Islas 85, 24-48, Mendoza Lorenzo (1986);Leidy. 1986.
Estudio sobre el cabildo de Congos Reales San Antonio: de Trinidad. Is/as 85, 49-73. For
Belize, see Bolland, Nigel, 1987. African Continuities and Creole Culture in Belize Town in
the Ninenteenth Century. African-Caribbean Villages in Historical Perspective, ed. Charles
Carnegie, 63-82; for Guyana, Rodway, James, 1839. History of British Guiana. Vol. II,
1782-1833. Georgetown:, the Bahamas, Eneas, Cleveland. 1976. Bain Town. Nassau:
Cleveland & Muriel Ene Fleischmann, Ulrich. 1993. Los Africanos del Nuevo Mundo. Amer-
ica Negra 6, 11-34
5. See Handler, Jerome & JoAnn Jacoby. Slave Names and Naming in Barbados, 1650-1830.
The William and Mary Quarterly, 3d Series, 53, 1 '966 (4), 685-728Warner-Lewis 1996.
Trinidad Yoruba: From Mother Tongue to Memory.Tucaloosa: University of Alabama Press.
6. Among the Moore Town Maroons of Jamaica, Dalby (1971)found evidence of Temne, Limba,
Fula, and Arabic words and phrases. Some Koongo words also exist in Jamaican maroon
vocabulary. "Ashanti Survivals in the Language and Traditions of the Windward Maroons in
Jamaica." African Language Studies 12, 31-51
7 Susu, dada, akra, futi. In addition, 'all time,' 'wood slave.' 'god horse,' 'throw water to the
plant, 'come out in Siparia.' See Warner-Lewis, Trinidad Yoruba From Mother Tongue to
Memory. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press. 198-99
8. Cf. 'cool i 'take it easy' See Warner-Lewis Trinidad Yoruba, 198, 1996.
9. Warner-Lewis, Trinidad Yoruba: From Mother Tongue to Memory.
10. Yoruba as used here subnames all the regional dialects of that language spoken in South-
West Nigeria, Eastern Benin Republic, and enclaves of Togo. Trinidad Yoruba refers to the
amalgam of regional dialects of Yoruba which were in the process of coalescing in Trinidad
during the late eighteenth till the beginning of the twentieth century. Even where first gen-
eration speakers may have used primarily one regional dialect, their own speech and that of
subsequent generations of Trinidad speakers appear to have shown signs of borrowing
from other dialects of Yoruba encountered both in Africa and in the Caribbean. Certainly,
variability in phonology, lexis, and syntactic choice characterizes the utterances of second
and third generation speakers. Trinidad Yoruba is therefore one of the regional (and over-
seas) dialects of the Yoruba diaspora.
For English, there is not only the adoption by Anglo-Saxon of Norse 'she' and 'they' but
also the absorption of Latin syntax and lexis, and French lexicon and phonology.
12. Bascom, William.Shango in the New World. African and Afro-American Research Institute:
The University of Texas at Austin, 1972. See Simpson, George. 1970 (1965). Religious

Cults of the Caribbean: Trinidad, Jamaica, and Haiti. Rio Piedras: Institute of Caribbean
Studies, University of Puerto Rico 1996. Warner-Lewis, Trinidad Yoruba,: From Mother
Tongue to Memory. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press PP 88-91
13. Among names for various types of the bomba dance in Puerto Rico are candungo or candun-
gue.See Vega,Hector. (1969:29)," Some Musical Forms of African Descendants in Puerto
Rico: Bomba, Plena, and Rosario Frances M.A. diss., Hunter College, City University of
New York, 1969
14. Ryman, Cheryl. 1984. Kumina: Stability and Change. African-Caribbean Institute of Jamaica
Research Review 1, 81-128
15. See Bilby, Kenneth. 1985. The Holy Herb: Notes on the Background of Cannabis in Ja-
maica. Caribbean Quarterly, monograph, 82-95
16. I accept Barrett's etymology, see Barrett, Leonard. 1977,African Religion in the Americas:
The Islands in Between, African Religions: a Symposium, ed. Newell Booth, 183-215. New
York: NOK Publishers.(1977:195). For further development of the thesis of Akan-Kumina
connection, see Warner-Lewis (1991 The Ancestral Factor in Jamaica's African Religions.
African Creative Expressions of the Divine, ed. Kortright Davis & Elias Farajaje-Jones, 63-
80. Washington: Howard University School of Divinity.
17. Andrew Pearse (ed.), "Mitto Sampson on Calypso Legends Of The Nineteenth Century" Car-
ibbean Quarterly 4 (3 & 4), 250-262
18. The term lament is applied to certain types of nineteenth and turn-of-the-century calypso by
Mitto Sampson in Pearse "Mitto Sampson on Calypso Legends of The Nineteenth Century",
and by Marcano, Neville (the Growling Tiger). 1972. The Story Of The Calypso. Trinidad
And Tobago Government Broadcasting Unit's Radio Series
19. See Morris Goodman, "African Substratum: Some Cautionary Words", in Africanisms in
Afro-American Language Varieties, ed. Salikoko Mufwene, 1988, 245-247, Athens: Univer-
sity of Georgia, 1988,245-47.
20. See Guy Hazel-Massieux,"The African Filter in the Genesis of Guadeloupean Creole: at the
Confluence of Genetics and Typology",in Africanisms, 109-122, for several examples of
synchronous variation in Guadeloupe Creole.
21. Curtin, Philip, The Atlantic Slave Trade: a Census. Madison: University of Wisconsin
Press, 1969. Among those involved in historical statistics related to the African Slave trade
are Richard Bean, David Elthis, Robert Fogel, Stanley Engerman, Eugene Genovese, Ralph
Austen, Esmond Martin, T.C. Ryan, Paul Lovejoy, and Joseph Inikori.

Contestations Over Culture, Class, Gender And Identity In
Trinidad And Tobago: 'The Little Tradition.' *



Like monkeys pleading for evolution, each
claiming to be whiter than the other, Indians
and Negroes appeal to the unacknowledged
white audience to see how much they despise
one another. They despise one another by
reference to whites; and the irony is that their
antagonism should have reached its peak to-
day, when white prejudices have ceased to
matter 1

Studies of social stratification, race, ethnicity and pluralism have
characterized Caribbean social science since its inception so to speak in and
around the 1950s. The Caribbean of course is a complex construction
comprising in various definitions, the island archipelago, the Guianas on the
north-east of South America, the islands north of the southern continent and
various Central American countries, most frequently Belize, depending on the

One of the defining characteristics of this region has been its experi-
ence of plantation, slave and/or bonded labour in a colonial context and the
importation of diverse peoples to provide labour in the wake of the decimation
or marginalisation of the indigeneous peoples. Not surprisingly therefore, next
to family, the issues of race, ethnicity and social differentiation generally have
been central to scholarship and indeed to everyday life in this region. In spite
of these commonalities, the experience of social differentiation within the
region has much that is similar and much that is different. Yet Caribbean
scholars have sought to develop broad theoretical and conceptual frameworks
which have relevance to the entire region.
The two most famous of these formulations are those of Jamaican
sociologist the late Michael G. Smith and Barbados historian and Cultural
Studies scholar Kamau Brathwaite.2 To summarise, Smith from as early as
1959, developed a theory of Plural Society based on the earlier work of the

