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VOLUME 55, No.1 MARCH 2009
(Copyright reserved and reproduction without permission strictly forbidden)
CARIBBEAN LITERATURE: "The Unity Is Submarine"
Guest Editors: MARIE-JOSE NZENGOU-TAYO AND VELMA POLLARD.
Marie-Jose Nzengou-Tayo and Velma Pollard
Early Groundings for a Circum-Caribbean Integrationist Thought. 1
"El pais que no se parece a otro": negotiating literary representations of Yucatan
in narrative texts written from within and without the region. 15
Writing Bridges of Sound: Praise Song for the Widow and Louisiana 33
"Visions of Hell: the Representation of the Continental Caribbean in Alejo 43
Carpentier's El siglo de las luces and Maryse Cond6's La vie scelerate."
La colonie du nouveau monde: Conde's Pessimistic Views of a Caribbean 61
Harlem NEW YORK Haarlem PARIS: America-Martinique: Daniel Picouly's 75
Caribbean Bridge over the Atlantic
Fran oise Cevaer,
BOOK REVIEWS 99
Notes on Contributors 113
Information for Contributors 116
UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST INDIES
Professor, the Hon. R.M. Nettleford, O.M. Vice Chancellor E, Editor
Sir Roy Augier, Professor Emeritus, History, Mona.
Professor H. Beckles, Pro Vice Chancellor and Principal, UWI, Cave Hill.
Professor B. Chevannes, Research Fellow, Mona School of Business, UWI
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.
Professor H Simmons-McDonald, PVC, Open Campus
Mrs. Linda Speth, General Manager, UWI Press
Dr. B. Tewarie, PVC, Office of Planning and Development, UWI,
Professor Alvin Wint, PVC, Board for Undergraduate Studies, UWI, Mona
Dr. V.Salter, CSI, Managing Editor,
Manuscripts CQ is a review journal. Articles and book reviews of relevance to
the Caribbean will be gratefully received. Authors should refer to the guidelines
on the web page or in any volume of CQ
Articles submitted are not returned.
Exchanges: Exchanges are conducted by the Gifts and Exchanges Section,
Library, University of the West Indies, Mona, Kingston 7, Jamaica
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University of the West Indies,
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Tel. and fax No. 876-970-3261, Email: cqaiuwimona.edu.im
Caribbean Quarterly, Volume 55, No. 1, March 2009, is a special issue
entitled : CARIBBEAN LITERATURE: "The Unity Is Submarine" containing
six articles on literatures and Pan-Caribbean thought originating in the Anglo-,
French- and Spanish- speaking regions of the Caribbean as well links to the
diasporic persons of the Caribbean in such far flung places as Harlem, New York
Haarlem, Paris, and Mexico's Yucatan peninsula. This special issue explores
Island Continent Connections through History, Migration, Language, Music and
Literature which came about amongst the 'folk' of the region the people from
'below' long before any political or integrationist promptings from above
initiated moves to do so. These linkages laid the ground for the emergence of a
pan-Caribbean thought. Caribbean Quarterly welcomes a timely contribution to
Caribbean thought provided by Guest Editors: Marie-Jose Nzengou-Tayo and
This issue brings together papers from a panel presented at the 32nd annual
conference of the Caribbean Studies Association held in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil
in May 2007. The theme is connectedness; in this case between island and island
and islands and mainland in the Caribbean. It takes as its point of departure Kamau
Brathwaite's famous statements: "The Unity is submarine" and elaborates on it in
this way: "Island Continent Connections through History, Migration, Language,
Music and Literature." It seeks to define, in five presentations, the basis for
circum-Caribbean thought and to analyse literary representations of the ordinary
Caribbean person's experience. An additional paper from the same conference
was added to the original five as it expands the connection to the the Old
Continent, establishing a Europe-North America-Caribbean connection.
Ileana Sanz's paper sets the stage as the author delineates the intellectual
framework within which Caribbean-ness was conceptualized. She identifies Jose
Marti's seminal essay Nuestra America as the starting point of a discourse on the
unity of the Caribbean and the movement to establish a
circum-Caribbean/intra-Caribbean linkage among the various Caribbean islands
and between the insular and the continental Caribbean.
Subsequent articles cover geographic areas weaving a web of connections
criss-crossing the Caribbean Basin from North to South and East to West. Thus,
the second article, written by Margaret Shrimpton, brings the Mexican state of
Yucatan within the scope of Caribbean dialectics. Examining fiction by
Yucatecan writers, living both within and without the peninsula, Shrimpton shows
how they developed an insular response to the central state very similar to that
developed for the Caribbean.
In the third article, Velma Pollard maps a triangular
(Africa-Caribbean-USA) diasporic connection through sounds echoing from
novels by two Anglophone women writers: Paule Marshall, an American of
Barbadian ancestry and Erna Brodber, a Jamaican. Pollard assesses the
similarities and differences in the strategies used to establish diaspora connections
in Marshall's Praise Song for the Widow and Brodber's Louisiana always
acknowledging the relationship between Africa and the Americas as an
inescapable part of the historical/cultural mindscape of the writers.
The next three papers cross language boundaries and look at fiction from the
Spanish and French-speaking Caribbean. Odile Ferly's paper discusses the
representation of Caribbean migrants by two writers: Alejo Carpentier from Cuba
(Los pasos perdidos / The Lost Steps) and Maryse Cond6 from Guadeloupe (La vie
sceldrate /Tree of Life). Her article analyses the two authors' representation of
Caribbean migration as an aimless wandering, which in a way expresses their
pessimistic vision of the island-continent relationship in which the Continent is
viewed as an earthly version of Hell.
Examining another novel by Maryse Cond6, La colonie du nouveau monde,
Marie-Jos6 Nzengou-Tayo looks more specifically at Maryse Cond6's account of
the plight of Haitian migrants in Colombia. Invisible and humiliated migrants,
they appear very often in Cond6's work as symbols of the predicament of the
region and stand as the region's Other.
The last paper, by Frangoise Cevaer analyses the ways in which Diasporic
writer Daniel Picouly poses as Chester Himes' heir in his novels Tete de Negre and
L 'enfant leopard. Constantly using intertextuality, he revisits the famous crime
novels of the African American writer particularly by displacing the famous
detectives Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger from New York to Paris and
transplanting Harlem to the France of the Revolution. The concept of transnational
identity and the representation of a still recurring racial marginalisation and
violence unites the two writers beyond time, borders and languages.
Between them the papers present a variety of ways of understanding
Caribbean connectedness: all different, all authentic.
Early Groundings for a Circum-Caribbean
"archipelago: fragments: a geological plate being crushed by the
pacific's curve, cracking open yucatan; the arctic/north american
monolith: hence cuba, hispaniola, puerto rico: continental outriders
and the dust of the bahamas. atlantic africa pushing up the beaches
of our eastern seawards"'
"What does this other America mean to us? What do we mean to it?
Before its dense and multiple presence, we seem to fade into
insignificance. Would we simply be several drops left by this
immense river after it had broken up and slowed down? Could we
in fact be the other source, I mean the necessary stop where it
gathers together its energy for the journey? In one way or another,
the Caribbean is the outgrowth of America. The part that breaks
free of the continent and yet is linked to the whole."2
From region, to nation, to region in "a pendulum oscillation which privileges
neither one side nor the other" is how Margaret Shrimpton describes the territories
of the Circum Caribbean. She continues [we need) to read the mainland region
not as one single unit opposed in a binary sense to the island Caribbean, but as
differentiated area, with the similar one and diverse dynamics and migrant patterns
that are evident in the islands"3. Any theorization about the Circum-Caribbean as a
subregional entity is quite recent therefore comparative studies which embrace the
area are still sparse. However, the last decade of the 20"h Century heralds an
important moment in the exploration of the relations, concepts and perceptions of
what has been defined as the Circum or Wider Caribbean, a space which includes
the insular Caribbean, together with the northern coastal states of South America,
Central America, and the Caribbean coast of Mexico.
Trade, culture and political will have been explored as the main paths to
pursue this integration. The establishment of organizations though not yet
comprising the totality of states in order to articulate common strategies and
consensus in key areas such as trade and education, gave birth to the CARICOM,
and UNICA amongst others which paved the way for a landmark achievement: the
creation of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) in 1994. ACS for the first
time officially brought together island and continental territories for collaborative
effort intending to "strengthen the regional co-operation and integration process"
as stated in its official document.4 It is surely no coincidence that the Convention
establishing the Association of Caribbean States was signed in Cartagena,
Colombia, on July 24, 1994. This auspicious date is the anniversary of the birth of
Simon Bolivar, regarded as the Liberator of South America and the Founding
Father in the ground-breaking work on the articulation of regional integration.
But where to find the theoretical grounds that facilitate the bridges between
the island Caribbean and the continental one? To what extent is this notion a new
one? How has the pendulum been oscillating highlighting national or regional
visions? This paper aims to show how the theoretical grounds that articulate an
integrationist subregional thought bridging both the insular Caribbean and the
Other America had its genealogy in the nineteenth century coming mostly from the
territories colonised by Spain. It was grounded not only in the commonalities and
connections of geography and history but on outstanding personalities of the
region who were men of action as well as men of thought. The process was
aided as well as by the dynamic role played by social actors who consistently
blurred boundaries and frontiers contributing to forging links within the area.
Commencing with the independence wars of the nineteenth century a
substantial corpus of ideas began to be articulated and disseminated in a great
variety of semi-literary forms which ranged from private letters, speeches,
declarations, journals, to official government documents. The shaping of a thought
of difference, first from Europe and then from the northern part of the Western
hemisphere (The recently established United States and the Province of Canada)
originated in the midst of revolutions, battlefields, organization of wars and
In spite of the emergence of several research centres as well as institutes
engaged in promoting the study of the Circum-Caribbean,6 the bibliographical
review shows the persistence of a balkanized approach which carries out an
artificial division of the region imposed by their former, and for some, current
It is quite frustrating to verify that a great number of titles published under
the name of "Caribbean" or "West Indian" or "Antillas" in different disciplines,
and even recent dissertations on the topic, still limit their scope to one area, usually
identified or imposed by having shared a common metropolis be it London,
Lisbon, Paris or Madrid.
Since the seminal work of Gordon K. Lewis, Main Currents in Caribbean
Thought (1983)7 there has not been a substantial body of scholarship to enhance
the study of 20th Century thought. Lewis' work, while framed within the island
Caribbean space, is an excellent comprehensive study which establishes the
intertwined connections that go beyond linguistic and metropolitan differences.
Moreover, several recent publications have focused on exploring the complexities
involved in the articulation of a Circum-Caribbean integration identifying areas
such as trade, political relations and culture as the most valid ones to contribute to
it. The works ofAndr6s Serbin, Anthony Bryan, Franklin Knight amongst others
have researched this issue in light of the fact that the need for a regional
consciousness takes on a new urgency to counterbalance the effects of
globalization. Bryan and Serbin assert "...the genealogy of the wider Caribbean
as a distinctive region in the Western Hemisphere, and as a region different from
Latin America in particular, may be more complicated..." They elucidate further
on "the advantages of thinking and acting as one region."8
A regional vision.
The early 19th century showed a tendency that was centred more on region
than nation in the mainland area. This was exemplified in the organization of the
independence wars in Spanish America in order to break the colonial system
imposed by Spain. Notwithstanding, the first successful rupture with a European
metropolis in this part of the region did not take place on the mainland but in Haiti,
an island territory. Though without a regional scope, Haiti is the first example of
the binomial independence-emancipation.
The "Serment ofBois Caiman "(Oath of Bois Caiman) in 1791 advocated by
men of action articulated a concept of independence and emancipation as well as
racial vindication. Alejo Carpentier called attention to the relevance of the
concept of independence at Bois Caiman which differed significantly from the one
declared by the thirteen colonies of America in their emancipation from England
(1776); an independence that neither changed the basic structures of the society
nor implied the liberation of slaves who had to wait for the War of Secession to
obtain their freedom. Carpenti6r asserts: "It is odd that with the Oath of Bois
Caiman the real concept of independence is born. That is to say, that in the same
land, the concept of colonization brought by the Spaniards to Saint Domingue is
linked to the concept of decolonization."9 He insightfully points out how this
concept based on an individual humanism originally articulated mostly by French
philosophers takes a twist and is filled with a collective sense of independence
rising out of the horror of colonialism and slavery.
This struggle for independence initiated in the insular Caribbean was
followed by the Spanish possessions in the mainland. The battlefields of Simon
Bolivar stretched over what are now the countries of Venezuela, Colombia, Peru,
Panama and Bolivia. Borders were wider and flexible.
Bolivar's America: Independence with Integration
Simon Bolivar put into action his thoughts of difference and regional
integration along the length and breadth of the five million square kilometres
covered in his struggle for liberation As a visionary and the founding father of
Latin America he never limited his scope to the country he was born in as he was
strongly convinced that any break with the colonial power to achieve political
independence had to be framed within a regional range. The republics founded by
Bolivar were born with a definite regional outlook centered mostly in Spanish
Bolivar's idea of regional unity marked the difference between North and
South and was first formulated in London in 1810. There he also expressed his
intention of inviting all the peoples of Spanish America to join a Confederation. In
his Manifesto de Cartagena (1812) though he identified the enemy as
"implacables enemigos los espafioles" he examined the reasons for the fall of the
First Republic identifying fragmentation and lack of unity as the main causes.
The capitulation of Venezuela in 1812 forced the first migration of the
criollos to the island Caribbean. Other territories under different European powers
also became the temporary residence to many Latin American revolutionaries,
including Bolivar. His displacement and contact with these peoples strengthened
his perception of the need for regional integration. Curacao, being so close to
Caracas, became a temporary residence for many of revolutionaries as well as
Trinidad, St.Thomas, Jamaica and Haiti.'1
Bolivar, in exile in Jamaica(May-Dec. 1815) and away from the
battlefields, exchanged the sword for the pen. Inspired by a letter sent by a
gentleman from the island inquiring his opinion about the current situation in Latin
America he wrote the visionary treatise, Carta de Jamaica (1815). This letter took
on singular significance as the document showed Bolivar's extraordinary capacity
as both a political analyst and as a visionary. He offered a detailed exposition of
the crimes perpetrated by the Spaniards as well as the position of servitude in
which the "americanos" have been placed; he highlighted the significance of the
cause of independence and urged the "civilized Europe" as he called it to stop
being indifferent to this situation as the independence of America would become
an asset to the rest of Europe. The complexity of the situation did not prevent him
from envisaging a prophetic view of the future he wished for his America
sustained on unity. In this document he included the islands of Cuba and Puerto
Rico as part of his America and concluded "...mas, no son americanos estos
insulares?"" He stated his vision of forming in "his America" "la mis grande
naci6n del mundo, menos por su extension y riqueza que por su libertad y gloria"'2
(the greatest nation in the world, not so much as to its extension and wealth as to
its glory and freedom)". Haiti, in the person of President Petion, offered solidarity
and support to the independence cause by providing weapons and money which
put Bolivar back in action. His return with an expedition to Venezuela made
possible the continuation of the struggle and the fulfilment of a promise made to
the Haitian president, to give unconditional freedom to all slaves fighting for
Independence and integration were so embedded in Bolivar's ideology that
after the victory of Ayacucho in 1824 when mainland Spanish America had just
obtained its freedom Bolivar sent his call to all the nascent republics of the
continent for the celebration of the first congress of republics. At this time two
Caribbean islands, Cuba and Puerto Rico, were still under Spanish domination.
The Liberator was convinced of the need to eliminate any presence of Spanish
colonialism in the whole region as he considered these territories part of "his
America"; thus concrete plans were made to achieve the independence of these
two colonies but could not be successfully implemented.'3
Aware of the weakness of the emerging republics Bolivar envisioned the
creation of a League to develop a body of legislative measures which could
guarantee their independence, thus laying the foundations of a hemispheric
integration. The first hemispherical conference took place in Panama in 1826.
Though considered a failure by many analysts as their goals were not fulfilled, it
marked a path which unfortunately has not even been partially achieved after more
than a century and a half. The significance of a meeting, without foreign
interference, where for the first time new republics sat together on equal terms to
discuss and design a programme which could guide their common destiny set the
path for the circum-caribbean to follow. As Bolivar expresses on the
"...El dia que nuestros plenipotenciarios hagan el canje de sus
poderes, se fijari en la historic diplomitica de Am6rica una 6poca
inmortal. Cuando despu6s de cien siglos, la posteridad busque el
origen de nuestro derecho pfiblico y recuerden los pactos que
consolidaron su destino, registraran con respeto los protocolos del
Istmo. En 61 encontrarin el plan de nuestras primeras alianzas, que
trazard la march de nuestras relaciones con el universe" 14
(The day our plenipotentiaries exchange their credentials will
remain immortal in the diplomatic history of America. When, in ten
centuries' time, posterity looks for the origins of our public law,
and the pacts which consolidated its destiny are recalled, the
protocols of the Isthmus will be held in great respect. In them will
be found the design of the first alliances which mapped out the path
of our relations with the Universe).
Bolivar died in 1830 in Santa Marta, Colombia, a territory within the
Circum-Caribbean. Jose Marti, in assessing Bolivar -both his activism and his
underlying philosophy highlighted his extraordinary talent for articulating the
basis of the unity of the region.
"Su gloria, mas que en ganar las batallas de la America, estuvo en componer
para ellas sus elements desemejantes u hostiles, y en fundirlos a tal calor de
gloria, que la uni6n cimentada en 61 ha podido mis, al fin, que sus elements de
desigualdad y discordia" 15
(More than in winning battles, his glory lay in putting together the
different and hostile elements of America and forged them so
deeply that the union he shaped has overcome its unequal and
From region to nation.
In the new republics the regional ideology weakened as this part of the
continent began the search for a particular identity thus the pendulum went from
region to nation. Mainland territories entered fratricidal wars for delimitation of
borders and nationalism was emphasized albeit excluding the original native
population as well as the peoples of African descent. The island-states of the
mainland, such as Yucatan, or coastal Venezuela and Colombia, though stressing
their regional distinctiveness within their nations did not foresee their links to the
Island territories continued in their colonial status, with the exception of
Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The so called English, French and Dutch West
Indies mainland/island after achieving emancipation did not have the historical
conditions to embrace either a regional or a national project. The balkanization
policy followed in these colonies by the metropolis did not contribute to the
emergence of a national/ subregional/regional ideology even amongst colonies
that shared a common metropolis. The limited Creole class had stronger links with
Europe than with the other social groups in their own countries. This prevented the
construction of a national ideology in the 19th century. They preferred, in Kamau
Brathwaite's words a "bastard metropolitanism".17
The Spanish Antilles with Cuba and Puerto Rico still under Spanish domain
within the regional context. Jose Marti along with other activists and thinkers
articulated this regional thought centered in what they called Las Antillas.
Betances in Puerto Rico (1827-1898) founded a Federaci6n Antillana which
gathered all the countries of the archipelago in opposition to North American
annexation pretensions. Eugenio Maria de Hostos (1839-1903), another Puerto
Rican closely linked to Marti in the fight for the independence of the islands
envisioned this area as a geographic unit advocating a federation of free islands of
Marti's America: Redefining regional unity.
"Las levitas son todavia de Francia, pero el pensamiento empieza a
ser de America". 18
"(The frock coats are still French, but thoughts begin to be
Jose Marti's actions and thoughts echoed those of Simon Bolivar. Unlike
the Liberator, Marti did not go from battlefield to battlefield, arms in hand. In fact,
his direct confrontation in the war for the independence of Cuba took place in a
very limited territory and lasted only 38 days19 Nonetheless what he could not
achieve in the battlefields he achieved it in his persistent action to fulfill his two
main goals: the independence of Cuba and the integration of his America. To attain
these goals he masterly fused action and thought. If we follow Marti's itinerary on
a map it would show how he moved across the islands as well as the mainland. He
traveled almost the totality of the Circum-Caribbean region: Venezuela to Central
America, the Mexican Caribbean, the island territories of the Dominican Republic,
Haiti, Jamaica and Curacao. Grounded on the foundations laid by Bolivar, Marti
simultaneously orchestrated the necessary instruments to carry out the struggle for
the independence of Cuba and worked as an activist and conceptualizer for the
unity of his America20 In a "pendulum oscillation" he recognized the need to
balance a national and a regional outlook. Marti's preliminary ideas of his concept
of America, what he later referred to as Nuestra Amrrica were outlined in a
document which he entitled El Presidio Politico (1871) published when he was
only 18 years old. There the difference between Spain and the countries of his
America is already clearly demarcated. This viewpoint was further articulated
during his stay in Guatemala in the year 1877. Roberto Fernandez Retamar21 in a
well documented introduction to his compilation of Jose Marti's writings related
to his America assesses that it is in "Los Codigos Nuevos that Marti used for the
first time the expressions nuestra America and madre America. Marti's vision
was to redefine the borders by establishing a difference between "the two
Americas", one on the north and the one in the south which embraced the
mainland and the islands. Marti stated:
"Toda obra nuestra, de nuestra America robusta, tendri, pues,
inevitablemente el sello de la civilizaci6n conquistador; pero la
mejorari, adelantard y asombrari con la energia y creador empuje
de un pueblo en esencia distinto, superior en nobles ambiciones, y
si herido, no muerto. iYa revive!"22
(All our work, of our strong America will inevitably have the
imprint of the conquest civilization; but it will improve it, it will
move it forward and will stun the world with the energy and
creative strength of a different country, superior in its noble
ambitions and if wounded, not dead. It revives!)
