hVol.ll 54 ,, Nos. 1 &2
M c Jn ,
VOLUME 55, Nos.l&2
(Copyright reserved and reproduction without permission strictly forbidden)
The 60th Anniversarv Edition: Literatures and Ideas
RexNettleford i .;
The Yellow Cemetery Derek Walcott 1
History, Fable and Myth in the Caribbean and Guianas
Sweat and the Lash
Sometimes in the Middle of a Story
I Shall Remember
A Place Called Home
At home the Green Remains
Colonization in Reverse
Opening Address -Caribbean Conference on Culture honouring Rex Nettleford
Men of Ideas
Tomb of a Hero :NWM
Basil Mc 'ar/ane
Creolization in the Making Of The Americas
Ballad for Soweto
No Word Does You Justice
Because the Dawn Breaks
Letter from Jamaica
Roberto F. Retemar
Landscape with Faces
To Wonder At
From a MS The Summmer of Lilacs
Bun Down Crossroads
The New Man
Where Have all the Feminists gone?
the best philosophers I know...
STORY- The Pain Tree -
A Plume of Dust
After the Carnival
Cricket Grounds, Plymouth
Two lectures by CLR James
Application And Reply
Faculty of Arts
For Elsa Goveia
Chapel Gardens -UWI
Student at Year's End
Lloyd W. Brown
Alma Mock Yen
Sir Philip Sherlock
INFORMATION ON CONTRIBUTORS
UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST INDIES
Professor, the Hon. R.M. Nettleford, O.M. Vice Chancellor Emeritus, Editor
Sir Roy Augier, Professor Emeritus, History, Mona.
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Mona, Professor Wayne Hunte, PVC graduate Studies and Research, UWI, St.
Professor B.Lalla, Faculty of Arts and Education, UWI, St.Augustine
Mr. J. Periera, Vice Principal, UWI, Mona
Professor Clement Sankat, PVC, Principal, UWI, St. Augustine
Professor Gordon Shirley, PVC and Principal, UWI, Mona.
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We invite readers to submit manuscripts or recommend subjects which they
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Abstract and Index : 1949-2001 Author Keyword and Subject Index
available as a hard copy and also on this website.
The journal is abstracted by AES and indexed by HAPI
This year the University of the West Indies celebrates its 60th Anniversary. It is
appropriate that Caribbean Quarterly, should seek to commemorate such a signal event with the
dedication of all the year's issues surrounding the act of "becoming", for this is the heartbeat of
the survival strategy of the region which the University was set up to serve. What better than to
devote the first of the 60th anniversary volumes to Literature and Ideas, the lifeblood of the
process marking the exercise of imagination and intellect without which a civilization cannot
even begin to germinate let alone flourish.
In 1949 Philip Manderson Sherlock, the then Director of the Department of Extra Mural
Studies, Deputy Principal of the fledgling University College of the West Indies, poet and man
of letters as well as the co-editor of Caribbean Quarterly one of his myriad innovations stated
in its charter issue volume 1, number 1:
Throughout the Caribbean there are groups of men and women who are
coming together to learn to deepen their intellectual interests, to find out
through discussion and reading more about themselves, their history, the lands
in which they live and the world round about them. This journal is published
for these men and women, not only for members of extra-mural classes but for
all men and women who seek after knowledge; to be a bond between them and
to give them information about each other. CQ seeks to do more, it will work in
co-operation with those literary journals which have contributed to the cultural
development of the Caribbean. It will concentrate its attention on social and
educational movements that are of general significance. It will aim at accuracy,
objectivity, and clean thought, clearly expressed. Above all, it seeks to establish
and strengthen the tradition of the book and of learning in the Caribbean.
No-one knew better than Sir Philip (as he became) the truth of the ancestral proverb
which goes: "Until the lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt will always glorify the
The 'historians' come in the form of Caribbean writers -poets, essayists, novelists,
biographers as well as teachers, visual and performing artists, lyricists and musicians. The
ex-slave, ex-indentured tenants of the colonial outposts of empire, having inherited conditions
of marginalization, deracination and imposed silence, have in turn seen to the decolonization
of self and society. As undertow and guiding passion for this arguably most exciting and
liberating period of modern Caribbean existence the tale of liberation came to belong to the
once hunted lions rather than left exclusively to the hunter; and CaribbeanQuarterly has been on
hand to facilitate and house many of the new 'historians'.
The very first issue of Caribbean Quarterly in 1949 included the poem The Yellow
Cemetery by Derek Walcott, later to be an early student of UCWI who went on to win the
Nobel prize for Literature in 1992. This poem is the purposefully included in this double issue,
that celebrates the wealth of literature and ideas that Caribbean Quarterly has been privileged to
publish over the years.
The University's six decades are represented with the pieces by now well-established,
regionally acknowledged and internationally acclaimed writers. The offerings range from that
first poem by Derek Walcott to The Journey, by Ann Margaret Lim, a new generation poet,
with such middle generation multi-talented literary artists as Edward Baugh, Mervyn Morris,
Lorna Goodison, Merle Collins, Rachel Manley, Dennis Scott, Wayne Brown, Velma Pollard,
Alma Mock Yen, Howard Fergus included for good measure and with due regard for the
magisterial Kamau Brathwaite and Nicholas Guillen, the insightful Louise Bennett, and
pace-setters Frank Collymore, John Figueroa, H.D. Carberry, Roger Mais.
The poems have been grouped into themes that echo our history as a people slavery,
exile and migration, disturbances (both civil and natural) but also the ideologies that we all
share as well as the pathos of life in this challenging, cantankerous, contradictory, chaotic, but
creatively exciting region we call home.
A short story by Olive Senior The Pain Tree offers a peek into the multi-textured layers
of race, gender and class Essays and two lectures by some of the Caribbean's most fertile
minds make up the issue with contributions by June Castello, (Where Have all the Feminists
gone?), Edouard Glissant, (Creolization in the Making of the Americas), John Hearne,
(Landscape with Faces), and Wilson Harris, (History, Fable and Myth in the Caribbean
and Guianas). Two lectures by the highly-rated West Indian man of ideas, CLR James, are
here reproduced as is the opening address by yet another highly acclaimed man of letters,
George Lamming to a gathering of conferees at the University's first Caribbean Conference on
Culture. in 1996.
The double issue ends with a tribute to founding father Philip Sherlock whose
commitment to the notion that his Caribbean would mean nothing to itself or to posterity
without its men and women of ideas, learning, intellect and imagination. It is in this sense that
Caribbean Quarterly which he helped to bring into being should celebrate the success of his
efforts so far without in any way ignoring the challenges that lie ahead to keep the tale within
the control of the lions the poets and literary artists who through their writings have indeed
come to "discover" their history, the lands in which they live and world around them.
The Yellow Cemetery
"Thej are alive and well somewhere,
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led fonvard life, and does not wait
at the end to arrest it." Walt Whitman
All grains are the ash to ashes drowsing in the morning,
Wearing white stone. I passed them, not thankfuller to be
Their living witness, not noisy in salt like the near sea,
Because they are spaded to the dirt, our drowning.
As lovely as the living, and safer, to the bay's green mourners
They will unkeening bones, and they are happy.
Lost the candle and censer mystery tale, the swung smoke of adorners
Of dying. Could they speak more than bramble, they'd be
One in the language of the sun and the bibleling froth.
Their now bread is broken stone, their wine the absent blood
They gave to days of nails.
It is enough
And greater is no grace, no surplice more serviceable than the lap and hood
Of the seasons that grew them, and now mother them to sleep.
And you alive, speak not of the unlucky dead, the sunless eyes rotten
Under downs and saddles in a kingdom of worms.
Speak of the luckless living, that are gnawed by a misbegotten
'Moon and memory;
It is a blessing past bounds, to miss the dooms
Of the vertical fathom, at each suncrow
To know no anguish, cool in clothstones that flow,
The sleep in the bone, all weathers.
But we, each
Flapping boast of the crowing sun, turn in our linen graves,
Face stale mornings, old faces, but these dead on the beach,
Are joyed at the dawn's blood skyed on their dearth of days.
We cocky populations fouling the fallow plans of heaven,
Shall find perfection in a cemetery under a hill.
For we have suffered so long, that death shall make all even,
There shall the love grow again that once we would kill.
This is no place for the eater of herbs and honey, for beads,
Here are water, crops, seabirds, and yet here do not be brave
Seek no fames, and do not too often pray to keep alive,
Against the brittle wick of wishes the wind in the clock strives
And wins. Was not your father such?
Gay in the burning faith of himself, but melted to forgetting?
Thank time for joys, but be not thankful overmuch,
The sun, a clot of the wounded sky, is setting.
Delve no heart in the sound of your ,soul, a man's speech burns
And is over; the tears melt, colden, and stales the tallow.
And the story of your ash to ashes breath that the wind learns,
The bushes from your eyes will tell in a deeper yellow.
And there at sea, under the wave,
The sea-dead, the legendary brave,
Under the windmaned horses of the sea
Float the bulged trampled dead, nudged by whales:
Their wicks windkilled too, by salty gales,
And they were so braver, less alarmed than we.
For we want to run, who do not want to drown where
There is no angel or angelus or another's helphand;
But they too ride easy, and the nunnery of brown hair
Of the white girl of walls, shall be no more in the pardoner sand
Black man's denial. Heart, let us love all, the weeds
That feed the seaherds, miracler than man's tallest deeds,
For here the living are blinder than the dead, ah
Look a rainbow seven-coloured wakes glory through the clouds. And
Breasts sea and hill and cemetery in warning,
And the chained horses thunder white, no more adorning
The harbour that grows truculent at the sevenhued sky,
A canoe scuds home quickly, and indigo reigns.
Praise these but ask no more the meaning of mourning,.
Than you ask a moral from the seven glory of the clouds, and
Go slowly to the hill as the gale breaks, crazy on the loud sand.
Do not talk of dying, you say, but all men dead or sick,
In the brain and rib-hollow rooms
The candles of the eye burn and shorten, and how quick
The fine girl sleeps in her grave of hair, the grasshair tombs.
0 look at the sane low populations of the democratic dead,
How all are doomed to a dome of mud, all brought to book,
Believing in a world for the perverse saint and the holy crook.
Love children now, for the sun will barter their thinklessness away;
For there, if place, He walks, who was a lifelong child,..
And when the sun is spearing them in growth, pray,
There is the kingdom of haven in the tears of a child.
The trees, alive in a wind of generations, spin a terror of grains
In the air, in the blue and froth of the weather, the branch rains
Yellow on the graves
We the raisers of a God against the hand,
Wonder who is made or maker, for the God our ancestors learned,
Moses of terror, burns in no bushes,
We pray only when seas are turned
Angry, and the wild wind rushes,
And love and death we cannot understand.
The signatures of a lost Heaven remain,
The beauty of the arch, the nature not sun not rain
We want our God to be. And yet, were He scanned
We the long builders of beyond this flying breath would look
Beyond the written Heavens, the wide open sea, the land like a green book,
Would find the Author and the Author's purpose.
A swallow falls, and perhaps the sale spoken prayer
Is the hand of a leaf crossing the cold curled claws.
Where is the God of the swallows, is He where
Lives the One whom you flew young from, who all life was yours?
And yet for all these gifts, the gift that I can pray,
The mountain music, the pylon words, the painting, they are
Enough, and may be all, for they add grace by day
And night give tears as harshly as a telling star.
Were there nothing, and this the only
Life, a man has still to save the cliche of his soul, to live
With, I will say it, grace, to atone for the
Sins that all the worlds awoke before he ailed alive,
Climb there, go to the hill while another sun is warning
That the wicks weaken, and in the halls of the heartsun, love,
For love is the stone speech that outlasts our ash and mourning.
Vol.1. No.1, 1949
History, Fable and Myth in The Caribbean and
WILSON E. HARRIS
It occurred to me as 1 contemplated this series of talks entitled History, Fable
AndAMyth that it may prove illuminating to look first of all atJ.J. Thomas's rebuttal of
the 19th century historian Froude in his book Fmrudacit. Froudacidy was first published
in 1889 and has been re-printed by New Beacon Books in 1969. It is not my intention
to review Froudaity at this time but rather to highlight the crux of the dispute between
Froude and Thomas as I believe that will help to make clear the kind of historical
stasis which has afflicted the Caribbean I would suggest for many generations.
The crux of the dispute between Froude and Thomas appears to me to have
been set forth by C. L. R. James in his introduction to the 1969 re-publication of
In that Introduction James quotes Froude as follows:
In Egypt or India or one knows not where, accident or natural
development quickened into life our moral and intellectual faculties;
and these faculties have grown into what we now experience, not in
the freedom in which the modern takes delight, but under the sharp
rule of the strong over the weak, the wise over the unwise.
James then goes on to say that Thomas now "has him (Froude) in the historical
prison in which he has placed himself, and he (Thomas) overwhelms the great
historian." This overwhelming rebuttal, as James sees it, springs from Thomas's
insight into a controlling law of history in contra-distinction to Froude's emphasis on
the dicey, accidental character of nature and society.
In fact James sums it up in this way:
What is important is not the difference in tone and temper of the two
writers. It is that Thomas bases himself on a sense of history which he
defines as a controlling Law. And if you have no sense of historical
law, then anything is what you choose to make it, and history almost
automatically becomes not only nonsense, i.e. has no sense, but is
usually a defence of property and privilege, which is exactly what
Froude has made of it
The question nevertheless arises Does Thomas's stress on Law as C. L. R.
James implies dispense with Froude?
In order to answer this let us look first of all a little more closely at Froude's
position. and after that come back to Thomas.
As I read Froude I am reminded of a certain dilemma which was put brilliantly
by Darwin in his Descent of Man. Darwin begins by speaking of the horns of certain
beetles then he moves on to look at crests and knobs on other creatures.
The extraordinary size of the horns, and their widely different
structure in closely allied forms, indicate that they have been formed
for some important purpose: but their excessive variability in the
males of the same species leads to the inference that this purpose
cannot be of a definite nature. The horns do not show marks of
friction, as if used for ordinary work. Some authors suppose that as
the males wander much more than the females, they require horns as
a defence against their enemies; but in many cases the horns do not
seem well adapted for defence ..... The most obvious conjecture is
that they are used by the males for fighting together; but they have
never been observed to fight, nor could Mr. Bates, after a careful
examination of numerous species, find any sufficient evidence in their
mutilated or broken condition of their having been thus used......
The conclusion which best agrees with the fact of the horns having
been so immensely yet not so fixedly developed as shown by their
extreme variability in the same species and by their extreme diversity
in closely allied species is that they have been acquired as ornaments.
This view will at first appear extremely improbable; but we shall here
after find with man)' animals, standing much higher in the scale,
namely fishes, amphibians, reptiles and birds, that various kinds of
crests, knobs and horns have been developed apparently for this sole
This ornamental stasis with implications that point to the wasteland to excess
baggage from cradle to grave depicts rather ironically but accurately Froude's
relationship to property as something so sovereign, so accidental, so fortuitous, it
serves to eclipse all sensibility. Such an eclipse of sensibility may well be an omen of
an age in which, not long before, the person had been property (slave property). And
this area of eclipse of sensibility held Frouds's relationship to property as in its toils -
in its historical prison. Indeed it is in this way, in terms of sovereign object or prison -
eclipse of the person in slave property eclipse of the resources of sensibility that I
find myself re-reading James's remark that history makes nonsense or no-sense,
non-sensibility or no-sensibility.
Froude's defence of property property implying both flesh-and-blood (in the
fetish of the slave) as well as inanimate conviction (the world of things) was a
historical prison and Froude as prisoner of his age may well have taken a malicious
and pessimistic view of nature and society. The world of objects, the world of
achievement for him in its ornamental stasis was fortuitous, dicey (and therefore
fundamentally precarious, fundamentally inclined to be wasteful or purposeless) and
the human person was an object to be measured, validated, pronounced fit or unfit in
an economic ruling context. Froude therefore could see no merit in change. He
prized stability as so fortuitous, so accidental that any society which 'worked', which
held itself together in some shape or form, should be safe-guarded against change. In
this context Anglo-West Indian society of the 19th century appeared to him to 'work',
to hold itself together. Froude distrusted change since in his estimation everything
was so dicey, so. fortuitously consolidated that change, in fact was likely to rob it of
any conservative historical shape it already possessed.
All of Froude's biases and aberrations in his reports on the Caribbean sprang, I
would suggest, from this central dilemma. A dilemma we have not yet solved and
which presses in on us in the late twentieth century in many forms. It resides at the
heart of economic fascism wherever this is practised. Rhodesia and South Africa are
And now I would like to return to Thomas. When C. L. R. James says with
brilliant polemic that Thomas overwhelmed the great historian Froude. I take it he
means that Thomas broke out of Froude's prison of history by visualising a law in
contradistinction to a philosophy of fortuitous achievement, dicey establishment,
realm of accident.
But (with all due respect to C. L. R. James) we must ask ourselves Did
Thomas really achieve such a breakthrough? The answer to this may well lie in the
way Thomas wrestled with the law in terms of the existing magistracy of his day and in
terms of various Governors of Trinidad and other nineteenth century figures.
It is here that beyond a shadow of doubt the unwitting irony of Thomas's
book is laid bare. For the scale of Froudacity upon which Thomas measures his
magistrates and governors is consistent with a comedy of manners. In that comedy of
manners the law consolidates itself- as a just instrument around noble or benevolent
figures which include Chief Justice Reeves of Barbados, certain good and
conscientious Governors of Trinidad and Gordon of Khartoum. On the other hand
it consolidates itself into a bad instrument around bad magistrates, Governors, etc.
Because of these fluctuations in Thomas's comedy of manners the law comes into
close rapport with Froude's ornament and ironically reinforces fortuitous idols on the
side of heaven or on the side of hell.
According to Thomas had such-and-such a Governor remained things might
have been different. Had such-and-such a Governor never arrived things likewise
might have been different. In the same token in the twentieth century had Kennedy
not been assassinated things might have been different in the United States. In short
Thomas's wrestle with the Law would seem to consolidate a fortuitous destiny or
ornament of history.
In support of what I have been saying let us look at the implications in these key
passages in Thomas's Froudacity
It is almost superfluous to repeat that the skin-discriminating policy
induced as regards the coloured subjects of the Queen since the
abolition of slavery did not, and could not, operate when coloured
and white stood on the same high level as slave owners and ruling
potentates in the colony.