Dutch economist J.S. Furnivall. In his own words: For my part, although
convinced by the contrast between Caribbean societies and others, I then
knew of the relevance of Furnivall's concepts for Caribbean sociology."3

For Smith plural societies were basically political units characterized
by 'cultural plurality' in relation to their social institutions such as "marriage,
family, property, religion, economic institutions, language and folklore." He
defined cultural plurality as:
a condition in which two or more different
cultural traditions characterise the population
of a given society Where cultural plurality
obtains, different sections of the total popula-
tion practice different forms of these common
institutions; and... differ in their internal social
organisation, their institutional activities, and
their system of belief and value. Where this
condition of cultural plurality is found, the so-
cieties are plural societies.5

In this definition, the salience attributed by Furnivall to economic
structures in the maintenance of plural societies was rejected by Smith and
replaced by an emphasis on culture. In the words of Glenn Sankatsing: "Smith
who considers Furnivall's conceptualisation of pluralism as a general theory...
purged it of its economic dimension and elaborated it into a social scientific
model based on culture to understand and explain the complex Caribbean
societies. 6 For some this was a reflection of Smith's rejection of Marxism
and his continued reluctance to give 'class' a central role in the analysis of
Caribbean society.
What is interesting is that Smith developed this concept for the
Caribbean based on research in what his critics see as some of the least plural
societies of the region, Jamaica, Grenada and Carriacou. It is not surprising,
therefore, that this theory is more often used in relation to the complex
societies of the southern Caribbean such as Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and
Suriname 7 than to the predominantly Afro-creole societies of the rest of the
region for which it was originally developed. In later writing and largely in
response to criticism, Smith differentiated between what he defined as homo-
geneous, plural and complex plural societies, and between the characteristic of
pluralism (social and cultural) in contrast with an actual plural society.
The other competing theoretical approach, that of 'creole society' has
been most fully developed by Kamau Brathwaite, based on the earlier writings
of historian Elsa Goveia and anthropologist Dan Crowley. This concept is most

fully developed in his extended essay "Contradictory Omens: Cultural Diver-
sity and Integration in the Caribbean" Here Brathwaite articulates most
sharply his conceptualisation of a 'creole' society' and the process of 'creoli-
sation' as the result of the twin processes of 'acculturation, the absorption of
one culture by another and 'interculturation' a more reciprocal and spontane-
ous process of enrichment and intermixture on both sides.8
In other words Brathwaite saw Caribbean society as emerging from,
both the forced assimilation of Blacks to the dominant European colonial norms
and behaviours and from the inadvertent interculturation of Whites into Afri-
can-derived norms and behaviours and vice versa. This creolisation process
was facilitated through socialisation for example through the seasoning proc-
ess during the slave period, as well as through imitation, native creation or
indigenisation, language, sex and amorous influences" 9 This process how-
ever was uneven and the degree of Euro-creole dominance in relation to the
Afro-Creole varied within the population and over time, providing a continuum
ranging from the Euro-creole plantocracy and business elite to the rural folk.
Central to this perspective was the recognition that New World Africans had
not simply adopted European cultural norms and behaviours but in their forced
assimilation transformed or indigenised them, creating Caribbean creole cul-
ture and society. The concept of 'creolisation' has had differential responses
in different parts of the region. Whereas it has been embraced in most of the
northern Caribbean including the Hispanic areas, it has had a more contentious
response in the southern Caribbean. This is so because of the more complex
nature of ethnic group relations in these societies. To a large extent, this
approach like most others prior to the 1980s, tended to concentrate on the
overarching dominant/subordinate relations between Whites and Blacks/mixed
(coloureds), and to pay less attention to subordinate group relations between
and among subordinate cultural/ethnic groups. This is expressed by Jamaican
historian Verene Shepherd when she notes:
Race relations studies in Jamaica show an
overwhelming concern with Black-White rela-
tions, with only a few dealing in any detail with
the interaction of other race groups in a situ-
ation of multiple-ethnic contact. Indeed
though the subject has for long engaged the
attention of historians and sociologists, most
of the studies which have emerged have
tended to focus on the relations between domi-
nants and subordinates, ignoring, for the most

part, the subject of subordinate group rela-

I expressed similar sentiments in relation to explorations of race/ethnic-
ity, class and gender when I noted that:

In the international literature on race, class and
gender, little input has been made of the Carib-
bean experience. Indeed, most of the debate
has centred around the experience of Afro-
American women or Afro-British women in the
metropolis, African women in South Africa and
Indo-British women in Britain. Within that con-
text, race, like class and gender becomes a
basis of exploitation, discrimination and op-
pression of non-European (non-white) groups.
No contribution to these discussions have [sic]
yet been made on, for example, the issue in
a situation where two or more non-white
groups have antagonistic or non-antagonistic
relations, albeit within a context of overall
Euro-American imperialist domination.1 1

Creole society theory has been particularly problematic in its applica-
tion to the southern Caribbean, although Brathwaite's essay "Contradictory
Omens" attempts to deal with this complexity. The problem emerges in the
differential understandings and usages of the term. Although, like plural
society theory it was developed in relation to other Caribbean societies, it is
central to an understanding of problems of national identity and national
culture in Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Suriname.
Originally the term 'creole' was used to refer to all persons born within
the region with an external origin. Today in Trinidad and Tobago for example,
it is used in three senses: (1) to refer to an amalgam of descendants of
Europeans who still dominate the local economy, known locally as French
creoles; (2) primarily by Indians to refer to persons of African descent, also
referred to by a Hindu derivative 'kirwal' and (3) to refer to cultural artifacts of
the dominant culture viz creole food, creole bacchanal etc.12 The term
'Creole' therefore for Indians is strongly identified with Afro-creole culture and
creolisation is seen by many as a process of cultural domination.
This rejection of or ambivalence towards creole culture is to a large
extent only recently being understood by Afro-creole Trinidadians, largely as a
result of action by Indian cultural activists. In an earlier paper, I examined the

ways in which the definition of a national culture had become a contested
terrain in the post-independence Trinidad and Tobago, where until the 1970s,
indigeneous and African-derived artforms, belief systems, names, ways of life,
language, dress and even foods were not accepted by the dominant Euro-cre-
ole culture.13

As I noted earlier, the increased acceptance of Afro-creole culture
within the national culture, therefore, has to be seen first as the result of years
of class struggle, as it was the poorest and working-class who were most
creative and persistent in their creation and indigenisation of cultural forms.
Second it has to be seen as a cultural struggle, as it was a struggle by
African-derived groups for the valorisation and acceptance of their creation by
the European-dominated colonial and post-colonial societies. Afro-creole domi-
nated nationalist governments, since 1956, in response to grassroots pres-
sure, have to some extent succeeded in valorising a national culture based on
creole norms and behaviours.14 The question to be considered now is, what
has been the relationship of other ethnic/cultural groups to the economically
subordinate but culturally dominant creole groups and culture? And herein lies
the complexity of class, ethnicity and as we shall see later on, gender. What
is problematic here is the reality that this cultural dominance does not in the
present instance in the Caribbean reflect a commensurate economic or political
dominance although it can certainly influence them.
The Construction of Ethnicitv and Identity in Trinidad and Tobago.