Though the great majority of his work breathed a regional spirit, it is in these
two pieces "Madre America" and "Nuestra Amrrica" that he embodied his
conception and projected destiny of the regional space he embraced under this
name. It cut across national and political boundaries and lies on commonalities of
geography, history and identity. While Bolivar's America stressed the
distinctiveness of Spain and America, and within the American continent the
North and the South, Marti's America sharpened the north/south difference and
named anglo America, the Ambrica Europea.
In "Madre Amnrica", a speech delivered by Marti to the delegates who
attended the American International Conference in Washington (1889)23 he
offered a detailed exposition of all the evils Spain inflicted on Latin America
echoing what Bolivar did in his Jamaican Letter. He uses this scenario to exalt and
praise Bolivar's achievements and highlight what Latin American countries had
assessed after the emergence of the new republics but mostly to warn the criollos
americanos about the risks of ignoring their origins and turning their gaze solely to
Europe. Marti highlighted the creativeness of these American people to turn
"rotten legacy" into a rich collective reservoir.
He reclaimed the mestizo character of this region which he identified as
"una tierra hibrida y original" highlighting the mestizo traits as positive and
regenerative far before cultural theoreticians from the mid twentieth century on.
Fernando Ortiz, Kamau Brathwaite, Nestor Garcia Canclini and some others
would have been amazed by the deep insight of Marti's perception. Listen to
"iQu importa que, por llevar el libro delante de los ojos, no
vibramos, al nacer como pueblos libres, que el gobierno de una
tierra hibrida y original, amasada con espafioles retaceros y
aborigenes torvos y aterrados, mds sus salpicaduras de africanos y
menceyes, debia comprender, para ser natural y fecundo, los
elements todos que, en maravilloso tropel y por la political
superior escrita en la Naturaleza, se levantaron a fundarla?"
(What does is matter if when emerging as free nations and with the
book always in our eyes, we saw that the government of a hybrid
and primitive land molded from a residue of Spaniards and some
grim and frightened aborigines, in addition to a smattering of
African and Menceys should understand, in order to be natural and
productive, all the elements that rose on a marvelous throng by
means of the greater politics inscribed in Nature to establish that
"Nuestra America" went further than what Marti had sketched in "Madre
America". Considered by many as his pivotal text for the study of the region key
issues were addressed which still hold great significance to its unity and
integration; the assessment of the autochthonous while pointing to the weakness of
the criolloss" who still bestowed more value on the imported things than on the
local; the need to create original forms of government and solutions to their
problems; a celebration of "mestizaje" as a powerful force of the peoples of
America; a call alert regarding anglo America which he foresaw as the new and
common enemy for his America and a threat to its independence. While Bolivar
achieved the First Independence of the continent arms in hand, Marti urged Latin
Americans to call for a "Second Independence" but "with weapons of the mind,
which conquer all others".
Being by conviction a man of thought, the urge to organize the war against
Spain for the independence of Cuba turned him to action. It was not enough to
display all the political agitation in the organization of the Revolutionary Party and
the arrangement of the armed expedition to initiate the war. He landed in Cuba
arms in hand and died in a battlefield though still convinced/advocating that
"barricades of ideas are worth more than barricades of stone".
Garvey's America: Race and integration
While in the Spanish Caribbean the racial issue was subsumed in the
building of a sense of nationality linked to independence, other Caribbean colonies
with a more visible predominance of African descendants the so called English,
French and Dutch West Indies- raised the racial issue as the pivotal one. Marcus
Garvey epitomized this in the early twentieth century becoming a champion of the
Negro race in regional as well as global terms.
Like Simon Bolivar and Jose Marti, Marcus Garvey was a man of action as
well as a man of thought. He carried out an impressive regional integrationist
project to achieve the vindication of the peoples of African origin and the web of
African people in the America. His America was a Black America which went
beyond the New Continent to reconnect with the ancestral African one. He played
a successful agitational role mobilizing thousands of peoples of African origin and
descent, organizing them in the Universal Negro Improvement Association
(UNIA) founded in Jamaica in 1915. As a broadly based body to carry out his
goals he transferred the headquarters to New York in 1917 to reach the black
population of the United States which had already become engaged in a struggle
for their rights. But the Circum-Caribbean region was not ignored by Marcus
Garvey. Many branches of the UNIA were established in several countries and
Garveyjourneyed throughout the region visiting the isthmus of Panama -where a
great number of Anglo Caribbean workers went originally to work and then
settled; the banana plantations in Costa Rica; Cuba, where many Anglo Caribbean
migrants had settled in the first decade of the century. The response was enormous
contributing to increasing the membership of the organization as well as
spreading his ideology. Garvey's struggle for the revindication of the African race
was inserted in a very concrete socio-historical context of colonialism, social
injustice and inequality. Hence he founded a political party26 as Marti did, as the
political arm to carry through the struggle.
Along with his activism, Marcus Garvey developed a considerable corpus
of ideas mostly stated in his speeches, public lectures and writings. The founding
of newspapers and journals served to facilitate a forum for discussion for the
articulation of a "black nationalism". In the words of Rupert Lewis -one of the
most outstanding scholars who has devoted considerable research to the study of
Marcus Garvey- "his (Garvey's) exclusive equation of "race" with "nation" was
scientifically and historically unsound" though as, he argues, it was "a reaction to
centuries of slavery, colonialism and capitalist exploitation27
Doubtless the sense of self-affirmation, self-dignity and self-pride for the
black man embodied in Garvey's ideology was key for the affirmation of the black
man in America. Thy cry of Negritude sent by the Martiniquean Aimee Cesaire in
1939 calling for the validation of black values which had an antecedent in the
Jamaican Claude McKay as well as a more elaborate articulation and affirmation
of blackness by intellectuals from the French Antilles went further on in the
articulation of this thought of difference sustained on race and the decolonization
of culture laying the foundations for a national movement in the former British
Antilles as well as other Circum-Caribbean territories. The Black Nationalism
advocated and developed by Garvey laid the bases for a nationalism sustained on
nation and not on race. The feeling of self-pride and confidence aroused, was a
necessary stage in the development of Caribbean countries populated mostly by
black, colonial, exploited and underestimated people. Indeed the racial issue was
the key one. However, many other important topics were addressed by Garvey
widening the scope of his thought. In Rupert Lewis' assessment:
"He articulated ideas about self-reliance, about the relationship between
oppressed peoples throughout the world regardless of colour, about the
relationships between the working class movement in Europe and the colonial
peoples, about the Russian Revolution and the anti-colonial movement, about the
condition of Blacks as an international problem, and he put forward ideas which
are central to the process of decolonization".28
Marcus Garvey's ideology goes beyond and gives a new significance to the
racial issue linking it to a regional ideology of anti-colonialism, oppression and
difference articulated in the nineteenth century mainly by men of action and
thought from the Other America. Though late in regard to Spanish America and
part of the island Caribbean but in correspondence with its socio-historical
evolution, the ideal of nationalism and independence increased tremendously in
many of the island territories still under colonial power. Though the balkanization
policy followed by the metropolis did not contribute to the development of a
regional consciousness and sense of belonging even under the same metropolis,
contextual historical situation led to an early awareness of a regional
consciousness along with the national ones. Even in territories still under colonial
rule, the need for a difference from the Other America developed.
By the last decade of the twentieth century the pendulum tended to go from
nation to region in the Circum-Caribbean. The importance of the perception of the
region as key to counterbalance hegemony is perceived in the great majority of the
island and mainland territories even the ones where the racial issue was used as the
basis to sustain unity. Territories from the mainland have unearthed their
Caribbean physiognomy attempting to balance this pendulum oscillation between
the centre and the region within national boundaries sharing common
characteristics with the island Caribbean. Island states have been stressing their
regional perception incorporating the diaspora as part of that regional
configuration in imaginative and creative ways.
Along with the paths which have been opened in trade, culture and politics
with the key participation of the social actors, men and women of letters have been
instrumental in the forging of the articulation of a Circum-Caribbean integrationist
thought embedded in the legacies of Simon Bolivar, Jose Marti and Marcus
The unity is submarine -borrowing from Kamau Brathwaite's image-is the
title of this panel. It is the summary of the groundings of this unity envisioned and
constructed by men of action and thought. Literary discourse has played an
instrumental role since the emergence of foundational literatures as a means to
shape the national/regional/image. The papers included in this panel explore the
networks, interconnections, links, weaved within the region mapping a landscape
of the conflicts, tensions, complexities oscillating between a national and a
regional scope. These writers have delved deep and brought to the surface the
connections that are there within the Circum-Caribbean region claiming in George
Lamming's words for "the regionalization of consciousness"" which he considers
the major contribution of creative artists of the region.
1. Brathwaite Kamau. "Caribbean Man in Space and Time" Savacou Publications,
2. Glissant, Edouard. Caribbean Discourse. Charlottesville: University of Virginia
Press, 1989. p.117 English Translation by J. Michael Dash
3. Shrimpton, Margaret. "Postcolonial questions: hybridity and identity processes in
Caribbean narrative." Forthcoming article, 2006. np
4. wikipedia.org./wikki/Association of Caribbean States.
5. "Hubo intercambio de hombres, hubo comunidad de ideas y por ello es que el
Caribe, con las zonas continentales de Mexico, las zonas de la tierra fire de Venezuela,
de Colombia, las mismas zonas por extension que fueron habitadas, que fueron pobladas
por esclavos africanos traidos del Continente en el mismo process de colonizaci6n, como
los hallamos en Guayaquil, como los hallamos en el Brasil, tambi6n vienen por extension
a former de ese conglomerado caribe que empezamos a ver en su conjunto y que
empezamos a entender en su conjunto". "La culture de los pueblos que habitan las tierras
del Mar Caribe p.98. En: Alejo Carpentier, Materiales de la Revista Casa de las
Americas. Edic. CASA, 2004. (There was interchange of men, community of ideas, that
is why the Caribbean along with the mainland areas of Mexico, of the terra firma from
Venezuela, Colombia, the areas which were populated by African slaves......as we find
them in Peru, in Guayaquil, and in Brazil as an extension become part of this
conglomerate Caribbean which we start to envision in its totality and understand as a
body). My translation
6. Examples are: Center of Caribbean Thought, Mona Campus, UWI. Centers of
Caribbean Studies at different tertiary institutions as well as Master Programs on
7. Lewis, Gordon K. Main Currents in Caribbean Thought: the historical evolution of
Caribbean society and its ideological aspects, 1492-1900. (Baltimore: John Hopkins
University Press, 1983)
8. Bryan, Anthony & Serbin, Andres. Distant cousins. The Caribbean-Latin
American Relationship. Miami:FL.University of Miami Press, 1996. P.125
9. "Es curioso que con el Juramento de Bois Caiman nace el verdadero concept de
independencia. Es decir que al concept de colonizaci6n traido por los espafoles a Santo
Domingo, en la misma tierra se une el concept de descolonizaci6n". My translation.
Carpentier, Alejo. "La cultural de los pueblos que habitan las tierras del Mar Caribe"
Op.cit pp 94-95.
10. See Paul Verna's Bolivary los emigrantes patriots en el Caribe. Caracas, 1983
for a study of the experience of those patriots in the islands.
11. Carta de Jamaica. In Guzman Noguera, Ignacio de, El Pensamiento del
Libertador, p.99. Editorial Armitano, Caracas, 1977.
12. Idem. Pp.111-112
13. In 1823 there were plans for an army expedition to Cuba which did not finally
14. Bolivar, Simon. Carta circular de la Convocatoria del Congreso, 1824. Translation
taken from Bolivar, Simon. The Home of the Universe.p.217. Paris, UNESCO.cl983
15. Jose Marti. Peri6dico Patria. In Obras Completas, p.252
16. On February 27th 1844 the Dominican flag is raised and the First Constitutional
President is elected.
17. Though K. Brathwaite referred to Jamaica the comment can be applied to the rest
of the British colonies.
18. Marti, Jose. "Nuestra America". Obras Completas. Tomo VI. La Habana,
1963-1965 p.20. Translation taken from Our America. Marti's reader. Edited by
Shnookal D. & Muniz, Mirta. Ocean Press, 1999, p.117
19. He died in combat May 19,1895 in Dos Rios, eastern part of Cuba.
20. He was diplomatic representative for several Latin American countries. He also
informed and interpreted the US to a large Latin American audience who read the articles
he wrote for different newspapers.
21. See "Introduction to Jose Marti", Nuestra America. Casa de las Americas, 1974
22. Marti, Jose. Nuestra America. Ob.cit. p.347. My translation
23. The speech was delivered on Dec.19,1889.
24. In his Angostura speech Bolivar recognized the mixed character of the population
calling attention to the African and Native Americans in reference to their rights as
25. Marti, Jose. "Madre America". In: El Partido Liberal, Mexico, 1891. Translation
taken from Jose Marti's Reader, Writings on the Americas, p. 111
26. The People's Political Party was founded in 1929.
27. Lewis, Rupert. Marcus Garvey: anticolonial champion. Africa World Press,
28. Lewis, Rupert. Op.cit.p.13
"El pais Que No Se parece A otro":
Negotiating Literary Representations Of
Yucatan In Narrative Texts From Within And
Without The Region.
And this network branched out at various points to the beaches of
the south of the country, at Diamant and Petit Anse, and it could
well be that it flowed under the sea, through the Canal of St. Lucia
in the south and the Canal of Dominica in the north, converging
with the force of Soufriere in Guadeloupe and that of Castries and
of other hills and mountains scattered as far as the Andes in
Venezuela [...) and perhaps it connected in a Great Flood one
continent to the other, the Guyanas to YucatAn through this string
of craters, dispersed among tiny islands. (Edouard Glissant,
Tout-monde, 1994, pp. 224 trans. Michael Dash, 1998, pp. 157).
Questions of nation and identity so often at the centre of every discussion in
the Caribbean take on new developments when we look at the positioning of the
Continental Caribbean, especially in areas -like YucatAn -where we cannot isolate
a nation state or island-state. The inclusion of many of the Continental areas of the
Caribbean in current definitions of the area tends to stem from two dominating
aspects: one, the afro-Caribbean component (common to the coastal regions of
Guyana, Surinam, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and
Belize), and secondly, to the nation/island-space where the whole territory
responds to the "Caribbean" characteristics, as if it were an island. In the case of
Colombia and Venezuela, much of the discussion also centers on their island
territories -San Andr6s and Margarita, who fit the bill as Caribbean island states,
and "justify" the Caribbean-ness of their nations. These two characteristics leave
YucatAn out of the discussion, being neither an island, nor a Nation-state, nor
having a large Afro-Caribbean population.
Historically, however, the Yucatan peninsula has developed in isolation
from the rest of Mexico, due to the geographical and physical distance that
separates the peninsular from the rest of the Mexican republic, but more
profoundly in a cultural sense, perceived in the auto-proclamation as "the country
like no other", a common locally used adage which captures the variety of
different cultural, social, political and ethnic processes undergone in the region.
The strong sense of belonging lived by most Yucatecans goes beyond the frontiers
of the peninsular as descendents of Yucatecans born outside the region, also claim
to be "proudly Yucatecan", hence giving rise to generations of "Yucatecans",
raised and living in the Republic's Capital city,' and other parts of the country.
The separation of Yucatan (peninsular) from the center of the country can be read
in several ways, that leave YucatAn provocatively situated on a knife-edge,
hanging "inbetween": on the one hand, YucatAn has experienced a political, social
and economic marginalization since Colonial times; but on the other hand,
Yucatan also enjoys the ambiguity of claiming to be at once forcefully ignored and
also, proudly different, which leads to exclusion and rejection of influences seen to
come "in" from "outside". If those raised outside the region proudly claim
belonging, whilst at the same time usually reaffirming their wise decision to
maintain their base in the capital (Mexico City), those Yucatecans "bor and bred"
in the peninsular classify the outsiders within various categories of intruders,
foreigners or visitors. The convenient ambiguity allows for a complex
construction of Yucatecan identity, both in terms of subject and of space.
This paper aims to confront two readings of YucatAn: the construction of a
regional identity in literary texts written by authors born and residing in the area;
and, by contrast, the representation of YucatAn in texts written by authors of
Yucatecan origin but raised outside of the peninsular. Returning to the theme that
gave rise to these papers -submarine unity, paths and networks that weave across
the region -I will look at how writers and travelers from "inside" and "outside"
Yucatan represent this island/peninsular space and how they constantly undo and
remake their own boundaries. This is particularly important for deepening our
understanding of the mainland Caribbean areas; for in so many ways they are like
islands, but, there always remains the complex pendular-like relationship to their
hinterland -Mexico, for YucatAn. I would like to show how this can shed light on
the articulations of regional/national identities and on how these boundaries are
used both to separate and to unite. How do the writers of Yucatecan origin, but no
longer living in the region recreate YucatAn as a cultural and geographical space in
their narrative? Can we speak of a Yucatecan Diaspora or are we closer to a
neocolonial, metropolitan vision of the region? This inside-outside confrontation
raises issues long debated in the Caribbean, but which I think are particularly
relevant to the Continental regions (not continental nation-states): the concept of
borders (nation/region/island); authenticity and regional autonomy; hybridity and
the construction of a regional identity.
Yucatan/island space -from cartography to the collective imaginary:
defining the margins.
In a short story written by a young Yucatecan writer published recently
(2006) I read the following suggestive phrase, "nuestra tierra de ninguna parte",
perhaps inspired in the much earlier adage close to most Yucatecan's hearts,
quoted above: "YucatAn, el pais que no se parece a otro". 2 Whilst there are strong
reasons to support YucatAn's "island-like" isolation (as outlined above), it is also a
strategic argument, used to justify and proudly protect Yucatecan difference from
everywhere else; but also used to explain (and maintain) the centuries of
marginalization and centralist power-politics, where YucatAn always suffers at the
hand of a Central government indifferent to the regions needs and particular
characteristics. In some way, both these dynamics weave themselves together to
make a complex identity fabric in Yucatan, which enables both to praise and to
lament difference. Right at the heart of the matter is power -who has it, who does
not, and therefore who controls the images that are to be projected within and
without the region. As Allahar explains: "Social identities often involve social
negotiation, and negotiation will always imply at least two opposing sides. [...)