Thomas expands on this in the following:
History, as against the hard and fast White-master and Black-slave
theory so recklessly invented and confidently built upon by Mr.
Froude, would show incontestably (a) that for upwards of 200 years
before the Negro Emancipation in 1838, there had never existed in
one of these then British colonies .... any prohibition whatsoever,.
on the ground of race or colour, against the owning of slaves by any
free person possessing the necessary means, and desirous of doing so;
(b) that as a consequence of this non-restriction, numbers of blacks,
half-breeds, and other non-Europeans, besides such of them as had
become possessed of their 'property' by inheritance, availed
themselves of this virtual licence, and in course of time constituted a
very considerable proportion of the slave-holding section of those
communities; (c) that these dusky plantation owners enjoyed and
used in every possible sense the identical rights and privileges which
were enjoyed and used by their pure-blooded Caucasian
brother-slave-owners. The above statements are attested by written
documents, oral traditions, and, better still perhaps, by the living
presence in those islands of numerous lineal representatives of those
once opulent and flourishing non-European planter-families.
According to Thomas, therefore, it would appear that with the decline of
capital "slave-property" with the decline of investment in human persons owned by
blacks and whites alike a hard and fast White-master and Black-slave substitute
theory came into force. This substitute high-lighted pigmentation differences as
never before as part and parcel of the ornament of society to which the law
conformed. In short the whole society remained an economic commodity though
this time a new sophistication, pigmentation, came into force.
Thomas is not an apologist for slavery in fact he indicts slavery with great
passion but the trap into which he falls is in most ways identical to the stasis (the stasis
of ornament, of property as accident, as fortuitous establishment or comedy of
manners) to which Froude conforms. Froude and Thomas. in this respect, were
children of the 19th century and neither possessed the genius to penetrate intuitively
or otherwise the ironic trap of the ornament, of the prison of the wasteland.
Clearly Thomas failed to deepen the ornament of his age in such a way that
unpredictable intuitive resources would affect the prison of the object and therefore
the person-of the object. Prison and person had become locked together as uniform
property and both Thomas and Froude played on this synonymous condition in their
individual comedy of manners. This meant, in fact, that Thomas, passionate as he felt
about objects of injustice, could not supply a figurative meaning beyond the
condition he deplored.
It is my view therefore that Thomas does not really overwhelm Froude. The
duel which they fought is nevertheless a very instructive one in pointing up the
historical stasis which afflicts the West Indian sensibility and which may only be
breached in complex creative perspectives for which the historical convention would
appear to possess no criteria. Oddly enough James ends his introduction to Froudacity
with a quotation from Merleau-Ponty which helps to make the view I have been
expressing more clear.
"The act of the artist or philosopher is free, but not motiveless. Their
freedom. . . consists in appropriating a de facto situation by
endowing it with a figurative meaning beyond its real one."
In this connection we must note that both Thomas and Froude shared a
common suspicion of Haitian vodun and other primitive manifestations which
signified for them a "relapse into obeahism, devil-worship and children-eating."
Therefore they consolidated an intellectual censorship of significant vestiges of the
subconscious imagination which they needed to explore if they were to begin to
apprehend a figurative meaning beyond the real or apparently real world.
It is my intention in these talks to concentrate in some degree on those vestiges
as part and parcel of the arts of the imagination. In this respect I believe the possibility
exists for us to become involved in perspectives of renascence which can bring into
play a figurative meaning beyond an apparently real world or prison of history.
I want to make as clear as I can that a cleavage exists in my opinion between the
historical convention in the Caribbean and Guianas and the arts of the imagination. I
believe a philosophy of history may well lie buried in the arts of the imagination.
Needless to say I have no racial biases and, whether my emphasis falls on limbo or
vodun, on Carib bush-baby omens, on Arawak zemi, on Latin, English inheritances -
in fact within and beyond these my concern is with epic stratagems available to
Caribbean man in the dilemmas of history which surround him.
There are two kinds of myths related to Africa in the Caribbean and Guianas.
One kind seems fairly direct, the other has clearly undergone metamorphosis. In fact
even the direct kind of myth has suffered a "sea-change" of some proportions. In an
original sense, therefore, these myths which reflect an African link in the Caribbean
are also part and parcel of a native West Indian imagination and therefore stand, in
some important ways I feel, in curious rapport with vestiges of-Amerindian fable and
legend. (Fable and myth are employed as variables of the imagination in this paper)
Let us start with a myth stemming from Africa which has undergone
metamorphosis. The one which I have in mind is called limbo. The limbo dance is a
well known feature in the Carnival life of the West Indies today though it is still
subject to intellectual censorship as I shall explain as I go along in this paper. The
limbo dancer moves under a bar which is gradually lowered until a mere slit of space,
it seems, remains through which with spread-eagled limbs he passes like a spider.
Limbo was born, it is said, on the slave ships of the Middle Passage. There was
so little space that the slaves contorted themselves into human spiders. Limbo,
therefore, as Edward Brathwaite, the distinguished Barbadian born poet, has pointed
out is related to anancy or spider fables. If I may now quote from Islands the last book
in his trilogy -
drum stick knock
arid the darkness is over me knees spread wide
and the water is hiding me limbo
limbo like me
But there is something else in the limbo-anancy syndrome which, as far as I am
aware, is overlooked though intuitively immersed perhaps in Edward Brathwaite's
poems, and that is the curious dislocation of a chain of miles reflected in the dance so
that a re-trace of the Middle Passage from Africa to the Americas and the West Indies
is not to be equated with a uniform sum. Not only has the journey from the Old
World to the New varied with each century and each method of transport but needs
to be re-activated in the imagination as a limbo perspective when one dwells on the
Middle Passage: a limbo gateway between Africa and the Caribbean.
In fact here, I feel, we begin to put our finger on something which is close to
the inner universality of Caribbean man. Those waves of migration which have hit the
shores of the Americas North, Central and South century after century, have, at
various times, possessed the stamp of the spider metamorphosis in the refugee flying
from Europe or in the indentured East Indian and Chinese from Asia.
Limbo then reflects a certain kind of gateway or threshold to a new world and
the dislocation of a chain of miles. It is in some ways the archetypal sea-change
stemming from Old Worlds and it is legitimate, I feel, to pun on limbo as a kind of
shared phantom limb which has become a subconscious variable in West Indian
theatre. The emergence of formal West Indian theatre was preceded, I suggest, by
that phantom limb which manifested itself on Boxing Day after Christmas when the
ban on the 'rowdy' bands (as they were called) was lifted for the festive Season.
I recall performances I witnessed as a boy in Georgetown, British Guiana, in
the early 1930s. Some of the performers danced on high stilts like elongated limbs
while others performed spread-eagled on the ground. In this way limbo spider and
stilted pole of the gods were related to the drums, like grass roots and branches of
lightning to the sound of thunder.
Sometimes it was an atavistic spectacle and it is well known that these bands
were suspected by the law of subversive political stratagems. But it is clear that the
dance had no political or propaganda motives though, as with any folk manifestation,
it could be manipulated by demagogues. The whole situation is complex and it is
interesting to note that Rex Nettleford in an article entitled "The Dance As An Art
Form Its Place In The West Indies" (which appears in Caribbean Quarterly
March-June 1968) has this to say "Of all the arts, dance is probably the most
neglected. The art form continues to elude many of the most intuitive in an audience,
including the critics."
It has taken us a couple of generations to begin just begin to perceive, in this
phenomenon, an activation of subconscious and sleeping resources in the phantom
limb of dis-membered slave and god. An activation which possesses a nucleus of
great promise of far-reaching new poetic synthesis.
For limbo (one cannot emphasize this too much) is not the total recall of an
African past since that African past in terms of tribal sovereignty or sovereignties was
modified or traumatically eclipsed with the Middle Passage and within generations of
change that followed. Limbo was rather the renascence of a new corpus of sensibility
that could translate and accommodate African and other legacies within a new
architecture of cultures. For example the theme of the phantom limb the
re-assembly of dismembered man or god possesses archetypal resonances that
embrace Egyptian Osiris, the resurrected Christ and the many-armed deity of India.
In this context it is interesting to note that limbo which emerges as a novel
re-assembly out of the stigmata of the Middle Passage is related to Haitian vodun in
the sense that Haitian vodun (though possessing a direct link with African vodun
which I shall describe later on) also seeks to accommodate new Catholic features in its
constitution of the muse.
It is my view a deeply considered one that this ground of accommodation,
this art of creative coexistence pointing away from apartheid and ghetto fixations is
of the utmost importance and native to the Caribbean, perhaps to the Americas as a
whole. It is still, in most respects a latent syndrome and we need to look not only at
limbo or vodun but at Amerindian horizons as well shamanistic and rain-making
vestiges and the dancing bush baby legends of the extinct Caribs which began to
haunt them as they crouched over their campfires under the Spanish yoke.
Insufficient attention has been paid to such phenomena and the original native
capacity these implied as omens of re-birth. Many historians have been intent on
indicting the Old World of Europe by exposing a uniform pattern of imperialism in
the New World of the Americas. Thus they conscripted the West Indies into a mere
adjunct of imperialism and overlooked a subtle and far-reaching renascence. In a
sense therefore the new historian though his stance is an admirable one is debunking
imperialism has ironically extended and reinforced old colonial prejudices which
censored the limbo imagination as a 'rowdy' manifestation and overlooked the
complex metaphorical gateway it constituted in rapport with Amerindian omen.
Later on I intend to explore the Amerindian gateways between cultures which
began obscurely and painfully to witness (long before limbo or vodun or the Middle
Passage) to a native suffering community steeped in caveats of conquest. At this point
I shall merely indicate that these gateways exist as part and parcel of an original West
Indian architecture which it is still possible to create if we look deep into the rubble of
the past, and that these Amerindian features enhance the limbo assembly with which
we are now engaged the spider syndrome and phantom limb of the gods arising in
Negro fable and legend.
I used the word 'architecture' a moment or two ago because I believe this is a
valid approach to a gateway society as well as to a community which is involved in an
original re-constitution or re-creation of variables of myth and legend in the wake of
stages of conquest.
First of all the limbo dance becomes the human gateway which dislocates (and
therefore begins to free itself from) a uniform chain of miles across the Atlantic. This
dislocation or interior space serves therefore as a corrective to a uniform cloak or
documentary stasis of imperialism. The journey across the Atlantic for the forebears
of West Indian man involved a new kind of space inarticulate as this new 'spatial'
character was at the time and not simply an unbroken schedule of miles in a log
book. Once we perceive this inner corrective to historical documentary and protest
literature which sees the West Indies as utterly deprived, or gutted by exploitation, we
begin to participate the genuine possibilities of original change in a people severely
disadvantaged (it is true) at a certain point in time.
The limbo dance therefore implies, I believe, a profound art of compensation
which seeks to re-play a dismemberment of tribes (note again the high stilted legs of
some of the performers and the spider-anancy masks of others running close to the
ground) and to invoke at the same time a curious psychic re-assembly of the parts of
the dead god or gods. And that re-assembly which issued from a state of cramp to
articulate a new growth and to point to the necessity for a new kind of drama, novel
and poem is a creative phenomenon of the first importance in the imagination of a
people violated by economic fates.
One cannot over-emphasize, I believe, how original this phenomenon was. So
original it aroused both incomprehension and suspicion in the intellectual and legal
administrations of the land (I am thinking in particular of the first half of the
twentieth century though one can, needless to say, go much farther back). What is
bitterly ironic as I have already indicated is that present day historians in the second
half of the 20th century militant and critical of imperialism as they are, have fallen
victim, in another sense, to the very imperialism they appear to denounce. They have
no criteria for arts of originality springing out of an age of limbo and the history they
write is without an inner time. This historical refusal to see this consolidation of an
incomprehension of the past may well be at the heart of the Terrified Consciousness
which a most significant critic to emerge in the West Indies at this time, Kenneth
Ramchand, analyses brilliantly in his essay in the Journal of Commonwealth
Literature, West Indies number July 1969 (published by Heinemann and the
University of Leeds). One point which Kenneth Ramchand did not stress in his essay
- but which is implicit in what he calls the 'nightmare' in Jean Rhys's novel Wide
Sargasso Sea is that Antoinette is mad Bertha in jane Eyre and that Jean Rhys,
intuitively rather than intentionally, is attempting to compensate a historical portrait
of the West Indian creole to bridge the gap, as it were, between an outer frame and
an inner dislocation. It is this that sharpens the pathos of her novel and makes for that
terrified consciousness which Ramchand sees now as a universal heritage.
It is this cleavage between a statistical frame and the inner portrait of reality that
makes for unwitting irony in the so-called new emancipated writer and Gerald Moore
in his new book The Chosen Tongue (published by Longmans, 1969) brings it into sharp
focus when he states "Both M. G. Smith, the Jamaican anthropologist, and V.S.
Naipaul appear to believe that the West Indies possess no genuine inner cohesion
whatever and no internal source of power. Having no common interests to cement
them, the inhabitants of the area can be held together only by external force.
Professor Elsa Goveia reaches an opposite but equally depressing conclusion. She
argues that the West Indies had one integrating factor historically, and this has been
'the acceptance of the inferiority of the Negroes to the whites'."
In this context it is illuminating to recall that Froude was doing on behalf of
imperialim what many contemporary historians are doing in a protest against
imperialism. Namely he, too, set out to demonstrate that the West Indies had no
creative potential. His view sprang out of the arrogance of the 19th century civilized
European whereas theirs would appear to spring out of what Martin Carter the
Guyanese poet, calls the 'self-contempt' of the exploited, formerly indentured or
enslaved, West Indian. Such a dead-end of history in which 19th century imperialist
and 20th century anti-imperialist come into agreement is material for a theatre of the
I believe that the limbo imagination of the folk involved a crucial inner
re-creative response to the violations of slavery and indenture and conquest, and
needed its critical or historical correlative, its critical or historical advocacy. This was
not forthcoming since the historical instruments of the past clustered around an act
of censorship and of suspicion of folk-obscurity as well as originality, and that inbuilt
arrogance or suspicion continues to motivate a certain order of critical writing in the
West Indies today.
Capitalism andSlavery (a brilliant and impressive formal thesis of research written
when he was at Oxford by Eric Williams, who is now Prime Minister of Trinidad)
would seem to be the model British West Indian historians have elected. And I must
now draw to your attention something which, I believe, confirms my view of the
inbuilt censor in West Indian historical convention. Professor Elsa Goveia regards
Dr. Williams as "the most influential writer on West Indian history to emerge from
the West Indies during the present century", Yet in an article entitled "New
Shibboleths For Old" (appearing in New Beacon Reviews collection 1, 1968) she has this
to say of his recent work:
In spite of all Dr. Williams' protestations about the need for
cultivating a West Indian inspiration, in spite even of his own
authorship of a Histogr of the People ofTrinidad and Tobago, can the reader
be expected to draw any other conclusion than that a West Indian
subject-matter is somehow worthless? Dr. Williams cannot have it
both ways. If he ignores or devalues writers because they write about
the West Indies rather than about other subjects, then he is
perpetuating the very attitudes of mind which have in the past led to
the neglect of West Indian studies which he himself constantly
condemns. The combination of omissions and hasty dogmatism
which mars his present book will not remedy the unhappy conditions
which have for so long retarded the development of our
understanding of 'the unique antecedents of the people of the West
This I fear is lamentably true. Until the gap is visualised, understood and begins
to close, the West Indian historian and anthropologist will continue to reinforce a
high level psychological censorship of the creative imagination and to consolidate a
foreboding about the risks involved in every free election of spirits.
As such the very institutions of the day will become increasingly rigged by fear
and misgiving and political deterioration is the inevitable corollary. And indicates to
me that in the absence of a historical correlative to the arts of dispossessed some kind
of new critical writing in depth needs to emerge ridge the gap between history and art.
Denis Williams stated the dilemma very effectively in "Image and Idea In the Arts of
Guyana" (The Edgar Mittelholzer Memorial Lectures second series January 1969,
published by the National History and Arts Council of Guyana). I now quote:
Yet the first fact of the Caribbean situation is the fact of
miscegenation of mongrelism. What are the cultural implications of
this mongrel condition? It is important to have experienced the
homogeneity, richness, the integrity of the racially thoroughbred
cultures of the Old World in order properly to take the force of this
question. It is important if only as a means to discriminating between
our condition and theirs, of assessing the nature and is of our mongrel
culture when contrasted with the cultures of the thoroughbred, of
realising the nature and function of the ancestor as he determines our
cultural destiny. For we are all shaped by our past; the imperatives of a
contemporary culture are predominantly those of a relationship to
this past. Yet in the Caribbean and in Guyana we think and behave as
though we have no past, no history, no culture. And where we do
come to take notice of our history it is often in the light of biases
adopted from one thoroughbred culture or another, of the Old
World. We permit ourselves the luxury, for one thing, of racial
dialectics in our interpretation of Caribbean and Guyanese history
and culture. In the light of what we are this is a destructive thing to
do, since at best it perpetuates what we might call a filialistic
dependence on the cultures of our several racial origins, while
simultaneously inhibiting us from facing up to the facts of what we
I would now like to resume the earlier thread of my argument in the dance of
the folk the human limbo or gateway of the gods which was disregarded or
incomprehensible to an intellectual and legal and historical convention. I had begun
to point out that, first of all, the limbo dance becomes the human gateway which
dislocates (and therefore begins to free itself from) a uniform chain of miles. In this
context I also suggested that the gateway complex is also the psychic assembly or
re-assembly of the muse of a people. This brings me now to my second point about
limbo, namely, that it shares its phantom limb with Haitian vodun across an
English/French divide of Caribbean cultures. This is a matter of great interest, I
believe, because Haitian vodun is more directly descended from African myth and yet
- like limbo which is a metamorphosis or new spatial character born of the Middle
Passage it is also intent on a curious re-assembly of the god or gods. Therefore I ask
myself is vodun a necessary continuation of a matrix of associations which had not
fulfilled itself in the Old World of Africa? If so that fulfilment would be in itself not
an imitation of the past much as it is indebted to the past but a new and daring
creative conception in itself.