Over the last ten years the parameters of the discourse on social
differentiation in this region have shifted immensely. The discussion has
shifted from one of the relationship among racial groups to one of the social
construction of 'ethnicity' and social identity, the 'racing' or deracinationn' of
various groups and the processes through which group boundaries are con-
structed and reconstructed. These discourses are interesting as they present
new and exciting insights toward the understanding of these complex phenom-
ena. In addition to a marked increase in research on Caribbean ethnic
minorities, most notably Indians and to a lesser extent, Chinese, Portuguese,
Lebanese and indigeneous peoples, a renewed interest in subordinate group
relations has been generated albeit within the context of continued Euro-Creole
cultural and economic domination.

Although as noted by Daniel Segal, immigrant races are all assumed to
be 'pure' and to have been in existence prior to their entrance to Trinidad and
Tobago,15 the reality is that most of the accepted groupings owe their
existence to the social and historical reality of the local experience. What is
also important is the fact that this construction took place within a European

colonial and cultural dominance which to a large extent shaped the process of
ethnic definition. Thus we have from very early the construction of the 'negro'
or 'black' as the lower end of the social hierarchical continuum with the
'European' or 'White' as the other end. In between fit other ethnic groups,
latecomers to the process as well as the results of racial 'mixing' between the
groups at the opposite ends of the spectrum. Of course one's position on this
continuum depended on a number of interrelated factors including skin colour
and phenotype (especially hair quality), economic status and educational
attainment. The stereotypical construction of 'the negro' owes much to the
resistance to slave labour characteristic of that historical epoch. According to
David Trotman. The idea of the congenital laziness of the African and those
of African descent was one of the major pillars of the justifications of slavery
and died hard in the nineteenth century." Much was made of the luxuriant
flora and fauna of the region which facilitated this indolence as people could
survive without resorting to work on the plantation. This stereotype was of
course central to the 19th century cries of labour shortage and the call for
large-scale immigration from overseas.
Not surprisingly, the entrance of large numbers of Indian immigrants
occasioned the creation of new ethnicities and new stereotypes. The new
'East Indians' (to be distinguished from 'West Indians') were defined in
opposition to their labouring predecessors both internally and externally as
they sought also to define themselves. In contrast 'East Indians' were
constructed as hard-working and thrifty, common characteristics of immi-
grants anywhere, including present-day African-Caribbean migrants to New
York. These analyses however could be taken much further, for nowhere is the
differential construction as clear as in relation to women. Indian women have
been defined in opposition to African women. 'She' is every thing the African
woman is not. Through a combination of male violence and state legislation17
a localised "East Indian woman" was constructed in many ways an essential-
ised and orientalised Indian woman as described by Rishee Thakur 18
Along with the process of distinct ethnic group formation of which a
great deal has been written19was the continuing process of what R.K. Jain
refers to as 'interculturation' Jain, developing on Brathwaite, identifies the
twin processes of acculturation and interculturation as opposing forces in the
history of group relations in Trinidad and Tobago. The former he sees as a
reactionary force based on the imitation and privileging of Euro-Creole norms
and behaviour (The Afro-Saxon) which opposes the spontaneous indigeneous
and creative interculturation which has been taking place continuously since
the 19th century.20 This formulation is interesting as scholars on the region

have for some time sought to explain the basis of ethnic tension and difference
in Trinidad and Tobago. Their main arguments can be summarised as follows:
1. At the point of the arrival of the Indian Immigrants, African
ex-slaves had already inculcated European values of 'civilised' and
acceptable behaviour and lifestyle. They accepted for example the
lower value of dark skin, the superiority of Christianity over other
religions and belief systems; the barbarism of indigeneous practices
and the unacceptability of indigenous foods. In the same way that
they devalued their own African cultural survivals, and their African
phenotype, they also devalued the heathen and 'backward' practices
of uncivilised 'coolie culture'

2. Indians were also seen as 'scab labour' depressing the relatively
high agricultural wages and removing the labour advantages now being
sought by the ex-slaves;
3. Whereas in the case of most Africans and their descendants, 400
years of brutal enslavement had resulted in the transference of cultural
memory from the conscious realm to the subconscious or unconscious
realm, for Indians, Hindus and Muslims, their diverse practice's, more
present in their consciousness, were re-codified and continued as part
of their daily lived experience and through regular infusions from India.
The experience of a small but significant number of 'free Africans'
who arrived after the abolition of slavery had a negligible impact on
this reality. In the post 1970 period however, there has been some
re-valorisation of African and African-derived forms.
4. In relation to Indians, whereas in the past it was assumed that
the caste system had lost its significance when faced with the realities
of the plantation, and lower sex ratios in the 19th century, it is now
being realized that caste values (varna ideology), for example in rules
of hierarchy and status, continue to exist although in a new recon-
structed form in keeping with the realities of the new situation. For
example, I have argued elsewhere that values of purity and endogamy,
discourage ethnic intermarriage and sexual relations in a circumstance
where other 'ethnic' and/or religious groups e.g. Africans, Europeans,
Christians, Hindus, and Muslims take up new places as pseudo castes
or sub-castes in a new Caribbean-derived hierarchy. 21

5. More generally, there is also the view that in the context of colonial
aggression and control, the African/Indian Other became a more accessible
target for rivalry and attack than the dominant European coloniser, a similar

displacement as that suggested for working-class male aggression against
subordinate females.

Central to much of this discourse has been the failure to articulate with
issues of class and gender As we have seen most groups are assumed to be
monolithic and the specific constructions of female identity or of female
working-class identity, for example, are only now beginning to be explored.

Jain for example, following K.N. Sharma, identifies two early periods
of Indian-African relations in Trinidad and Tobago. The first period 1845-
1870, which Sharma saw as one of 'deinstitutionalisation' Jain identified as
one of initial interculturation. During this relatively short period of time he
noted that:

The caste system disintegrated, the marriage
institutions were in ninepins; the customary
system of social control through the panchayat
was swamped over by the constituted planta-
tion authorities; and the religious system of the
folk in the Indian village, which was always
bound up with the tap-roots of the 'great,
tradition, now existed like fish out of water.22

This 'disintegration' however according to Jain, was accompanied by
a 'restructuration' of a Caribbean Indian 'culture' and it was in this context
that he saw the process of interculturation taking place. For example this
restructuration encompassed both the coming together of the diverse little
traditions of the various Indian groups which were brought to the region and
this coming together of course took place within the context of the dominant
processes of acculturation and the subordinate processes of interculturation.
In recent times, there has been the identification by some Indian
nationalist groups of a dominant Afro-centric culture in Trinidad and Tobago.
This has been recently criticised by Rishee Thakur who like Jain seeks to
differentiate between the dominant colonial and racist Afro-Saxon culture and
the working-class indigenous, African-derived folk culture which has never
been dominant in the region.23 According to Jain:
This incipient middle-class elite was fervently
European in its attitudes, orientations and aspi-
rations; hence the emergence of what has
been called the Afro-Saxon model of accultura-
tion. Simultaneously the seeds of racism...
were deliberately sown in the already fertile
soil of racist stereotypes.