The ability to label (give an identity to) another, and to make that label stick is
purely a matter of power." (2001, pp.197). Moreover, constructing social and/or
regional difference in an area such as YucatAn where an ethnic difference can be
claimed, also leads to the "manufacture of identities", as Allahar develops: "For in
today's smaller world, where multiethnic and multicultural encounters are
increasingly the norm, and where governments seek to extend social benefits to
various groups, immigrant and other, on the basis of racial, ethnic, cultural, sexual
and such bases, they literally invite the manufacture of identities on the parts of the
target populations." (2001, pp. 205)
The configuration of Yucatan as an island in the collective imaginary, as
well as in political, social, literary and colloquial discourses, can be traced to
historical origins and to some scientific "mistakes". Historians will outline three
distinctive areas that marked YucatAn as "a place apart" from pre-Hispanic times
through to the conquest and colonization: the indigenous Maya culture, which in
the northern part of the YucatAn peninsula was one homogeneous ethnic, cultural
and linguistic group; the origins of the Spanish colonizers, principally from the
northern regions of Spain (Galicia and the Pais Vasco); and thirdly the poor
economic situation of the peninsular, derived from thin soil, and scarce water,
making it unattractive for agricultural production and settlement, leading to the
political, social and economic marginalization of the peninsular until the henequen
boom at the latter end of the nineteenth century.3 These three factors contribute to
the isolation of the peninsular, and clearly mark the political and economic
marginalization that occurred during the colonial period, but, the "island
imaginary" that persists in YucatAn -the place apart -is best captured in the
cartographers' early and continued mistakes in representation, showing YucatAn
repeatedly as an island.4
Figure 1: Maps depicting Yucatan (1525,1527,1530,1532 as an Island
From the conquest (achieved after many long years of struggle, in 1542)
onwards, Yucatin has displayed a distinctive political organization, different to
other regions of Mexico, and that challenged the control of the Viceroy. In
YucatAn, the designation of the provincial governor was made directly by the king
of Spain, passing over the control and influence of the Viceroy of New Spain. This
practice generated tension and conflict between Mexico City and the Province of
Yucatan and led to the cultivation of rivalries between local elites, divided in two
groups: one, dedicated to commerce and export, based on the port of Campeche;
and the second centered on the city of Merida (in the interior), whose economy was
dependent on agriculture/animal production. In this context of conflict and
defiance, YucatAn began its life within independent Mexico:
"[...) las elites political yucatecas... forzaron a su gobiemo a tomar
una series de decisions propias de un pais independiente en el
orden econ6mico (en especial respect a la legislaci6n commercial y
tributaria) y tambien a actuar de manera independiente en el orden
politico. Asi YucatAn lleg6 al siglo XIX con una tradici6n de
separatismo respect al resto de Mexico, en especial en lo que se
refiere a la conduct de sus elites political". (Ramirez Carrillo, L.,
Historia regional de Yucatan. Perfil socioecon6mica, Limusa
Noriega Editores, Conalep, SEP, Mexico, 2000, pp 20)5
Such conflicts between dominant political groups are the key to
understanding the regional construction of identity, which as a political discourse
impacted the cultural and social life of the region, and culminated in the separation
of Yucatan from the Mexican republic between 1841 and 1846. The political
separatism of the elites and the cultural differences between Yucatecan Mayas and
mestizos are handled within a discourse that invents and justifies regional
independence. The continued opposition to the reincorporation of YucatAn to the
republic was one of the motives fuelling the new civil war that began in 1847 and
continued in different arenas throughout the region until 1901.6
The physical isolation of YucatAn continued until 1959 when the first
railroad to Merida was laid, and YucatAn was joined for the first time to the centre
of the republic. Until then, the avid traveler had to embark in the port of Progreso
(before the foundation of Progreso in 1871, in the port of Sisal, or Campeche) and
cross the Gulf of Mexico, disembarking in the port of Veracruz. From there,
travelers could continue to Mexico City (and beyond) by train. Narrative writings
of the first decades of the 20th century document this journey, stressing the
distance of Mexico (the idea of "a far off place") and also emphasizing Yucatecan
travelers' preferences for closer Caribbean destinations (Cuba-La Habana, and
USA -New Orleans) with which there were close cultural ties. The image of
YucatAn in this early writing, therefore, builds upon the images of the
island-Yucatan in the maps, linking the peninsular strongly with other nearby
island spaces, and capitalizing on the cultural and ethnic differences of YucatAn
with the rest of the Republic. Looking within the context of elite power struggles,
actions that were once of everyday convenience then become absorbed by the
discourses of the political elite, so that "innocent" journeys to the Caribbean
gradually signify "distancing" from the "rest of the Republic"; and habitual,
traditional cultural practices are gradually taken as stereotypes to represent or
signify Yucatan, a defensive attitude to impositions from without. These
stereotypes will be re-enforced in literary discourse, itself the product of the
intellectual elites in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Writers Writing YucatAn: Absence and Desire
Written in 1859 by Juan Diaz Covarrubias, the hilarious Mexican novel El
diablo en Mexico creates a closing scene with Miguel -the devil's advocate, and
responsible for several of the "devil's" practical jokes played on other characters
(but never on himself) during the novel- arriving in YucatAn (place not specified),
and settling down to practice medicine. At the end of the novel,
"Miguel, ese buen muchacho, se esta riendo al leer esto en
Yucatin, donde ahora ejerce su profesi6n [...) En cuanto al diablo,
parece que se ha radicado en M6xico" (Diaz Covarrubias, Juan, El
diablo en Mexico, Universidad Veracruzana, Xalapa, 1984, pp. 52
(1l Edici6n, 1858).
Here, Yucatin is a far off, distant place, trouble free and happy-go-lucky, the
impression of being somewhere safe, but off the beaten track. The lack of
specificity with regard to where in Yucatan Miguel might be, also adds to this
specific construction. It is particularly interesting, that this representation of
Yucatan occurs as early as 1859, but all the more so since this particular way of
constructing the region as a remote, far off place will recur in twentieth century
travel narrative by many writers of Yucatecan origin, but who have not spent much
more than their memories in the peninsula. From the nineteenth century, then,
Yucatan already seems to be "another country", even perhaps the island that will
be configured later on in the work of contemporary writers.
Throughout the twentieth century Yucatecan writers have constantly moved
back and forth between Yucatan and Mexico City: in the early part of the century
this movement would be due to employment taking them from the provinces to the
capital and beyond -Antonio Mediz Bolio, for example, who led a career as
diplomat, or Ermilo Abreu G6mez, who transferred to Mexico City in the 1920s,
and although never really settled again in M6rida his contacts with his birth place
remained strong, and are reflected in his three main novels -Canek, Naufragio de
indios, La conjura de Xinum. Both these writers are considered pillars of national
writing, fully accommodated within the canon, in a way that they probably would
not have been, had they remained in Yucatin.7 Within this context of movement
and migration three writers raised in Mexico City of Yucatecan
parents/grandparents are of interest here, largely because of their own fascination
with "being" or "belonging" to Yucatan. All three writers have extensive writing
careers nationally and internationally, they are successful in a way no provincial
writer based in YucatAn has been. However, all three consider their Yucatecan
heritage important, and it is this searching for belonging in the far off, strange land
of their ancestors that I wish to explore, in their narrative, characterized by a
tension between nostalgia and desire on the one hand, and strange exoticism on the
Juan Villoro (1956) has dedicated one piece of writing specifically to
YucatAn, a travel narrative that recreates a visit to the YucatAn, published in 1989.
It is a brief glance at the land of the author's grandmother, and a place which he
feels should have some significance for him, but which at the same time remains
distant. Here, early in the narrative, Villoro reveals the essential tension in his
writing: "Para nosotros YucatAn era la peculiarisima forma de hablar de la abuela.
Sabiamos que venia de un lugar remote, y que various de nuestros parientes habian
luchado contra M6xico" (Villoro, Juan, Palmeras de la brisa r6pida. Un viaje a
Yucatan, Alianza Editorial Mexicana, 1989, pp. 15). YucatAn is here a distant
reference, some strange place that had something to do, at some point with his
family and with Mexico's past history. For Villoro, YucatAn at first glance did not
even suggest an interesting theme for the writer -he was attracted by emotion and
desire, by the blood ties and perhaps, by obligation:
"Cuando Ren6 Solis y Sealtiel Alatriste me propusieron escribir un
libro de viajes no me cost trabajo encontrar un destiny emotional.
YucatAn, el mundo de mi abuela y el lugar donde naci6 mi madre
[...) me entusiasm6 tanto ir a ese "pais dentro del pais" que olvid6
pensar en los retos literarios del asunto",
but he did not really consider YucatAn a worthy topic:
"[...) Asi las cosas, un viaje a YucatAn parece demasiado piano.
Como que faltan trincheras, enfermedades, zonas en dispute, el
Ayatola iracundo, el terrible mosquito" (Villoro, 1989: 29)
So what tale of YucatAn will Villoro tell? What can he make of "plain"
Yucatan? What does he need Yucatan to become? Villoro's YucatAn, it seems, is a
place of excessive heat, cockroaches and annoying street sellers. His knowledge
seems to come not from his grandmother's oral tales, but from his own research
from earlier travel writers such as Stephens and Catherwood, or journalists, like
John Kenneth Turner, thus making clear again his lack of first hand (or even
second hand) knowledge. His "Yucatan", is at first reconstructed through other
written stories, not experience or personal narrative. His means of getting nearer to
M6rida are by using his own journalistic instinct -sitting in a street caf6, and
watching, describing. His vision, however, is always as an outsider: none of what
he sees seems to trigger memories or return him to any of that past world his
grandmother may have recalled for him during his childhood. Villoro is another
tourist in Yucatan, and as such, seems to misunderstand several references that he
notes, but is unable to relate one to another. For example, early in the narrative, he
observes what he labels as a strange mixture a local taxi driver referring to the
Lebanese store owners as "turcos" (turks"), marking his difference to them, but
also recognizing that the Lebanese stores were more local, and more Yucatecan,
than the "Mexican" alternatives, which would be seen in Merida as an invasion
from the center. Villoro's reaction is one of confusion, understanding the
recognition of difference (turco), but not the rejection of someone from Mexico
City. Villoro's discomfort is not surprising though, and responds again to the
Nation/region tension that characterizes the pendulum-like position of the
YucatAn. Racial mixture is common and acceptable in YucatAn -but not glossed
over as if all were the same. Whereas the mixture is part of everyday life,
difference is recognized, so Mexico (as in centralism) is considered foreign, and
is excluded. Thus, a "national" reference (ie. someone from somewhere else in
Mexico, outside the region, but within the nation) is considered an intruder;
whereas a "foreigner" (from outside the nation, and outside the region) is
accepted, due to the processes of transculturation, and the historical, everyday
living together that characterizes YucatAn's cultural diversity and that continues to
ignite the popular imaginary of "a place apart".
Further on in the narrative, Villoro seems able to perceive only his
difference to the YucatAn he visits, failing to note that the YucatAn he observes also
strives to register its own difference to the rest of the Republic. When Villoro later
looks at the murals in the government palace in Merida, he comments only that
they are well drawn, but he does not let himself be involved in the story the murals
tell, the History they tell, of YucatAn, the Maya, and a place far off and distant
from the history told in the history books in Mexico City. These murals, that
describe colonial oppression, slavery and exploitation of the Maya, are summed up
by Villoro in the following phrase:
"En los murales de un sal6n de recepciones, fray Diego de Landa,
con boca fruncida, no ha terminado de quemar los c6dices mayas.
Frente a 61, un campesino sostiene una paca de henequ6n tan
pesada como una lavadora automitica. Lo mejor del Palacio de
Gobiemo es que tiene balcones a la Plaza Grande" (Villoro, 56).
Clearly, throughout this brief travel narrative-as the title indicates, Villoro
castes a glance at YucatAn, writing for a non-Yucatecan public, and choosing to
recreate particular curiosities of the region -the particular speech of YucatAn (he
accompanies parts of the text with a glossary), the many differences, particularly
with regard to the physical stature of the Yucatecans, the Maya ruins, and one or
two cultural references to Yucatecan trova.8 Many of these references will be
expected by the reading public... he does not overturn many new stones, but really
recurs to the familiar images of YucatAn recreated for the "world outside". It is
important to remember the significance of the non-Yucatecan public that Villoro
clearly writes for, as it becomes clear that not only at a local level (within) is it
necessary to construct the image of "YucatAn the place apart", but it is also
important on the other side of the frontier, to maintain the distinctiveness of
YucatAn. If YucatAn is kept apart it can also continue to serve as that place of
escape or exile so useful to writers from the nineteenth century onwards.9
The writing of Juan Garcia Ponce (1932-2003) reveals a different YucatAn.
His is a different genre of writing, not a travel narrative, but short fiction -short
stories and novels, and early in his career, theatre. Of his huge narrative
production, the short story "La Plaza" (published in Encuentros, 1972) and the
short novel La casa de la playa (1966), recreate experiences of YucatAn. These
two works each explore different parts of Garcia Ponce's childhood memories: in
"La Plaza" the action develops in the city of M6rida; and in the novel La casa en la
playa, on the beach during the "Temporada" in the Port of Progreso. Read together
these two texts reveal a fascinating reworking of memory and nostalgia in his
narrative. The approach to Progreso in the Casa en la playa is distant and
reminiscent of the flippant sneer of Villoro. Garcia Ponce has no time for the slow
moving pace of the port, transformed in vacation periods into a seaside resort
crammed to the brim with people. Cars, belonging to "outsiders" find it hard to
manoeuvre, and the narrator in the novel is aware of not "fitting in". He is once
again an observer, not a participant, yet the topic of YucatAn, the need to write
about "the place of the past", with the authority of belonging -albeit distantly
In the short story, Garcia Ponce returns some six years later to the theme of
YucatAn, this time centering his narrative spatially on Merida. What he will
explore, however, is precisely this conflict between the need to remember, and
how to remember, so that the memory makes sense, not remaining solely as desire,
as if only able to fulfill the expected. The conflict of the writer who returns is, then,
how to stimulate an intimate connection with the past, to take it from that distant
time and return it to a place in present memory where it can always be accessed:
"Por primera vez en much tiempo, como no lo habia sentido en
compafiia de nadie ni ante ning(n acontecimiento, C sinti6 una
muda y permanent felicidad, y la plaza, a la que supo que
regresaria ahora definitivamente todas las tardes, se qued6 otra vez
en su interior, encerrando todo en un tiempo que estA mis alli del
tiempo y le devolvia a C durante un instance fugaz pero
imperecedero toda su sustancia." (Garcia Ponce, Juan, Cuentos
Completos, 1997, pp. 191)
In this short story, Garcia Ponce begins to make sense of his "exile", and
finds a way to relate to Yucatan, this place of his blood and birth. The ending of the
story, quoted here, communicates that relief at finding meaning -Yucatan no
longer needs to be the exotic place with foreign ways, a quaint manner of speaking
and unbearable heat. It is to this short story that a younger writer, Heman Lara
Zavala, will pay homage in his own return to Yucatan.'1
The writing of Heman Lara Zavala (1946) returns us to travel-writing mode.
Lara Zavala has written several collections of short stories, many centred on the
fictional place of Zitilchbn, a place located within the state of Campeche, close to
Lara Zavala's family home -it is a place invented, but clearly recognizable to
locals -in the same way that Behyual6 is an icon of many itinerant places in the
YucatAn, in the work of Joaquin Bestard Vazquez." Also two novels, both of
Yucatecan theme: Charras, 1990, based on the political assassination of union
leader Efrain Calder6n; and Peninsula, Peninsula, 2008, inspired in the Castes
War (1847-1901). However, one of the most personal, and successful pieces of
narrative is Lara Zavala's travel narrative -Viaje al corazdn de la peninsula
From the opening title this travel narrative promises a narrative perspective
that challenges the clearly drawn divisions of "within" or "without" so easily
detected in the writing of Garcia Ponce or Villoro. Instead of feeling obliged to
write of the land of his ancestors out of duty or family responsibility, Lara Zavala,
on the contrary, seems obliged -whether he likes it or not -by his blood heritage to
write of Yucatan and "rescatar sus raices"; it is an almost involuntary attraction:
"Pero qu6 duda cabe, por estas mis venas, qui6relo o no, corre
sangre yucateca o, si se prefiere, peninsular, es decir de la hermana
repiblica de YucatAn, como reza la ir6nica expresi6n. Por ambas
parties desciendo de una vieja estirpe en donde lo espafol y lo maya
se mezclan de tal modo caprichoso que mis origenes se pierden en
los laberintos del espacio y el tiempo, el azar y del amor." (Lara
Zavala, Viaje al coraz6n de la peninsula, 1998, pp. 11-12).
The first part of the narrative reinforces this focus on the family, the heart of
the matter, and the irrevocable and unpredictable pull of the blood ties, opening
with an intimate scene of a cousin drawing a map -not of Yucatan -but of a place
far more precise (and meaningful, in the context of the Lara family), of the Chen
region, within the state of Campeche in the west of the peninsular. The significant
drawing of the map -the country within the country (Villoro, quoted above), the
region within the region, or the island within the Republic12 this time brings us to
focus on Lara Zavala's particular search for his roots/routes, and his need to know
names of places, the naming that gives belonging:
"Observo el mapa y leo los nombres de los lugares que conozco
[...). No obstante, desconozco tantas otras poblaciones que decide
emprender un viaje que me permit conocer de primera mano la
tierra de mis mayores" (Lara Zavala, 1998, pp. 15).
Lara Zavala's story is a different one. Here he relates a History of Yucatin,
not the official history, but His story, the intimate tale of families that belong, the
families that make the places. All along the road he travels he can mark actions and
incidents according to what a cousin, a grandfather, an uncle or a great aunt might
have done or said. In a marked contrast to the anonymity of Villoro's travel
narrative, Lara Zavala's history is filled with names and faces, portraits and
cameos of his past, and the regions' too. The icons of this text are not quaint forms
of speech and peculiar food, but patron saints described with the familiarity of
belonging, letters written during the Castes War, cemeteries, local writers. He also
allows his travel writing to restore Yucatan's "local" writers to the national literary
space -as alongside the canonized writers such as Garcia Ponce (admired here for
"La Plaza"), he pays homage to Joaquin Bestard VAzquez,with a detailed review of
his work to date, but also makes the space to refer to both classical writers and
living writers who have influenced his own work. This gives this particular
narrative a distinctive tone -marking a specifically "writers' public"; he is clearly
not writing for an ill-informed reader, but rather "echando flores", -sending praise
-to the intimate YucatAn he (and his reader) revere, but with the aim of restoring
-through writing -the authenticity of the place and its people:
"Cuando he impartido talleres en el sureste y hablo con losjovenes
escritores tanto yucatecos como campechanos les recomiendo que
se olviden del Yucatan idilico y costumbrista y se pongan a trabajar
sobre el YucatAn actual, vivo, modern y cambiante. Les pido que
escriban sin hacer concesiones, sin miramientos. [...) S6lo asi
podrAn crear un mundo propio y ayudaran a sus lectores a entender
la realidad y la imaginaci6n del sureste" (Lara Zavala, 1998, pp.
Lara Zavala strives in his narrative discourse to find the YucatAn that
Mexico does not see. He searches for the hidden side, for the untold stories. He
writes and re-writes, as he walks and steps out over his Yucatan. But, perhaps as a
conqueror again, he still makes YucatAn a different place. It still needs to be a
different place: the writing of Lara Zavala maintains the vivid and dramatic double
knife edge of YucatAn -the place excluded, that does not belong, and the place that
proudly does not want to belong:
"Yes que asi es la peninsula de Yucatan: como una insula en la que
se han mezclado dos o mis razas, que ha tenido sus afios de gloria y
apogeo asi como guerras y hambrunas, que ha sido rebelde e
independiente lo mismo que abandonada y sometida. Es sin duda,
como afirmaba Jos6 Castillo Torre, "El pais que no se parece a
otro". Y MWrida, nuestra ciudad, la de mis padres, la de Rafael
Ramirez Heredia y la mia por elecci6n propia, por adopci6n, es
blanca, bella, noble y leal. En ella podemos encontrar desde lo mas
sublime hasta lo mas grotesco; result sin duda, una ciudad
inagotable" (Lara Zavala, p. 131).
Yucatan from within, boundaries undone.
I wish to remark on the work of a Yucatecan writer who is the reverse case of
the three writers discussed above, as his writing can shed some light on the reading
of their texts. Joaquin Bestard Vazquez (1935) was born in Yucatan, but brought
up in several cities around the republic, before choosing to settle as an adult in
Mexico City to pursue further education, employment and greater publishing
opportunities as young writer. He lived about 25 years in Mexico City, finally
returning to YucatAn in 1980 having won the national book prize for novel, in
1980, which he would later win again in 1989. By 1980 Bestard had published two
novels and a collection of short stories and his colleagues in the capital forecast a
swift end to his career if he returned to the provinces. This has not happened, and
Bestard is the foremost writer within YucatAn. It is true, that he has ceased to be a
name recognized nationally, but his work is known and studied outside Mexico
and writers such as Lara Zavala continue to support his work.
Whereas in the case of Garcia Ponce his search for peace is a personal quest
to understand the tension of living outside but needing to find meaning within his
past, Lara Zavala appears to need to reconcile his two blood lines, looking to build
up and construct in his narrative a YucatAn capable of reconciling his conflicting
lineages -Maya and Spanish. In both cases we are dealing with the power of
image, and the inescapable reality of "YucatAn the place apart" that has been
created not only as a significant regional image, but also as a national iconic
reference, so that the claim to belong to some degree or other to Yucatan is an
important and distinctive factor, enabling these writers to play on the ambiguities
of origin. Whether YucatAn is "really" any different to other Mexican provinces
becomes irrelevant within the representational discourse created, and the need to
maintain and constantly regenerate this image along different discursive levels.
In one of his earlier novels (1985) Bestard speaks to us of "El mestizaje que
no quieren ellos ni nosotros, que sale sobrando y que viene a complicar las cosas
de nuestra tierra" (Bestard, Joaquin, De la misma herida, 1985, pp. 49), and
continues this discussion in later novels -notably in Balada de la Merida antigua
(2000), where the striking image of the principal character at the start of the novel
graphically represents the theme of the novel, as he plays out, before the mirror, his
two conflicting bloodlines, using his hairline as a marker to divide his face a
Maya profile and a Spanish one:
Se lav6 y se tall6 con sosquil, aunque por moments olvida el
detalle sus movimientos por rutinarios, mientras su rostro vuelve a
capturar la bipolaridad escondida tan efectivamente. Esa triste
sonrisa capaz de impregnar a su boca un gesto distinto.
De pronto, queda indeciso sobre de qu6 lado hacerse la vereda: del
espafiol o el maya.
Se siente burlado. Pero su caricter terminal imponi6ndose. Esta
bien, un dia me la har6 a la derecha y el siguiente a la izquierda.
(Bestard, Joaquin, Balada de la Merida Antigua, 2000, pp.31).