If Haitian vodun is a creative fulfilment of African vodun one must ask oneself
where do the similarities and differences lie. The basic feature they hold in common
lies in 'possession trances' trance features, I may add, which are not the case with
Pierre Verger in an essay appearing in Spirit Mediumship and Society in Africa
(published by Routledge and Kegan Paul 1969) writes:
Possession trances occur regularly among the Nago-Voruba and Fon
people of Dahomey during rites for orisha and vodun ...... They are
the culmination of an elaborate ritual sequence. Seen from the
participant's point of view, such trances are the reincarnations of
family deities in the bodies of their descendants reincarnations
which have taken place in response to the offerings, prayers, and
wishes of their worshippers.
In a footnote to his essay he defines orisha and vodun as:
the general names given by the Yoruba and Dahomean people
respectively to the deities worshipped by them. They are generally
considered to be the very remote ancestors who dealt during their
lifetime with some force of nature, and who can still do so on behalf
of their worshippers.
Pierre Verger has been speaking here of African vodun. 1 would like now to
give my definition of Haitian vodun which appears in Tradition, The IWiter and Society
(New Beacon Publications 1967) as this will help me, in parenthesis, to unravel
certain similarities and differences in African and Haitian vodun and to look back
afresh at the significance of the human limbo gateway.
Haitian vodun or voodoo is a highly condensed feature of inspiration
and hallucination within which 'space' itself becomes the sole
expression and recollection of the dance as if'space' is the character
of the dance since the celebrants themselves are soon turned into
'objects' into an architecture of movement like 'deathless' flesh,
wood or stone. And such deathless flesh, wood or stone (symbolic of
the dance of creation) subsists in the very protean reality of space -
on its own losses (symbolic decapitation of wood, symbolic
truncation of stone) so that the very void of sensation in which the
dancer begins to move, like an authentic spectre or structure of
fiction, makes him or her insensible to all conventional props of habit
and responsive only to a grain of frailty or light support.
Remember at the outset the dancer regards himself or herself as one
in full command of two legs, a pair of arms, until, possessed by the
muse of contraction, he or she dances into a posture wherein one leg
is drawn up into the womb of space. He stands like a rising pole
upheld by earth and sky or like a tree which walks in its shadow or like
a one-legged bird which joins itself to its sleeping reflection in a pool.
All conventional memory is erased and yet in this trance of
overlapping spheres of reflection a primordial or deeper function of
memory begins to exercise itself within the bloodstream of space.
Haitian vodun is one of the surviving primitive dances of sacrifice,
which, in courting a subconscious community, sees its own
performance in literal terms that is, with and through the eyes of
'space': with and through the sculpture of sleeping things which the
dancer himself actually expresses and becomes. For in fact the dancer
moves in a trance and the interior mode of the drama is exteriorized
into a medium inseparable from his trance and invocation. He is a
dramatic agent of subconsciousness. The life from within and the life
from without now truly overlap. That is the intention of the dance,
the riddle of the dancer.
The importance which resides in all this, I suggest, is remarkable. For
if the trance were a purely subjective thing without action or
movement some would label it fantasy. But since it exteriorizes
itself, it becomes an intense drama of images in space, which may
assume elastic limbs and proportions or shrink into a dense current of
reflection on the floor. For what emerges are the relics of a primordial
fiction where the images of space are seen as in an abstract painting.
That such a drama has indeed a close bearing on the language of
fiction, on the language of art, seems to me incontestable. The
community the writer shares with the primordial dancer is, as it were,
the complementary halves of a broken stage. For the territory upon
which the poet visualizes a drama of consciousness is a slow
revelation or unravelling of obscurity revelation or illumination
within oneself; whereas the territority of the dancer remains actually
obscure to him within his trance whatever revelation or illumination
his limbs may articulate in their involuntary theme. The 'vision' of the
poet (when one comprehends it from the opposite pole of 'dance)
possesses a 'spatial' logic or 'convertible' property of the imagination.
Herein lies the essential humility of a certain kind of
self-consciousness within which occurs the partial erasure, if nothing
more, of the habitual boundaries of prejudice.
I have quoted rather extensively here from my previous essay because I think
this may help us to see in rapport with Pierre Verger's definition of African vodun
that while the trance similarity is clear, the functions have begun to differ. Haitian
vodun like West Indian and Guianese/Brazilian limbo may well point to sleeping
possibilities of drama and horizons of poetry, epic and novel, sculpture and painting -
in short to a language of variables in art which would have a profoundly evolutionary
cultural and philosophical significance for Caribbean man. Such new resources (if I
may diverge for a brief moment and speak as someone whose chosen tongue is
English) are not foreign to English poetry except in the sense that these may be closer
to the 'metaphysical poets' to a range and potency of association in which nothing is
ultimately alien of which Eliot speaks in his famous essay on "dissociation of
Such a variable emphasis is outside the boundaries of intention in African
vodun which is a conservative medium or cloak of ancestors. The gulf therefore
between an inbuilt uniform censor and the imagination of a new art which exists in
the British West Indies, in particular, is absent in Africa. African vodun is a school of
ancestors: it is very conservative. Something of this conservative focus remains very
strongly in Haitian vodun but there is an absorption of new elements which breaks
the tribal monolith of the past and re-assembles an inter-tribal or cross-cultural
community of families.
The term loa, for example, which means spirit or deity is of Bantu origin not
Yoruba or Dahomean, the tribal homes (some say) of vodun Furthermore (I now
quote from' Harold Courlander's Vodoun In Haitian Culture, published by the Institute
for Cross-Cultural Research, Washington).
The various cults encompassed by the term Vodoun in its larger sense
are not easy to set down diagramatically because of different degrees
of blending and absorption in different regions of Haiti. Had the old
cults or 'nations' remained independent of one another, as they
probably were in early days, they probably would have included the
following: Arada (Dahomey or Fon), Anago (Yoruba), Mahi, Ibo,
Kanga, Congo (including Moundongue, Solongo, Bumba, etc., or
these elements also might have maintained independence), and Petro
(a cult in the African pattern that appears to have originated in Haiti).
In certain parts of Haiti one still finds Ibo, Congo, and Nago cults that
have resisted absorption, but this pattern does not hold for most of
the country ..... There has been intrusion of Catholic practices and
doctrine into Vodoun, many of the loa are identified with Catholic
Elsewhere Courlander has this to say -
Vodoun has perhaps the same meaning to some Haitian leaders as
astrology to some leaders of India.
All in all while it is true that the role of Haitian vodun or vodoun is part and
parcel of a prophetic and esoteric perspective in the Haitian body politic the strict
collective traditional sanction which belongs to Africa has varied in a manner
comparable in some degrees to the cleavage we have noted between history and art in
the British West Indies.
I could not help noting this passage in Courlander's essay -
The question of Vodoun's influence in politics in earlier days is
blurred or distorted for a variety of reasons. European writers
sometimes were unaware of Vodoun as a genuine religious pattern
common to the entire nation, and, as we have noted, frequently
delighted in depicting the superstitious character of the people.
Haitian historians of the past were sensitive to the charge that the
country was overrun with pagan rites, and they largely avoided
mention of Vodoun. Little on the subject is likely to be found in
government archives for much the same reason.
It is my assumption, in the light of all the foregoing, that a certain rapport exists
between Haitan Vodun and West Indian limbo which suggests an epic potential or
syndrome of variables. That epic potential, I believe, may supply the nerve-end of
authority which is lacking at the moment in the conventional stance of history.
But we need to examine this with the greatest care in order to assess and
appreciate the risks involved.
In the first place the limbo imagination of the West Indies possesses no formal
or collective sanction as in an old Tribal World. Therefore the gateway complex
between cultures implies a new catholic unpredictable threshold which places a far
greater emphasis on the integrity of the individual imagination. And it is here that we
see, beyond a shadow of doubt, the necessity for the uncommitted artist of
conscience whose evolution out of the folk as poet, novelist, painter is a symbol of
risk, a symbol of inner integrity.
With African vodun as we have seen the integrity of the tribal person was
one with a system which was conservative and traditional. There was no breath of
subversion no cleavage in the collective. History and art were one medium.
With Guyanese/West Indian limbo that cleavage is a fact and the rise of the
imaginative arts has occurred in the face of long-held intellectual and legal suspicion.
Therefore the rise of the poet or artist incurs a gamble of the soul which is symbolised
in the West Indian trickster (the spider or anancy configuration). It is this element of
tricksterdom that creates an individual and personal risk absolutely foreign to the
conventional sanction of an old Tribal World: a risk which identifies him (the artist)
with the submerged authority of dispossessed peoples but requires of him, in the
same token, alchemic resources to conceal, as well as elaborate, a far-reaching order
of the imagination which, being suspect, could draw down upon him a crushing
burden of censorship in economic or political terms. He stands therefore at the heart
of the lie of community and the truth of community. And it is here, I believe, in this
trickster gateway this gamble of the soul that there emerges the hope for a
profoundly compassionate society committed to freedom within a creative scale.
I would like to re-emphasise the roles of "epic" and "trickster". The epic of
limbo holds out a range of variables variables of community in the cross-cultural tie
of dispossessed tribes or families variables of art in a consciousness of links between
poetry and drama, image and novel, architecture and sculpture and painting which
need to be explored in the Caribbean complex situation of apparent
"historylessness". And furthermore in the Americas as a whole, it would seem to me
that the apparent void of history which haunts the black man may never be
compensated until an act of imagination opens gateways between civilisations,
between technological and spiritual apprehensions, between racial possessions and
dispossessions in the way the neid may stand symbolically as one of the first epics of
migration and resettlement beyond the pale of an ancient world. Limbo and vodun
are variables of an underworld imagination variables of phantom limb and void and
a nucleus of stratagems in which 'limb' is a legitimate pun on limbo, 'void' on vodun.
The trickster of limbo holds out a caveat we must reckon with in our present
unstable situation. It is the caveat of conscience and points to the necessity for a free
imagination which is at risk on behalf of a truth that is no longer given in the collective
medium of the tribe. The emergence of individual works of art is consistent with and
the inevitable corollary of an evolution of folk limbo into symbols of inner cunning
and authority which reflect a long duress of the imagination.
The Amerindian Legacy
The cleavage which we have observed between history and art in respect of the
Negro in the Caribbean (as indeed in respect of all races Indian from India, Chinese,
Portuguese etc. all of whom have become original participants of limbo and Carnival)
- takes on even greater proportions with the Amerindian.
One has only to glance at census figures, for example, in Guiana in the middle
of this century, Amerindians were excluded from the population and their numbers
given as an historical aside.
Hand in hand with the statistical ghetto goes a documentary stasis of
Amerindian cultures. I would like to draw your attention to a recent pamphlet entitled
The Amerindians in .t. Lucia by the Rev. C. Jesse published by the St. Lucia
Archaeological and Historical Society 1968.
Father Jesse speaks of the Caribs as "resorting particularly to the cannibalism
for which they were notorious."
He also refers to
Shamans who acted as intermediaries of evil spirits. From serious
accounts left by early missionaries, it would seem proved that the
shamans dealt with the Devil and were at times possessed by him. In
general the Caribs of the West Indies surrounded themselves with
superstitious practices from the cradle to the grave.
In regard to the Arawaks he writes -
In the way of religion, the Arawaks seem to have specialised in zemis
or small idols These objects were supposed to be dwelling places for
the spirits of nature and the spirits of their ancestors to reside. Each
person, according to Dr. Rouse, had one zemi at least, sometimes as
many as ten: the idols had the form of grotesque human beings,
turtles, lizards, birds, potatoes and manioc; some even were of
geometric design. Needless to say, [he continues] the cult of the zemi
was associated with gross superstition.
It is revealing as another symptom of the cleavage between history and art at
which we have been looking that an organisation which describes itself as an
"historical society" should sponsor and publish in the year 1968 FatherJesse's biases.
Clearly the historical assumptions and prison in which Frazer wrote The Golden Bough
have scarcely begun to thaw in the West Indies. And this in spite of the researches of
men like Mircea Eliade and Levi-Strauss; in spite of a genuine renascence of
sensibility which has erupted into the work of the gifted Guianese-born painter
Aubrey Williams through Amerindian symbols; in spite of the new winds of
scholarship blowing through the work of men like the Revd. Father Placide Tempels
I would like to say something briefly about Aubrey Williams's paintings before
1 move on. There is no other painter in the Caribbean, to my knowledge, who has
attempted (as Aubrey Williams has) to map the sensibility of the Amerindian with
colour. (By the way what I say here is my personal interpretation of Williams. He may
or may not agree with my view of his work).
It is my view that this use of colour is a poetic and liberating device. One recalls
a famous poet who saw colours within the vowel-structure of a poem. More pertinent
- in this context is the kind of light which seems to glow or expand in Turner and, in
a different way, in Van Gogh: in another way still in an Australian painter like Nolan,
or in the work of the American, Jackson Pollock.
In fact paintings which intuitively or intentionally make colour a character of
metamorphosis are involved in the elements as a peculiar, often fantastic scale. There
is a musical intimation (which I find in Williams's use of colour a brooding,
sometimes savage, undercurrent of music). But there is another element to Aubrey
Williams's paintings. Amerindian peoples for one reason or another- have been
decimated. Therefore a transition of the blood of the past into the scale of the
elements is consistent with the character of space the theme of 'space' the
re-assembly, reconstitution of the muse which we explored previously in terms of
sub-conscious and unconscious variables in Negro/Guyanese/West Indian limbo
and Haitian vodun.
In this sense I see Aubrey Williams as a painter of renascence who has been
affected in an original way by an Amerindian 'resurrection'.
Let us look, first of all, at the cannibal horizon of the extinct Caribs which
Father Jesse labels 'notorious'. Michael Swan takes a different view. His isn't a
searching analysis but he indicates certain signposts which are useful. In the cannibal
horizon he hints at "transubstantiation in reverse" and points out that the accusations
levelled by the Spaniards were largely a smoke-screen for their own excesses.
Excesses, I believe, partly compounded and projected out of their own Catholic
Spanish psyche of heaven and hell. Therefore whatever inner fiends the savage
Caribs truly possessed as pre-Columbian conquerors of the ancient West Indies and
Guianas these were irrelevant to the Spaniards who were incapable of assessing the
Carib genius and psyche or the brooding melancholy of Carib temperament and
wished to find merely ready-made black devils in the New World consistent with the
ornamental surfaces of Latin symbolism.
Such a gateway complex between pre-Columbian primitive and ornamental
Latin symbolism carries within it, nevertheless, a new latent capacity, a caveat or
warning we need to ponder upon deeply and to unravel in our age. If we succumb to
a blackhearted stasis to enclosures of fear we may destroy ourselves; on the other
hand if we begin to immerse ourselves in a new capacity or treaty of sensibility
between alien cultures we will bring into play a new variable imagination or
renascence of sensibility steeped in caveats of the necessary diversity and necessary
unity of man. In short we won't over-simplify or crudify similarities or differences but
will seek, as it were, however difficult, even obscure, the path to bring all perspectives
available to us into an art of the imagination.
We know from investigations into the psychology of the victim (conducted, for
example, in post-Hiroshima Japan) that it is he, the victim, very often, whose
consciousness is infused with omens of the future (apocalyptic omens are often of
this kind in a victor/victim syndrome). It is as though the guilt of the victor stands on
the threshold of a creative breakthrough in the darkening consciousness of the victim
as prelude to the birthpangs of a new cosmos. It is not inconsistent, therefore, that we
may discern, in the rubble of the Carib past, signs akin to a new ominous but
renascent consciousness at the time of the Spanish conquest.
That new darkness or dawning renascence lay not simply in the ritual morsel of
the enemy they devoured or the flute they fashioned from his bone but from a sudden
upsurge of bush baby spectres which rose out of their cooking pots like wraiths of
smoke or sparks of fire. Certain vestiges of legend in this context have come down
to us and the bush baby syndrome corresponds to what C. G. Jung calls the puer
aetenmus the immortal or archetypal child of dreams.
If this is the case we can look back at the Carib "immortal child" of dreams with
the aid of alchemical symbolism for which, as you may know, there are three stages,
first of all the nigredo or blackness sometimes called the massa confusa or
unknown territory (not to be equated superficially with the colour black but with an
secondly, the albedo or whiteness (again not to be equated superficially with the
colour white since it means an inner perspective or illumination, the dawn of a new
thirdly, cauda pavonis or the colours of the peacock which may be equated with
all the variable possibilities or colours of fulfilment we can never totally realise.
The immortal wraith which the Caribs glimpsed as they crouched over their
campfires and consumed a morsel of the enemy carried therefore overtones of eclipse
at the hands of Spain (akin to nigredo), overtones also of a new dawn (akin to albedo)
and of a host native (akin to cauda pavonis or rainbow peacock).
There was also the bone or flute they fashioned whose music has long faded
but retains for us the seed of an unwritten modern symphony. The only attempt, as
far as I am aware, to write a modern composition was made by Philip Pilgrim in the
1940s. He based his music on A.J. Seymour's Legend of Kaieteur. That music was largely
in his head. It was his intention to put the full score on paper but he died within a
week of the first experimental performance he conducted in Georgetown before a
generous and greatly enthusiastic audience.
To return to the main thread of my argument. The overtones and undertones
of host native of a native consciousness could have occupied little more than a
latent threshold in the Carib/Latin world of the 16th century. For that was an age
whose over-riding character as in the centuries to follow remained rooted in
notions of conquest. What I would suggest, however, is that this over-riding character
of conquest (the Caribs themselves were conquerors of the ancient West Indies
before Spain, England, France, Holland came on the scene) was in a state of
subconscious erosion. And I also feel that this latent threshold this inner erosion of a
certain dominant mould or character of conquest this inner secret of the native
(inner divergence of the native from a consolidated given pattern which is the tyranny
of history) is fundamental to the originality of the Guianas and the Caribbean and to
a renascence of sensibility.