Jain also points to:

the upsurge of racism in the new 'colonial
rather than 'Creole' ethos to buttress white
domination Such events created conditions
in which interculturation (creolisation) went un-
derground and phenomena such as Afro-Sax-
onism and 'plural society' cultural
segmentation and racial stereotyping moved to
the centre of the stage. It has been conven-
tionally held that acculturation to (white Anglo-
Saxon norms) replaced interculturation as the
cultural dynamic in the Caribbean.24

Most Indian cultural resistance therefore has to be seen as resistance
to this dominant Afro-Saxon acculturative mode and less to the subordinate
African-derived mode.25 But even this 'resistance' has often necessitated the
subtle incorporation of Euro-creole practices. This was probably inevitable
within the structured context within which all groups were forced to operate.
For example much Brahmanical-controlled Hindu worship and rites of passage
such as marriage take place in centralised temples and Sunday worship
(services) and Sunday school are increasingly being officiated by ordained
pundits. On the other hand, the basis for the subordinate level interculturations
where they have taken place has been either where parallel root-traditions
occur (the two best examples of this are in the bitterly contested and
non-Brahmanic and workingclass dominated activities of Muharram Festival
and the Orisha and Kali worship/belief systems) or where significant numbers
of women, sometimes unconsciously, find spaces of solace and respite from
the wider patriarchal system.
In an earlier work I examined the contestations which have taken
place over the content and definition of "national culture" in Trinidad and
Tobago"26 These struggles are still taking place and will continue to be
significant for sometime. What I would like to examine in the rest of this
article, however are two examples of subordinate level interculturations.

The Muharram or 'Hosay Festival'

From as early as the 1 850s, just five years after the arrival of the first
Indian immigrant ship, the Fate/ Rozack, African-Trinidadians (then called
negroes) were reported to be involved in the Shia Muslim Muharram or Hosein
(Hosay) festival. This festival according to Kelvin Singh, comprised a re-enact-
ment of the death of Hosein and Hassan, the grandsons of the Prophet
Mohammed during the Battle of Kerbala in what is now modern-day Iraq. In

India this festival had according to Singh, probably been syncretised with the
Hindu Khrishnalila celebration and in its Indian form comprised the construc-
tion of large temple-like structures known as 'tazias' 27

This festival and aspects of its celebration was taken by immigrants to
Trinidad and became the largest Indian festival, celebrated annually in the holy
month of Muharram, the first month of the Muslim calendar. Many of its
characteristics, the creation of huge ornate structures, the playing of drums, in
this case the 'tassa' and dancing in the streets, had much in common with
'root traditions' of the African working-class as noted by Jain. In his own

The Indian (Muslim) festival of Hossey (known
in India as Taziya) has been observed jointly by
the East Indians and Negroes at last since
1850. Two cultural characteristics of the cele-
bration-the beating of drums (tassa) and the
playing with sticks (gadja)-form the nuclei on
which East Indian and Negro root traditions

The festival itself was of great concern to the upper classes, Christian
church leaders and the colonial officials. In addition, Sunni Muslim leaders in
the 19th Century and still today in the 1990s make an annual call for the
festival to be banned. One area of concern for the former groups however was
the large participation of 'negroes' in this festival. It is interesting that Blacks
in Jamaica also participated in this festival which was celebrated during
indentureship although the dispersal of Indian immigrants and their relatively
small number did not facilitate the reconstruction of a distinct Indian sub-cul-
ture as in Trinidad, Guyana and Suriname.29

Colonial resistance to this festival culminated in the Hosay distur-
bances of October 30, 1884 when colonial police, supported by a detachment
of British soldiers, shot into a Muharram celebration in San Fernando. Sixteen
people were killed and over 100 wounded. This act stymied the development
of this festival in the south and central of the country but it continues today
mainly in the north-western town of St. James with even greater African
participation than before. African males in particular participate in the produc-
tion of Tadjahs and in the drumming from early ages and today young girls are
seen from time to time on the drums or in the procession.

In spite of its popularity, this festival continues to be shrouded in
contention. The religious leadership of the numerically dominant Sunni, re-
cently with increased vigour, justify their call for its banning by deriding the

non-muslim and 'impure' aspects of the festival. These are most notably the
participation of non-muslims (mainly Africans) the accompaniment of dancing
and drumming and alcohol consumption in what is after all supposed to be a
religious festival. In the renewed religiosity of the time, this festival is being
forced to recreate itself as a religious muslim festival as opposed to the popular
'peoples' festival which it always has been in this country. In this new religious
and conservative context, working-class African participation (as in carnival) is
seen as a polluting factor, one which introduces decadence, unbridled enjoy-
ment and open sexuality, factors from which respectable religious and other
leaders (Christian and non-Christian) have sought to distance themselves.
Interestingly in spite of the ambivalence shown by many Indians and Indian
cultural and religious leaders to the steelband and other aspects of the
Afro-Creole culture, it is suggested that the steelband, the national instrument
of Trinidad and Tobago, which developed in the 1930s owes much to the
'tassa' Stephen Steumple, notes the influences between the tassa and the
early steelband put forward by Trinidadian cultural activist Noor Kumar Ma-
habir in 1984:

the shells of the Indian bass drums used to
be made from biscuit drums (as were the early
steelbands), that tassa drums are heated to
stretch the skins and raise their pitches, and
the drums in the ensemble are suspended
around the neck and played with two sticks as
steelbands still are today.30

Orisha/Kali Worship:

The African population in 19th Century Trinidad comprised the follow-
ing: creole ex-slaves, mainly descendants of those imported from Africa before
1838, (many migrants from other islands); liberated Africans from various
Caribbean societies after 1841; descendants of black soldiers (including many
native Africans) demobilised from the Third West India Regiment in 1815 and
descendants of freed United States slaves who had fought for Britain in the
1812 war and who were settled in company villages in 1816. By 1861
therefore seven percent of the African population in Trinidad was African-born
and a larger proportion only one or two generations removed. It should not be
surprising therefore that African survivals and reinterpretations 31were of par-
ticular significance in shaping the creole culture of Trinidad and Tobago. One
of the areas where this has been most apparent has been in relation to religion
and belief systems. Throughout the Western hemisphere, wherever African
enslavement took place, religious ritual and experience was profoundly af-
fected. Melville Herskovits, the famous United States Africanist, identified