Whereas with Heman Lara Zavala, his travel narrative at the end almost
becomes the conquerors apology to the conquered lands, always emphasizing the
double blood line, but also clearly making room for the white "outsiders" vision
and right to belong, Bestard sees no need to open up discursive spaces for the
"other" (Spanish) culture. In his texts, the alternative Maya voice constantly
acquires narrative control: in El cuello del Jaguar with the final victory of
Nanachici and the Mayan wives, abandoned by their men in the Castes War; for
X-Pet, in Balada de la Merida Antigua (2000), when she triumphantly plants her
Ceiba tree (her culture) in the patio of the old Colonial house in the centre of
Merida. The tree itself had been prepared for movement to its new urban home by
the h-men and when X-Pet plants the tree in the spacious garden, it very soon
extends its lengthy roots, and becomes a central focusing point:
X-Pet trajo la Ceiba de su pueblo. [...) La matita la acomod6 en una
canasta de chilibes y mimbre, tejidos muy apretados para que no
saliera la tierra. Dofia Sara le pregunt6 la causa de su apuro y los
tantos cuidados para con la plant.
Me la dio un h-men (curandero) explic6. La trasplantamos del patio
de su casa. Asi, X-Pet traslad6 el fragmento de su Beyhual6 para
adomar el solar meridano. [...) X-Pet eligi6 el fondo del patio para
sembrar su Ceiba. Esta creci6 y sus ramas sobrepasaron y se
extendieron por arriba de los muros de division de los solares
colindantes. Pero ningin vecino reclam6 nunca la caida de hojas o
basura en sus terrenos, tambi6n ocupados con frutales. (Bestard,
For Bestard however, reconciliation is not the answer, and in his work
(whether he is exploring spaces, as with Beyhaul6, or individual subjects -the
many overlapping family dynasties that appear in his novels and short stories13) he
will always strive to explore conflict and ambiguity, both becoming relevant
factors for understanding regional identity, an identity built upon difference, not
on harmonies. The answers will be found not in smoothing out the differences,
re-drawing maps, and putting places in clearly defined spaces, but to the contrary,
understanding the overlaps, where the boundaries diffuse and un-mark
themselves, where the island space thrives on the ambiguity of being "part of the
main" or just an island.
So there we are, all tangled up together, the old barriers breaking
down and the new ones not yet established, a time of transition,
always and inescapably turbulent. (C.L.R. James, Beyond a
Boundary, Yellow Jersey Press, London, 2005, pp. 334)
These overlapping spaces and identities are accentuated in places such as the
YucatAn, which, within Mexico has the special "island category", and seeks to
swing back and forth between two worlds. Diaspora constructions, from those
Yucatecans who have left, or left and returned, will naturally be along these
complex multiple lines, as Juan Flores explains, referring to the changes in
contemporary diaspora communities and second and third generations, who can
no longer totally separate place of origin and place of arrival:
"While diaspora has been seen as "a naming of the other", studying
any specific diaspora involves a naming of what is other than that
diaspora, what is non-diaspora in the sense of communities whose
realities are defined not only by the fact of displacement but by
long-term native residence in homeland or host society, or by
assimilation. [...) Further, modern diasporas and diasporic
identities are not singular and exclusive, nor limited to a group or
individual sense of social placement. Rather, individuals or groups
may pertain to several, often intertwining and sometimes even
contending diasporic formations at once, a phenomenon variously
referred to as "overlapping diasporas" or a "diaspora of a
diaspora". Such is the case for example, of "DomincanYorks",
Domincans living in New York City, who at once belong to
African, Caribbean, Dominican and, a bit more controversially, to
"Latino" diasporas". (Flores, Juan, The diaspora strikes back.
Caribeno tales of learning and turning, Routledge, New York,
Fluid boundaries and hybrid texts do not create harmonious unified and
conflict free spaces: on the contrary, they form the unstable and turbulent realities
and the knife-edge, inbetween spaces we inhabit. So, instead of falling into the trap
of continuing to polarize these images of YucatAn within the opposing categories
of "authentic, local" writers, versus "colonizing outsiders", we should look at the
intertwining visions, and the different representational needs created by each
author's perspective and circumstances. What never fails to surprise is the
constant fascination that this "far of place" retains in the Mexican imaginary.
1. There are Associations of Yucatecans organized in some cities outside the region,
most notably in Mexico City -Sociedad Cultural de YucatAn; and a website operated by
the State Government of YucatAn for Yucatecos en Mexico City, YUCAMEX
2. The divisions between the rival cities of M6rida and Campeche and the relating
issues of the brief separation of YucatAn from the Republic in the 1840s are the main
subject of the most recent of Hernan Lara Zavala's novels, Peninsula, Peninsula,
3. The poverty of Yucatan as late as the 18th century can be seen, for example in the
following statistics: in 1796 Yucatan had a deficit of almost 50% in its balance of
payments. (Ver, Ramirez Carrillo, L., 2000:17).
4. These maps are identified as "Evoluci6n de la peninsula de Yucatan en los mapas
de Diogo de Ribeiro 1529-1532" and are reproduced from Antochiw, Michel, Historia
Cartografica de la Peninsula de Yucatdn, Gobiemo del Estado de Campeche, Centro de
Investigaci6n y de Estudios avanzados del IPN, Grupos Tribasa, 1994, pp. 98.
5. [...) the Yucatecan political elites forced the government to make a series of
decisions on economic matters (particularly with respect to commercial and tributary
legislation), true to those of an independent country, and also to act in an independent
manner on political matters. Thus, YucatAn entered the 19th century with a tradition of
separatist government with regar to the rest of Mexico, and specifically with reference to
the behavior of YucatAn's political elites" (Ramirez Carrillo, L., 2000:20)
6. The conflicts between the elite groups fo Campeche and of Yucatecan finalized in
1848, with the formation of the State of Campeche, as separate from the State of
Yucatan. In 1883, Yucatecan territory was reduced still further with the loss of the Peten
in Guatemala, and Belize. Although the hard fought part of the dispute in the was in
Yucatan ended in 1850, the disturbances continued until 1901, when a further division of
Yucatecan territory was made, with the formation of the state of Quintana Roo, along the
Eastern, Caribbean coast, including all the "free" territories, that had previously fallen
outside Spanish jurisdiction.
7. Luis Rosado Vega, contemporary of Abreu G6mez and Mediz Bolio, for example,
does not figure in the extensive electronic dictionary archive; and more recently, Joaquin
Bestard Vazquez, who moved to Mexico Ciy in the 1950s and began publishing there in
1966, was forecast a swift end to his writing career when he announced to
contemporaries that he would be returning to MWrida in 1980. His career in YucatAn has
developed, but no longer on a national level. He is recognized in the dictionary of
writers, but his page has not been updated to include any of his work after 1992.
8. For more information on Yucatecan Trova, see: Vargas Cetina, Gabriela "Through
the Othering Gaze: Yucatecan Trova Music and "The Tourist" in Yucatan, Mexico" in
Baud, Michiel and Anne Lou Ypeij Cultural Tourism in Latin America. University of
Amsterdam Press. (in press).
9. For more information on Yucatecan Trova, see: Vargas Cetina, Gabriela "Through
the Othering Gaze: Yucatecan Trova Music and "The Tourist" in Yucatan, Mexico" in
Baud, Michiel and Anne Lou Ypeij Cultural Tourism in Latin America. University of
Amsterdam Press. (in press).
10. I refer again to the reference quoted above, at the close of El diablo en Mexico, J.
Diaz Covarrubias; and also at the start of the novel by Angeles Mastretta, Mal de
amores: "Diego Sauri naci6 en una pequefa isla que aim flota en el Caribe mexicano.
Una isla audaz y solitaria cuyo aire es un desafio de olores profundos y afortunados"
(1997, pp. 9). It is hard to relate the excessively busy, crammed packed tourist island of
Cozumel, famed for spectacular diving, with this idyllic "solitary" island depicted by the
author -YucatAn, again signifying "a far off place".
11.. See Viaje al Coraz6n de la peninsula, 1998, pp. 103.
12. Bestard VAzquez (1935) is the most prolific and successful of writers from
"within" the peninsular.
13. The maps drawn by cartographers in the sixteenth century show Yucatan as an
island, as explained above. Further on in the travel narrative, Lara Zavala evokes also
this image, when he refers to the Menonites living in an island within an island: "Los
menonitas viven en una isla dentro de esa otra que es la peninsula de YucatAn" (Lara
Zavala, 1998, pp. 62).
14. For example, the Bech family dynasty (the rich, powerful line, and the
impoverished family line) who appear and re-appear in the majority of his work; and the
Koyoc family, characterized in Ciento un aios, Koyoc, (UADY, 2004) and in the series
of "Cartas perdidas Koyoc", (publicados en el periodic Por Esto!, durante 2006-8)
Abreu G6mez, Ermilo, Canek, Ediciones Oasis, M6xico, 1978 (1st Edition, 1940)
Naufragio de indios, Editorial Botas, M6xico, 1951.
La conjura deXinum, SEP, Lecturas mexicanas, no. 87, M6xico, 1987 (1st
Allahar, A "The politics of ethnic identity construction". Identity. An international
journal of theory and research Vol. 1, nium 3. 2001., pp. 197-208.
Antochiw, Michel, Historia Cartografica de la Peninsula de Yucatrin, Gobiero del
Estado de Campeche, Centro de Investigaci6n y de Estudios avanzados del IPN, Grupos
Bestard VAsquez, Joaquin, De la misma herida, Maldonado Editores, M6rida, 1985.
El cuello deljaguar, Universidad Aut6noma de Yucatan, M6rida, 2000.
Balada de la Merida antigua, Colecci6n Capital Americana de la Cultura,
Ciento un apios Koyoc, Universidad Aut6noma de YucatAn, M6rida, 2004
Chavez Trava, Juan Esteban, Mandrdgora, Editorial Fabbro, M6rida, 2006.
Dash, Michael J. The other America. Caribbean literature in a New World context, New
World Studies, University Press of Virginia, 1998.
Daz Covarrubias, Juan, El diablo en M6xico, Universidad Veracruzana, Xalapa, 1984 (1
Flores, Juan The diaspora strikes back. Caribefo tales of learning and turning, Routledge,
New York, 2009.
Garcia Ponce, Juan, Cuentos completes, Seix Barral, Biblioteca breve, Mexico, 1997.
James, C.L.R, Beyond a Boundary, Yellow Jersey Press, London, 2005 (1st Edition
Lara Zavala, Hernin, Viaje al coraz6n de la peninsula, CONACULTA, M6xico, 1998.
Mastretta, Angeles, Mal de amores, Vintage Books, Random House, new York, 1997 (1st
Edition, Alfaguara, M6xico 1996).
Ramirez Carrillo, L., Historia regional de Yucatan. Perfil socioecon6mica, Limusa
Noriega Editores, Conalep, SEP, M6xico, 2000
Vargas Cetina, Gabriela "Through the Othering Gaze: Yucatecan Trova Music and "The
Tourist" in Yucatan, Mexico", in Baud, Michiel and Anne Lou Ypeij Cultural Tourism in
Latin America. University of Amsterdam Press (In press).
Villoro, Juan, Palmeras de la brisa rdpida, Alianza Editorial Mexico, M6xico, 1989.
http://www.literaturainba.com/diccionarios/diccionario more.php?id=500 0 2 150 Ml
http://vsinembargo.com/uebi/2008/05/16/juan-villoro-una-entrevista/ (La Naci6n)
Writing Bridges of Sound: Praise Song for the
Widow and Louisiana'
Whenever Caribbean artists have written they have, in some way or other,
written the Black Diaspora. It is an inescapable part of their historical/cultural
mindscape. Africa, The Americas, Europe are bound together by bands initiated
by Columbus with his three ships and extended and held firm by various historical
formulations (the British Empire for example). The Trans Atlantic Slave Trade is
the backdrop against which Caribbean and indeed all other writers of the Black
That the people of whom the Diaspora is composed share African ancestry
of one nation or another is part of the historical binding. There has always been a
triangle. The ship has been Europe, the cargo Africa, the location ad quem the
Americas. What is more interesting than the mere acknowledgement of this history
however, is the examination of the different ways in which writers invoke
considerations of Diaspora with its undeniable linkages.
It is possible to trace a triangle that is different from the one usually
acknowledged, perhaps a smaller one in which the ship is less tangible and the sea
less palpable. I am proposing a triangle of sound and I begin with Kamau
Brathwaite's much quoted lines in which wind instruments create a bridge
between Africa and the two Americas. It begins with the sound of the mmenson,
the elephant tusk orchestras of East Africa coming out from Nairobi, Kenya to
become trumpet and saxophone as it goes through the Caribbean and into the
Toot Toot takes it up
bridges of sound uncurl
through the pale rigging
of saxophone stops...
"Jah", Islands 1969:3
I want to comment on two novels in terms of the use of sound to make
diaspora connections. They are: Paule Marshall's Praise Song for the Widow and
Ema Brodber's Louisiana.
Praise song for the widow
Marshall tells the story of an Afro-American widow on a Caribbean cruise.
The stop- over on one of the islands becomes significant enough for the woman to
abandon her friends, interrupt the cruise and take her life in an entirely unexpected
direction. Her first discovery is that the man- in- the- street does not identify the
difference between her and the black women on the island. The Africa in both is
stronger than the cultural differences indicated by clothes and luggage. Eventually
she meets, and is seduced by the narrative of, an old man closing his lean-to shop
where she had hoped to buy a drink. The old man walks with a limp. He might be
Legba the Yoruba god frequently represented with this walk. Legba is god of the
gateway, god of the crossroads. This man might indeed be Legba in one of his
incarnations. He inveigles her to go with him to witness, perhaps take part in, a
significant ritual. She yields and crosses the turbulent sea to the celebration of the
ancestral presence, the Big Drum celebration in Carriacou, a small Caribbean
island where people remember and pander to the ancestors (the Old Parents)
asking pardon for whatever wrongs they might have done lest they visit evil upon
them. The invitation, there in the shop, includes the old man's passionate and
dramatic rendition of the Beg Pardon" in the French Creole of the island. The text
reads: "...suddenly he began singing in a quavering, high-pitched voice, his eyes
transfixed, 'Pa 'done mw "/Si mwe merite/Pini mwe (1989: 165)
The woman could not have foreseen what this meeting would mean, what
turn she would take at this cross-roads, what gateway would be opened for her.
The effect was immediate. She had felt this way before:
She felt the dizziness coming on again. The man's garrulousness,
the bizarre turn his talk had taken (what was this voodoo about
lighted candles, old parents, big drums and the rest?) and now his
shrill, unintelligible song..." (page 166)
These are the words on the page but the reader familiar with Caribbean
literature will read that an important change, a new beginning is near, might even
hear words quoted by Brathwaite ("Wake" and "Negus" In Islands pages 54 and
67)) who explains in a note that the words are an invocation to Legba and "mark an
important moment in vodoun worship" ( page ix)
Ouvri bayi pou' moi
(Open the door for me)
Much much later after many physical and psychological travails this woman
from the USA is able to join in the singing and dancing, the sounds and movements
of Africa as the different ancestral nations are recognized.
Marshall isolates the drum amid the variety of make-shift percussion
instruments and the drummer whose "great swollen thumb would knife across the
goatskin at an angle" producing the "single, dark, plangent note" that "sounded
like the distillation of a thousand sorrow songs..." Here she identifies themes
which unite the Afro-American woman with her Caribbean sisters and brothers
and both with Africa:
The theme of separation and loss the note embodied, the
unacknowledged longing it conveyed summed up feelings that
were beyond words, feelings and a host of subliminal
memories... After centuries of forgetfulness and even denial, they
refused to go away. The note was a lamentation that could hardly
have come from the rum keg of a drum. Its source had to be the
heart, the bruised still-bleeding innermost chamber of the
collective heart... (244-245)
Another sound was soon as clear as the sound of the drum. It was the sound
of struck iron
...clangourous, insistent, soaring...sending out a call loud enough
to be heard from one end of the archipelago to the other. Iron
calling for its namesake and creator
It is Ogun, Yoruba god of iron, creator god and divine craftsman; his sound
links the islands of the archipelago. Ogun's sound comes to the widow at a most
opportune time. It counteracts the dissenting voice of her dead husband; he who
had wanted to bum every drum in Harlem. Following Ogun's clear voice she goes
towards the crowd and starts to move with them doing the Carriacou tramp to the
music. That music merges with sounds from the past of her childhood, and she
hears sounds from the church across from where she stood with her grandmother
on the dark road in Tatem, USA wishing she could be allowed to cross the street
...and under cover of darkness she was performing the dance that
wasn't supposed to be dancing, in the imitation of the old folk
shuffling in a loose ring inside the church and she was singing
along with them under her breath...
Who's that ridin' the chariot
Well well well"
The Ring Shout. Standing there she used to long to give her great-aunt the
slip and join those across the road.
She had finally after all these decades made it across. The elderly
Shouters in the person of the out-islanders had reached out their
arms like one great arm and drawn her into their midst. (248-249)
Other childhood memories join those and she is back to herself as part of
black crowds waiting on 125h. Street to get on a boat for a holiday excursion. She
feels again the invisible but very real strings binding her to everyone there.
Marshall's prose here takes us with her into the superb transformation the
Big Drum celebration allows. The island voices become the voices of the Shouters
of the mainland. The sentence "She had finally after these decades made it across"
is for me the centre of the novel. The myriad meanings of "across" here is material
for a whole other paper. What is significant in terms of our thesis is that it is the
sounds that allow the connections to be made. It is the sounds that work their
magic and make it possible for the woman to shed the trappings of urban America
and seek (and find) in a Caribbean environment, the African self she has neglected.
Brodber's text traces movement in the other direction. In Louisiana a young
woman of Caribbean ancestry interacts with an older Afro-American woman and
her environment in the American South. The interaction is made complex by the
presence of the old woman's Caribbean friend who dies some time before the story
begins and has been buried in her "bitty old island". The old woman immediately
confuses the young anthropologist with her dead friend (returned). The
relationship is between the young woman and these two women for the telling of
whose story her project is a kind of conduit. The official project, an American
government enterprise, gave the young anthropologist, Ella Townsend, a great
field opportunity. She should interview the oldest surviving resident of the area,
Mrs. Sue-Ann Grant King, and report back. She was given a precious, state- of-
the- (then) art recording instrument. Her academic future seemed bright, her
success secure. Unfortunately the interviewee dies soon after the beginning of the
relationship but not before quite a bit of material has been recorded on the
tape-recorder which was set up and left where Mrs. King could speak into it. In
subsequent recordings voices fom the two women and from other dead actors
come in through Ella, the anthropologist, who becomes a "medium".
Ella Townsend the young anthropologist dropped out of sight without
submitting tape or manuscript. The novel explains what did happen and proves
that the project was successful if entirely unorthodox. There is a relationship not
only between the two older women but also between the two villages in which the
women grew up: Louisiana, St. Mary, Jamaica, where one of them is buried and St.
Mary, Louisiana, USA.where the other is buried soon after the research gets
underway. The text begins :
Anna do you remember? Can you still hear me singing it?
It is the voice I hear
the gentle voice I hear...
that calls me home...
The song is part of the description a narrator gives of her own funeral. The
reader learns immediately that this is a verse from a song used over and over in
Succeeding generations of us, on each of our occasions
have.., simply appointed their own tenor, their own alto, their own
timing to descant and fill out gaps built into the score by those who
wrote it..." (1994:9)
The song recurs as a kind of theme as the theatre of the novel unfolds.
The opening performance sets the stage for the reader to interact with
Suzie-Anna (Mammy King) and Louise-Anna her friend (called Lowly) who
enters the stage describing the funeral and with the anthropologist who tries to
make sense of what is happening between them and to her.(It also resonates with
the implied lines of a folksong made popular in a community song book of the
...I'm going to Louisianna
for to see my Suzyanna
all the day)
The selection of sound, the sound of the voice, something one HEARS is key
to this novel in which connections are made between this world and the other. The
funeral song is one theme song. Another is a question frequently appearing in the
text: A who say Sammy Dead?" Significantly it is spoken by Ella Townsend
before she collapses and is taken kicking and frothing from Mammy King's
funeral. It is a tacit response to the statement in the refrain of a Jamaican folksong
which Ella, given her history and her parents' ( new immigrant) attitudes, could
hardly have ever heard:
Sammy Dead Oh!!
When the lines turn up later in the voices of actual people they have the
effect of throwing Ella into what might have been regarded today as a catatonic fit.
One of the paradoxes the novel creates (and solves) is the fact of that sound coming
from/ through a person who could not have heard it before.
The vehicle that links the three main performers in this drama is a receiver
and giver of sound: an ever-present black box, an early version of the
tape-recorder which facilitates the recording of voices from Mamma King's pasts
both near and far. Her perception that the young interviewer is the friend of her
youth returned at last, is part of the drama of the interaction. She immediately
identifies the tape recorder, the black box, with another instrument of sound- the
Victrola of their youth. This instrument, with the sound coming out and no human
visible had surprised the less-exposed, Caribbean young woman (Louise-Anna)
and Mammy King (Sue-Anna), the comparatively urbane American had had to
explain what it was.