All this is implicit, I believe, in our cannibal horizon out of which the wraith of
time ascends like subsistence of memory. I have often wondered whether the ritual of
Guyanese and Caribbean hospitality (with its religious concern for the stranger) is not
related obscurely to the theme we have been unravelling the native or host
The scale of the native as host consciousness is subtle and complex and
involves both inner and outer horizons we may only have begun to perceive afresh in
our age. The alchemical analogies I have chosen are not easily comprehensible. They
may need, in fact, to come into rapport with a new anthropology capable of
investigating the sub-conscious and unconscious mind of an age. For we must
remember the whole syndrome was latent, unrealised in the West Indies from the
Carib/Latin age to our day in spite of the Carnival host. Indeed this latency, this lack
of realisation except on Carnival occasions when the whole populace seems to have
been devoured by a school of masks may have been inevitable. For the raw material
of life lived in the West Indies and the Central or South Americas has involved not
only peoples from Asia, Africa, Europe who were alien to each other (and therefore
caught, as it were, in culture shock) but situations of change (conquest, slavery,
identure, emancipation etc.) which precipitated crises again and again in economic
terms. Thus, in effect, the Carib or Carnival "immortal child" was an inner omen
which diverged from the immediate realism of the day. Such a divergence exposed
latencies or sleeping resources. Those resources of inner divergence need to be
converted in our age, 1 feel, into an original threshold in a West Indian architecture of
consciousness so that we may begin to cope within ourselves with the overburden or
sheer raw material of life lived which has been our blanket realism for centuries in
In other words it is not that the Caribbean and Guianas are at the rim of the
world like a kind of gutted monster (as V. S. Napaul and others see it) but rather, I
would suggest, that the waves of action stemming from many movements and
continents since the Europeon Renaissance have come so thick and fast that
"realism" becomes, in itself, a dead-end, and the need begins to dawn for a drama of
consciousness which reads back through the shock of place and time for omens of
capacity, for thresholds of capacity that were latent, unrealised, within the clash of
cultures and movements of peoples into the South Americas and the West Indies.
Such an art of subsistence of memory involves, I feel, a kind of shroud at times or
organ of obscurity. We need to participate as intrinsic to the arousal of illumination in
perspectives of sleeping/awakening resources of the imagination.
To return to the Caribs. It is possible to read into their lot something of the
sleepwalker of history which became their destiny in the wake of the Spanish
conquest. They continued to remain bogged down in the overriding character of the
age- they began to duplicate on an inferior level the role of conqueror they had
played in pre-Columbian times: they became mercenaries or jungle-police of the
Dutch and English. It was, in a way, a crowning indignity for a once proud sovereign
Thus the inroads inflicted on them by the Spanish Conquest never healed
(perhaps we need to look even farther back into the pre-Columbian mind of the
Caribs for the first causes of their downfall). There may have been a brooding
death-wish even before Spain arrived. With the dawn of the 19th century they were
virtually extinct. Their 'immortal child' omens, compounded of morsel and flute,
analogous to a prophecy of the birth of a native imagination that could absorb both
conqueror and conquered in an everlasting spiritual tenant (or genius of place)
remained a latent threshold they never crossed and assumed, as a consequence, inner
proportions we would describe today as nervous breakdown.
The process of shamanism resembles a nervous breakdown. The shaman, as
we know, is likely to appear in the tribe in times of crisis and his role far from being
'gross superstition' as Father Jesse believes is an indispensable creative attempt to
see through or break through a hang-over of the past (in the Carib syndrome that
hang-over was the diabolic overburden of the character of conquest) and to make of
every inner divergence, every subtle omen of change subsistence of memory to feed
imagination in the future. There is a trickster element in the shaman which reflects his
ambivalence and can lead sometimes to self-enchantment or hubris. This is
understandable since the diabolic inflation of the warrior-king hangover is not easily
seen through. That this conversion of diseased character diseased warrior-king into
half-trickster, half-shaman occurred with the Caribs may be gleamed from the
events of the early 19th century.
As we know the Caribs were on the verge of extinction at the beginning of the
19th century. It was at this time that Mahanarva the last Carib warrior chieftain to
come to Stabroek arrived to claim his gifts from the English Governor. These gifts
constituted the pay the Caribs had been receiving for services rendered as
mercenaries or jungle-police to various occupying powers since the Spanish. It was a
custom or treaty which was fast becoming archaic and little need existed any longer to
guard the escape routes of African slaves. In fact slavery had been or was on the point
of being abolished.
Mahanarva claimed that a considerable fighting force lay under his command in
the Bush which would constitute a threat to Stabroek. Little penetration of the
interior by the English had been made at that time since their fortunes lay on the
coast. So the treaty with the Caribs was one which signified a kind of over-all cover to
imperial adventure since, in theory, the English occupation extended far beyond the
coast, and the treaty with the Caribs gave that hypothetical occupation a symbolic seal
- gave 'teeth', as it were, to the unknown world of the Bush stretching into a
Such an arrangement seemed, on the face of it, empirical and astute but the
decimation at the heart of a people the primeval fall-out of a broken tribe was
something that may have been truly obscure to the European occupying powers.
It was Mahanarva who unwittingly parted the shroud for the eyes of the
English Governor. His tale of a considerable fighting force was accepted and, much
impressed, a scout was despatched unknown to Mahanarva to reconnoitre the
position. (That scout if I may diverge for a moment was the beginning of certain
new penetrations by Europeans- the 19th century arm of the conquistador -
amongst whom figure names like Barrington Brown, Horsman, Schomburgh and
others). However to return to Mahanarva. The English scout discovered that the
Carib chieftain had lied. There was no body of warriors lying in the Bush.
Mahanarva's ancient command had shrunken to rags. A handful of warriors was all
There are two issues which arise from this bald historical account which we
find occupying little more than a footnote in the history books.
First of all Mahanarva's "lie" gives us an insight (if we begin to free ourselves
from dogmatic morality) into the trickster womb of the shaman. When Mahanarva
claimed that his fighting forces were intact we know now from insights we have
gleamed into our own psyche and into the so-called savage mind, that he was
compensating in himself losses his people had endured over centuries. He became
the womb of the tribe in certain respects that are analogous to traces of mythology -
ancient Greek, Persian, Mithraic as well as Christian in which stones and rocks
become charged with architectural latencies, inner rooms etc. and therefore give birth
to a numinous tenant. In the same token Pallas Athene half-feminine, half-warrior
archetype of wisdom leapt from the head of Zeus; the Christian aeon was born of
Peter, the Rock. The shaman therefore stands in a perspective wherein "death"
becomes "life" and the diseased warrior-king is translated into half-priest,
half-feminine guide to the underworld. And that underworld of the lost Caribs
constitutes for us a very significant dimension of elements (animate and inanimate
realms of psyche, realms of subsistence of memory).
Secondly Mahanarva's "lie" to the Governor brings into play a fateful -
however subconscious erosion in the character of conquest. The shroud which was
parted gave the Governor a view of his hypothetical kingdom. There were no Carib
fighting forces lying in the Bush either to threaten Stabroek or alternatively secure the
interior for the English Crown but instead a chasm of losses the primeval fall-out of
a broken people who were partly victims of time. As I reflected on this kind of
realism, as some would call it, I recalled my boyhood (before World War II broke out)
when I often swam at the Fort on the Georgetown foreshore. I reflected also on the
observation I made when I was last in Georgetown in 1966: the sea no longer stands
where it used to be and the land has grown in its place by six or seven feet. Therefore
if I were to endow the de facto mound or grave which now exists in the foreshore
with a figurative meaning beyond the present stasis of reality I might see the ghost of
the past (the ghost of my childhood) swimming in dry land.
That kind of imagination which is clearly suspect to the politician is true of
areas of the primitive world and in my conception it corresponds to an architecture
of consciousness within which the opaque mound or wall of earth is a relative, not
absolute, feature; and the swimmer in dry land witnesses to a fluid room or dimension
that was also relative when it occurred.
This is but a small illustration of a landscape of the imagination which can be
unravelled to lay bare many complex rooms and dimensions that have a profound
bearing on Caribbean man as a civilisation-making animal, as an architect or a poet.
In Latin American literature this reality is something which, I believe, occupies
certain artists and novelists. This kind of vision, however, is quite rare in British West
Indian literature. At the present moment I am glad to note that there is a new critical
grasp of the issues. And some of the credit may lie with the Spanish Literature
department of the University of the West Indies and the work which Gabriel
Coulthard and James Irish, for example, are doing there. I am indebted toJames Irish
for the quotation I am about to read to you. That quotation is a statement by Gabriel
Garcia Marquez which James Irish records in a paper of his entitled "Magical Realism:
A Seach For Caribbean And Latin Amercian Roots":
I am a realist writer because I believe that in Latin America everything
is possible, everything is real. There is a technical problem in that the
writer finds difficulty in transcribing real events in Latin America
because no-one would believe them in a book. We live surrounded by
these fantastic and extraordinary things and still some writers insist
on recounting to us immediate realities of no real importance. I
believe that we have to work investigating language and the technical
forms of narration so that the entire fantastic reality of Latin America
might form part of our books and so that Latin American literature
might in fact correspond to Latin American life where the most
extraordinary things happen every day. We Latin American writers,
when we sit down to write, instead of accepting them as realities,
enter into polemics and rationalise by saying "this is impossible; what
happens is this man was a lunatic". We all start giving a series of
explanations which falsify the Latin American reality. I believe that
what we should do is to promote it as a form of reality which can give
something new to universal literature.
As you will see this 'form of reality' of which Marquez speaks is akin to my
swimmer in dry land or to Merleau-Ponty's endowment of the de facto situation with
a figurative meaning beyond a historical stasis.
In the third and last section of this address I intend to look, amongst other
things, at one area of the work of Edward (Kamau) Brathwaite who possesses I
believe the greatest potential among Caribbean poets for the revival of poetic folk
Continuity And Discontinuity
So far we have been looking at a cleavage between the historical convention
and arts of the imagination in the Caribbean. I have suggested that the historical
convention remains a stasis which possesses no criteria for assessing profoundly
original dislocations in the continuous pattern of exploiter/exploited charted by the
historian. As such the West Indies, history-wise, appear to me to be little more than
an adjunct of imperialism. It has become essential, I feel, to assess dislocations which
point away from the straitjacket of convention. These, I have suggested, may be
perceived in areas of folk obscurity such as Negro limbo or phantom limb of the
dismembered god and slave, in aboriginal features at which we have also been
looking, and in the rise of the individual artist and imagination in the West Indies
today. We have also touched on archetypal resonances the many armed deity of
India, European alchemy, etc. In fact, the word native is not to be confused with local
prejudice. Karl Marx, for example, was a profoundly native phenomenon. This meant
this his resources went so deep they appeared obscure and embraced many
contradictions to acquire universal application in the Western World. Many economic
theses, however, which are easy to read have a pseudo universal or local/insular
To turn to creative writers and artists Herman Melville and William Faulkner,
Wole Soyinka and Amos Tutuola, Denis Williams and Carpentier (if I may give a few
examples) are native/universal spirits not local ornaments of middle class,
working-class or any other class prejudice. I would like to make it clear that it is not
my intention to denigrate individual West Indian historians. I have a high regard for
Professor Elsa Goveia and for Mr. C. L. R.James, but it is my personal view that there
does not exist a philosophy of history in the Caribbean correlative to the arts of the
I have not been able, in these talks, to look at the new, largely unpublished,
poets of the Caribbean. But judging from manuscript poems I read. In Jamaica it
would appear that Wayne Brown and Dennis Scott are certainly rising poets to watch.
There is a certain point I would like to clear up at this stage. When I used the
word "evolutionary" (as I have been doing all along in these addresses) I intended not
to imply a kind of static progression in which later cultures are seen as superior to
earlier cultures or in which some sort of biased projection is made back into primitive
ages (either in the pseudo-romantic sense which exalts the noble savage, so-called, or
in the equally pseudo-romantic sense which exalts the pride or arrogance of the
consumer age as a stage of evolution superior to early primitive levels of human
My use of the word 'evolution' has nothing common with either of these views.
I am saying this because I was approached by someone who unfortunately had gained
that impression. When I emphasise 'evolution' I am concerned with the gateway
complex between cultures. Such a gateway complex means, in fact, that one stresses a
discontinuous line the missing links, as it were between cultures rather than a hard
continuous dividing wall. Such a discontinuous or dotted line means, in effect, that
one has no dogmatic evolutionary walled creed of superiority and inferiority. One is,
in fact, intent on an original overlap or viable frontier between ages and cultures.
Such a quest invites us to look afresh in each age at the life of the imagination as
this addresses us from the past with a new intuitive logic and design that diverges
from the prison of the past, or which speaks through us towards the past and the
future in a manner that also subtly diverges from the prison of the present and may I
add from popular prejudice. In fact I believe that it is here (in this sometimes almost
subconscious divergence it takes a peculiar kind of mind I would think to perceive
both sides of the coin in his lifetime, namely, the wall of prejudice and the intimate
phenomenal resources for divergence or discontinuity). It is here, I repeat, that the
essential objectivity or life of art resides.
It does not reside in the given historical prejudices of the artist or poet or
novelist or sculptor but. in what is virtually intuitive and subconscious terrain that
may acquire its conscious application later in the extensive body or development of
the artist's work or at a later post-mortem re-appraisal stage by critical intelligence
who may be better placed to appreciate the intuitive breakthrough in a work of Art
executed within a certain eye on prisons of history. This view of art as an
extraordinary drama of consciousness whose figurative meaning lies beyond its de
facto historical climate is anathema to the materialist or conventional realist, though I
know that Lucacs, a Marxist critic, toyed with the idea and that the great Irish poet
Yeats attempted to articulate it when he wrote "man can embody truth but he cannot
This is a helpful point at which to turn to a poem like Brathwaite's Masks, the
second book of his trilogy. There is an abrupt terrain or discontinuous line in Masks
which constitutes for me anyway (the poet himself may not agree) what I would call
the dramatic breath of the poem. Take for example:
So the god,
mask of dreamers,
I repeat, "hears lightnings/stammer."
Note the echo of the drums, of thunder implied there is association
with the lightning that stammers across the sky. That stammer in
association with the thunder of heaven's drum constitutes the oracle
of the poem.
So the god
mask of dreamers,
hears lightning stammer, hearts
rustle their secrets, blood shiver like leaves
on his branches. Will
the tree, god
guide us? Will
your wood lips speak
so we see?
Sound becomes sight because of the discontinuous line of the drum, of the
mask that allows for the breath and life of the icon.
Brathwaite is, I believe, a Caribbean poet of renascence. He has been affected
by African images but in an evolutionary way as I understand it. Evolutionary in that,
it seems to me, a discontinuous line makes for areas of overlap or gateway drama
between Africa and the West Indies between sound and sight. Therefore there is an
oral and visual coincidence in his poems which invokes a speaking oracular voice as
well as an imagistic intelligence. Because of this gateway between voice and image his
icon breathes and the oracle addresses us through the elements in a manner
consistent with West Indian folk consciousness.
One must remember that breath is all the black man may have possessed at a
certain stage in the Americas He had lost his tribal tongue, he had lost everything
except an abrupt area of space and lung. he possessed nothing but the calamitous air
of broken ties in the New World. Historical convention has no criteria for this inner
subtle storm of reality (almost Yoga reality in the Indian sense of the yoke between
the breath of man and God) the yoke of imagination in the trickster theatre of the
Caribbean as a breath-body or field of metamorphoses beyond the de facto
embalmed posture of the slave in every catalogue of injustice.
This continuous exploitation of man by man, inhumanity of man to man is
reinforced, ironically, I believe, by ceaseless catalogues of injustice. We need
somehow to find an original dislocation within which to unlock a body of
claustrophobic assumptions which strengthens itself by promoting a self-encircling
round of protest a continuous obsession with irreconcilable differences -
irreconcilable frontiers irreconcilable ,ghettos like a static clock that crushes all
into the time of conquest. Much of the character of civilisation- as we have known it
- has been geared to this static clock which obviously seeks to shape its material, all its
human material, into time-tables of defensive capital, defensive labour and other
territorial imperatives. That is why the catalogues of deeds compiled by historians
conform to dead time that measures man as a derivative industry-making animal,
tool-making animal, weapon-making animal.
The quest for an inner clock is so necessary in our situation of social and
industrial character geared relentlessly to static time (to statistical bundles of
labouring, fighting time etc.) that it constitutes a universal, complex and liberating
theme. Something far different, needless to say, to the tautology of fact the continuity
of embalmed fact.
It is in this context that we look back again at the discontinuous line or breath
of the icon in Edward Brathwaite's Masks.
This brings me to the last section of my talk. I have felt from various writers'
conferences I have attended (whether a Commonwealth Conference in Australia,
UNESCO Conference in Cuba, seminars in British Universities, etc.) that no
philosophy of history exists in regard to the Third World. One has the sense that a
continuous plea is mounted on behalf of the black man and the deprivations that he
suffered. A plea which invests in deterministic horizons within the past, present and
future. Once again, therefore, it seems to me the native consciousness is being
overlooked within deterministic projections, and criteria are invalidated which might
probe into unpredictable perspectives, latent spaces we need to unravel in our age.
One has the sense also that vested interests are at work to embalm the facts of
exploitation. Thus a new kind of callous is enshrined which blocks perspectives. How
many people are aware, for example, that when the horrors of slavery were being
mounted in the Caribbean, press-gangs roved England in search of able-bodied men
for the Navy.
The appalling deprivations such men suffered in the age of Nelson, the great
Admiral, would make for a catalogue of almost unbelievable horrors. Surely this is a
related aspect of a civilisation which saw men as bundles of labouring fighting time,
time-fodder to fertilise the fields of industry, or to fence the high seas. For the Navy is
not an arbitrary choice since without it the West Indies would not have become a
So I return to the thread of my argument. In a society which has been shot
through by diverse inter-racial features and inter-continental thresholds, we need a
philosophy of history which is original to us and yet capable of universal application.
Caribbean man is involved in a civilisation-making process (whether he likes it or not)
and until this creative authority becomes intimate to his perspectives he will continue
to find himself embalmed in his deprivations embalmed as a derivative tool-making,
fence-making animal. As such his dialectic will remain a frozen round of protest.
It would seem to me that the closest West Indian historians have come to a
philosophy of history is in terms firstly of a Marxist dialectic (C. L. R. James was
notable in this respect and deserves the closest attention). In terms secondly of
Marxism allied to various humanitarian and egalitarian principles. Elsa Goveia is
notable in this respect. She too deserves to be read with the closest attention.