certain common components of African religion which were transferred to the
New World. These included: its connection with everyday life and integration
into the daily round, of activities; the ever presence of the forces of the
universe; democratic organisation; local autonomy reflected in independent
churches/temples; ritual expression in song and dance with possession by the
god as the supreme religious experience and the association with water
including total immersion in natural bodies of water.32 In the case of Trinidad
and Tobago, the most important expressions of African-derived religion have
been the Shango or Orisha belief system and the Shouters or Spiritual Baptists.
These have usually been seen as acculturative religions based on syncretisms
of West African religious traditions and Christian (Catholic and/or Protestant)
traditions. The Shouters or Spiritual Baptists is the most prevalent stream,
developing in the later days of the nineteenth century among exslaves who
under the force of being Christianised sought to re-establish and continue their
West African religious traditions. In this development where for example in
1883, the colonial government introduced a "Music Bill" which was eventually
codified into law, the playing of drums, tambours and chac chacs(rattles) was
prohibited from 6.00 a.m. to 10.00 p.m33 The Shouters therefore developed
other methods of reflecting their Africaness. As noted by Herskovits, this is

in Africa or in the New World, wherever
African patterns of worship have been pre-
served. Drums and rattles, forbidden in Chris-
tian rite, are naturally absent. But the
deficiency is compensated for by handclapping
and the improvisations of rhythm taking the
form of a vocal "rum-a-tiddy-pum-pum" sung in
the bass by men who have the power needed
to make their contribution heard above the
blanket of singing.34

The importation of Africans after the abolition of slavery added another
input into the African folk culture. The introduction of Yoruba, Ibo, Congo and
Hausa peoples directly from Africa meant that traditions not as much mediated
through the slave experience could develop. The Yoruba influence has been
particularly great and this has been documented extensively for other countries
in the region such as Cuba and Puerto Rico (Santeria) and Brazil (Candomble).
Orisha or Shango worship, as it is more commonly referred to in Trinidad, is a
Yoruba-derived belief system which no doubt owes some of its continued
vitality to the arrival of free Africans in the years immediately after the
abolition of slavery.

According to Maureen Warner-Lewis, the Yoruba were the dominant
African group in Trinidad and provided the basis for a unified African tradition
providing cohesion and cultural dynamism to the whole African population.
The Yoruba, she argues, had a distinct impact on the development of Trini-
dadian creole culture and this is reflected in the Shango/Orisha belief systems,
the Shouters, in calypso and the traditional rotating credit schemes such as the
'susu' 35

The Shango belief system as it developed in Trinidad has been and
continues to be primarily a working-class and peasant phenomenon. Middle-
class participation although increasing has always been limited. Shango wor-
ship is characterized by worship of and possession by a range of deities or
orishas; maintenance of shrines to various powers; initiation through a period
of seclusion known as 'mourning' large annual rituals including animal sacri-
fices and feasts, feeding of children and immersion in water.36 Shango
according to Warner-Lewis is "the orisha manifest in the thunder and the
hurling of thunderstones as well as in lightening" She notes also that the
Shango religion originated in Oyo state religion in present-day Nigeria and was
transferred to Trinidad by Yoruba immigrants.37
One characteristic of all Afro-Christian religion in the Caribbean has
been the participation of women at levels not evident in Christianity, Islam or
other mainstream religions. This participation is both as members and partici-
pants as well as leaders. Simpson in his fieldwork in Trinidad in 1960 found

the cult leader is called Mother, Pa, Queen or
Aunt etc The six women leaders known to
the writer are dominant figures and with one
exception, each has a mild, passive husband
who is involved in the 'work' and who be-
lieves in it as strongly as his wife.38

Throughout Simpson's work references to leaders of churches or
chapelles (shango places of worship) were primarily female. Similarly he noted
that in the participation in the big annual ceremonies women usually outnum-
bered men three to one.39
The African-derived religious systems reflected a remarkable ability to
be acculturative and interculturative. To incorporate those aspects of other
belief systems which were in concert with theirs whether these were forcibly
introduced like Christianity or more subconsciously incorporated as with
aspects of Hinduism.

In 1960 Simpson found that in Trinidad "Quite a number of East
Indians have joined Spiritual Baptist groups, but relatively few have become
Shangoists" In spite of this he found that of the 63 'powers' identified, two of
these, Baba and Mahabil were described as East Indian powers. One Chinese
power Wong Ka was also identified. 40The inevitability of this interculturation
however was signaled by one female informant who noted that "What a
person is afraid to do, he does when possessed" She continued "I never
liked Indian people, but when I went to mourn and Mahabil came Similarly,
on another occasion, Baba ordered her to go to Blanchisseuse Mountain and
four people went with her 41

Simpson also noted the limited presence of Indian men as active
participants in the Orisha Worship in 1960 and of the use of 'deeahs' (small
clay pots filled with coconut oil and wicks) at the outdoor shrine of Baba.
Since then the incorporation of Indians and symbols and practices of Hinduism
into Shango worship increased. In the 1980s according to Houk close to 10
percent of participants in eighteen Orisha feasts were Indian. He noted:
One Indian, for example, is a popular and re-
spected drummer Another Indian is one of the
most prominent and respected figures in the
religion and is himself a shrine head who annu-
ally holds one of the most popular feasts on the
island Leader Scott, a well-known and re-
spected Orisha priest and Spiritual Baptist
leader, and other worshippers noted that it was
not until the 1960s or so that they began to
notice Hindu elements in orisha compounds. In
the sample of 37 Orisha compounds discussed
above, it was found that 10 to 27 per cent
contained Hindu flags and shrines for up to six
different Hindu deities.42

In an insightful article entitled: Hindu Elements in the Shango/Orisha
Cult of Trinidad, Noor Kumar Mahabir and Ashram Maharaj provide interesting
insights into the syncretism of this African-derived system and the Kali Mai43
cult which enjoys a similar subordinated status in relation to the established
religious bodies. The latter, originally practiced by the South Indian Madrassi-
descended Indians, according to Stephen Vertovec, was "selectively sup-
pressed by white colonial authorities and Hindus themselves" 44 Again, this
article suggests that the basis of interculturation has to do with the similar root
traditions' characteristic of the rural folk and working classes of both ethnic
groups. Additionally, these grassroots religious experiences provide more

scope for women's religious expression as celebrants, unlike the more main-
stream patriarchal religions. Interestingly, among the similarities of the work-
ing-classes of both groups is the eclectic approach to religion and the lesser
adherence to the maintenance of religious boundaries. In the words of the

The integrated complex of drum, chant, dance,
liturgy, shaped ritual, spirit possession and ani-
mal sacrifice which mark the worship of gods
in the Orisha cult are akin to the Kali-Mai (Black
Mother) cult of Hinduism in Trinidad Some
items are common to both Kali worship and
Orisha ("Parallel tradition") from inception; oth-
ers are absorbed through the process of trans-
mutation. Both the East Indian Kali Mai and
African Orisha cults are lower-class forms of
folk culture with a tradition of white-collar un-
employment, familial property-holding, apoliti-
cal participation and little formal

they continue:

Forms of Orisha worship in Trinidad find coun-
terparts in the procession, broom dance, rever-
ence to ancestors and use of certain ritual
paraphernalia in the Indian Shia Muslim festival
of Hosay.46

What is interesting is not only the participation of Indians in the Orisha
ceremonies but the integration and syncretism of Indian gods and powers
within the local Shango pantheon. Ogun, Yoruba god of war, the hunt and
iron is syncretised with the Hindu monkey god Hanuman while as early as the
1950s, anthropologist Dan Crowley noted that Osain, a Yoruba god of
medicine, was syncretised with Husain, the martyred grandson of the prophet
Mohammed. In other words on the local scene these two are considered to be
Indian powers.4

Until the 1970s the activities of both these groups were shrouded in mystery;
they were considered forms of devil worship and 'obeah' Even the Hindu
leadership in an effort to gain respectability from the colonial Euro-creole
dominated society sought to distance itself from what was regarded as
"extreme forms of heathenism" and in both instances their significance was

declining. This however has been changed with the renewed interest in
indigeneous forms and belief systems although they are also under threat from
United States (and increasingly also European) derived pentecostalism.