Subtle time shifts are part of the structure of the novel. All the recording
takes place before the present of the narrative which begins, as the prologue
explains, with the arrival of a tape in a package sent by mail years after the
anthropologist's death. The descriptions become quite surreal. The sound
connections are invaluable. The African connection, part of the cord binding these
people is personified in the character of Ella Townsend's partner. He too is an
anthropologist, but from Europe. They support each other's psychological and
emotional growth as the action unfolds. He is half black and has come to America
following the writings of Dubois, looking for his Congo and that culture in the
environment of the USA and through his partner and her project, comes to some
realization of what blackness means outside of the Europe he has known.
There is great dependence in this text on "singing" on "hearing" and on
"listening". The extra-terrestrial is palpable in the layers of embedded narrative.
Sound in the repetition of the question "a who say Sammy dead?" and of the song
with which the book begins, is the most important method of validating an unlikely
text. I will not try to explicate the several layers of meaning and the intensity of the
different units of interaction. Literary critics with more general interests will
continue to write about those features. My interest is in the ways in which song and
other sounds (including the punning which is so much a part of Caribbean life and
Caribbean creativity) become the cords/chords that bind two post-slavery
communities. The reader must suspend any hold on reality and listen to hear
sounds sometimes loud sometimes muted, all held within an ancient
The primary "conversation" is between Mammy King (Sue-Anna) and her
friend Louise-Anna (Lowly). They point to many and various societal similarities
as they discuss their histories.But locations outside the immediate environment of
these women are captured by the researcher and parallel correspondences of sound
give the reader a picture of almost unbelievable similarities between two societies
that might wish to consider themselves different.
Groups of Jamaican men stay from time to time in a Southern boarding
house where they share songs with the landlady Marie, called Madam. She is
linked to the narrative of the text by having been a trusted friend of Mammy King.
These are the men who sang "Sammy Dead O" affecting Ella so dramatically.
Both Madam and the men are shocked to note how many songs they share. Just
before the battle mother..." for example ends up being recorded as a duet in the
parlour of the boarding house, between the evolving leader of that group and the
American land lady who said that "...her folks told her that civil war soldiers
passing by could be heard singing that song like they knew they were marching to
their death". For Ben, the Jamaican man, it was a song his mother sang for his
father "when something great had just happened between them". It was a song they
dared not sing in the house after his mother's untimely death. (1994:85-86).
The Jamaican folksong beginning Solomon Grampa gone a Equador..." is
introduced with its Jamaican refrain : "Nobody's business but him own". The
American version comes in with an only slightly different refrain "aint nobody
business but my own".
Confusion of sound has its place here as well. Reuben, whose surname is
KOHL is hunted down by employer-type men because he is thought to be a
reappearing Mr. COLE who had tried to form a trade union, in the interest of
workers, ten years earlier. Good sense prevails after Reuben is quizzed extensively
(1994:71). Time and his present age suggest that he could not be the ill-favoured
Cole and he is no longer suspect. Note that in the North because of his skin tone,
his hair and his name, Reuben had been taken for a man of Jewish ancestry. In this
Southern area and in this context the sound of his name is what confuses.
Re-interpretation of sound using the Caribbean capacity for punning comes
in the forceful re-appraisal of the term "coon".There is the game Coon-Can which
Ella remembers she was never any good at. But more significant, and mentioned
in the notes of June 1950 transcribed by Reuben because Ella has fallen ill and is
too weak to write, is the song the voice on the tape records. It goes in part:
Coon coon coon
I wish my colour would fade
Coon coon coon
To be a different shade
It is a "Rag"song played on a Victrola in a room in a boarding house in
Chicago where the two Annas had interacted with Silas who was eventually to
Brodber cleverly reassigns the stress against the original sound-shape and
so emphasizes CAN, making it a verb and offering the empowering version "The
Coon CAN ". This sleight of sound is put into the mouth of Silas, Mammy King's
husband, a black nationalist if ever there was one. His analysis runs:
If you are afraid of what people call you, then they have power over
you. They call you 'coon', then call yourself 'coon'. You now have
power over the name. When next you hear that song, say to
yourself 'the coon can' (1994:145)
The Epilogue to this novel, written in the voice of Reuben, Ella's
anthropologist husband is entitled "Coon Can".
The song with which the novel begins sounds at the funeral of Mammy
King (Suzy-Anna). It is recounted from the earlier funeral of her friend
Louise-Anna (Lowly) and recurs faintly near the death bed of Ella who dies
satisfied that she has finished her work
It is the voice I hear
I hear them say
Come unto me...
We know from the Epilogue, that Ella is buried in St. Mary, Louisiana since
taking the body to Jamaica would involve too much red-tape.At the funeral both
"Sammy Dead" and "I hear the voice" are played in Jazz style.
Common chords out of common experiences are what Brodber uses to knit
whole histories together in a delightfully complex layered text. No better medium
than sound could have been chosen to execute these connections between diverse
times and spaces and between different spheres. The anthropologist Ella
Townsend's notes for June 1953 include the following comment:
I don't think... that the nature or extent of the influence of black
America on the Caribbean and vice versa has been explored as it
should... (page 154 )
It is not unreasonable to suggest that Marshall's text was informed by that
same sentiment. Louisiana is Brodber's beginning answer. In both novels
SOUND is the medium which facilitates the two way flow. It allows the truth of
the connections to seem to be incontrovertible. If we LISTEN we will HEAR.
1. Sections of this paper were included in the essay The Americas in Anglophone
Caribbean Women Writers: Bridges of Sound" In Black Renaissance Vol.6 No.3/Vol.7
2. For a detailed reading of these lines in terms of both music and politics see Rohlehr
Brathwaite, Edward (Kamau) 1969, Islands, Oxford University Press, London
Brodber, Era 1994, Louisiana, New Beacon Books, London
Marshall, Paule 1983,1989 reprint Praise Songfor the Widow, Virago Press, London
Rohlehr, Gordon 1980 "Bridges of Sound: An Approach to Edward Brathwaite's 'Jah'"
Caribbean Quarterly Vol. 26, 1 and 2
A Limited Caribbeanness?
The Continental Caribbean as Visions of Hell
in Alejo Carpentier's El siglo de las luces and
Maryse CondO's La vie scildrate'
Alejo Carpentier and Maryse Cond6 are widely held as proponents of
pan-Caribbeanism, a concept which El siglo de las luces and La vie scelerate were
instrumental in foregrounding. These novels reflect the individual as well as
collective wandering of the Caribbean people through the exploration of the
continuous exchanges within the archipelago: between Cuba, Guadeloupe, and
French Guyana in the time of the French Revolution for Carpentier's work, and
between Guadeloupe and Panama during the construction of the Canal in Cond6.
These authors' encompassing vision of the region beyond its linguistic
fragmentation is evidenced in the sort of chiasmus observed in the fiction under
discussion: the Cuban text devotes large segments to French insular and mainland
territories, while sections of the Guadeloupean novel take place in a Hispanic
continental country and in Jamaica. Carpentier illustrates how a pan-Caribbean
consciousness inadvertently emerged of the French revolutionaries' attempts to
spread ideals and measures such as the emancipation of the slaves across European
colonial empires, and in particular to the Americas. Similarly, the construction of
the Panama Canal brought together people from various parts of the world and
especially from all over the Antilles, resulting in the Caribbeanisation and further
creolisation of Panama. In both works, intra- and interregional migrations are seen
as fundamental in the shaping of the Caribbean, binding the various islands on the
cultural, social, economic and political levels. Furthermore, historically Panama
and the Guyanas have been lands of opportunities for Antilleans.
The negative depiction by these authors, of the continental Caribbean as an
earthly version of Hell in the texts is therefore all the more striking, and it possibly
points to a limit to the two novelists' all-encompassing inclusiveness that seems to
undermine the idea of a pan-Caribbean unity. As will be shown, this image of the
mainland is in fact not exceptional, nor is it unique to the authors under discussion;
rather, it is representative of a wider Caribbean (or more accurately, Antillean)
imaginary. Unlike nineteenth-century thinkers and activists such as Ram6n
Emeterio Betances, Eugenio Maria de Hostos, Miximo G6mez, Antonio Maceo,
and Jose Marti, who envisaged a Caribbean unity and often originated from the
Greater Antilles, twentieth-century Pan-Caribbeanism is most entrenched in
small, non-independent islands whose political and economic autonomy would
rely on regional unification. Thus today many of its advocates are Puerto Ricans.
A Confederation would likewise increase French Caribbean autonomy, as argued
by Frantz Fanon, Edouard Glissant, and Cond6. In the face of growing US
expansionism, the Cuban intellectuals aware of the cultural continuity of the
region also found the idea of a unified Caribbean appealing, notably Nicolis
Guill6n and Alejo Carpentier between the 1930s and 1960s, and later Roberto
Fernindez Retamar, Antonio Benitez Rojo, and Nancy Morej6n, among others, as
well as the Haitian Ren6 Depestre, exiled in the country between 1959 and 1979.
Such are the socio-economic, historical and cultural correspondences that they
prompted the Barbadian poet and historian Edward Kamau Brathwaite to claim
that 'the unity is submarine'. For Glissant, Brathwaite's words recall the African
slaves who died at sea during the Middle Passage, forming submarine roots ('les
racines de la Relation') that unite Caribbean people while maintaining their
diversity (Glissant 1981: 134). Benitez Rojo likewise views the Caribbean as the
repetition of the same island, each time with a difference in La isla que se repite.4
A fundamental element of pan-Caribbean theory is the creolisation process,
in which the role of the sea is considered essential. And if indeed 'the unity is
submarine', then it may follow that the mainland, even in the case of coastal
territories such as French Guyana and Panama, remains somehow foreign to
Antillean thinkers. This may be the conclusion to be drawn from Carpentier's and
Cond6's representations of the continent, which, despite these authors' full
commitment to pan-Caribbean thought, indicate geographical and conceptual
limitations. Both authors' insular origins, it will be argued, shape their vision of
the continent, and in this sense their pan-Caribbeanism somewhat suffers from
insularity. To them, however, insularity does not entail isolation, or insularism;
quite on the contrary, their vision of the region is informed by an 'archipelagic
consciousness', as they conceive the water surrounding the Antilles as a bridge to
El siglo de las luces (1962) opens with a little flattering description of
Havana, which emerges as a sleepy, narrow-minded town that stifles the
protagonists Carlos, Sofia, and their cousin Esteban. Its climate is oppressive, be it
the implacable sun, the rains with the ensuing mud, or the hurricanes. Its streets in
the commercial sector are plagued by flies and a pervasive stench of dried beef and
rotting onions. Both the physical and intellectual climates are suffocating to the
young protagonists, eager for the Enlightenment, great deeds, and adventures:
'vivir en aquella urbe ultramarina, insula dentro de una insula, con
barreras de oc6ano cerradas sobre toda aventura possible; seria
como verse amortajado de antemano' (91)
(to live in this overseas city, island within an island, with ocean
fences closed on any chance of an adventure; it would be like
seeing oneself buried alive. )
The insularity of Cuba thus becomes a hindrance to reaching wider horizons,
whether literally or figuratively:
'la sensaci6n de encierro que produce vivir en una isla; estar en una
tierra sin caminos hacia otras tierras a donde se pudiera llegar
rodando, cabalgando, caminando, pasando fronteras...' (91)
(the sensation of imprisonment brought about by living on an
island; to be on a land without roads towards other lands which one
could reach by carriage, by horse, by foot, across borders)
The three cousins also resent the scarce intellectual life of their island city:
'una urbe indiferente y sin alma, ajena a todo lo que fuese arte o
poesia, entregada al negocio y a la fealdad' (100)
(an indifferent and soulless city, alien to anything to do with art or
poetry, entirely devoted to business and ugliness)
In a way consistent both with etymology and the thinking of an Antonio S.
Pedreira in the 1930s, insularity is therefore initially understood negatively in El
siglo de las luces.
Only from France does Esteban begin to imagine his native city differently,
through the distorting prism of nostalgia and idealisation (168). Yet it is against
Guadeloupe that Esteban will compare his next destination, French Guyana, where
he is sent during Revolutionary Terror. Long before any of the protagonists first
sets foot there, Cayenne is periodically mentioned in the text in connection with
the penal colony where criminals and later on discredited revolutionaries rot and
await their deaths (186, 191, 279). On arrival, Esteban encounters an ominous
sign: a withered Tree of Liberty (283). From the start his impressions of Cayenne
are entirely negative:
[E)n todo se echaba de menos el bullicio, el tomasol de faldas, las
modas nuevas, que tanto alegraban las calls de la Pointe-a-Pitre.
[...) Todo era mediocre y uniform. Donde parecia que hubiera
existido un Jardin Botanico, s6lo se veia ahora un matorral
hediondo, basurero y letrina piTblica, revuelto por perros samosos.
Mirando hacia el Continente se advertia la proximidad de una
vegetaci6n densa, hostile, much mas infranqueable que los muros
de una prisi6n [...) Cuanto fuera amable en el Tr6pico de la
Guadalupe, se tornaba agresivo, impenetrable, enrevesado y duro,
con esos drboles acrecidos en estatura que se devoraban unos a
otros, press por sus lianas, roidos por sus parasitos. Para quien
venia de lugares tan lindamente llamados Le Lamentin, Le Moule,
Pigeon, los mismos nombres del Maroni, del Oyapoc, del
Appronague, cobraban una sonoridad desagradable, mordedora,
anuncio de pantanos, crecientes brutales, proliferaciones
([T)he bustle, the shiny whirling skirts, the new fashions that
lightened the streets in Pointe-a-Pitre were missing everywhere.
[...) Everything was mediocre and uniform. Where there seemed to
have been a Botanical Garden, now only stood a stinky thicket, at
once a garbage dump and a public latrine, dug over by mangy dogs.
Looking towards the Continent one could see the proximity of
dense, hostile vegetation, far more impassable than prison walls
[...). All that was pleasant in the Tropic of Guadeloupe turned
aggressive, impenetrable, thick and hard, with these huge trees that
devoured one another, imprisoned in their lianas, eaten away by
their parasites. For whom came from places with such charming
names as Le Lamentin, Le Moule, Pigeon, the very names Maroni,
Oyapoc, Appronague took on an unpleasant, scathing sonority,
announcing swamps, sudden floods, implacable proliferations...)
Clearly in this passage, it is the Amerindian presence that is menacing, as the
mere sound of the indigenous names Maroni, Oyapoc, and Appronague makes
Esteban uneasy. It may well be, then, that Esteban's unfavourable perception of
the rainforest derives not simply from its potentially deadly fauna and invading
flora, but also, and perhaps chiefly so, from the fact that it is the Amerindians'
domain. Esteban's marked preference for French sonorities (Le Lamentin, Le
Moule, and Pigeon) implies a longing for a domestication of the landscape through
colonisation. Presumably, the Guadeloupean landscape resembled that of the
continental Caribbean prior to the arrival of the Europeans. So the attractiveness of
the Antilles lies in their tamed, more thoroughly colonised nature; its wilderness,
on the other hand, is what makes the mainland threatening. Arguably, the limited
extent of its creolisation would partly account for the negative connotations the
continent acquires in the text.
Indeed, Carpentier's vision of the continent is greatly different in Los pasos
perdidos (1953), where the Amazonian forest holds regenerative powers,
becoming at once the catalyst for the protagonist's realisation of the alienation and
dehumanisation brought about by modern urban life, and the mediator and setting
of his cultural and spiritual quest for an authentic self (Webb 1992: 61-81). The
continental landscape, more specifically the rainforest, figures as virgin and
unaltered.6 It is, then, the exact opposite of the creole insular landscape, which has
been adulterated as well as curbed through the colonisation process. The end of the
novel does point to the impossibility of a return to pure origins, since ultimately,
the protagonist of Los pasos perdidos must return to the modern world, thereby
implying the irreversible and inescapable nature of a creolisation process that did
not spare the American continent. Just as for Esteban, whose sea voyage must
come to an end, there is no escape from history. Yet this divergence of views of the
continental landscape in these two works is all the more interesting when
considering that El siglo de las luces can be read as a panegyric of Caribbeanness,
whereas Los pasos perdidos has an explicit pan-Latin American focus. Clearly,
then, to Carpentier the continent did not undergo creolisation on the same scale as
the Antilles. In keeping with Creolisation theory, the passage from El siglo de las
luces quoted above implies that the pure original (in this case Amerindian, rather
than African or European), only acquires a positive value once tempered by the
influence of other cultural elements, that is to say, once creolised.7
Thus El siglo de las luces establishes a binary opposition between the
reassuring Antilles and a hostile, continental Caribbean. Interestingly, whereas at
the outset of the novel insularity meant confinement and the vastness of the
continent evoked freedom, at this point the symbolism is inverted: the mainland
mass, with its dense vegetation, figures as a prison, while the island of
Guadeloupe, surrounded by the Caribbean Sea, represents an escape. As will be
shown, the same reversal of symbolism occurs in Cond6's novel, which
progressively revises Albert's, Jacob's, and Thecla's initial equation of
Guadeloupe with imprisonment and Panama or the US with freedom. In
Carpentier Guyana is depicted as a place dominated by decay, putrefaction,
disease, and death, especially in relation to the terrible, insalubrious labour camp,
designated by the detainees as 'la guillotina seca' (285: the dry guillotine). Not
surprisingly, then, for the first time in the course of his Transatlantic Odyssey,
Esteban is constantly invaded by an inexplicable fear and a feeling of oppression:
'la impresi6n de que todo lo oprimia: las paredes estaban ahi para
cercarlo; el techo bajo, para enrarecer el aire que respiraba; la casa
era un calabozo; la isla una circel; el mar y la selva, murallas de una
espesura inmedible' (291)
(the impression that everything oppressed him: the walls were
there to fence him in; the low ceiling, to rarefy the air he was
breathing; the house was a cell; the island a prison; the sea and the
forest, an incredibly thick fortification.)
So the entire country has turned into the Devil Island penal colony, whose
shadow looms throughout the chapters depicting Esteban's and later Sofia's stays
in French Guyana.8
Unlike Esteban, Sofia, about to join Victor Hughes in Cayenne, initially
pictures it as a land of opportunities and great accomplishments:
'Alli [habia grandes empresas), alli el alba, luces de inmensidad,
fuera de pregones y esquilas. Aqui [in Havana), la parroquia, el
cepo, los tediosos transitos del vivir en lo de siempre; all, un
mundo 6pico, habitado por titanes' (358)
( Over there, [there were great deeds), over there, the daybreak, the
lights of immensity, away from proclamations and bells. Here, the
parish, the alms box, the tedious, daily tasks of living as always;
over there, an epic world, inhabited by titans).
In this dichotomous representation between here and there, it is precisely the
openness, the vastness of the territory so repulsive to Esteban that attracts Sofia,
confined to a life of domesticity in Havana. Consequently, on her arrival Cayenne
seems 'sumptuous, fascinating, extraordinary' (374). She is, however, soon to face
disenchantment, when the infamous restoration of slavery occurs.
While Victor Hughes brought the 1792 Declaration of the Abolition of
slavery to Guadeloupe, it is to French Guyana that he brings the Decree reinstating
slavery, displaying a relentless dedication to its implementation, notably by
hunting down those who flee the newly restored bondage. Consequently, whereas
the arrival of the French Revolution to the Americas was set in Guadeloupe, its
poignant failure is staged in Guyana, symbolically foreshadowed by the withered
up Tree of Liberty Esteban notices on his arrival. In short, 'Cayena, una vez mAs,
cumplia su destiny de tierra abominable' (388: Once more, Cayenne fulfilled its
destiny as an abominable land). This episode of Sofia's life closes on an epidemic
plaguing the French soldiers brought in to capture the fugitives, thereby once
again connecting the country to death and decay. When Sofia announces her
departure to Victor, she explains that in Guyana the revolutionaries 'bear the
marks of death on their faces' ('[Llevan) ustedes las huellas de la muerte en la
cara'), and that she wants to go back to the living, 'those who believe in
something' (401). The Continental Caribbean therefore seems doomed to a bleak
In her 2006 novel Rue Lallouette prolonged, Sylviane Vayaboury uncovers
the antagonism between the French Antilles and Guyana, and the persisting
cliches on Guyana in the twenty-first-century Antillean (and French) imaginary,
where Guyana still emerges as a 'green hell' ('l'Enfer vert', 77) full of wild,
harmful animals (139), but also as an El Dorado: 'La Guyane semblait ici couchee
sur cette bipolarit6' (76: French Guyana seemed stuck between these two polar
opposites). The author further comments on the legacy of the penal colony in the
perception of Guyana:
'toute la souffrance, toute la detresse humaine et I'ambiance
malsaine que pouvait induire ce lourd universe p6nitentiaire' (20)
( all the suffering, the human misery and the unhealthy atmosphere
brought about by this oppressive penitentiary.)