In her Slave Society In The British Leeward Islands At The End Of The Eighteenth
Century there emerges what seem to me a key passage
Sooner or later we shall have to face the fact that we are courting
defeat when we attempt to build a new heritage of freedom upon a
structure of society which binds us all too closely to the old heritage
For that "old heritage of slavery" as Professor Goveia sees it (and as many
liberal West Indian intellectuals see it) serves to buttress a state of inequality and
deprivation of opportunity that threatens democracy. In short that "old heritage"
may come to constitute if it does not already constitute an adamant and inflexible
But as a humane scholar she reasons :
Perhaps, however, there is still good reason to believe that the forces
of radicalism will prevail. For now that a democratic suffrage has been
established in many parts of the West Indies, the time may be ripening
for the emergence and success of renewed movements of protest.
Right here we see how Elsa Goveia has invested in a continuity of humane
intellectual politics which has no criteria for the subtle dislocation or original
metamorphosis within the prison of time she characterizes as "the old heritage of
In fact intuitively, unintentionally, Elsa Goveia puts her finger on the sterility of
West Indian politics and intellectualism. Protest in intellectual political terms (Marxist
and humanitarian) continues to divide the Caribbean. There is reason to believe that
Dr. Jagan's Marxist party in Guiana radical and far-thinking as it once was -
eventually became dominated by the self interest of an Indian peasantry who built a
wall in the face of that very "old heritage of Negro slavery". In saying this is not my
intention to denigrate the Indian peasantry. Far from it. Their tactic occurred
simultaneously with suspicions directed at them from other sides. And in the same
token the West Indian Federation has already split into island fortresses who are
intent on building a hard-and-fast wall against that very "old heritage of slavery"
within themselves and without.
It seems to me that the continuity of intellectual political moral protest (which
has been the liberal climate of the West Indies spreadheaded by thinkers like Elsa
Goveia) will remain an embalmed posture until immense new disciplines (a new
anthropology I would think) can assess discontinuities and original divergences from
the continuous character line charted by historians as a humane imposition, on the
one hand, or an oppressive deterrent, on the other.
Kenneth Ramchand and Paul Edwards put their finger rather well on that
continuous wall of deprivation which hems in the West Indian intellectual. I quote
from their article on Michael Anthony in The Journal of Commonwealth Literature, July
Anthony is committed in The Year in San Fernando to involving us in
the feel of a peculiarly open state of consciousness; that this is
achieved by a scrupulous adherence to the boy's point of view in a
deceptively easy style that carries the necessary sensuous burden as
well as sustaining the illusion of adolescent reportage. The kind of
participation invited in this way seems to us to be of a more
experimental kind than that which V. S. Naipaul suggests may be
achieved in another way:
'A literature can grow only out of a strong framework of social
convention. And the only convention the West Indian knows is his
involvement with the white world. This deprives his world of
universal appeal. The situation is too special. The reader is excluded;
he is invited to witness and not to participate. It is easier to enter any
strong framework of social convention, however alien. It is easier to
enter the tribal world of an African writer like Camara Laye'.
The reader's sensuous involvement in Anthony's fiction will be further
illustrated, but there is another element (not restricted to the question of
involvement) to be traced in Naipaul's remark. The West Indian hankering after
something like a tribal past or coherent social present as an organizing principle for
fiction, only latent in Naipaul's comment, appears more distinctly in Bim, where praise
for A House for Mr. Biswas is followed by this conclusion:
The Negro West Indian cannot really expect novels like Biswas until
he has a strong enough framework of social convention from which
to operate ......
Novels do indeed reflect the society out of which they have been
created, but coherence in the world of the novel is one thing and an
external framework of social convention is another. It is naive to
confuse life with fiction at this level....
The line of reasoning pursued by Naipaul and Bim makes it all too clear -
ironically perhaps how strong is the de facto historical situation in the West Indies in
black/white rigidity and how it encircles the imagination. Edwards and Ramchand, -
in their study of Michael Anthony, seek to break out of that prison by exploring The
Year In San Fernando as an open state of consciousness which endows the de facto
situation with a figurative meaning beyond the conventional stasis. Herein lies, I
believe, the immense possibility which the Caribbean novelist or poet may pursue. It
is something which the Latin American writer unlike Naipaul and Bim -
understands at this moment of time.
It is my view that the subtle key to a philosophy of history is embedded in the
misunderstood arts of the Caribbean which we have traced through Negro limbo,
Haitian vodun, Carib Bush Baby, Arawak zemi, Latin and English inheritances as well
as the intuitive logic of a few Caribbean poets, painters, novelists etc. One area I have
neglected is to deepen our perception of the fauna and flora of a landscape of time
which indicates the kind of room or space or material vision of time in which whole
societies conscripted themselves.
We saw with the Caribs that they possessed an apparently continuous character
line which embodied pre-Columbian conqueror in post-Columbian mercenary. That
continuity, however, of historical line of the character of conquest had been
secretly breached in their Bush Baby omens of a new native consciousness. This was
not apparent in a collective sense to the Caribs who continued to enact the
sleep-walking role of conqueror at an inferior mercenary level.
Let us note also that parrots were the heralds of Manoa or Eldorado heralds
of a bank of time. The Aztecs of Mexico, as you know, also visualised a bank of time
which possessed a cyclic character. For this reason at the end of each cycle of 52
years according to our reckoning they were convinced time might die unless
replenished with the heart's blood. This terrifying emphasis on replenishing the bank
of time fatefully determined the character of man as slave to an industry of priests
who worshipped the sun. The living hearts of men were torn out of their breasts to
feed the gold of time if I may be permitted to invoke an overlap between Eldorado
and ancient Mexico and one is reminded of that 'mire of human veins' which Yeats
associated with Byzantium at a certain level of artifice and desperation.
The parrot was the herald or omen of Manoa, the rabbit figures in the calendar
of ancient Mexico, and if we appoint these as fauna of the landscape of time we are
involved in the character of man as this was fatefully established through
philosophies of time in those civilisations.
The curious spin-off available to us today from cyclic orders, half-moon
orders, waves or troughs of time, rooms of time, some approximately vertical, some
horizontal, which we can trace through many civilisations is this: relative time
becomes the spectre of humanity. Cyclic time in ancient Mexico meant a cyclic
relative ghost of man to feed the blood or gold of the cosmos. Linear time in our
20th century programmed age means a linear relative ghost of man to serve five year
or ten year or twenty year plan. Architectural time (in which the relative scale -
overlooked by each monolithic age would emerge as the thread running through a
philosophy of history) would bring us into rapport with a liberated spectre of man
inhabiting shapes of time- all being rooms in an architecture of consciousness. So far
this relative vision has not been the case and the character of man has been encased in
a monolithic or continuous wall and one needs immense concentration upon the
texture of an age (through the texture of an age into discontinuous cornerstones
which are liberating architecture week).
In a sense it is, the revitalised fauna and flora of legend, in an age of renascence
when perspectives into the past re-open afresh, which invoke the strangest ironical
overlap between apparently irreconcilable ages or cultures.
Let me re-state the position. History in pursuing a continuous wall as its
domain, in consolidating national or local political and economic self-interest,
becomes the servant of a material vision of time. As such it has not realized criteria to
assess the subtle discontinuities which point to the originality of man as a
civilisation-making animal who can alter the architectural complex of an age. Such an
alteration or dialectic of alteration would seem to me the cornerstone for a
philosophy of history in the Third World of the Caribbean. It would bring into play
the inspiration for new criteria within the dead-end of economic and political
institutions. It would alert us to the duality that is characteristic of calendars of fate
associated with dead time as the spectral irony and archaeology of the muse.
Vol.16, No.2, 1970
It is not
it is not
it is not
it is not
it is not enough
it is not enough to be free
of the red white and blue
of the drag, of the dragon
it is not
it is not
it is not enough
it is not enough to be free
of the whips, principalities and powers
where is your, kingdom of the Word?
it is not
it is not
it is not
it is not
it is not enough
it is not enough to be free
of malaria fevers of the hurricane,
fear of invasions, crops' drought, fire's
blisters upon the cane.
It is not enough
to tinkle to work on a bicycle bell
crackles and burns in the fourteen-inch screen of the Jap
of the Jap of the Japanese-constructed
hard sell, tell tale tele-
vision set, rhinocerous knobbed, cancerously tubed
It is not
it is not
it is not enough
to be able to fly to Miami,
structure skyscrapers, excavate the moon-
scaped seashore sands
to build hotels, casinos, sepulchres.
It is not
it is not
it is not enough
It is not enough to be free
to bulldoze god's squatters from their tunes,
from their relics
their tombs of drums.
It is not enough
to pray to Barclays bankers on the telephone
to Jesus Christ by short wave radio
to the United States marines by rattling your hip
must be given words to shape my name
to the syllables of trees
must be given words to refashion futures
like a healer's hand
must be given words so that the bees
in my blood's buzzing brain of memory
will make flowers, will make flocks of birds,
will make sky, will make heaven,
the heaven open to the thunder-stone and the volcano and the un-
It is not
it is not
it is not enough
to be pause, to be hole
to be void, to be silent
to be semicolon, to be semicolony;
fling me the stone
that will confound the void
find me the rage
and I will raze the colony
fill me with words
and I will blind your God.
Omri bayipou' moi
Omri bayipou' moi ...
Vol. 15 Nos. 2 & 3 September 1969
Sweat and the Lash.
sweat and the lash.
The sun was up early
And found the Black barefoot,
His scarred body naked,
In the field.
Sweat and the lash.
The wind went screaming by:
"Your hands are two black blossoms!"
His blood said to him: "Do it!"
He said to his blood: "I'll do it!"
He left, barefoot, in the blood.
The canefield, trembling,
let him pass.
Afterward, the silent sky,
and beneath the sky, the slave
stained with the master's blood.
sweat and the lash,
stained with the master's blood.
Lash, sweat and the lash,
stained with the master's blood,
stained with the master's blood.
Tr. by Robert Marguez
Vol. 22 Nos. 2 & 3 June Sept 1976
Sometimes, in The Middle of the Story
(for the drowned Africans of the Middle Passage)
Sometimes in the middle of the story something
move outside the house, like
it could be the wind but is not the wind
and the story-teller hesitate so slight
you hardly notice it, and the children
hold their breath and look at one another.
The old people say is Toussaint passing
on his grey horse Bel-Argent, moving
faster than backra-massa timepiece
know to measure, briefing the captains
setting science and strategy to trap the emperor.
But also that sound had something in it
of deep water, salt water, had ocean
the sleep-sigh of a drowned African
turning in his sleep on the ocean floor
and Toussaint horse was coming from far
his tail trailing the swish of the sea
from secret rendezvous, from councils of war
with those who never completed the journey,
and we below deck heard only the muffled
thud of scuffling feet, could only
guess the quick, fierce tussle, the
stifled gasp, the barrel-chests bursting
the bubbles rising and breaking, the blue
closing over. But their souls shuttle
still the forest paths of ocean
connecting us still the current unbroken
the circuits kept open, the tireless messengers
the ebony princes of your lost Atlantis
a power of black men rising from the sea.
Vol. 37 No. 4 December 1991
(an early East Indian immigrant)
they cutting a tin a round
and they have number in it
and they have twine
and tie a round neck
so much a so much so much a so much for B.G.
so much a so much so much a so much for Trinidad
hard one working with the wind
when e no get wind e stand up
if e get wind for so
e going so
food pack up dey food pack up dey
bag by dey bag by here
e have hospital e have doctor e have nurse
who playing music
playing music and dancing
who go upstairs watching sea
I understand I go dead in the sea
I can't eat
and when I throw up it eh have nothing in it
sometime I ask e doctor
gi me a biscuit
gi me water and sugar to drink
sometime I feel to eat pepper so I go by the kitchen
they eh want to gi
they no want to gi because they have charge
and if anybody want to kill e self
you go sea
and you gone
Vol. 29 Nos. 3 & 4 Sept Dec. 1983
I Shall Remember
And so I leave this island -
This island that I have loved.
This people that I have loved.
But I shall remember always
The beauty of my people
And the beauty of my land.
And in strange lands
where the fog presses down
And even the street lamps are faint and misty,
I shall remember
The beauty of our nights,
With stars so near
That one could almost stretch and touch them,
Stars winking and flashing
Magnificently in a sky of velvet blue.
I shall remember
Walking down long avenues of trees,
The black asphalt flecked with pale moonlight
Pouring through the acacia leaves-
And the soft laughter of girls
Leaning back, cool and inviting
Against the trunks of flaming poinciana trees.
And in the long days when the rain falls sullenly
And no sun shines
And all the earth lies in a weary stupor
I shall remember
The splendour of our sun
the brightness of our days.
And how the rain poured down
Upon a passionate thirsty earth,
Swiftly, unrelenting, with immeasurable power,
Then vanished suddenly in a peal of childlike laughter
And all the earth was green and light once more.
I shall remember
The warmth of our island seas,
The sparkling whiteness of the breaking waves
And the blue haze on our hills and mountains
With their noisy streams cascading down
Sheer cliffs, in clouds of incandescent spray
And deafening sound.
And in strange cities
Among unaccustomed people
Who move palefaced with tired staring eyes
I shall remember
The warmth and gaiety of my people
The polyglot colour and variety of their faces
The happy fusion of our myriad races
In the common love that unites and binds us to this land.
And I shall yearn for the sight.
Of faces black and bronzed,
People with dark sparkling eyes
With ready tongue
And laughter loud and unashamed.
I shall remember
The faces of the women from the hills
Bringing down strange fruits
To Saturday's markets.
I shall remember
The tread of their feet on the naked earth
Their unconscious strength and poise,
As with basket bearing head thrown back,
They stride to town
Like Israel to the promised land.
Yes, I shall remember always
This my island and my people
And I shall remember always
The beauty of my people and my land.
Vol. 5, No. 3 April 1958
We too shall come down to the sea,
Past the gay green gardens of the heart's munificence,
Past the lichened pathway where the rust
Stains the stone and the forked tree stands desolate,
Down to the sands
Where the shattered bones of leviathan
Are strewn with coral splinters and the wrack of lands.
We shall come down to the sea again
Whence we once crawled landward
To rear our gardens and palaces and temples;
For always there has lingered, echoing the ancient memory
Within the bone,
Persistent, the song of the sea-shell:
And naught shall silence that insistent monotone.
We shall return. See,
On the bright sands her waves have strewn
Golden coronals to welcome us!
Crowned as kings we shall return-
We who have fled
From her dark embrace, back to our mother, the sea,
The crowding sea, vomiting her living and her dead.
Vol. 5, No. 3 April 1958
A Place Called Home
my mother is dying
each day a piece of her brain goes away
where does it go?
where will I look for it? in the navy blue sky dark
and tight as my aunt's secretary's skirt!
in the holes the stars leave on the sky spread
under the mango treecool shade
or the yellow folds of ackee drying on the concrete step
between the chip chip chip of the stones she laid on my
grandmother's land to make a drive
to the place
the wings of the northbound aeroplane slice the hard cloud
the earplugged muzak's
sneaky messages of styrofoam love oooee over
the pale greyscapes of icy whiteness.
where? Where will I look?
in the long silent fall from the height of this plane
to the blank face of the antiseptic immigration man
coarse hands rummaging through the fragments of mourning
in my old grip/ the hospital's glinting
steel bedside/ computers bleep bleeping
measures of cell, fluid, element and marrow/
the small dark hand on the white sheet's edge
who will I be at the end of these endings?
scraps of me buried in the sheaths of brown
skin wound round the cracked hollow bone
chopped up, upsidedown like Tom Cringle's
Giant Cotton Tree after the bulldozers,
roots bleeding invisible blood into the bright day,
all the ghosts homeless.
O my little nation: my country you are unmapped.
HONOR FORD SMITH
Vol.49. Nosl+2 March-June 2002
At Home the Green Remains
In England now I hear the window shake
And see beyond its astigmatic pane
Against black limbs Autumn's yellow stain
Splashed about tree-tops and wet beneath the rake.
New England's hills are flattened as crimson-lake
And purple columns, all that now remain
Of trees, stand forward as hillocks do in rain,
And up the hillside ruined temples make.
At home the green remains: the palm throws back
Its head and breathes above the still blue sea,
The separate hills are lost in common blue
Only the splendid poinsettias, true
And crimson like the northern ivy, tack,
But late, the yearly notice to a tree.
Vol.49 Nos 1+2 March-June 2002
Colonisation in Reverse
Wat a joyful news, Miss Mattie,
I feel like me heart gwine burs
Jamaica people colonizing
Englan in reverse.
By de hundred, by de tousan
From country and from town,
By de ship-load, by de plane-load
Jamaica is Englan boun.
Dem a-pour out o Jamaica,
Everybody future plan
Is fe get a big-time job
An settle in de mother lan.
What a islan! What a people!
Man an woman, old an young
Jusa pack dem bag an baggage
An tun history upside dung!
Some people don like travel,
But fe show dem loyalty
Dem all a-open up cheap-fare
An week by week dem shipping off
Dem countryman like fire,
Fe immigrate an populate
De seat o de Empire.
Oonoo see how life is funny,
Oonoo see de tunabout,
Jamaica live fe box bread
Outa English people mout.
For wen dem catch a Englan,
An start play dem different role,
Some will settle down to work
An some will settle fe de dole.
Jane say de dole is not too bad
Because dey payin she
Two pounds a week fe seek a job
Dat suit her dignity.
Me say Jane will never find work
At the rate how she dah-look,
For all day she stay pon Aunt Fan couch
An read love-story book.
Wat a devilment a Englan!
Dem face war an brave de worse,
But I'm woderin how dem gwine stan
Colonisation in Reverse
Vol.49 Nos.1+2 March-June 2002
Rex Nettleford Cultural Conference U.W.I.
Dream is ultimately the foundation of all reality, just as faith is the breath of life
in every believer. And that is why I think it appropriate to begin by tracing a
geography of voices, which celebrate a curious paradox of fortune that Rex
Nettleford describes as 'the plurality of forms whatever the unanimity of feeling'. The
phrase is taken from his study The Caribbean: Crossroads ofthe Americas, and the full text
"There is no political centre in the Caribbean of which I speak, nor
any agreed on cultural kernel such as a common Caribbean language.
Therein lies the region's strength to be sure, but also its weakness."