This recent challenge of pentecostalism (more acculturative than intercultura-
tive) in rural Trinidad and Tobago raises new questions about the maintenance
of Indian and Afro-Creole religious traditions. Pentecostalism, unlike Presbyte-
rianism, the earliest Christian proselytiser among the Indians, makes no
attempt to syncretise its rituals and practices with Indian or African practices,
but like the earlier Christian denominations, campaigns actively against all
strains of heathenismm'

Mahabir, in some ways, suggests that the attraction of pentecostalism espe-
cially to the rural working-class and women lies in their alienation from the
Hindu hierarchy.48Women, he notes, predominate in all the religious functions
but are not accorded any leadership roles commensurate with their numbers,
professional training and educational levels.49 The growing number of conver-
sions, a slight majority of them female according to Kumar, reflect an in-
creased willingness of working-class Indians to associate with working-class
African-Trinidadians which Kumar suggests would not have taken place ear-
lier.50 He concludes: "The picture that emerged here is one of radical, social
and religious behaviour by many working-class Indians and a complex correla-
tion between social class, gender and religious affiliation."50

The move to pentacostalism is also paralleled to a lesser extent by a
re-connection with indigenous religions especially among the middle classes.
Among the African and mixed groups, this has led to a new interest in
Orisha/Shango and a trend towards its re-Africanisation.52 James Houk notes
that in the wake of the 1 970s Black Power revolution concerns with Africa and
African derivations became important and efforts to develop a purer religion
(now known more as Orisha than Shango) emerged with closer links to Nigeria
and other Orisha communities e.g. in Brazil. In this context efforts to remove
all evidence of syncretisms whether Catholic, Protestant (including spiritual
Baptist) or Hindu have become evident.
Houk sees this as a reflection of both a re-connection with Africa and
things Africans as well a concern with the increasing involvement of Indians in
the religion. He sees this as a "revivalist response to that threat."53 We find
a situation therefore where as sections of the Indian middle and professional
classes move more towards various continental Indian gurus such as Sai Baba
and Ravi Shankar for an experience of Hinduism more in keeping with modern
times and western values,54 significant sections of the Indian working class,

and female working class in particular, moves more towards religious identifi-
cation with fundamentalist Christianity, a move which contributed greatly to
the recent intensification of the militant Indian identity movement.


For radical scholars there is need for much greater critical analysis and
insight into the sociocultural context of contestation and accommodation
among subordinate ethnic and cultural groups in our societies. There is a need
to comprehend the dynamic social reality and its political implications.

As noted in an earlier paper, there is much in the 'little tradition' of
Africans and Indians in the Caribbean which lends itself to interculturation and
the development of common cultural practices. These aspects however are
the aspects of the national culture which are questioned, have low status and
are carried out mainly by the rural and urban working-class and folk. It was to
these groups that Brathwaite attributed the creativity which led to the indigeni-
sation of the dominant culture which we now know was true both for Indians
and for Africans. Interestingly the discourse on ethnicity is once more shifting
or expanding, in addition to the recent emphasis on the construction of group
identity in relation to but more often in opposition to the Other. There is also
a recognition that these differential levels of ongoing interaction, acculturation
and interculturation are deeply affected by class and gender. In creating an
alternative mode of inter-relations among subordinate groups, we need to
understand more fully the processes of indigeneous grassroots interculturation
and accommodation which have developed over time in our societies as well
as the bases of difference.

Notes and References

This paper in many ways complements an earlier one entitled "Intersections of Ethnicity,
Class and Gender in Trinidad and Tobago: Contestations over National Culture" (Reddock
1993) which examined the struggle over the definition and content of national culture us-
ing the three components of the dominant Afro-Creole artforms, Mas(Carnival), Pan(Steel-
band) and Kaiso (calypso).
1 Naipaul, Vidia, The Middle Passage, (London,Andre Deutsch, 1962)
2. Braithwaite, Kamau The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica, 1870-1820 (Oxford: The
Clarendon Press, 1971), Contradictory Omens: Cultural Diversity and Integration in the Car-
ibbean,(Mona: Savacou Publications,1974), and M.G.Smith, The Plural Society in the Brit-
ish West Indies, ( Kingston:Sangsters Bookstore, 1965)
3. J.S. Furnivall, Netherlands India: a study of plural economy (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1944); Smith, Michael G. "Pluralism and Social Stratification" in Selwyn
Ryan,(ed.)Social and Occupational Stratification in Contemporary Trinidad and Tobago,
( UWl, Trinidad:ISER,1991),10.
4. M.G.Smith, The Plural Society, 14-5