This permanent association of French Guyana with the penal colony and
therefore a lack of freedom is all the more surprising considering that, apart from
Haiti, Guyana stands alone among the former French American colonies as a land
where African slaves were somewhat successful at establishing maroon camps: I
am referring to the Samaraka and Bush Negro communities along the Maroni
river. I shall return to this point later.
Maryse Condt's La vie scdldrate (1987) paints a very similar picture of the
continent. Focusing on one family, the novel is truly pan-Caribbean in scope. In
March 1904 Albert Louis enrols to work on the Panama Canal, as an alternative to
the hardship and meagre salary he earns on a Guadeloupean plantation. His
decision triggers a deadly cycle of emigration and exile in the family: both his son
Bert and grandson B6bert commit suicide in France. As for his granddaughter
Th6cla, she is an eternal wanderer, moving between Guadeloupe, Paris, the United
States, Haiti, and Jamaica. The multiculturalism of Albert, Th6cla and to a lesser
extent Albert's son Jacob, however, remains an exception in the family. The other
characters are static, rooted in their native land: Albert's youngest son Jean and
Jean's spiritual son Gesner, for instance, seldom go beyond the neighboring
town. Crucially, most of the Louis are proud of being pure 'negres', and in the
family miscegenation is met with disapproval, if not ostracism. This phobia of
cultural and ethnic metissage largely accounts for the narrow-mindedness of many
of the Louis, whose mental isolationism may be interpreted as a logical
consequence of the geographical insularity of their birthplace. So Cond6's
pan-Caribbean vision reflects a need for individuals to get out. As in Carpentier,
some of the family members initially feel oppressed in their island. Yet arguably,
the insularity that urges Cond&'s characters to get away is also what connects them
with the rest of the region (and beyond): Panama and California for Albert, New
York City for Jacob, or the Caribbean archipelago in Th6cla's case.
Albert sees his hope of escaping exploitation and racial discrimination
frustrated, as the dreadful working and living conditions in the Panama Canal area
intensify the abuse endured in Guadeloupe. Here miserable wages, unsuitable
food, and insalubrious lodging coupled with inadequate safety on the building site
account for a soaring death toll:
'des homes de toutes les races ont afflu6 pour creuser le canal de
Panama [...). Des homes de toutes races et de toutes couleurs.
[...) Ils sont morts par dizaines de milliers' (18)
( men of all races came to dig the Panama canal [...) Men of all
races and colours. [...) They died in tens of thousands).
The novel further reveals a segregated, US administered Canal Zone, where
the mostly non-white foreign workers' treatment is in stark contrast with that of
the overwhelmingly white US overseers, who enjoy an attractive pay in 'gold bars
from Wall Street' as well as exclusive access to comfortable, modern bungalows
in sanitary neighborhoods expressly designated as 'Whites only' (20).
Furthermore, the 1911 Main Bleue massacre that specifically targets Antillean
workers of the canal zone (48), parallels Victor Hughes's man hunts in French
Guyana. The tropical climate propitious to epidemics and the overspreading,
obstructive vegetation contribute to the high mortality rate, making nature doubly
treacherous, as the gigantic, centenary trees along the canal route motivate the use
of lethal explosives:
A Panama, six mois de l'ann6e 6taient envelopp6s des vapeurs
d'une pluie incessante tandis que six autres 6taient inond6s
d'averses. Dans cette atmosphere de serre ne croissaient pas
seulement la mangrove, le mortel mancenillier ou le mahogany,
mais les insects porteurs de mauvaises fiRvres, de dysenterie et de
pestilence. Panama est un tombeau au sein duquel des dizaines de
milliers d'hommes se sont couches pour ne plus se reliever (19).
(In Panama, six months of the year were wrapped in constant
humidity while the other six were soaked with rains. In this green
house atmosphere grew not only the mangrove, the deadly
mancheoneel tree or the mahogany, but insects carrying lethal
fevers, dysentery and illness. Panama is a grave in which tens of
thousands of men lay down never to rise again.)
So Panama is evoked as 'a vast cemetery under the sun and the rain, the sun
and the moon' (31), and its cities Col6n, Chagres, Gatun as 'places of misery and
downfall' (45). Col6n 'lies in mud, it is despicable and unhealthy' (19), and Gatun
is but 'mud, mud and suffering, mud and disease' (34). Albert sums up the
Caribbean workers' existence with the following words:
'les moustiques nous pompent le sang, [...) les vers et les chenilles
nous rongent jusqu'A I'os, [...) le soleil et la pluie nous mettent a
blanchir comme un linge' (36)
(mosquitoes suck up our blood, worms and caterpillars eat us to the
bone, the sun and rain wear us out like a piece of clothing)
Panama is also, of course, where Albert marries the Jamaican girl Liza and
reaches the height of happiness, cut all too short when Liza dies in childbirth.
Albert later remarks:
'je suis venu ici pour faire pousser de I'or et je n'ai trouv6 que la
(I came to grow gold and all I've found is the mangrove.)
By contrast, San Francisco emerges as the Promised Land, the El Dorado
that haunts Albert and his father-in-law Seewall.
Yet unlike Carpentier, who in an episode reminiscent of Voltaire's Candide
depicts Esteban's horror on discovering the sanitised mutilation of Surinamese
runaway slaves upon their capture, Cond6 deals with such misery with sarcasm
and even cynicism. For instance, her protagonist and his friend Jacob take
advantage of their fellow immigrants' misfortunes by starting up a funeral home in
Col6n, rejoicing when an epidemic makes their business highly lucrative. But
Albert's unscrupulousness fully unfolds in San Francisco, when he partners with a
Chinese on a shameless laundry business offering their workforce near-slavery
conditions. Albert flees the city following the racist murder of his friend Jacob
committed in total impunity. Back in Guadeloupe, he opens an import-export
company and rents apartments to Haitian immigrants under outrageous terms; he
is emulated decades later by his son Jacob, who takes over the family business.
Significantly, Albert is subjected to the most brutal and dehumanising form of
exploitation in Panama, and it is there and subsequently in the U.S. that he shifts
from enduring exploitation to becoming one of the exploiters. Of course Albert's
son Jacob develops his own flair for unscrupulous profit in Guadeloupe.
Nevertheless, there remains a strong sense that his experience on the continent
largely transformed Albert's character, as if the landscape itself were chiefly
responsible for producing ruthlessness and greed.
The only somewhat positive image of Panama that emerges from the text
relates to Panama City, described as 'proud and thoroughbred, although
downtrodden', a city 'several centuries old, built to protect the treasures of the
Spanish from the rapacity of the buccaneers' which is still 'reminiscent of its past
splendour' (19). Its population is made up of 'white creoles and affluent mulattoes
who live within the fortification walls', while the 'coloured people' are crammed
beyond the fortress in the neighbourhood of El Varal (20). The ethnic composition
of Panama City, together with its Spanish architecture and fortress both point to its
creolisation. So here again, as in Carpentier, creolisation is attached as a positive
value that redeems, at least in part, an otherwise undesirably wild territory.
After his return Albert's longing for San Francisco soon fades, the earthly
hell experienced on the mainland casting a more positive light on the native island
initially despised for its pettiness and limited opportunities. Under the spell of
nostalgia, the subsequent generations of the Louis family Jean, Gesner, and
above all those born in France begin to regard or picture Guadeloupe as a
paradise, a refuge whose archipelagic dimension is lost on them. We find, then, the
same binary opposition between insular and continental Caribbean in La vie
scelkrate as in El siglo de las luces. This idealisation of the island, however, is
more consciously revealed to be a sham in Cond6's text, which instead repeatedly
implies that beyond the difference in intensity, exploitation and misfortune largely
unite the Antilles and the circum-Caribbean, especially for those of African
descent. Thus shortly after arriving in Panama, 'Albert ne tarda pas a s'apercevoir
qu'il n'avait fait que changer la couleur de ses habits de mis6re' (20: Albert soon
realized that he had only changed the colour of his cloak of misery), a statement
reiterated decades later when Th6cla's lover Manuel laments that whether in the
US, Haiti, or Jamaica, black people's life is the same 'bitter potion' (233).
Guyana and Panama figure in both novels as lands where the pan-Caribbean
dream turns into a nightmare, culminating in the restoration of slavery in
Carpentier, and in the Main Bleue massacre in Cond6. There are only fleeting
allusions to the hardships Albert endures in the Guadeloupean canefields, whereas
Cond6's novel offers graphic descriptions of the sufferings undergone by the
Panama Canal workers. As for Carpentier, he chose not to set the downfall of the
French Revolution in Guadeloupe as he did with its rise. One explanation is that of
course, as history has it, Victor Hughes implemented the decree of emancipation
as the governor of Guadeloupe, and reinstated slavery while in charge of French
Guyana. Nevertheless, as a result, the novel effectively associates the failure of the
French Revolution with the setting of Guyana. The statement quoted above, 'Once
more, Cayenne fulfilled its destiny as an abominable land', actually reveals a
certain bias towards the Caribbean mainland indeed, while Caracas is an
exception (possibly because of the author's prolonged residence in Venezuela, or
because of the length of its Caribbean coastline), Surinam emerges in the novel as
even more hellish than French Guyana.
On the other hand, an alternative vision of the island that defies etymology is
put forth in both novels: the surrounding waters of the Antilles do not foster
isolation, but enable them to connect with each other. As critic Chris Bongie
argues in Islands and Exiles, 'the island can [and has been) viewed in either a
negative or positive light' by Caribbean writers: either as 'the site of a debilitating
or dangerous isolation' (18), as in the case of V.S. Naipaul, or as 'a site that has,
from its very beginnings, borne witness to a relational way of life' (23), as
Creolization proponents such as Benitez Rojo, Brathwaite, Carpentier, Cond6,
Glissant, Maximin, and Walcott view it. In his 2006 essay Les fruits du cyclone,
the Guadeloupean writer Daniel Maximin stresses the significance of the
archipelagic nature of the Caribbean in enabling each island to overcome isolation:
additionn des solitudes insulaires fait obstacle aux enfermements.
Fondamentalement, la conscience carib6enne est celle d'une
insularity ouverte' (89)
(the addition of insular solitudes precludes enclosure.
Fundamentally, Caribbean consciousness is that of an open
In the words of Martiniquan thinker and writer tdouard Glissant, via the sea
the Caribbean enters in Relation with the rest of the world. Glissant took up Alejo
Carpentier's notion that the Caribbean Sea is the Mediterranean of the New World.
Yet as critic Jacques Joset shows, Carpentier's theory betrays a Eurocentric bias.
Glissant overcomes this limitation by stressing the differences beyond the
similarities between the two marine systems. In his opinion, the Mediterranean of
Antiquity concentrates, it is an enclosure, whereas the Caribbean Sea diffracts and
opens onto the world. The Mediterranean separates, while the Caribbean Sea
unites. The Caribbean, Glissant argues in Powtique de la Relation, most aptly
illustrates the principle of Relation:
Cette region a toujours 6t6 un endroit de rencontre, de connivence,
en meme temps que de passage vers le continent am6ricain. Je la
d6finirais, par comparison avec la M6diterranBe, qui est une mer
int6rieure, entour6e de terres, une mer qui concentre (qui, dans
l'Antiquit6 [...), a impose la pens6e de l'Un) comme au contraire
une mer qui 6clate les terres 6parpill6es en arc. Une mer qui
diffracte. La r6alit6 archip6lique, dans la Caraibe ou dans le
Pacifique, illustre naturellement la pens6e de la Relation [...). Ce
qui s'est pass dans la Caraibe, [...) nous pourrions [le) r6sumer
dans le mot de cr6olisation [...). Non seulement une rencontre, un
choc [...), un m6tissage, mais une dimension in6dite qui permet a
chacun d'etre l et ailleurs, enracin6 et ouvert, perdu dans la
montagne et libre sous la mer, en accord et en errance' (Glissant
(This region has always been a place of encounter, of connivance
as well as passage to the American continent. I would define it,
unlike the Mediterranean, which is an interior sea, surrounded by
lands, a sea that concentrates (the sea that in Antiquity [...)
imposed the thought of Unicity) as on the contrary a sea that
fragments the lands scattered around the arch. A diffracting sea. In
the Caribbean or the Pacific, the archipelagic reality naturally
illustrates the thought of Relation [...). We could summarise what
happened in the Caribbean [...) in one word: creolisation. [...) Not
only an encounter, a shock [...), a m6tissage, but a totally new
dimension that enables each and everyone to be here and
elsewhere, rooted and open, roaming in the mountains and free
under the sea, agreeing and wandering.)
Thus in Cond6, Th6cla's endless wandering around the Caribbean and
beyond amounts to an embrace of the Americas that truly displays what I would
call an archipelagic consciousness. Th6cla further evidences a relational
sensitivity when during her sojourn in Jamaica she produces a concert, first
planning on inviting Gesner to play traditional Guadeloupean gwo ka music, and
then settling on Haitian singer Ottavia, whose interpretation moves to tears her
scarce pan-Caribbean and international audience. By contrast, Albert and his
descendants exiled in France yearn for a Guadeloupe that could be their refuge,
much in the way US-born Terence and Manuel envision Jamaica as a haven. These
characters share an isolationist view of the island reminiscent of Esteban's longing
for Cuba during his stays in Europe and Guyana in Carpentier. Ottavia's claim
following the flop of the concert that
'Chaque musique v6hicule une culture et chaque culture est une ile'
(each music vehicles a culture, and each culture is an island)
illustrates her own insularism; but it is later questioned by her artistic collaboration
with African-American Terence, whom she subsequently marries. Elaborating on
the two competing visions of insularity noted by Bongie and on Maximin's
observation on the archipelagic nature of the Caribbean, I would argue that the
view of the island as a refuge reflects an insular understanding of the island, while
the island as a point of encounter and Relation corresponds to an archipelagic
conception of it.
Tellingly, two epigraphs call attention to the centrality of the sea in
Glissant's 1990 collection of essays: Derek Walcott's 'Sea is History', from The
Star-Apple Kingdom, and Edward Kamau Brathwaite's 'The unity is sub-marine',
from Contradictory Omens. In his later essay Faulkner, Mississippi (1996) the
Martiniquan thinker reiterates the idea that the Caribbean is a unique place of
Relation, this time by contrast with the US South rather than the Mediterranean,
when he reflects on the smell of magnolias that permeates the Deep South and that
of vezou in the Caribbean. This metaphor encapsulates the fundamental distinction
for Glissant between continental and archipelagic creolisation process (Glissant
1990: 46). The smell of continental magnolias does not diffuse as thoroughly as
that of vezou on the islands, a contention with a cultural and racial analogy in
Glissant's scheme of things: unlike in the Antilles, on the continent the various
cultures present coexisted without intermingling with each other, and despite
racial miscegenation there truly was no creolisation. The very way miscegenation
is conceived in the U.S. (Faulkner's fundamental fear of contamination, the
so-called 'one drop rule') differs significantly from the recognition of the mixed
ancestry of all segments of the population in the Caribbean including the white
Creoles despite appearances. This does not mean to deny the miscegenation that
actually takes place in the Deep South or in Faulkner's fictional world, but to point
out that it is envisioned as the ultimate transgression that leads to degeneration.
The central role of the sea examined above in the thinking of Glissant and
Maximin, along with that of Brathwaite, Walcott, Benitez Rojo and Carpentier is
reflected in the fiction under discussion here. Crucially, it is precisely when at sea
that Esteban comes to an understanding of his Caribbean identity. I would venture
to observe that for Carpentier and Cond6 indeed 'the unity is submarine', with the
implicit corollary that there is no unity without sea. Their texts suggest limitations
to their pan-Caribbean thought, seemingly informed by a perception of the
mainland territories whose vastness and wilderness coupled with a restricted sea
shore in the case of French Guyana does not allow for easy connections with the
rest of the region as foreign, alien, even threatening." As we have seen, the
negative vision of the continent expressed in these texts largely springs from its
perceived lack of creolisation, which is mainly achieved through channels opened
by the sea. So it may be that for the two authors pan-Caribbeanism is in fact not
simply grounded in, but predicated on creolisation and insularity.
Arguably, the distinction drawn between continental and insular Caribbean
can become tenuous: comparable to Cuba in size and latitude, Panama virtually
qualifies as an island, given its shape and extensive coastline. In addition, as noted
earlier, the association of French Guyana with a lack of freedom defies reality, as
historically Guyana is exceptional among (former) French American colonies in
that slaves were somewhat successful at marooning there. Yet, when talking of
marronnage, thinkers such as C6saire and Glissant invariably cite the examples of
Haiti or Jamaica, as well as the aborted resistance of Delgr6s in Guadeloupe, but
fail to mention the maroon communities of French Guyana (and Surinam) which
have survived up to today. As for French Guyana and its culture, they have long
been marooned in Francophone Caribbean studies, receiving little critical
attention. Caribbeanness thus remains a limited concept.
1. A very preliminary version of this paper was given at the 32nd Annual Conference
of the Caribbean Studies Association (CSA), Universidade Federal da Bahia, Salvador da
Bahia, Brazil, 28 May 01 June 2007.
2. Despite an increasing focus on the continental connection, the pan-Caribbeanist
tradition survives in essays by Jos6 Luis (Pinche) Menendez and Jos6 Luis GonzAlez, or
in Ana Lydia Vega's writing. The university-based Instituto de Estudios del Caribe has
also been very active in fostering links between islands and encouraging comparative
3. Brathwaite thus concludes his Contradictory Omens (64). Bridget Jones shows the
centrality of pan-Caribbeanism to Brathwaite's poetics, editing, and historical work in
' "The Unity is Submarine": Aspects of a Pan-Caribbean Consciousness in the work of
Kamau Brathwaite', in The Art ofKamau Brathwaite, 86-100. See also Edouard Glissant,
Le Discours antillais, 134.
4. See Antonio Benitez Rojo's argument in La isla que se repite: El Caribey la
5. Although El siglo de las luces and La vie sceldrate have both been translated into
English, all translations here are my own. The translations from Poetique de la Relation
and Les fruits du cyclone are mine too.
6. Some descriptions of the landscape in Los pasos perdidos, however, are equally
negative: 'The jungle is the world of deceit, subterfuge, duplicity, everything there is
disguise, stratagem, artifice, metamorphosis' (166, quoted by Roberto Gonzalez
Echevarria in Alejo Carpentier: The Pilgrim At Home, 178).
7. The same logic is found in other Creolisation theorists. Thus in his study of creole
society in 1770 to 1820 Jamaica, Edward Kamau Brathwaite reaches the conclusion that
the failure in the late slavery period for two segments of the population, the whites and
the enslaved blacks, to develop meaningful interaction with each other ultimately
prevented the emergence of a strong, autonomous culture and society that would have
been better positioned to gain its political autonomy from Britain (The Development of
Creole Society in Jamaica 1770-1820, 307-311).
8. The irony is that it is upon his return to Cuba that Esteban faces literal
imprisonment, because of his involvement with the French Revolution.
9. As Webb demonstrates, his sea voyage allows for Esteban's regeneration,
providing him with a temporary respite from the historical turmoil (Myth and History,
92-94). No sooner does he get ashore, however, that Esteban realises there is no escape
from History; ultimately, he and Sofia take an active role in it by joining the Madrid
uprising on 02 May 1808.
10. 'Faulkner's landscapes are suffused with a fragrance [...) this landscape evokes for
me an unpleasant smell: the "cold perfume of magnolias". It is easy enough for me to
differentiate this smell from that of vezou, the scent of fermenting sugarcane that bathed
the countryside of my childhood which I can call up at will even now, when the distillery
boilers no longer exist in the country. The two smells are similar enough to become
superimposed, one in memory (vezou), the other in imagination, without their becoming
confused. 'The fragrance of magnolia is heavy and vaporous, giving the air an amber
quality, confining or rather clustering the air around it. The smell of vezou [...) is also
thick, but joyously so, the burnt-corolla smell indiscriminately finds its way to the most
faraway hills. Apparently only the sea can block the smell of vezou. On the other hand,
the fragrance of magnolia remains concentrated, hiding behind the thinnest wall of
'In long-ago woods once intact, there was no smell of vezou or magnolia, here in the
Caribbean or there in the Deep South. ... [the White newcomers), over time, will replace
the harsh and humid smell of the great Woods with whorls of magnolias whose
melancholy trails will linger under windows that are ajar' (Glissant 1999: 106-107).
11. Here Brazil stands out as an exception, despite its geographic proximity and in
some regions climatic similarities with French Guyana. Brazil, and in particular the
coastal North Eastern state of Bahia, has a long history of cultural and trade links with
the Caribbean. Thus I discovered in the Museum of art and culture of Salvador that what
I regarded as typically French Antillean jewellery, the collier chou, was in fact a style
developed in Bahia. Similarly, many Antillean writers, including C6saire, have explored
the cultural connection with Brazil since at least the 1950s. Consequently, as Cond6
remarks in a lecture given at the Harvard WEB DuBois Institute in October 2006, Brazil
holds a special place in the French Antillean imaginary.