The plurality of forms, whatever the unanimity of feeling, is evident in other
areas as well. It is the same Caribbean plurality of forms, unanimity of feeling, which
engages the Martiniquan Edouard Glissant in his philosophical polemic Antillean
Discourse (translated by Michael Dash).
"We cannot deny the reality Cultures derived from plantations,
insular civilisations, social pyramids with an African or East Indian
base and a European beat, languages of compromise, general cultural
phenomenon of creolisation, patterns of encounter and synthesis,
persistence of the African presence, cultivation of sugar cane, corn
and pepper, site where rhythms are combined, people formed by
orality; there is potential in this reality.
What is missing from the notion of Caribbean-ness is the transition from the
shared experience to conscious expression. The need to transcend the intellectual
pretensions dominated by the learned elite and to be grounded in collective
affirmation. Our Caribbean reality is an option open to us. It springs from our natural
experience, but in our histories it has only been an ability to survive.
This present isolation postpones in each island the awareness of a Caribbean
identity and at the same time separates each community from its own true identity.
One is not Martiniquan because of wanting to be Caribbean; rather one is really
Caribbean becau3e.of wanting to be Martiniquan.
And Lloyd Best, for him as for Glissant:
"The unit of Caribbean community can only be plantation America,
the Antilles Greater and Lesser without exception, and therefore
embracing Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, the French
departments of Martinique and Guadeloupe, Aruba and the
Netherland Antilles, along with Guyana and Belize. That, by culture
and tradition, is the primary family group."
In an address to the Third Europe-Caribbean Conference held in Jamaica in
1990, the social scientist Bernado Vega of the Dominican Republic reminded his
audience that the goals of Pan-Antillanism were always very eloquently expressed at
the end of the last century when Cuba was becoming independent expressed by
Eugenio Maria de Hostos, and by Betances in Puerto Rico, by Gregorio Luperon in
the Dominican Republic, and by Jose Marti in Cuba. More than 150 years ago after
multiple invasions, a Dominican priest and poet, and I must say mulatto it is very
important, cried out:
Yesterday I was born Spaniard.
In the afternoon I became French.
At night they said that I Ethiopian be.
I am English they say today.
I do not know what will become of me.
But Vega continues:
Culturally we know we belong to the Caribbean. Our syncretic music
and carnival are a common heritage to all islands. All Caribbean
people relate to and see themselves in the work of Pales Matos,
Carpentier, Pedro Mir, Cesaire, Brathwaite, Walcott and Naipaul.
And in 1979 the Cuban novelist, Carpentier in Havana stated:
And so Carifesta 1979 is something more than a mingling of
enjoyment and music; is something more than a fete, it is rather a
ritual of identification. There may be days of rejoicing, of dances, of
merriment; but days which will mean much more, because in these we
shall come face to face with what unites us, and what distinguishes us;
that which makes us alike, and that which makes each special- the
particular, and the general, that which belongs to each, and that which
is the heritage of all.
And in his Nobel Prize address, Derek Walcott wanted to make it very clear
how he came to be standing where he was:
And what delight and privilege there was in watching a literature, one
literature in several imperial languages French, English, Spanish -
bud and open, island after island, in the early morning of a culture, not
timid, not derivative any more than the hard white petals of the
frangipani are derivative and timid. This is not a belligerent boast but
a simple celebration of inevitability: that this flowering had to come.
This is a benediction that is celebrated, a fresh language and a fresh
people, and this is the frightening duty owed. I stand here in their
name, if not their image but also in the name of the dialects they
exchange like the leaves of the trees whose names are subtler, greener,
more morning-stirred than English.
Federation may have failed to create common institutions, but the ceremony of
marriage has certainly succeeded in reinforcing that earliest tradition of kinship by
blood. To speak therefore of the Caribbean family is to speak of a collective and
personal experience of the deepest intimacy. And this has been a dominant
characteristic of the world of artists when we honour them: their recognition of
common predicament, of common need and of common destiny.
It was once a condition of stability in this region to ignore the existence and to
deny the human worth of the enormous majority of men and women whose labour
made that order possible. The mark of their exclusion was the black skin.
On that day, completely dislocated, unable to be abroad with the
other, I took myself far from my own presence, far indeed, and made
myself an object. What else could it be for me but an amputation.
I know there are those who tremble at the sound of that blunt and simple word
- 'black' and who, apologising for your own victimisation nervously anticipate a
message of race. But when we say 'black' it has no biological meaning, nor is it used in
the service of racial applause. When I say 'black' it is the name of a profound and
unique historical experience borne by a particular group of men and women whose
presence in the world was destined to transform the eyes and ears of the world, and
whose ultimate liberation will be the decisive contribution to the liberation of
It was a moment of some profound symbolic importance that the world
seemed to rediscover its meaning, as people, wherever they were, waited and watched
for Nelson Mandela to make his first footfall out of prison. We had never known any
comparable experience in this century.
And the significance of the Rastafari Movement in its native Jamaica is that
they confronted us, in the most dramatic way with a question which remains central
to the politics of culture. Where do you stand in relation to blackness? This is also the
question that haunts the pages of Rex Nettleford's numerous and astonishingly varied
investigations; although, in his case, it is as though Ariel had entered some heretical
conspiracy with Caliban to subvert the foundations of all their relations without
causing any total collapse of the kingdom.
It is curious that in so cautious a land as Barbados an answer was being forged
almost 50 years ago by the native poet, the late H.A. Vaughan in a rebuke to the black
classroom of that island (the poem Revelation, reproduced in this volume):
It was this condition of self-denial, this condition of self-erasure that Edna
Manley encountered in the Jamaica of the late nineteen thirties and forties, when her
participation in the political lives of the ordinary and the poor alerted her to the
astonishing beauty of their physical presence. And she set out, as sculptor and painter,
on a remarkable labour of love and duty to return that black face to its own eyes, and
to train those eyes to see again what they should never have forgotten. The same role
fits exactly the career of Beryl McBurnie in Trinidad. The language of sculpture and
the language of dance are different aspects of the same function. They are tools,
devices of the imagination which, encountering a moment in reality, set out to
discover the meaning, the essence of that moment by creating an order out of what
had appeared too ordinary for serious attention. The imagination taught us to see.
And Beryl McBurnie, as dancer and teacher of the dance created a wholly new
vocabulary for the people of Trinidad and Tobago. She made the body laugh, she
made the body sing, she made the body weep. This range of mood and emotion
could be heard through different accents: the Amerindian, the African, the Indian,
and a creolising synthesis of all these.
I do not believe it is easy to find anywhere outside this region an example of
creative cultural work where the imagination of individual artists is so completely
dominated by the lives of people from down below. Whether it be literature or music
or dance or the visual arts, each form has derived its power from an involvement with
the realities of the poor.
The art of Francesco Slinger (The Mighty Sparrow) embraces all forms he sings,
he dances, he employs in the telling of stories all the narrative devices of the novelist.
His act is visual. His themes, for all the laughter they provoke, are a source of great
disturbance. The enslavement of our educational system, the chaos of our sexual
relations, the political leader in the role of the bad John he offers us back our several
But there is behind the extravagant vigour of this musical genius a persistent
Legacy of rage. For Sparrow was descended from a dangerous decade, before the
steelbands got elevated to the status of national orchestra and the streets of Carnival
were ruled by warriors.
Think of some of the names of the bands Desperadoes, Renegades, Red
Army, Hell yard, Conquistadors. These are clearly not the names of patron saints in
communion with the Holy Spirit. They are all declarations of war on behalf of a
turbulent folk who reminded all agents of power that space was not for sale. It is the
world to which the novelist Earl Lovelace returns us with such melancholy in his
novel The Dragon Can't Dance.
This tradition of resistance is at the heart of Sparrow's art and it is an
inescapable Caribbean phenomenon whenever the artist goes seriously to work. The
supreme example is Bob Marley.
'Get up, stand up
Stand up for your rights.'
But to accept Marley is to accept the moral necessity of entering into battle
against all those forces that would halt or extinguish the possibility of men and
women becoming truly human. It is to aid by all means possible that process of
struggle against the racism of white power, the epidemic of class discrimination
nurtured in these neo-colonial cells, by a new breed of aspiring blacks, the assault on
individual dignity by the personal abuse of official power. For the State has never
been at peace with the democratic hunger of the general populace.
'Get up, stand up
Stand up for your rights.'
Surprising as it may seem all these themes converge in that great reservoir of
activity we associate with the name Rex Nettleford. It is especially in his celebratory
history of the dance theatre ofJamaica, Dance Jamaica, that we find, in my view, his
most comprehensive articulation of a mode for creative response to change and the
obstacles which impede change: a model which holds good and has immediate
relevance to a great variety of intellectual discourse and social practice.
He has served as the National Dance Theatre Company's (NDTC) Artistic
Director and one of its leading dancers; and this experience of the first 21 years
prepared him to conduct a lucid and passionate argument that the material base of
our. existence must always be supported and informed by a native cultural vision
which has absolute confidence in its human worth.
Normally, ignorance of a new vocabulary in dance or any other form of
communication may be corrected by study, but some people are averse to study.
Nettleford and his colleagues encountered a deeper level of resistance to their earliest
experiments. It is worth recalling one crude and startling example of such resistance.
The dance, African Scenario, was staged in 1962, as an item in the programme 'Roots
and Rhythms'. The occasion, was the celebration of Jamaica's independence and it
was the Company's first attempt to draw directly on the sources of African ritual,
employing West African ceremonial dress, songs of the Akan people of Ghana, and
drummers: a Caribbean evocation of the ancestral links as these would have been
perceived and felt over the years in the region itself.
Independence was a most appropriate occasion to recover and articulate this
dimension of our history. But the experiment did not recommend itself to everyone
and as Nettleford records:
Some members of the Jamaican middle class were disturbed by the
work and walked out of the Little Theatre in Jamaica, complaining
that the drumming was too loud. To be charitable, from this distance,
there may have been some justification.
It would be a great relief if we could recall such an episode as a minor
amusement, too frivolous for further attention. But the influence of this minority
does not die out in accordance with our wishes. It may go into hiding or play dumb in
a moment of militant plebeian affirmation, but it is funded by a remarkable capacity
to bounce back and assert the dominance of its values when we least expect. This is at
another level Lloyd Best's quarrel with that class he calls the "validating elites." They
cannot read his drum.
In Barbados a similar class announced its panic about the form which any
celebration of Emancipation would take, warning that too frequent reference to
slavery might awaken a passion for revenge which the national interest (meaning the
tourist industry) could not afford. Here, right here, in a sense, is the heart of our
dilemma. How to eat and remain human?
A more sophisticated kind of challenge soon arose for Nettleford and the
Company over the choice, style and direction which they would have to take in order
to justify its role as an authentic guide and force in the national consciousness.
Now we do not often associate dance-theatre performance with this kind of
ambition; but Rex Nettleford felt no embarrassment, makes no apologies for insisting
that such ambition was the very root of his own conception of what he was involved
in. And he is at pains to offer the definition by which he and the Company should be
judged by the society and region they set out to interpret and explore. And I quote this
very important passage for all disciplines.
The dance is not only a performing art; it is also an art of community
effort that proclaims the virtue of cooperation over unrestrained
individualism. It is self-evident how this relates to self-government,
nation building, and social organisation. Traditional government
leaders have dismissed the sensitive intellectual gifts of peasant
experience, precisely because they have been regarded as too
mundane or folk-loric to guide affairs of State. Yet it is the peasant
who realises that the individual dancer usually has little to offer
outside of community ritual.
This is a very political conception of an intellectual's relation to his work and
the organic intention which such work carries for his immediate neighborhood.
I want to draw a parallel statement whose remoteness in this does not obscure
its relevance to this interplay of individual and community.
Werner Jaeger, the great German classicist, in Paideia, a study of the ideals of
Greek culture, writes:
Education is not a practice which concerns the individual alone; it is
essentially a function of the community. The character of the
community is expressed in the individuals who compose it, and for a
man more than any animal species, the community is the source of all
behaviour. The formative influence of the community on all its
members is most constantly active in its deliberate endeavour to
educate each generation of individuals so as to make them in its own
image. The structure of every society is based on written or unwritten
laws which bind it and its members. Therefore education in any
community, (be it a family, a social class, or profession, or some wider
complex such as race or the State) is the direct expression of its active
awareness of a standard.
The questions to be posed here are these:
What is that standard which it is the function of education to make us
actively aware of, and which reinforces the authority of the community as
the source of all behaviour?
How can it be identified and nurtured in a society which approves and
applauds money-making as the highest social purpose?
This is the fundamental and daily challenge for every teacher of whom the artist
is an example. Whether we opt to preserve the coherence and continuity of a society,
or degenerate into the miscellaneous and transitory functions of a service station.
Society or service station? That is at the heart of the deliberations which pay tribute
to Rex Nettleford.
Nettleford's definition of dance has application beyond the specific form of
dance, and it reinforces the claim for culture as the major informing influence in any
civilising strategies for conscious human development. It is not all self-evident to
most government leaders (or indeed, to leadership in many areas of civil participation)
that artistic expression is an intellectual discipline which has the power to quicken and
nourish the general sense of social responsibility.
It is precisely in this area of art and its relation to social reality that the NDTC
sought to justify its existence as an institution which required the most rigorous
training of its members, and the critical involvement of the wider community.
That commitment also sought to extract from its audience and the
critics a serious appreciation of the historical, social, and cultural
context in which the development of the dance and other expressions
of the Jamaican imagination were taking place.
All artists begin with a legacy of style and techniques which influence and
define the particular genre they practise. The older the legacy, the more authoritative
its influence will be. This authority of established achievement is graced by the name
'classic' classical ballet, classical art and the literature which achieves the status of
'classic'. But such influence also poses the greatest challenge to a creative imagination.
It may be a severe handicap for those who are intimidated by the weight and prestige
of antiquity. Or it may be a guide to other and more original forms of self-discovery.
The National Dance Theatre Company was no exception. They started as
beginners ir. specific and varied methods of training inherited from London, New
York, Chicago, the Caribbean. And they had to discover which learning experiences
were appropriate for their purpose, and which they would have to abandon. How do
you arrive at the proper dialect of the tribe?
Here is one problem. There is no English word that describes the
basic steps for Kumina, dinkimini, tambu, Etu, all indigenous
Jamaican dance forms. Thus dance steps derived from Caribbean
rituals are best expressed by Caribbean names.
The parallel with Caribbean literature is obvious, and provides an opportunity
for comparative study in critical responses to the development of the novel and the
dance. Both passed through phases of scornful hostility, then a softening of attitudes,
conveyed by the news of international approval and curiosity; and settling later into a
more critical native evaluation of the work under scrutiny. It has been a rough road, a
very rough road of question and argument of both social relevance and artistic
standards. And no Caribbean artist known to me has escaped this plague of historic
self-doubt and cultural dependence.
The debate continues to the present day and is not likely to dissipate
until the society at large comes to terms with itself as part of the
process of decolonisation and self- definition.
The question of discovering language is not only about the dance and literature.
It is a great plague for the economist of the day. All of the terms we are using per
capital income, etc, have no meaning at all in relation to the reality of people........You
go tell an unemployed man downtown Kingston he represents $5,000........and you
are likely to lose your head. There is no connection between him and anything about
$5,000 per capital income!
The National Dance Theatre Company has emerged from all this as a
wonderful example of continuity and rejuvenation. At this time (1990) they have
created and performed over 100 works. They have toured 16 countries with
remarkable impact on audiences in Moscow, New York, London, Georgetown,
Port-of -Spain, Toronto, Mexico.
By focusing attention on the immediate environment as the most appropriate
material for imaginative interpretation, the Dance became an essential tool of
research. The dancers discovered the cultural wealth of rural Jamaica. The National
Dance Theatre Company learnt, and taught more significant history than anyone
could possibly have discovered in the curriculum of any Caribbean school.
It is a crippling deficiency of the regional educational system that it has been
reluctant to understand and accept the role of art as an international discipline, and
most powerful medium in the education of feeling. Economic advisers and planners
have been diminished by this neglect. They plan for a new society whose cultural base
and perspectives are nowhere on their agenda because they think, in all innocence,
that such matters can wait until the other structures are securely put in place. In this
respect Jamaica has been more fortunate than some of the other territories in the
Caribbean Commonwealth. In the areas of dance in my observation, and in the
related arts of theatre and of music, they are the most advanced in creativity and
organisational strength, and their artists have displayed a more critical awareness of
the meaning of what they do.
You may want to explore the factors that have made this so. There is a
possibility that topography may be one factor. If you have mountains you have
somewhere to run and hide! All we Barbadians have is the sea! But they have also
been more conscious perhaps of a tradition of struggle for freedom waged by the
world from down below the Maroons, Bogle, Garvey, the Rastafarian movement.
Also, the material base of the society produced a nationally conscious middle class
about which Nettleford makes this acid comment; but it is not the acidity I want to
draw to your attention.
I am going to quote the passage because it is a very interesting way in which he
capsules their location in colonial struggle.
"When the brown middle classes, from whom the vice-regal aides
were drawn, became frustrated with their lack of power, they allied
with black labouring classes as they had done during the final days of
slavery to fight against the alien rule. Although they provided
leadership for organizations fighting against colonialism political
parties, trade unions and demonstration groups they surrendered as
if by barter to the indigenous impulses of the black majority."
He is insistent, in his own way, on the relation of class and culture. Now there
is, as you would know, an enormous social distance between those ordinary folk who
created the Jamaican dance forms, Kumina, dimkimini, tambu, and that prestigious
minority who found the drumming of African Scenario a disturbance they couldn't
endure. They did not only walk out of the theatre. Many walk with authority. When
this authority achieves ministerial office, it strikes a deal with the drummers, dancers
and other to perform a caricature of themselves for the entertainment of seasonal
visitors. Here the economic becomes cultural, and the cultural becomes economic.
To quote Nettleford:
The Company has also avoided becoming a scratch group deployed at
the whim of a bureaucratic tourist ministry eager to entertain and
amuse vacationers lured to the exotic delights of the Caribbean.
And Walcott, in the same Nobel Prize speech is lamenting:
This is how the islands from the shame of necessity sell themselves;
this is the seasonal erosion of their identity.
I have to be very careful here, because in Barbados I am told that tourism is my
business, and I am walking therefore on a very slippery ground. I hope that this is
strictly between me and you. But there is a formidable challenge here in defending the
authenticity of your cultural space against the eroding shame of necessity.