5. Ibid.
6. Sankatsing, Glenn (1989) Caribbean Social Science: An Assessment,( Caracas: UNESCOIS Re-
gional Unit for the Social and Regional Sciences for Latin America and the Caribbean,1989).
7. From now on referred to as the southern Caribbean
8. Brathwaite, Contradictory Omens: 11. See also Elsa Goveia, Slave Society in the British Lee-
ward Islands at the end of Eighteenth Century (University of Puerto Rico: Institute of Carib-
bean Studies, 1965) and Dan Crowley, "Plural and Differential Accultration in Trinidad",
American Anthropologist, 59:5 (1957),817-24.
9. Brathwaite, Contradictory Omens: 11.
10. Shepherd, Verene "Indians and Blacks in Jamaica in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Cen-
turies: A Micro-Study of the Foundation of Race Antagonisms" in After the Crossing, ed-
ited by Howard Johnson,(London: Frank Cass and Company, 1988), 95.
11. Reddock, Rhoda "Primacy of Gender within Race and Class" in J. Edward Greene led) Race
Class and Gender in the Future of the Caribbean. (Mona, Jamaica I.S.E.R.,1993), 47-73
12. Rhoda Reddock "Douglarization and the Politics of Gender Relations in Trinidad and Tobago",
in R. Deosaran, N. Mustapha and R. Reddock (eds) Contemporary issues in Social Science:
A Caribbean Perspective, Vol. 1, 1 UWI, St. Augustine,Trinidad: Dept of Sociology, 1994),7
13. Reddock, Rhoda (1993) "Intersections of Ethnicity, Class and Gender in Trinidad and To-
bago", paper presented at Rockefeller Humanities Seminar, Hunter College, New York,
14. Ibid, 8
15. Segal, Daniel, (1991) "The European: Allegories of Racial Purity" in Anthropology Today, Vol
7, No. 5, October.7-9
16. Trotman, David (1986) Crime in Trinidad: Conflict and Control in a Plantation Soci-
ety, (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press,1986), 207
17. Reddock, Rhoda (1986) "Indian Women and Indentureship in Trinidad and Tobago, 1985-
1917: Freedom Denied", Caribbean Quarterly, Vol 32, Nos 3&4, 27-49.
18. Thakur, Rishee (1993) "Orientalism Revisited" in Caribbean Issues, Vol 6, No. 2, 11-15.
19. Klass, Morton, East Indians in Trinidad: A Study of Cultural Persistance, (1961, Illinois: Wav-
eland Press, 1988, reprint) Klass Morton Singing with Sai Baba: The Politics of Revitalisa-
tion in Trinidad and Tobago, (Boulder, Co.Westview Press, 1991).35.
20. Jain, Ravindra (1986) "The East Indian Culture in a Caribbean Context: Crisis and Creativity,
in Indian International Centre Quarterly, Vol 13, 1986, 153-164.
21. Rhoda Reddock "Douglarization and the Politics of Gender Relations in Trinidad and Tobago",
22.Jain, Ravindra "The East Indian Culture in a Caribbean Context:See also K.N.Sharma,*
23. Ibid.
24. Ibid., 154-55
25. Haraksingh, Kusha (1988)," Structure, Process and Indian Culture in Trinidad", in After the
Crossing, 113-122
26. Reddock, Rhoda "Primacy of Gender within Race and Class"
27. Singh, Kelvin, Bloodstained Tombs: The Muharram Massacre 1884,( London and Basing-
stoke:.Macmillan, 1991), 4-5
28. Jain, Ravindra "The East Indian Culture in a Caribbean Context", 158
29. Shepherd, Verene "Indians and Blacks in Jamaica in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Cen-
turies: A Micro-Study of the Foundation of Race Antagonisms" 101.
30. Steumple, Stephen (1990) The Steelband Movement in Trinidad and Tobago: Politics and Na-
tional Identity, PhD Dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 1990, 57.

31. Herskovits, Melville & Frances Trinidad Village,( New York: Alfred A. Knopf,1947),
Herskovits, Melville Herskovits,M. The Myth of the Negro Past, ( Gloucester, Massachu-
setts:Peter Smith, Original 1958,1970 edn).
32. Herskovits,The Myth of the Negro Past, 207-233
33. This Bill also sought to control the 'noise' emanating from the Moharran or Hosein Festival.
According to Bereton, "...officers at the St. James Barracks were annoyed by drum-beating
by Indians in Coolie Town, St. James." See Bridget Brereton, Race Relations in Colonial
Trinidad, 1870- 1900(Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, 1979), 161.
34. Herskovits,M. The Myth of the Negro Past, 223
35. Brereton, Bridget Race Relations in Colonial Trinidad: 1870-1900, 161 ; Guinea's Other
Sons: the African dynamic in Trinidad culture (Massachusetts: The Majority Press, 1991)
36. Simpson, George Eaton "The Shango Cult of Trinidad", in G.E. Simpson, Religious Cults of
the Caribbean: Trinidad, Jamaica and Haiti,( San Juan: Institute of Caribbean Studies,
37 Warner-Lewis, Maureen Guinea's Other Sons: The Atrican Dynamic in Trinidad Culture, 133,
38. G.E. Simpson, Religious Cults of the Caribbean: 79
39. Ibid., 80
40. Ibid., 21.
41. Ibid., 21,125.
42. Houk, James "Afro-Trinidadian identity and the Africanisation of the Orisha Religion" in
Kevin Yelvington led) Trinidad Ethnicitv,(Knoxville. Macmillan/University of Tennessee
Press, 1993), 174
43 Kali the "Black Mother" is often seen as the 'evil incarnation' of the good mother deity
Durga (personal communication, Paula Morgan)
44. Vertovec, Stephen Hindu Trinidad: Religion, Ethnicity and Socio-Economic Change,( London
and Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1992), 218
45. Mahabir Noor Kumar and Maharaj Ashram "Hindu Elements in the Shango/Orisha Cult in Trini-
dad" in Frank Birbalsingh (ed.) Indenture and Exile: The Indo-Caribbean Experience,
(Toronto:TSAR, 1989) 192-93
46. Mahabir Noor Kumar and Maharaj Ashram"Hindu Elements in the Shango/Orisha Cult"
47 Crowley,Mahabir, Noor Kumar "Finding Neutral Grounds in a Plural Society" in Caribbean Is-
sues, Vol 6, No.2.1993; Reddock, "Primacy of Gender within Race and Class"; Simpson,
G. "Religious Cults" 127, and Crowley, "Plural and Differential Acculturation" and "Cul-
tural Assimilation in a Multiracial Society", Annals of New York Academy of Sciences,83
48. Crowley,Mahabir, Noor Kumar (1993) "Finding Neutral Grounds in a Plural Society",19.
49. Ibid., Today, for example, while the first female pundit (pandita) is being severely challenged
by the Hindu leadership of virtually all traditions, a few Indian women Pentacostalists and
Evangelicals have large congregations, often preaching strongly against Hinduism and other
forms of heathenismm'
50. Mahibir, "Finding Neutral Grounds in a Plural Society", and Rouse-Jones,Margaret "Changing
Patterns of Denominational Affiliation in Trinidad and Tobago: an Exploratory Study" in So-
cial and Occupational Stratification in Contemporary Trinidad and Tobago, ed.Selwyn
Ryan,( St. Augustine: ISER 1991), 362.
51 Mahibir, "Finding Neutral Grounds in a Plural Society",19.
52. Houk, "Afro-Trinidadian Identity and the Africanisation of the Orisha Religion".
53. Ibid., 177
54. Klass, East Indians in Trinidad.