Carpentier, Alejo, El siglo de las luces, 1962. Reprinted by Citedra, Madrid, 1989.
Cond6, Maryse, La Vie sclerate, Paris: Seghers, 1987. Reprinted by Pocket.
Other Primary Texts and Secondary Sources:
Benitez Rojo, Antonio, La isla que se repite: El Caribe y la perspective posmoderna,
Hanover (NH): Ediciones del Norte, 1989.
Bongie, Chris, Islands and Exiles: The Creole Identities ofPost/Colonial Literature,
Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998.
Brathwaite, Edward, Contradictory Omens, Mona (Jamaica): Savacou Publications,
Brathwaite, Edward, The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica 1770-1820, Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1971.
Carpentier, Alejo, 'De lo real maravilloso americano', Tientos y diferencias, Montevideo:
ARCA, 1967, 102-120.
Glissant, Edouard, Le Discours antillais, Paris: Le Seuil, 1981.
Glissant, Edouard, Faulkner, Mississippi, Paris: Stock, 1996. Trans. by Barbara Lewis
and Thomas C. Spear as Faulkner, Mississippi, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux,
Glissant, Edouard, Poetique de la Relation, Paris: Gallimard, 1990.
GonzAlez Echevarria, Roberto, Alejo Carpentier: The Pilgrim At Home, Ithaca and
London: Cornell University Press, 1977.
Jones, Bridget, "The Unity is Submarine": Aspects of a Pan-Caribbean Consciousness
in the work of Kamau Brathwaite', in The Art ofKamau Brathwaite, ed. by Stewart
Brown, Bridgend (UK): seren, 1995, 86-100.
Joset, Jacques, 'El mestizaje lingiiistico y la teoria de los dos Mediterrineos en la obra de
Alejo Carpentier', Centro Virtual Cervantes, Actas del IX Congreso de la Asociaci6n
International de Hispanistas (1986), 591-601.
http://cvc.cervantes.es/obref/aih/pdf/09/aih 09 2 067.pdf
Lezama Lima, Jos6, La expresi6n americana, Santiago de Chile: Editorial Universitaria,
Maximin, Daniel, Les fruits du cyclone. Pour une geopoetique de la Caraibe, Paris: Le
Pageaux, Daniel-Henri, 'El irea caribe de Alejo Carpentier. Espacio, novela, mito', Foro
Hispdnico vol. 25, En el centenario de Alejo Carpentier (1904-1980), Amsterdam:
Rodopi, 2004, 109-117. Available on the web at
Vayaboury, Sylviane, Rue Lallouette prolongde, Paris: L'Harmattan, 2006.
Webb, Barbara J., Myth and History in Caribbean Fiction: Alejo Carpentier, Wilson
Harris, and Edouard Glissant, Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1992.
"La colonie du nouveau monde: Conde's
Pessimistic Views of a Caribbean Utopian
The Caribbean region has not been spared the effects of economic
globalization. Island-states are invited not only to link with the continental shores
of the Caribbean Sea but also to constitute an integrated regional political and
economic block. While, at the top, governments of the region are still pondering
the benefits of such a move, at the bottom, ordinary people of the region are
already making the most of their Circum-Caribbean connections. A discreet
migration, less publicised than the one towards the U.S.A and Canada, takes place
within the insular Caribbean and its continental central and southern borders. This
intra-regional migration, which has existed since colonial times (inter-island slave
trade) took a different shape after emancipation particularly in the
English-speaking Caribbean. The construction of the Panama Canal remains the
reference point of the islands-continent migration beyond linguistic borders.
However, while Martinican and Guadeloupean migration within the Caribbean is
seldom acknowledged because of its marginal and occasional nature, Haitian
migration unsettles the region. Since the mid-seventies, Haitian workers and
peasants have been taking boats toward Florida, the Eastern Caribbean and
sometimes as far as the Guianas. Their intra-regional migration makes the
headlines every now and then, and Haitian communities are present almost
everywhere within the region. Isolated and estranged from the local population,
these Haitians try to survive and assist their families back in the home country.
Invisible and humiliated migrants, they appear very often in fictional works as
symbols of the predicament of the region.
Maryse Cond6's 1993 novel La colonies du nouveau
monde (New World Settlement)' set in Colombia offers a fresh look at the
island-continent migration. This paper discusses Cond6's representation of this
connection and her assessment of a utopian Caribbean project led by a
Guadeloupean 'guru.' It also examines the part ascribed to a group of Haitians
who join the community and will try to bring out the symbolic meaning attributed
to their experience.
Maryse Cond6 is well known for her irreverence as far as political
correctedness is concerned. As noted by Leah D. Hewitt, ".politically correct'
smugness is always a target for Cond6's playfully satirical pen" 2. As a writer, she
seems to subscribe fully to Andr6 Gide's statement about the 'disquieting' role of
the writer3. For instance, she declared in her 1993 interview with Francoise Pfaff,
J'6cris pour moi-meme mais j'6cris aussi toujours pour provoquer
les gens, pour les obliger a accepter des choses qu'ils n'ont pas
envie d'accepter, A regarder des choses qu'ils n'ont pas envie de
regarder. Je crois que c'est cela qui domine dans tous mes livres :
ce besoin de d6ranger tout le monde. (49)
(I write for myself but I always write also in order to provoke
people, to force them to accept things they don't wish to accept, to
look at things they don't want to look at. I think this is a dominant
feature in all my books: the need to disturb everybody.)
Conde is also famous for her use of irony as a mean of avoiding pathos. In
the same interview, she indicates that irony is a way of coping with the hardship of
life: "Pour moi, me moquer est une facon de regarder les choses en face, de ne
pas dramatiser et de ne pas tomber dans un complex de victim ou une
desesperance total. (49) 4 Indeed, the very title of the novel, La colonies du
nouveau monde, is an ironic statement in itself which predetermines our reading.
Several connotations are interwoven in the title. First, it reminds of the first
settlers arrival and the colonial project which form the basis for the exploitation of
the Americas.5 Secondly, there is also an allusion to Kafka's La colonies
pinitentiaire since the word colonies is used with its narrow meaning of human
settlement. Finally, the title comes from the mocking name given to Aton's
community by the people of Santa Marta. Through mockery, popular wisdom
captures the essence of Guadeloupeans' project, which in a way mimics the
original project of European settlers in the Americas. The citizens of Santa Marta
refer to Aton as 'el loco' / the madman (CNM, 28).
History of an expected failure
Cond6's 1993 novel chronicles the last days of a cult movement and should
be read against the background of three historical events. First, internationally, the
fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, which marks the end of Communism as a beacon of
hope for the oppressed. Second and third, regionally: the 1978 collective suicide
or murder of the followers of Rd. Jim Jones in Guyana and the September 1991
coup d'6tat against Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The three
above-mentioned events overshadow the plot and determine the fate of the
characters. The Marxist pharmacist and city councillor of Santa Marta, Enrique
Sabogal, is guided by his romantic memories of Marxism when he accepts the
Guadeloupean Guru and his followers, and later on, the Haitian boat people in
Santa Marta. Guided by these principles, he offers them an old property which
becomes derisively known as 'la colonia del nuevo mundo' by the city's
inhabitants. Yet, Sabogal is in a very difficult position in his community because
of the end of the Soviet Union and the failure of Marxism.
Enrique Sabogal 6tait le seul et unique conseiller municipal
communist de Santa Marta et, vu ce qui se passait dans les pays de
l'Est, il 6tait mis a la torture par tous ceux qui ne l'aimaient pas.
(Enrique Sabogal was the only communist town councillor in Santa
Marta and, in the light of what was happening in the Eastern
European countries, he was tormented by all those who did not like
Through Sabogal's memories, Cond6 retraces the time when communism
was seen as a beacon of hope and the solution for fighting underdevelopment: "II
[Enrique) croyait A la revolution, au marxisme et aux lendemains qui chantent."6
(CNM, 30). These ideas had a regional scope, an indication of the integrating
power of Marxism in those days (1970s). This spirit of commonality is
symbolized by a 1972 tribute to Bolivar which brings together the intellectuals of
C'est en 1972 qu'il avait serr6 la main de Nicolas Guillen. C'6tait
lors d'un homage a Sim6n Bolivar qui avait v6cu ses derniers
jours A Santa Marta et don't les restes avaient repos6 dans la
cath6drale avant d'etre transports A Caracas, sa ville natale. Les
plus 6clatants g6nies du monde latino-am6ricains, tels le P6ruvien
Teobaldo Vargas et de nombreux 6crivains de la Caraibe
participaient A la c6r6monie. (CNM, 30)
(In 1972, he shook hands with Nicolas Guill6n. This was during a
tribute paid to Sim6n Bolivar who spent his last days in Santa
Marta and whose remains lay in the cathedral before being shipped
to Caracas, his birth place. The most brilliant minds in
Latin-America, such as the Peruvian Teobaldo Vargas as well as
several Caribbean writers were participating in the ceremony.)
The 1972 reunion is also symbolic of the islands continent intellectual
interconnection and the prestige of the Cuban Revolution. While the ceremony is
a one-shot event, its spirit continues to live through the friendship between Henri
Gabrillot (Guadeloupe), Jos6 Rosario and Enrique Sabogal (Colombia). Enrique
Sabogal represents the romantic Pan-Caribbeanist through his reverence for
Bolivar and his admiration of Guill6n. He becomes the privileged, disillusioned
and bitter witness of Aton's failure and the world's disarray (CNM, 250).
Maryse Cond6 sets her novel against the background of a key historical
event, the fall of the Berlin Wall, which marks the end of an era driven forward by
the myth of the Proletarian Revolution. The destruction of the wall becomes de
landmark of ideological changes taking place around the world and marks the
social and political breakdown which is spreading globally with the triumph of a
market-driven economy and consumerism. In La colonie du nouveau monde,
Maryse Cond6 puts the following statement in the mouth of Jos6 Rosario,
Sabogal's best friend and Aton's advocate, "... sans utopie, c'est la mort du
monde!"7 (CNM, 29). Similarly, Enrique Sabogal wants to keep his Marxist
beliefs to the end even though he must admit their quixotic nature: "Mais Enrique
6tait bien r6solu a demeurer toute sa vie un Don Quichotte. Ne pas leur ressembler,
ne pas devenir comme eux!" 8 (CNM, 99). Yet, his way of life betrays these
convictions even if he clings to his political convictions. His family is in disarray:
his wife has left him to return to her father, his sons are not following in his
footsteps. His eldest son is more interested in becoming a famous musician and a
singer (CNM, 32-33) and parading in the city with his girlfriend. Sabogal reflects
bitterly on the changes taking place in the society:
A l'age de Ferando, il lisait Marx et Engels et Gramsci! II revait de
bftir une soci6t6 sans classes et sans couleurs. II revait de changer
le monde. Fernando, lui, ne revait que de changer la musique !
A l'age de Fernando, il se contentait de d6vorer les filles des yeux
... Ferando, lui, faisait g6mir Isabel si fort et de facon si ind6cente
dans sa chambre sous les toits que tous ceux qui la nuit ne
dormaient pas 6taient au courant de ce qu'ils faisaient l-haut.
Pas 6tonnant que pareille dtttrioration des mceurs d6route les
esprits et fasse le lit d'illumines comme Aton (CNM, 33)
(At Fernando's age, he was reading Marx and Engels, and
Gramsci! He was dreaming of building a society without class or
colour distinction. He was dreaming of changing the world.
Fernando dreamt only of changing music!
At Fernando's age, he was satisfied with only gazing greedily at
girls... Fernando made Isabel moan so loudly and in such obscene
manners in his room under the roof that all who did not sleep at
night were aware of what was going on above.
It's not surprising that such moral degradation disturb people's
mind and paved the way for lunatics like Aton!) (My translation)
Sabogal's statement above uses the argument of social breakdown to justify
the flourishing of cult groups and offers a stereotypical justification of Aton's
The fall of the Berlin Wall allows the author to establish a renewed though
different connection with Europe through the arrival of the German couple, Ute
and Rudolf, in the community. Cond& plays heavily on the cliche of the blond
Aryans and the reminiscence of Hitlerian days. Ute and Rudolf are over
determined by World War II German History and therefore viewed with suspicion
by the community. She also plays on the cliche of the 'blue-eyed devils,' so
vividly present in the memories of the descendants of enslaved African as she
stresses their whiteness as a shock for the people of Santa Marta. The couple's
arrival is seen as a bad omen:
Ils avancaient sans se presser, coiffis de leur blondeur incongrue,
indiff6rents aux regards de panique qui se posaient sur eux. Et
Enrique sentit que cette panique-li etaitjustifie. Le malheur avait
pris la forme de ces deux-li. ... D'une manifre que personnel ne
pouvait encore pr6voir, ils signifiaient la destruction et la mort.
(They were moving forward in no hurry, crowned with their
incongruous blond hair, unmoved by the frightened gaze directed
at them. And Enrique felt that that terror was justified. Misfortune
had materialized with those two. .. In a way that nobody could
foresee yet, they meant destruction and death).
Enrique's premonition will be confirmed later in the novel with the death of
Nefertiti and the final breakdown of the community culminating with the suicide
of Aton accompanied in death by Hapou and Mandjet (CNM, 242-246).
The fall of the Berlin Wall becomes emblematic of the circumstances
leading to the mushrooming of counter-cultural groups. Many sociologists and
anthropologists connect the rise of communal religious organizations with the
breakdown of social and cultural values. According to them, many of these
organizations disseminate an anti-industrialist and anti-consumerist discourse
mixed with their religious creed. Maryse Cond&'s novel draws heavily on that
interpretation. In La colonie du nouveau monde, she illustrates that analysis
through her portrayal of an anti-consumerist, back-to-nature community. In doing
so, she draws from many stories of cultish groups and, particularly for the readers
from the region, there is a strong echo of the People's Temple story in Guyana.
However, Aton's refusal to use money for commercial exchange and his practice
of weaving evoke another famous figure of counter-culture, Mahatma Gandhi.
Even though Ghandi's name is never spoken in the novel, his philosophy is
strongly present in the mind of the reader. The resemblance between Cond6's
character and Gandhi is signalled by the ascetic way of life of the community: they
barter their goods instead of selling them for money (CNM, 68-69); they use
natural products, and eat non-spicy vegetarian meals. Fashion or style is minimal
as members of the community wear only camisoles and wraps (for women), or loin
cloths (for men).
Aton's and Frere Amour's Cults: Escaping from Caribbean Colonial
In addition to social breakdown as an explanation for the formation of cult
groups, some social scientists offer a psychopathological explanation for their
emergence. In The Future of Religion for instance Stark and Bainbridge (1985),
reviewing the psychologists explanation of cultist groups, cite Julian Silverman's
model as one mixing psycho-pathological and social explanations for cult
creation.9 Cond6's novel plays on this interpretation as she contrasts the
charismatic figure of Aton with his failure in the dominant society. Aton was a
victim of abuse in his childhood and in his adult life he underwent psychiatric
treatment in Paris before returning to Guadeloupe as a Guru. When pieced
together, Aton's personal history is a story of successive failures and his religious
invention is the product of a sick mind. Cond6 uses the comments of Aton's
detractors as well as those of his companions to present a contrasting pictures of
the cult leader.
Through the experience of the group, the author addresses the blossoming of
religious sects in the region. She does not use an existing African-Caribbean
religion created in the Region or an Evangelical Church of Born-Again Christians.
She instead establishes a connection with ancient Egypt.'0 While the choice of the
Egyptian reference could be seen as a tongue-in-cheek allusion to the French
Egyptomania set off by Christian Jacques with best selling books on Ancient
Egypt, the choice of Akhenaton by the Guadeloupean Aton is also significant.
Akhenaton was the Egyptian pharaoh who tried to reform the Egyptian religious
system by imposing the cult of the sun Re/Aton as the only god and changed his
name accordingly. He removed himself far in the interior of the country and
dedicated his time and energy to the cult of the Sun God. Egypt declined under his
rule and after his death, his memory was erased from Ancient Egyptian history."
By having her protagonist choosing as his reference an historical figure that was
doomed, Cond6 inscribes in the novel a subtext, which foreshadows the failure of
her character's project. Indeed, even if history does not repeat itself, the same
causes have the same effects. Aton's Guadeloupean utopia was bound to fail
because of the mental condition and isolation of its Guru. Even before his arrival
in Colombia, the community was failing and the number of followers reduced to
Aton's family and a faithful Guadeloupean couple. The trip to Colombia was only
a desperate attempt at escaping from reality. From that viewpoint, the story of the
group is very similar to the Jones community in Guyana. For the longest while,
Aton has clung to the dream of going to Egypt based on a promise made by Hathor,
an Egyptian cult leader, but the promise never materialized. Once in Colombia,
Aton feels cornered as he is acutely aware that he has exhausted his options (CNM,
84-86). Conde offers an ironic variation of the "back-to-Africa" motto of the
Negritude era. While choosing Ancient Egypt as the framework of his cultic
fantasy, Aton is careful to distinguish himself from the Rastafarian ideology
(CNM, 17). Aton's Egypt is narrated along the lines of European Orientalist
discourse and practices as defined by Edward Said12 and as Bettina Soestwohner
points out, in her article "Uprooting Antillean Identity:" "
Part of the repressed in the story of Aton is the grounding of his
religion in prominent markers of Western civilization, i.e., its
archives and museums, its collections of conquered and stolen
relics as well as diligently or greedily accumulated knowledge.
Conde has her character creating his cult based on the very discourses
responsible for his cultural alienation. What could have been a subversion of
dominant discourse and reappropriation of Egyptian culture becomes just a
meaningless imitation of Akhenaton's utopia.
Contrasting the past and youth of each protagonist with his/her present,
Cond6 establishes a dichotomy between 'yesterday' and 'today' in order to explain
the factors that lead them to join the group and highlights the invididual
psychopathological reasons that leads individuals to cult movements. In each
chapter, the narration is made from the viewpoint of a member of the community.
Through her use of internal viewpoint and stream of consciousness, she proposes
multiple versions of the cultist experience showing through the diversity of
motives, the converging point that brings them together. All of them have had
experiences of abuse and rejection. For instance, Mandjet was repeatedly raped by
her mother's companion (CNM, 57); Mesketet had suffered from racism in
Metropolitan France and returned to Guadeloupe with an uncontrollable hatred of
white people (CNM, 69). Tiyi became neurotic because she could not obtain the
desired parts in theatre productions. The novel indicates that, as a black actress,
she suffered discrimination and yet she was obsessed with Anton Chekhov's play
La mouette (The Seagull). She ended being nicknamed 'la mouette' by her
classmates in a sort of antiphrastic and racist mockery. As stated by the narrator:
"la mouette est un oiseau blanc qui vole au voisinage des c6tes. Un oiseau
BLANC. Le detail a son importance." (CNM, 45)14 Tiyi herself links her
depression to her connection with Aton: "Ah oui! Elle 6tait mire a point pour
rencontrer Aton" (CNM, 46)15. Through their respective stream of consciousness
episodes, Cond6 explores the destiny of her characters and their current state of
mind. There is a contrast between the lucidity of the characters and their inability
to take action. All refuse to adjust to the mainstream social practices and reject the
dominant discourse. Unfortunately, they are unable to offer a viable and
economically sound alternative to the social order they reject. Aton's cult
movement is trapped in its own ideology. Tiyi is aware of the possibilities for
financial success as well as the dramatic financial situation they are facing (CNM,
10). The community could prosper and produce a surplus which could have
helped them financially had Aton allowed them to sell their agricultural
production (CNM, 12). Rejecting the market economy, he becomes dependent on
subsidies from the B&k6 Armand Marie de Sidonie in Guadeloupe and from the
City council (and Sabogal) in Colombia.
At the beginning of the novel, we are introduced to a community on the
verge of implosion. Cond6 uses the principles of tragedy as defined by French
philosopher Clement Rosset.'6 According to Rosset, tragedy requires a certain
degree of voluntary blindness to warning signs of impeding catastrophe. Indeed,
Aton is aware that his project is falling apart; he recognizes the warning signs but
chooses to ignore them. He seems overtaken by a kind of apathy or procrastination
as he does not look for a solution or an alternative (CNM, 176). The arrival of a
German couple, followed by a group of Haitians, rekindles for a while the illusion
that his teaching is still attractive (CNM, 176). However, Cond6 disqualifies
Aton's project by informing the reader that Rudolf, the new German disciple, is in
fact a paedophile and a murderer (CNM, 75-79) and by presenting Aton's
preferential treatment of Rudolf as a internalized submissiveness of the
colonized's inferiority complex vis-d-vis the Europeans.17
The Haitian Encounter: Confronting Two Caribbean
The arrival of the Haitians in Santa Marta and their joining Aton's
community marks the encounter/confrontation of two utopian counter-cultural
projects. The Haitian project being a Christian-based and political one is the
opposite of Aton's project, which is based on Ancient Egyptian faith and is
apolitical. Both cult leaders experienced the same 'revelation' before starting their
community, Aton through his contemplation of the Sun (CNM, 19) and Frere
Amour, through the inspiration of the Spirit (CNM, 145). The project started as a
revivalist one, trying to help a disenfranchised community in the slums of
Port-au-Prince to face the hardships of urban life. It involves itself in politics
during the period which brought a priest, Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power.