If the Dance Theatre Company wishes to continue to meet the
challenge of making some central reality for the people of the
Caribbean, then the Company's future role will be tied in with the
awesome task of shaping a new society on the basis of self-definition
and artistic discovery.
It is the regional character of Nettleford's exposition which offers a model of
serious engagement for men and women who now talk, it would seem to me, with a
total lack of conviction about the regional integration movement.
Nettleford' s synoptic vision may serve as a guide in other areas of enquiry. The
legal profession increases its ranks every day, accumulates private wealth from its
squalid exercise in property litigation, but rarely produces an intellect which can
provide us with a Caribbean philosophy of the law.
Now during the changing of the flags on the occasion of Trinidad's
independence one Trinidadian was beard to say: "But what a hell of a thing; Trinidad
now get what I always had. "
I have been forced to reflect on the gap between this man's recognition of self
freedom and the manifestations of 'independence' in the realities of politics. And it
made me recall a statement by the Jamaican sociologist, Orlando Patterson,
commenting on the identification of parties and trade unions in Jamaica:
The Jamaican worker has no conception of a capitalist and bourgeois
stratum as his real opponent. Instead his hostilities are directed
against the other half of his own class which supports the opposing
political party. There can be no greater travesty than a Labour Day
celebration in Jamaica. Battalions of policemen are called out in
advance. Not, as one would expect, to prevent damage to employers'
property, but to prevent one half of the working class tearing the
other half to pieces.
And what have been the politics of British Guiana but another spectrum of this
reality? The same contradiction inherent in a struggle which forced men, otherwise
not without honour, to summon race to their rescue? If the identity of party and
union in Jamaica makes for a screen that deliberately obscures the essential conflicts
of choice and commitment, it is the fictitious posture of non-identification between
Indian peasant and urban Negro which made British Guiana totter toward the
primeval tomb of race. For those Indian hands whether in Guyana or Trinidad -
have fed all of us. They are the jewels of a true native thrift and industry. They have
taught us by example the value of money; for they respect money as only people with
a high sense of communal responsibility can.
And so there can be no section of citizens with any greater claim to the citadels
of power in those lands. I could not be so foolish to think there are no differences
between these peoples. They made a different journey to the Caribbean; their heritage
was different; their psychological encounter with white power had different
reverberations. But what is the totality of these differences? Do they constitute a
rejection of the Caribbean reality or an extension of it?
The ascription of race and racial differences had been effectively used during
the colonial period and with even greater insistence after Independence. Race is a
political construct which is intended to subvert the normal relations of men and
women in the process of work. It is the process of work in all its variety which defines
the human spirit. This work, whatever its vocational character, is an integral part of
the whole. We make this whole and are made by it at one and the same time. This
reciprocity is constant, but it is not static, for a man who is organically related to his
tasks is continually recreating himself.
What is my identity? 1 live it and at the same time create it. What is the West
Indian identity? It is the process in which West Indians are and will continue to be
involved as they choose their tasks and recreate their situations. There is no fixity of
location in this defining process. Identity is the accumulation of layered identities. It
is always plural.
Time and again, text after text, Nettleford will return to this
How does one transform the empty power of manipulated symbols
into power with substance. Is it not the capacity of a people to make
definitions about themselves on their own terms and to be able to
follow through to action on the basis of those actions? No
development strategy is likely to succeed without resting its objective
and intent on such definitions..
But there is a great cleavage here in our intellectual agenda.
Unfortunately, the West Indian historian is not an active and informing
influence in the popular consciousness. The language of economic advisers conveys
little or no meaning to people outside their immediate circle of colleagues. Novelists
function without a substantial and continuing reading class even among the certified
graduates of the region's university. This literature has hardly aroused the active
interest of many who make up the political intelligentsia.
And one great divide in the intellectual agenda that I refer to is this. We hardly
hear from our scientists in the public domain. I am wondering how many scientists
are on the panels.
The organising agents of the communications media radio producers and
television managers are vaguely aware of the region's creative writers. They may
know their names, and a few episodes of scandal which shadow their personal lives.
This failure of involvement co-exists with the widespread and vivid enthusiasm for a
great volume of imported drama which advertisers make available through the
television stations of the region.
I would therefore invite them to examine the possibilities of popular theatre as
an instrument for the distribution and dissemination of knowledge: the ways in which
this particular form of popular expression can be put at the service of historians,
novelists, economists, social scientists, community health workers; and how this can
be done without in any way neglecting or violating the theatre's more familiar
function of entertainment.
In all the areas of statistical and imaginative enquiry about Caribbean society,
there remains an enormous distance between those who produce (artists, teachers,
technocrats) and the general populace for whom the social product is intended: And I
am working from the assumption that this failure of participation by the general
populace in the social product of the intellectual classes presents the greatest threat to
our regional and cultural sovereignty. This deprivation works both ways. It
impoverishes the popular consciousness; and it places a very rigorous constraint on
the development of the intellectual workers themselves.
What kind of theatre, for example, does the average Caribbean historian
envisage as expressive of his or her interests as these relate to the distribution of a
knowledge and the discovery of a Caribbean civilisation? What forms of
collaboration could take place between economists who formulate strategies of
development, and theatre directors who are preoccupied with raising the social and
political consciousness of a given community? And how should such form of
collaboration proceed? What should be the role of organised labour in the production
and management of cultural activity, and in the creation of people's theatres?
Nettleford identifies one example of self-definition in Norman Manley's
speeches in relation to Jamaica.
He believed that the people must believe in themselves and their own
destiny and must do so with pride and with confidence, and with the
determination to win equality with the rest of mankind, and equality
in terms of humanity which, irrespective of power and wealth, can be
measured by the growing values of civilisation and culture.
It is more than half of a century since Norman Manley made this statement
which Nettleford refers to. It was part of a wider plea for greater civic responsibility
among the privileged classes, and in public life. During that interval we have seen the
emergence of new class formations and the elevation of black people to high office,
and more elaborate styles of material comfort.
But it does not appear that this change in fortune has made any substantial
difference in the relation between leadership and those who are led. The temptation
to find the shortest possible route to wealth has increased, and so has the frustration
of an idle and disenchanted youth. The rural population continues its decline; the
cities grow more crowded and more dangerous. From Kingston to Port-of-Spain the
story is much the same. And emigration is a rescue which is only available to those
who have had expensive training, and whose skill ensures their survival elsewhere.
The experiment to place the mass of the population in a new and more critical
relation to power came up against a certain lack of comprehension on the part of
those who were to benefit from the change. Michael Manley conceded this weakness
which was a critical faction in his loss of power. He wrote:
It is now clear that as part of the political organizational response,
political education, in a profound sense has got to be the heart and
start of the political process. This political education begins by a
process of internal educational dialogue that looks at the social and
political history, that begins with simple but basic analysis of the
nature of the society, the nature of the economy, the nature of the
To the best of my knowledge no political party in the Commonwealth
Caribbean has ever shown much enthusiasm for carrying out, in a systematic way, the
kind of programme of political education which Manley acknowledged to be essential
to any major change in popular consciousness.
For over a half a century the leadership of both Party and Union, from territory
to territory, have deliberately omitted this basic work from their programmes of mass
organisation. The omission could not have been casual. And we must assume that
many a leader, then and now, recognized that such political education at mass level
would inevitably alter the relationship of leader to the rank and file of those being led.
It would have put an end to the uncritical adoration of the leader as great tribal chief,
infallible and beyond reach. This has been a characteristic deformity of the political
culture of the Region, and it has persisted whatever the ideological character of the
The late Carl Stone also made reference to this tendency to personalize power
.at the expense of institutional machinery; and complained that strategies and
objectives towards change were often clearly articulated, but there was no
commanding vision of the new society to be created.
Now, we should never assume that the political mind is always suitably
equipped to articulate a commanding vision of the new society. Our dysfunctional
system of party politics does not allow it. The politician is overwhelmed by concrete
tasks to be performed, decisions to be taken urgently, sometimes abruptly, often
without any pause for prolonged reflection. He is haunted by the fear of failure to
deliver. His working hours are spent in a permanent state of emergency. The shadow
of parliamentary opposition, where it exists, blurs his sense of priorities. He lives with
intrigue and the constant threat of betrayal within his own ranks. It is a feverish
atmosphere, and hardly conducive to that state of reflective self-consciousness from
which vision of a new society is born.
But if we could change the style of politics from permanent campaigning for
the seasonal cockfight you call 'elections', and work towards the creation of an
intellectual tradition of politics; then the political leader may arrive at such a vision if
he enjoys a certain measure of collaborative support from .other modes of thought
and perception the historian, the poet, the students of philosophy and the social
sciences, the economist and the theatre director who recreates the cultural history of
the nation. It is this collective dialogue between the different categories of sensibility
which ultimately gives voice to a commanding vision of the new society.
But it is precisely this voice which has often withdrawn its service from any
form of political engagement. There is a large category of intellectual workers who
view such involvement with misgiving. The risks are too great. There is also the
technocrat who believes that the efficient management of a modern society is
essentially a technical operation. If you can identify the appropriate technologies, and
recruit a certain calibre of personnel, with the right kind of managerial expertise, then
the efficient organisation of a modern democracy can bypass the political process. It
really does not matter what electoral games are played or who wins, since the correct
decisions will ultimately be made and implemented by those whose technical
expertise is indispensable to this process. Politics and ideology are viewed as an
antiquated pastime. This malady of theirs may be defined as 'technophilia' and it
threatens the foundations of the autonomous political community. Lloyd Best lives in
a state of a permanent mourning for this class of validating elites of which he is
himself a reluctant member but he is extremely acute when he is putting them under
And he says:
This is the particular propensity on the part of the managers of
institutions. The most conservative individuals are the most
successful achievers; the sherpas, the highest of the mountain
climbers. The reason they are conservative is not only or mainly that
they often have interests to protect, and also enjoy the strategic
positions of command with which to 'protect' them: The point is that
success in itself has its own impact on the capacity to listen, on the
ability to listen to feedback.
If you recall the passage from Piedia about the influence of the community to
create each generation in its own image, I would like to juxtapose a contrary though
supportive view. It is from the Brazilian Paolo Friere:
There is no such thing as a neutral education process. Education
either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate the
integration of generations into the logic of the present system and
bring about conformity to it, or it becomes the practice of freedom by
which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality, and
discover how to participate in the transformation of this world.
We need, therefore, to transform our schools from the archaic institutions
which we inherited, and nurture them as intellectual agencies which decolonise the
mind. The pursuit of knowledge should never be divorced from the struggle against
human exploitation. Every boy and girl should know what is meant by the menace of
imperialism as well as understand why, in the interest of their own survival as men and
women of dignity, it is absolutely necessary to resist it.
Labour colleges should be national institutions, as familiar as the political
parties throughout the land, and functioning as the main centres of a popular,
intellectual culture, attracting men and women of all races and social backgrounds,
and every level of learning. We need to recover the cultural history of Africa and the
African people, and put this discipline at the centre of the curriculum, and whenever
African and Indian meet in the Caribbean as a common force of labour, the cultural
histories of African and Indian people must be an essential part of the learning
process of all Caribbean citizens.
But the most urgent cultural and political task of education is to deepen and
nourish the regional consciousness in each territory. A genuine national identity will
only be experienced when there is a liberated regional Caribbean of one people, and
an environment is created in which we may be able to say:
"Here man is truly man, and the world he lives in is a human place."
Men of Ideas
Men of ideas outlive their times
An idea held by such a man does not end with his death
His life bleeding away goes down
Into the earth, and they grow like seed
The idea that is not lost with the waste of a single life
Like seed springing up a multitude
They hanged Gordon from a boom
Rigged in front of the Court House
They hanged him with eighteen others for company
And Jesus had but two
But the ideas for which Gordon lived
Did not hang with him
And the great social revolution for which Jesus died.
Did not die with him
Two men they nailed with Jesus side by side
Eighteen went to hang with Gordon from the new-rigged boom
But the idea of equality and justice with Gordon
Went into the ground and sprung up like seed, a multitude
A hundred years the seed was a-growing in the ground
A hundred years is not too long
A hundred years is not too soon
A hundred years is a time and a season
And all things must wait a time and a season
And the time and the season for each growing thing
Is the way, and there is no other
The time and the season of its growing and bearing fruit
Are inherent in the nature of the seed
And inherent in it is its growth and its fruit
And this is the way there is no other
A hundred years is not too long
For the seed to burst its husk under the ground
And cleave a path and press upward
And thrust a green blade in triumph at the sun
Do not be anxious for the house that is a-building
For the unsown acres under the plough
For all things await a time and a season.
The dream given to one man in the night
Not night nor darkness can call it back again
They hanged George William Gordon for the dream
He had been given in the night
That he carried in his breast
Thinking to put the dream to death
With the man they put to shameful death
But they give immortality to the dream
That time the man is put to death
For the dream is all
It is all of a man that there is and immortal
And all of immortality of a man there is.
A long time ago they hanged George William Gordon
But not so long
A long time ago
They put Jesus on a cross
But not so long
For all things have a time and a season
A long time ago
The pea doves took the sweet wood seeds
And let them fall on the valley bottoms
That are now the virgin forest of the great backlands
Of new timber, a long time
Were the bare rock-spure growing
That is now a matted forest floor
Where the wild birds took and dropped
The little sweet kernels of the tall timbers
A long time ago, but not so long
For all things have a time and a season
And a hundred years is not too long
And a hundred years is not too soon.
They hanged Gordon with eighteen others
They nailed Jesus between two thieves
But the ideas these men lived for did not die with them
A single grain of corn will yield an ear of com
And an ear of corn in two generations will sow a field
And these things befall between a moon and a moon
All things await a time and a season
And twice a hundred years is not too long
Or twice a hundred years too soon.
Vol.5. No.3. April 1958
Tomb of A Hero: NWM
Inconvenient man, spare, angular dreamer,
the ascetic of the hustings, they,
could hardly wait to structure round you grey sarcophagus and even as if the
of a bright purpose, once corralled, once domestically cradled, drew beatitude
from word-slurry and wordsludge
still greyer platitude.
We could hardly wait. Our hearthless homes
required an icon, and you were it,
while you yet breathed: the soldier's aptness for reality ('One thing more, always
one more thing'): death's equivocating ridicule
of all our jauntiness, this book you gave yourself a long time ago, we had to have.
Prisoner like Toussaint in that heaven
of the will to its own
annihilation plighted, yours
then is the tradition of the gaming
man who in uneven
stakes of history
proffers the solitary
token of a life. For
which, the one flutter
where loser wins, agape, the
utterly jaded world
in our hearts' waste
'who poured out your hope on
our barrenness, teacher, lover
of the mountain
rigour, visit again
from some shy fastness your spirit graces our encompassing ruin.
Vol. 44 Nos. 3 & 4 Sept Dec. 1998
Rilke (for Mardi*)
"All that was a trust.
But wereyou equal to it? W'ereyou not always
distracted by expectation, as though all this
were announcing someone to love?"
The First Elegy.
For seven years, eyesockets like caves,
He watched in the mountains over the city
For the coming of the princess beast. But
In his mind's known home, continued usual,
Order undisturbed, the cushioned cat,
The twitching dog asleep on the mat,
And his fed fire, private, stern,
Keeping its anguished dialogue of coals:
Small poems in the lessening light.
Now past his prime, he watched at night
The logbook thicken with his soul's
Entries, the low controlled fire turn
Strange shapes off its silent walls.
He could discern nothing. The flagged hall
Echoes, vacant, gaunt. Outside, wind leapt
Howling in the leaves; an evil mist crept
Inwards. He rose and dragged the wooden chair
As close to the fire as he'd dare.
From here there was nowhere to go.
Would the animal never rise?
The poems, he knew now, were lies,
Bright hot-pawed skittery cats
Cuffing, triumphant, out of old corners
Dead roaches into the light. Yet, on nights
When the moon like water rose to his eyes
And the fire grew silent and dark, some ghost -
Dog's howl, old as the hills, would sink
Inward on ribbons of wind, and, shaken, he
Would think: "Time for another log". Might not
A little fire, small poem, save him?
Somewhere, someone was lying still. So,
For seven years he stayed, immortal as mist,
But mesmerised, dulled by that same fire's glare
That kept the animal out. But one night,
Exhausted, slept on his chest, coals
Tiny as stars, and the animal entered.
All night in nightmare he dreamt of the wail
Of the wind taking new shapes, twisting within him
Like flames and next day, was sure he'd glimpsed
(Too briefly for charting; it left no trail)
The shadow of a great unkempt beast
Bounding through billowing veils of mist,
The Poem tied like a kite to its tail
Crying in the teeth of the wind.
* Mardi- Edna Manley, wife of Norman Washington Manley
Vol.13, No.4. Dec. 1967
C Caribbean Quarterly
Vol. 54, 2008
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Creolization in the Making of the Americas*
Inscribed in the American landscape, opening up through it, living in and
manifsting it, there is a civilizationall region," real but long unnoticed, perhaps
because it was balkanized by occidental colonizers. This is the region of the
"plantation system;' composed of the West Indies and the Caribbean, the Caribbean
coast of Latin America (that is to say, the coastal part of Venezuela and Colombia,
which is different in many respects from the South American Andes), the Guyanas,
the northeastern part of Brazil, and part of the southern United States. It is connected
to Mexico and Central America, whose West Indian character is obvious both in
Panama and in Belize. The boundaries of Panama and Belize define a more extended
area, between South America, of which these countries form a part, and North
Some call this region the "Mediterranean of the Americas;' but this parallel
seems vague. Historically, the spinning, revolving movement of the cultures that have
lived on its edges have made the Mediterranean a concentrating sea. All around it, the
contacts and conflicts between cities and ethnic groups have gradually led to the
reality of the Imperium (that is, the inland sea of the Romans) and to the concept of
the One. The Mediterranean certainly cannot be considered a monolithic entity; it has
generated, given birth to, the nations and the nationalism of a large part of Europe.
Nevertheless, its cultural diversities, through osmosis and successive conflicts, have
given rise to a universalizing expression of rationality or spirituality. It is not a
coincidence that most of the principal monotheistic religions (Hebrew, Christian,
Islamic) appeared there and were in opposition to each other.