"Yuh Know Bout coo-coo? Where Yuh Know Bout coo-coo?"
Language and Representation, Creolisation and Confusion in
'Indian Cuisine'


It is virtually impossible to read or deploy the term creolisation without
warnings, caveats, provisos, explanations, reworkings, or even scare quotes.
The problems posed by the slipperiness of the term can be productive in that
they allow for layered, supple and often contradictory readings of the region.
More importantly, this surface slipperiness is but a symptom of the deeply
entrenched struggles for and about language and representation in terms of
Caribbean identities. No deployment of its meanings in our context, however,
can usefully ignore or fail to contend with the centrality of Kamau Brathwaite's
thesis which itself was forged out of conflicts about the interpretations of
West Indian history. His achievement does not only lie in his contribution to
knowledge production; but it lies even more in the fact that through his
powerfully imaginative reworking of ideas about Jamaican/West Indian cultural
history, he opened a door where there appeared to be an impenetrable brick
wall. He made available a discursive space within and through which scholars
on the Caribbean could think differently In interrogating, complicating, or even
defying Brathwaite's position, writers and scholars underscore its force.
In one of its most fundamental meanings, Brathwaite suggests, creo-
lisation has to do with sex, sexuality, gender and race. The Development of
Creole Society proposes that what embeds the creolisation process most
deeply in the Jamaican socio-cultural order is the intertwining-literal and
metaphorical-of heterosexual sex and race: "it was in the intimate area of
sexual relationships where the most significant (and lasting) inter-cultural
creolisation took place"1 (There is much that is problematic in this key
concept because of what it simultaneously assumes and overlooks about the
constructions of sex, gender, and race). But it is a valuable proposition to
think through because it helps us to recognize how these constructions shape
our understanding of Caribbean identities.
When the theory of creolisation travels to Trinidad packed within
Patricia Mohammed's analysis of the locational identities of the Indo-Caribbean
woman, she applies scare quotes, calling attention to the uniquely Trinidadian
meanings and anxieties embodied by terms such as creole, creolisation, Indian,

It is a particularly daring, even offensive word
to use in reference to Indian women in Trinidad
for it was used popularly to refer to those
women who mixed or consorted with people of
African descent, especially men, Indian women
who changed their eating and dress habits and
who adopted non-Indian social customs. But
this draws on a more popular interpretation of
the term

"[C]reolisation" was viewed as synonymous
with the absorption of black culture at the
expense of one's own. Anyone apprecia-
tive of the history of the relations between the
two majority ethnic groups in this soci-
ety-Blacks and Indians, understands immedi-
ately the anathema which greets the
suggestion of acculturation, especially from
the Indian population.2

Mohammed presents these two concepts of creolisation as common
knowledge and positivist awareness, but moves away from them in order to
argue for a "richer meaning."3 The implications and effects of these beliefs,
however, are not made less potent by the rhetorical manoeuvre of distancing;
they demand analysis and inquiry. It is worthwhile to note that the "popular
interpretation" of creolisation in Trinidad depends, like Brathwaite's, on the
construction of heterosexual sex through racialized grids. It is also important
to call attention to the way in which the two prevailing interpretations are
constitutively entangled: The discursive regulation of the Indo-Caribbean
woman and an almost surgical separation from the African Caribbean Other are
two of the connecting parts in the construction of the dominant narratives of
the Indian in the West Indies, dating back to the nineteenth century.4 Within
these narratives, which have bolstered vastly different ideological projects,
Indianness is construed through such terms and tropes as cultural closedness,
Brahminical purity, diligence, family values, rigid patriarchy, female beauty,
thrift, economic saviors of the Caribbean, fear of absorption, marginalization
through envy, hostility or misunderstanding. Striking in its synecdochic formu-
lation, this construction achieves its illusion of security, and indeed, can only
be enabled by the implicit and explicit construction of the African Caribbean
culture as simultaneously lacking, open and degraded and African Caribbean
people as emblems of both promiscuity and sexual undesirability, laziness,
chaos, irresponsibility and inferiority.5

Regardless of the definitions that are privileged, there is no way then,
to address the concept of creolisation and Indianness without working through
the often contradictory discursive positioning of Indian womanhood as this is
defined by, whether implicitly or explicitly, the presence of Africanness and
otherness.6 Paula Morgan argues that Lashmi Persaud's Sastra (1993) is a
late twentieth century fictional representation of the Indian's "anathema" to
assimilation and creolisation, especially as this is articulated through the focus
on the Indian woman.

Persaud seeks to construct a 'pure' cultural
and ethnic space, an island apart, from the
hurly burly of multicultural Trinidad. Men
and women enjoy peaceful and divinely or-
dered relationships. Even the very young
draw comfort and a sense of deep assurance
from familial and caste prescriptions. The
women are the quintessential preservers of the
domestic culture--pictures of grace, beauty
and subservience, creators of nurturing en-
vironments. As repositories of the tradi-
tion-their charm and beauty, their ritual
acts of obeisance, speak of an enchanted
space to which the men can retreat from the
despoliation of the broader society. Per-
saud's protagonist locates herself. outside
of the framework of Caribbean nationalism"7

Of course, West Indians of Asian ancestry do not speak with one
voice. And, the social and discursive construction of Indianness in the Carib-
bean remains a dynamic and contested site. Some writers and scholars insist
upon the West Indianness of the West Indian Indian, pointing to the necessity
and importance of forging an identity from within these still troubled waters of
the Caribbean.8
But in the midst of all this contestation, can there be such a thing as a
Caribbean reality? Ramabai Espinet believes there is; and it is that from which
her writerly self is spawned: "a Caribbean reality exists and because we have
been nurtured within its fold, we know its depths as naturally and intimately
as we know the sound of our mother's voice."9 Espinet does not overlook or
minimize the historical, cultural or racial divisions. Instead, her work insists
that the imperatives of understanding what divides and unites Caribbean
people of different races and genders require that we all till the ground from
which the dominant narratives, ideas and experiences have sprouted:

[T]he experience of Indo-Caribbean people
should not remain within their relatively iso-
lated community. It is part of the general
historical movement of peoples into this archi-
pelago and as such belongs to all, impacts on
all and should be known by all. The
argument goes that if [the] intellectual knowl-
edge is to be enlarged then Indians must begin
to do it for themselves. Why? Is the Indo-Car-
ibbean experience not part of our common
heritage as Caribbean people?10

The protagonist of Espinet's short story "Indian Cuisine" (1994),
omnivorously swallows a cookbook and voraciously consumes others which
eventually allow her to become a "designer of cuisine" and produce elaborate
recipes. 11This evokes the familiar image of an artist consuming or feeding on
the society. V.S. Naipaul notes:
Writing. isn't a talent that flourishes in a
vacuum. It feeds on a society. It feeds on
people. Writers need a source of strength
other than that which they find in their talent.
They need a society. They feed on a society,
and the development of their writing depends
on the nature of that society.12

Through the focus on eating, cooking and sharing, the "I" of the Indian
woman is constructed as a communal subject, authorised by the historical and
political, and sustained by a conflation of the vernacular cultures and the
"personal. In this way, the Indian cuisine of the Trinidadian woman becomes
both Indian and something else.
That such a concern is part of Espinet's understanding is clear in her
comments about another piece of her work and the reception it received in
some quarters: "[l]n the poem, 'Merchant of Death,' I use Rasta talk. I
have been pounded by some Indo-Caribbean friends for this. One. insists
that it takes away from the 'purity' of the Indian experience. A Brahminical
sense of 'purity' certainly operates in the Indian sphere at the level of the
ideal-but not at the level of daily experience. There is also within that
concept of 'purity' a fixedness which denies the evidence of creolisation."
Espinet, in her critical writing, sees the processes of creolisation and modern-
ization in the Caribbean as inevitable and sees "cultural enlargement" as
desirable. She accepts Patricia Mohammed's reworking of creolisation as a

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