By contrast, and in accordance with the same revolving movement of contacts
and conflicts, the Caribbean Sea is the sea that diffractss." Since 1492, it has been a
preface to the continent (in the seventeenth century, it was sometimes known as the
Sea of Peru), a place of passage, of transience rather than exclusion, an
archipelago-like reality, which does not imply the intense entrenchment of a
self-sufficient thinking of identity, often sectarian, but of relativity, the fabric of a
great expanse, the relational complicity with the new earth and sea. It does not tend
toward the One, but opens out onto diversity.
The concept of diversity, which expressed itself as one of the poetic dreams of-
the expanding Occident, and simultaneously as an antidote to the universal empire
that this expansion subsumed, is an immediate, real-life experience of the people in
the area I mention here -no longer a dream nor an aspiration, but for them, a
firsthand, basic reality.
These people were both deported and imported: the natives of the islands
Caribs and Arawaks were all slaughtered, except for a tiny handful at present living
in a reservation on the Dominican Island. At the same time, the slave trade brought to
the Caribbean the determining factor of the African population. This experience of
diversity, and the long-unnoticed process it spawned, I label "creolization."
Creolization is not an uprooting, a loss of sight, a suspension of being. Transience is
not wandering. Diversity is not dilution.
When we speak about creolization, we do not mean only mitissage.
crossbreeding, because creolization adds something new to the components that
participate in it. Why do we use this term? It refers to the Creole languages, and we
must now examine the reasons for this. In our search for the explanation, we must
distinguish between creole languages, pidgin, and dialect, but without applying any
hierarchical notions to these distinctions.
A creole language is not a type of pidgin. A pidgin language plays with the
elements of one language, and disturbs them, lexically and syntactically. The principal
characteristic of a pidgin form of communication is its aggressive treatment of the
language in which the pidgin forms appear. This is the case, for example, in the
language of rap music in the United States or the inventions of dub poetry in Jamaica,
which depart from the regular or standard English language.
A pidgin differs from a dialect in two respects: First, it is often possible to find
out who invented or proposed a pidgin; second, it is a kind of language that appears
(and may disappear) very quickly or suddenly. In view of these characteristics, pidgin
cannot be considered part of the process of dialectization, which is a long,
non-individual result of the practice of a language by a community. In any case, a
pidgin, unlike a dialect, is activated by an aggressive intention, usually for self-defence.
A creole language, in contrast, does not work within one but almost always two
languages or two fields of language, which are its components. For example, the
francophone Creole languages of the West Indies, still spoken today by francophone
or anglophone people (in Haiti, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Saint Lucia or Dominican
Island), consist of fragments of syntax from sub-Saharan West Africa and a lexicon
brought to these shores by the francophone Normans and British sailors. As long as a
creole language continues to combine the forms of two (or more) linguistic traditions,
,he product of this synthesis is a new kind of expression, a supplement to the two (or
more) original roots, or series of roots, from which this creole language was born.
Thus it is easy to see why creolization, and not metissage or crossbreeding,
accurately describes the process originated by the contacts and conflicts of cultures in
the countries being discussed here. Creolization is unpredictable, whereas the
immediate results of crossbreeding are more or less predictable. Furthermore,
creolization opens on a radically new dimension of reality, not on a mechanical
combination of components, characterized by value percentages. Therefore,
creolization, which overlaps with linguistic production, does not produce direct
synthesis, but risultantes, results: something else, another way.
Suppose that one were to define the ethnic groups in the United States and to
determine how many constitute the unity-diversity of this nation: Anglo-Protestant,
Irish, Italian, Jewish, Afro-American, the Native American, and so on. It becomes
clear that creolization is not at work here. The ethnic groups live side by side. The
unity of such a country refers to the way of life, the ideals, the political or economic
community they all embrace. Thus, one can be American and Irish, American and
Jewish, or black and American, native and American, and so on. Today, of course,
almost everyone agrees about the distinction that I am about to discuss. But I want to
emphasize that twenty or thirty years ago, writers and researchers, as different as the
Brazilian Darcy Ribeyro (working in Portuguese), the Mexican Guillermo Bonfil
Battalla (in Spanish), the Jamaican Rex Nettleford (in English), and myself (in Creole
and French), agreed early on about the following distinction regarding the Americas:
People-witnesses, who have always been there: the American Indians,
from South to North-this part that we label Meso-America.
People-transshipped, who maintained themselves quite as they had
been before they arrived: in this category we find Canada, the United
States, and to some extent Chile and Argentina-this is a
People born as a result of creolization: Brazil, the Caribbean, the
Caribbean coast of South America, part of Central America -that is to
say, Plantation-America, or Neo-America.
The problem today for the people-witnesses is to survive, that is to say, to try to
maintain their identity, in the face of the alienation imposed by the conqueror, the
conquistador or his actual descendants. The problem for the Euro-Americans is to
conciliate their different and preserved identities within the national entities they have
built, without breaking these entities. The problem for plantation American people is
to give legitimacy to this new dimension of human nature they constitute, this
dimension of exchange and mutual change, in a world in which apartheid and racism
still rule and dominate.
But, whatever classification is employed to understand our world, and
regardless of its usefulness, reality always extends beyond its parameters.
Meso-America is, once again, operating in the United States, a Euro-American land,
where Native Americans are reorganizing themselves. This Meso-America literally
"comes into" Plantation-America, in Central America, for example. And a country
like Venezuela has a tripartite culture, with the three Americas working in it. The
complexity of our reality confounds all formal analysis.
Perhaps creolization is becoming one of our present-day goals. It seems clear
that many of us are discarding the old formal categories, with the following questions
or alternatives: Is an ethnic identity necessary or indispensable to the equilibrium of
women and men living in a community? If so, how can a person preserve his or her
identity without blindly rejecting the others? Furthermore, can we not imagine a new
dimension of identity, open to the truth, or simply the presence of the Other? An
identity that would not be the projection of a unique and sectarian root, but of what
we call a rhizome, a root with a multiplicity of extensions, in all directions? Not killing
what is around it, as a unique root would, but establishing communication and
relation? It seems to me that man's mind, and especially his imagination, must
assume this challenge, not only on behalf of the Americas but of the entire world.
And if one says that that is a utopian ideal, it should be remembered that no change in
human history has occurred without utopian ideals.
Nevertheless, this "open" idea of identity at first did not seem to have much
chance of expanding in the universe of plantations, where creolization was born.
Certainly, absolute separation was the rule on the plantation. Not only an absolute
social separation, but also an irremediable break between forms of sensibility, despite
their being changed by each other. The French poet Saint-John Perse and the
American novelist William Faulkner, two authors emerging from the universe of
plantations, give us the opportunity to appreciate this split. We recall the famous
description of the people (meaning the black people) of Guadeloupe, the island
where the poet was born and which he left when he was thirteen years old, in
Saint-John Perse's Eloges! "But for a long time yet to come my memory is of
soundproof faces, the color of papaya and boredom, that stood behind our chairs like
This papaya and this boredom literally re-ification do not so much reveal
the poet's indifference as they emphasize the radical separation, the impossible
apartheid, that ruled over the palpable existence of the plantation. By the same token,
Faulkner, who spoke of blacks so frequently, never set out on one of those
monologues that he wrote so skillfully and so powerfully depicting characters who
were black. He did risk doing so for a number of mulatto characters and in a tour de
force that has become a classic, he even did so for Benjy, the idiot at the beginning of
The Sound and the Fury. The black character, Lucas, though he is the hero of Intruderin
the Dust, is never interiorized by Faulkner. He is described entirely through postures
and actions, a silhouette brought to perfection against the horizon. Intruder in the Dust
is not a novel of essence but rather a novel of phenomeno-logical description.
Faulkner, moreover, writes in this same novel a propos of the southern Black: "I
don't know him at all, and from what it seems, no white man knows him." It is as
though the brilliant novelist, not surprisingly rejected by his own class, and at the
same time misunderstood by the black Americans having access to his work, sensed
here an impossibility brought to a head by history. This is where the break occurs in
all of its force.
But this break has not defined territories in which different strata of the
population are to be confined for eternity. The claim that groups are mutually
extraneous did not prevent their mutual contamination, which was inevitable within
the plantation enclosure. We see that Saint-John Perse transformed the poetics of the
French language by introducing the genius of Creole, even if he tried to hide this. And
what is this universe that Faulkner invented and described if not that of the extended
family, inextricable, so different from the western pattern, so rooted in an African
memory? And what is the question that the works of Faulkner are tragically debating,
if not this? Who is the real son of the South -the Indian who was dispossessed of it,
the white man who conquered it, or the black people who suffered on it? For
example, no matter how cold-blooded and fierce the thought of Father Labat, the
chronicler of the Antilles in the seventeenth century, one sees an underlying
curiosity-fixed, troubled, and obsessive every time there is a question about the
slaves that he is struggling to pacify. Fear, fantasies, and perhaps a scant flicker of
complicity, are the undercurrent to rebellions and repressions. The long catalogue of
martyrs is also a long, slow creolization, whether involuntary or deliberate.
The discourse on the plantation followed in the same way, with the same
apparent ambiguity. Ambiguity was the first necessity for survival. In the silent
universe of the plantation, oral expression, the only one possible for slaves, was
organized in a discontinuous manner. The appearance of tales, proverbs, sayings,
songs, in the creolophone world as much as in any other, bears the mark of this
discontinuity. The texts here seem to neglect what Western realism was able to cover
so well: landscapes, scenery, customs, well-motivated descriptions of characters. One
hardly ever finds events and daily gestures related concretely, but, on the other hand,
one discovers a symbolic evocation of situations. It is as though these texts worked
hard for a disguise behind the symbol, to tell without telling. This is what I have
elsewhere called the practice of detour, and this is where discontinuity is struggling;
the same discontinuity that will be put into action by that other detour that we know
What we have here is a form of literature that strives to express that which it is
forbidden to designate, and finds, against this organic censoring, risky ways every
time. The oral literature of the plantations, as a result, is akin to other subsistence -
that is, survival-techniques set up by the slaves and their immediate descendants. The
perpetual need to get around the rule of silence creates a literature that is not naturally
continuous, but that bursts forth in fragments. The storyteller is the odd-job man, the
djobeur, as we say in Martinique, of the collective soul.
Although that is a general phenomenon throughout the system, in creolophone
areas it is more obvious and easier to see. The reason is that, in addition to this
necessity for circumvention, creole language contributes another, internal, necessity:
that is, the obligation to remake oneself every time on the basis of a series of
forgetting. Forgetting, that is to say, integration, of what the language is based upon.:
the multitude of African languages, on the one hand, and of European languages, on
the other -the nostalgia for what is left of the Caribs. The linguistic development of
creolization has proceeded through the settling of these layered contributions, and
the resulting synthesis has never been fixed in its terms, despite having asserted the
durability of its structures from the beginning. In other words, the Creole language
has never professed to be an authoritative edict, that one could use as a basis for
tracking down a linguistic development, where another text comes to perfect the
previous one, and so forth. I do not know if this diffraction (where, perhaps,
multilingualism is really at work for one of the first times in humanity's history) is
characteristic of every language during its formation -for example, one would have to
look at the European Middle Ages with this in mind-or if it is completely attributable
to the specific situation of the plantation in the Caribbean Islands and other places in
To this ambiguity and discontinuity of the creolization process, we can add
another characteristic. It becomes clearer when we examine the pattern of settlement
in the Americas.
Whether in Euro- or Neo-America, this settlement proceeded by waves,
bringing three kinds of new people: (a) the armed migrant, emerging with all his
furniture from the flanks of the Mayflower, who built the economic power of the
Northern Americas; (b) the household migrant, arriving with his kitchen ranges, his
family pictures, perhaps a business ability (he provided the labour in the North, but
even where he had built great financial empires, he remained dependent on the
economic power of the first group); and (c) the naked migrant, that is to say, the
African deported by the Middle Passage, arriving with only traces of his original
country and his languages, and with the difficult and progressively vanished memory
of his gods (he provided all the labour in the South).
The striking characteristic of this last group is that it was obliged to rebuild
various cultures in Brazil, in the Caribbean, and in other parts of the area of
creolization by proceeding not from preserved folklores (as did the Irish or Italian
people in the North), but from these traces, and by combining them with countless
other elements, from China or India or the Middle East, and so on, with so many
conflicts to resolve. By accomplishing a real integration in this area, giving birth to a
new dimension of being, this "obligation" gave to the creolization process another
new dimension, that of opening ways.
Imagining and recreating from traces of memory removes a person far away
from systems, far away not only from ideological thinking but even more from the
thought of any imperative system. I would like to emphasize this point: imagining
from and by traces is a more difficult but more fruitful exercise than thinking by
systems. It seems that the ancient marronage, which was the quest for new traces, is
once again operating, for all of us. In other words, ambiguity, discontinuity, traces,
and remembering, creolization, with its unpredictable results, are not signs of
weakness. They contribute to this unprecedented conception of identity that I have
been discussing. They counter the massive assertions of the thinking associated with
the Conquest. It is not a coincidence that so many people in the West Indies
dedicated themselves to the Other: for example, the Jamaican Marcus Garvey in the
United States, or the Trinidadian Padmore in Ghana, or the Martinican Fanon in
Algeria. Open and strong identity is also a strong solidarity.
Creolization still has its legitimacy. It helps us to understand that
multilingualism is not a passport to impotence, as some have said, and helps us to
emphasize that each language dying in the world is dying in us and with us, with a part
of our imaginary order, even if we had never known about this language; that
multiculturalism is not disorder, not extinction; that we can escape from the jail of
History (with a capital "H") and put together our histories (without this capital "H");
that we can imagine diffracted times coming together, without this imperial linear
conception of time that Columbus brought with him.
Creolization creates a new land before us, and in this process of creation, it
helps us to liberate Columbus from himself. Trying to realize the absolute unity of
the universe (meaning the earth) and of mankind (meaning Western man's concept of
mankind), Columbus found irreducible diversity surviving under massacre. Let us
help him achieve the voyage. Columbus will be whom and what we will be able to do
and to create in the field of nonsectarian, nonmetaphysical, and nonabsolute
communication and relation.
During my stay in Louisiana, I have had the opportunity to observe some of the
concrete manifestations of such a creolization. I spoke, in Creole, with an old black
lady in the city of Lafayette. She was a descendant of black people who had arrived
from Santo Domingo at the time of the Haitian revolution. So there is a population of
black francophone Creoles in this area, who still protect, or try to protect their
peculiarity. This is not unlike the case of the black Indians around New Orleans. Their
community is hard to approach; they fiercely protect an isolation that probably
resulted from their history as black people who gave themselves to marronage and
melted into the Indian background. Zydeco music is another case, an encounter of
Cajun songs (expelled from the deep countries of France to Acadia to Louisiana's
bayous) and of the rhythms of the blues and black music.
Although the plantation has vanished, creolization is still at work in our
megalopolises, from Mexico City to Miami, from Los Angeles to Caracas, from Sao
Paulo to Kingston, from New Orleans to San Juan, where the inferno of cement
slums is merely an extension of the inferno of the sugarcane or cotton fields. All the
Americas contain microcultures, where pidgin becomes creole, where creoles return
to pidgin ways, where languages are emerging or dying, where the old and rigid sense
of identity is confronting the new and open way of creolization. This phenomenon
probably has no political or economic power. But it is precious for mankind's
imagination, its capacity for invention.
Dare we suppose that there are some places that I shall call Archipelago places
(in the Caribbean, in the Pacific, and in so many other areas, perhaps including the
new Mediterranean, growing up today) -where such a concept of the Relative, of the
open links with the Other, of what I call a Poetique de la Relation shades or moderates
the splendid and triumphant voice of what I call Continental thinking, the thought of
systems? Most certainly, we cannot and must not propose any model, any pattern,
available for all. But in such diffracted places in these laboratoriese" of chaos,
which are metaphors of our chaos-infested world let us say that chaos is beautiful;
not chaos born from hate and wars, but from the extraordinary complexity of the
exchange between cultures, which may yet forge future Americas that are at last and
for the first time both deeply unified and truly diversified.
Reproduced with kind permission, the Smithsonian
Institution Press, from Race Discourse, andthe Origin oftheAmericas- A New World View.
Edited by Vera Lawrence Hyatt and Rex Nettleford. Foreword by
Robert.McCormick Adams. Smithsonian Institution Press 1995.
Ballad For Soweto
young simbas in the pride
have been sleeping like lemurs
with eyes wide open.
Listening, they heard white rogue-elephants
trampling down the innocent grass;
small veld fires spreading into conflagrations;
cicadas fluting warnings
outside the ravaged kraals:
and drunks in the shabeens
shouting mad orisons to freedom
in the late and limpid moonlight.
young simbas in the pride
heard elders sighing in their sleep;
the simpering wind eroding granite patience,
until soft sibilant breathing
erupted into murmurings
young simbas in the pride
with their ears pressed to barren mountainsides
heard your hoarse voice thundering
across the veld's silence,
and saw jackals scattering.
They heard you pacing, pacing
like a black leopard
up and down the cold floors
of your demented Robben Island cell;
and your heart beating, beating
like Bemba drums.
young simbas in the pride
abandoning dark caves of their lives
greeted the sunrise declaring
for the first time:
"It's a great day to die, grandfather,
Mandela's heart is beating inside us!
It's a great day to die, grandmother,
we're the inheritors of your heart
young simbas in the pride
defied high priests of racial hate,
plunderers of mankind;
brushing death aside,
they chanted poem-hymns to freedom.
Young simbas dying, discovered
for the whole pride
words you trumpeted,
a heart that would not die,
an ebony heart beating like eagles' wings
above pale stone mountains;
dying they discovered
new firmanents of freedom,
birds strumming sunbeams in the morning,
stars embedded in the dark flesh
of night skies.
Dying, they reclaimed your lost firmanents
Young simbas in the pride
muralled the unfinished canvas
of Soweto with blood
and dauntless faces of the dead.
Young simbas left the pride in the morning
whispering, "Don't go to work for the usurpers
today, my mother. When they bring us back
with blood sealing lips of our wounds
bury us with the full funeral rites.
The fierce heart escaping
before echoes of gunfire die
is not ours, but Mandela's."
Vol.25, Nosl&2, March-June, 1979