However, Cond6 trivializes the Haitian utopian project by turning it into a sordid
foursome. The Haitian community's story is that of a community whose project,
based on Christ's message of love and generosity, becomes distorted by a
promiscuous relationship between the leader of the group, Frere Amour, his two
female companions, and another male companion who later joins the group. The
novelist lingers on the multiple sexual combinations (1) Frere Amour and the two
women, (2) Roger and the two women, (3) the two women in a lesbian
relationship, and (4) at time the four of them sharing the same bed (CNM, 110).
For no specific reason, the Haitians become the symbol of a deviant sexuality
shifting from homosexuality to heterosexuality while there is, at the same time
lingering in the background, a macho rivalry between the two men (CNM,
109-110). Ironically, unregulated sex adds to the demise of both communities. In
the case of the Haitians, male competition within a quadrangular relationship
undermined Frere Amour's authority in the community (CNM, 109-110). In the
case of Aton, Tiyi's sexual promiscuity, culminating with her relationship with a
Beke contributed to the loss of faith among the followers (CNM. 58, 85, 175)
because it revealed Aton's love for her as a weakness unfitting for a God.
Nevertheless, the novelist use the Haitians in order to highlights the
commonality of poverty in the Caribbean. They are the ones who see the
similarities of the Caribbean societies beyond the language difference.
Sous tous les cieux, la mis6re garde le meme mauvais goft.
La residencia de la calle 17, derriere la cath6drale cinq fois
centenaire ou Ramos6, Maat et Nakhtmin avaient trouv6 A se loger,
ressemblait A n'importe quel lakou d'un faubourg de La Pointe, des
Salines ou du quarter de la Croix des Bossales a Port-au-Prince.
[...) La seule difference 6tait que tout ce monde parlait et injuriait
Cela n'emp6chait pas les bonnes relations. (CNM, 157)
(Everywhere under the sun, poverty keeps the same bitter taste.
The residencia on Calle 17 behind the five hundred year-old
Cathedral where Ramos6, Maat and Nakhtmin found lodging
looked like any lakou in the suburb of La Pointe, Salines or the
neighbourhood of Croix des Bossables in Port-au-Prince. The only
difference was that everybody around spoke and cursed in Spanish.
This did not prevent good relationships.)
Having wandered in the region, they are quick to adjust to their new
environment and able to communicate with their neighbours. There is a contrast
between how the Haitians are able to blend in the poor neighbourhood of Santa
Marta and how Mesketet stands out:
II avait v6cu trop longtemps dans respecter les manieres des autres
humans. II 6tait pareil a un prisonnier 6vad6. ... En plus il n'avait
pas de papers et ne connaissait pas I'espagnol. I n'arriverait
sirement pas A passer inapergu A Santa Marta (CNM, 154).
(He had lived too long without abiding by the other humans'
manners. He was like a runaway prisoner. ... In addition he had no
papers and did not know Spanish. He certainly was not going to be
able to walk around unnoticed in Santa Marta.)
The Haitians also raise a guilty conscience among various characters:
Enrique Sabogal, Tiyi, and Mesketet. All of them, reluctantly, feel obliged to
receive them. The ambivalence is particularly stressed with Sabogal's violent
indignation when he finds the Haitians in his courtyard:
"Ah non! Des Haitiens n'allaient pas sortir de leur pays a misere et
i coups d'Etat pour sejoindre A la colonies Qu'est-ce qu'on n'allait
pas dire a Santa Marta ?" 'T (CNM, 89).
Similarly, Tiyi finds it impossible to reject the Haitians even if she considers
their arrival as an additional burden to the community (CNM, 91). Among the
three, Mesketet becomes representative of the negative response of ordinary
African-Caribbean people to Haitians. We are told that Mesketet disliked Haitians
and used to experience pleasure in terrorizing them in Guadeloupe (CNM,134).
Yet, ironically, it is thanks to the Haitians' example that he finds the courage to
leave the community (CNM,153).
Cond6's novel is symptomatic of Caribbean representations of Haitians as
the 'Other' of Caribbean islanders in the same way that African people were
defined as the Other of European people. In the region today, Haiti and Haitians
have become the symbols of what the other countries do not want to become. They
are used by Cond6 in order to reveal the denials at work in the region.
Since the story chronicles the failure of both projects, we interpret the
encounter of the two communities as Cond6's statement that there is no hope for
any alternative development in the region. Indeed, the novel ends with the demise
of all but Meritaton, Aton's youngest daughter, who is repatriated to Guadeloupe
to be put in the care of her mother's family, returning in fact to mainstream
culture. Even there, Cond6 manages a final twist of suspense since the plane
which is carrying Meritaton to Guadeloupe gets caught in turbulence and therefore
runs the risk of an accident.
... L'appareil fut agit6 dans tous les sens comme s'il 6tait secou6
par une main furieuse.
Meritaton ne se rappela pas une seule priere A r6citer et le cceur
muet d'effroi, elle s'agrippa a son siege.
Etait-ce la colere du double d'Aton qui 6clatait centre elle ? (CNM.
(... The plane was shaken in all directions as if it was in the grip of
an angry hand.
M6ritaton could not remember any one prayer to recite and her
heart paralyzed by fear, she clutched her seat.
Was it Aton's double bursting out his anger against her? )
The personal tragedies mirror the disarray of the world. An atmosphere of
doom pervades the story as expressed by Sabogal's gloomy reflections on the
sorry state of the world:
Le monde 6tait un sinistre thietre, L'Afrique s'amarrait dans le
sous-d6veloppement. L'Europe 6tait incendi6e comme une torche.
L'Empire am6ricain d6clinait. Le cholera fauchait aux portes de la
Colombie (CNM, 250).
(The world was a dark theatre. Africa was tied up in
underdevelopment. Europe was burning like a torch. The
American Empire was on the decline. Cholera was killing at the
borders of Colombia.)
The novel ends without any sense of closure: Aton, Mandjet and Hapou are
dead; Mesketet and Maat are in prison for acts they did not commit; Tiyi is in a
psychiatric ward. Ute will be repatriated thanks to her embassy. Nothing is said of
the four remaining Haitians, Thoutm6s, Ramos6, Nakhtmin and Maya.
In conclusion, La colonie du nouveau monde is one of Maryse Cond6's
darkest novels because it speaks of the inability of the Afro-Caribbean people to
offer a credible alternative to the colonial order. More than in any other of her
novels, her use of dramatic irony is overwhelming. This irony exerts itself against
the development of cults in the region. It leads to what I would call Cond6's
"cruelty" against her characters: all of them meet a tragic or dramatic fate. From
this view point the novel has a very Naipaulian tone.19 It indicates that no
alternative development is possible in the Caribbean. It also disqualifies any
counter-cultural endeavour. Three utopian myths are debunked in the novel. First
is the myth of environmental purity and rejection of technology; second, the myth
of religious purity and the superiority of the mind over the body; third, the myth of
natural democracy and its self-regulatory principles. The Caribbean cultist
approach, as portrayed by Cond6, is doomed to fail because it lives in a delusional
world. The globalization of economy created a globalization of poverty, leaving
the disenfranchised with no hope and no means to change the world. Karl Marx's
1848 cry, "Workers of the world, unite..." seems to have lost its mobilizing power.
1. Referred as La colonie hereafter and abbreviated as CNM.
2. Leah D. Hewitt. "Cond6 Critical Seesaw." Callaloo 18:3, 641.
3. Journal des Faux-Monnayeurs. Ed. 1927, p. 111, quoted from website :
http://www.gidiana.net/Citations.htm (accessed on 20/10/2001)
4. English Translation: "For me sarcasm is a way to confront reality, to avoid drama
and to fall prey to the victim's complex or to absolute despair."
5. Bettina Soestwohner. "Uprooting Antillean Identity: Maryse Cond6's La colonie
du nouveau monde." Callaloo 18 :3, 695.
6. He believed in the Revolution, in Marxism and better tomorrows. (My translation).
7. English Translation: ".. with no utopia, the world will die!"
8. English Translation: "Enrique however was determined to remain a Don Quixote
till his death. Not to resemble them. Not to become like them!"
9. Stark and Bainbridge, 176 (Berkeley: University Press of California, 1985).
10. Maybe in response to the French Egypt mania, popularized by Christian Jacques's
novels on ancient Egypt.
11. He remained unknown until the 20th century when archeological findings helped to
reconstruct his story.
12. Edward Said. Orientalism. (New York: Vintage Books, 1994). Cond6's account
of Aton's appropriation of Egyptian history echoes Said's analysis of European
appropriation of Egyptian history and culture (particularly Napol6on's conquest of Egypt
[79-87) and its re-reading of Flaubert's Bouvard et Picuchet [115-116)). Through
various character's, Conde points at Aton's 'recitation' of Ancient Egyptian history
13. (Callaloo 18.3, 1995, 690-706).
14. The seagull is a white bird which flies along the coasts. It is a WHITE bird. This
minor point is an important one. (My translation).
15. Oh yes! She was more than ready for her encounter with Aton. (Translation mine)
16. Clement Rosset. Logique du pire. (Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, 1971),
17. This viewpoint is conveyed by Mesketet and Mandjet. (60)
18. Oh no! Haitians could not leave their country ridden by poverty and coups d'Etat
in order to join the settlement! What would people say in Santa Marta? (My translation).
19. Some statements by Naipaul are exemplary and sometimes used as epigraphs by
Francophone Caribbean writers. In her interview with Franqoise Pfaff, Cond& express
her appreciation of Naipaul:
"Naipaul a simplement eu envie de jeter un pave dans la mare en disant que les victims
6taient aussi coupables. J'aime bien ce cot6 fracassant. Naipaul 6crit ainsi pour briser
les bonnes consciences." (Emphasis mine,) Pfaff, 1993, 159.
Translation: (Naipaul wanted simply to create quite a stir by saying that victims were
also guilty. I like this thunderous dimension in him. Naipaul writes like that in order
to crush people's good conscience.)
Cond6, Maryse. (1993). La colonies du nouveau monde. Paris: Pocket Book, 1996.
Hewitt, Leah D. (1995). "Cond6 Critical Seesaw." Callaloo "Maryse Cond6: A Special
Issue." Vol. 18, No. 3, Summer. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press,
Hope-Thomas, Elizabeth. (1992). Caribbean Migration. Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad
and Tobago: University of the West Indies Press, 2002.
Pfaff, Frangoise. (1993). Entretiens avec Maryse Conde. Paris: Karthala, 1993.
-- (1996). Conversations with Maryse Conde. University of Nebraska Press.
Moore, Rebecca. (1989) The Need for a Second Look at Jonestown. New York: The
Edwin Mellen Press.
Rosset, Cl6ment. (1971). Logique dupire. Paris : Presses Universitaires de France.
Soestwohner, Bettina. (1995). "Uprooting Antillean Identity: Maryse Conde's La
colonie du nouveau monde. Callaloo. Volume 18, Number 3, Summer. Baltimore: The
Johns Hopkins University Press, pp. 690-706.
Said, Edward. (1978). Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books Random House, 1994.
Stark Rodney and William Sims Bainbridge. (1985). The Future ofReligion:
Secularization, Revival and Cult Formation. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London:
University of California Press.
Weightman, Judith Mary. (1983). Making Sense of the Jonestown Suicides. New York:
The Edwin Mellen Press.
Harlem NEW YORK Haarlem PARIS:
America-Martinique: Daniel Picouly's
Caribbean Bridge over the Atlantic
Chester Himes, African American writer exiled in Europe has had an impact
on several francophone African writers,' dilettante crime authors Bolya Baenga,
Mongo Beti and Simon Njami.2 Daniel Picouly however, was born of French
West Indian parents and grew up in the Parisian suburbs. Like his counterparts, he
is strongly influenced by Himes whom he echoes in two of his detective novels
Tete de N.gre 3 (1998) and L 'enfant I opard (1999).
In the fashion of his peers, he reuses themes important to the Black
American author namely racial segregation and multiracial relations and also
describes the Black condition by means of humour. Additionally, as Simon Njami,
Picouly, clearly inspired by Chester Himes' crime fiction originally published in
France in the 1950's in the famous "S6rie noire", borrows his two famous Black
detectives: Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger. However, Picouly's tour de
force is transplanting the plot of the two novels into a Harlem similar to the
Himesian fictional world, though situated in the heart of Paris, at the time of the
French Revolution in 1789.
In Tdte de Nkgre,4 the two Black police officers are asked by their former
chief, the Marquis d'Andercon5 to find "une tete de negre" [a nigger head), the
head of his son, decapitated by the revolutionaries and missing in Paris. In
L'enfant lIopard, our two heroes, still the Marquis' agents, go off in search of a
child, neither white nor black because he has a skin disease, who is presumed to be
the illegitimate child of Queen Marie-Antoinette and Countess Du Barry's slave,
Zamor, and thus possible heir to the throne. Their pursuits will take them back to
the Harlem of the 18' century, the impenetrable Black neighbourhood ruled by the
terrifying Negro Delorme.
I will proceed by establishing the existence of an intertextuality which
functions on several levels of writing and examining how Chester Himes'
influence manifests itself in Picouly's novel. The intertextuality particular to the
writing in Picouly's two novels lies in the use of explicit references to Himes'
crime novels. This is manifested namely in the borrowing of typical Himesian
characters, in the transplanting of Harlem, at once Himesian Romanesque universe
and symbol of racial discrimination in the West, and in the recurring common
ideological and political themes. Strongly influenced by Chester Himes and the
American style roman noir, Picouly's writing in both novels is partly defined by
American characteristics. He enhances it by evoking cliches about present day
New York and North America, updating Himes' writing through a boomerang
effect. Due to the exploration of the identity problematic so dear to Himes,
analysed by Picouly through the prism of historical dimension, the intertextuality
also serves to highlight an ideological fraternity between the writers, both
protesters against the dominant societies.
Roman Noir Made in France/American Crime Fiction: Picouly versus
It can be said that Picouly's two novels are a true homage to Chester Himes
omnipresent throughout the novels. The intertextuality is, at the same time,
narrative, when it relates to the roman noir genre, as well as thematic and
ideological. We note that it takes place as well between both of Picouly's novels,
L 'enfant lIopard being, in many ways, the sequel to Tete de Negre. Firstly, the
common trait with Himes' detective novels is that the plot is based on a manhunt,
even if in Tete de Ndgre, they only have to recover a head. It is led by the Himesian
characters of Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger, and takes them to the terrible
and picturesque ghetto of Harlem. Tete de Negre is a story composed on the same
rhythm as an American crime novel, progressing rapidly, punctuated with raw,
brutal scenes, emphasising excessive violence and social chaos, all in a light,
humoristic tone reminiscent of comedy. It is therefore a story similar to Himes'
works and which resembles a novel from the American writer, a novel in which the
acquainted reader will not miss the numerous, unambiguous references to the
Harlem cycle. Tdte de Negre is in fact divided into 6 chapters each one bearing a
title from the French version of a novel in Himes' detective series: Imbroglio
negro [All Shot Up8, llpleut des coups durs [The Real Cool Killers9), La reine des
pommes [For Love of Imabelle also called A Rage in Harlem'o), CouchU dans le
pain [The Crazy Kill1), Dare-dare [Run Man Run12), L 'aveugle aupistolet [Blind
Man with a Pistol" Other titles of Himes' novels14 are also inserted into the text
of the story along with some of the famous lines of the two Himesian police
officers such as the euphemistic slogan: < On est a Harlem, tout est possible!)
[We're in Harlem, anything is possible!15). Although more frequent in Tete de
Negre, the textual references to Himes' work appear throughout both of Picouly's
novels. From one novel to the other, we also find a number of scenes almost
identical to those in Himes' novels, such as the one where Ed is blinded by acid
which has just been thrown in his face,16 or the episode of the sucker who gets
royally fleeced by the old "multiplying fire" scam which transforms 10 dollar bills
into 100 dollar bills or coins into gold louis17. However, the pace of L 'enfant
lIopard is slowed by scenes from a parallel story of Queen Marie-Antoinette's last
hours. For although it reunites certain characteristics of the American roman noir
and loudly proclaims its kinship with Himes' novels, Picouly's work is
nevertheless inspired by the quite recent trend in French crime fiction towards
taking an interest in troubled periods of France's history18. It is in this way that
famous historical characters such as Marie-Antoinette, Countess Du Barry or even
Robespierre become in his second novel, fictional characters in their own right. In
reality, in choosing to transplant Chester Himes' characters to Paris and in
displacing the New York Harlem across the Atlantic, Picouly fully intends to place
the identity problematic so important to Himes, at the centre of his novel. He adds
however, an important additional historical perspective which will allow him to
refer to slavery and to introduce new interpretations of racial injustice.
Picouly's Version of Ed and Jones
The intrusion of Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger, the two Black
detectives from Harlem, veritable pillars of Himes' s6rie noire, constitutes new
evidence of the intertextuality between the two works. Both possess features
similar to the Himesian couple. Nicknamed "the two monsters" by the owner of
the Vainqueuse (EL, 80) and described as two big strapping fellows who take up
the entire street when they walk side by side (EL, 28), they are, as in Himes'
endowed with an impressive physique. Like their doubles, they are saucy (TDN,
60), gifted with a biting humour (TDN, 11, 38), brutal (EL, 82), emotional,
(especially Ed who gets carried away easily: EL, 83), sensitive to the evils which
their Black brothers suffer (EL 285, 293), perceptive and bold. Like their
predecessors, they act intuitively against all rational logic (for example by
following a Negro child and his wheel TDN, 38). Amateur police officers working
in the name of the Republic, is it still their mission here to ensure that the law is
obeyed? Like in the New York Harlem, the chaos and violence are so pervasive
that it seems utopic. In truth, in Picouly, the status of the two police officers proves
ambiguous as they are hired by a private person to recover a nigger head
proclaimed "saviour of Blacks" (TDN, 65) and an illegitimate child, possible heir
apparent to the queen (EL). Thus they are paid by an aristocrat to find the symbols
which endanger the social and racial order and represent the possibility, even tiny,
of seeing a Black person in power. As in Himes, they therefore serve a system
which oppresses them.
One of the major differences with Himes' crime novels is of course that they
live in Paris, France. They came back from America where they served as soldiers
during the Seven Years' War. In fact, only Jones is familiar with Harlem'9 which
enables Picouly to introduce an exoticized view of the Parisian ghetto through Ed
and to give whimsical explanations for its characteristics (the yellow cabs TDN
46, EL, 103), the numbered streets (TDN 39, EL 108). Furthermore, the two
characters do not stand out much and they have nothing American apart from their
.38 silver-barrelled revolver (EL 45), their police badge in New York colours (EL,
46) and their felt hat (EL, 47). America plays an important role however, at least
symbolically, as it represents in some way, a possibility of reinsertion for the two
police officers in a New World which must provide a better future and protect
them from racial segregation.20 Another new fact is this violence which brings Ed
and Jones closer and forges their friendship (EL, 32). It also ties them to the other
Blacks of Harlem, a liberating, permanent violence integral to the attempt to
overcome their condition. Finally, though they are neither Americans or
Harlemites, there is something indefinable in Ed and Jones which pulls them back
to Black Harlem at the end of TMte de Negre, at once the assurance of strong
emotions and a belonging despite themselves, a contrary filiation: (...) Il faut d6jA
bien connaitre son quarter avant de courir le monde. (TDN, 90) [(...) You have to
know your neighbourhood well before roaming the world.).
Parisian Haarlem, Black Ghetto of the 18th Century
Harlem symbolises above all else, the world of Himes' novels but also the
Black world with its living conditions in America. Picouly's Parisian Haarlem is
situated on the left bank of the Seine, behind the Luxembourg, in the 6th and 5h
districts of Paris. Here is how Picouly describes it:
C'est un < quarter situ6 derriere le jardin du Palais du
Luxembourg, dans le triangle de la rue de Vaugirard, de la Rue
d'Enfer et du boulevard du Montparnasse >. (...)
< Ce triangle est aussi appel6 I'Enfer, le Quartier Negre ou le Clos
des Noirs. Autrefois, des hommes venus de la ville de Haarlem, en
Hollande, y cultivaient des fleurs avec des jardiniers qu'ils
faisaient entrer en fraude de leurs colonies... Les fleurs sont parties,
les Noirs sont rest6s!... Autour d'eux, se sont regroups, A measure,
les negres libres et les marrons 6chapp6s A leurs maitres. Aux miles
on se r6fugie dans les momes, A Paris on habite Haarlem. (EL, 46)
(It is a "neighbourhood situated behind the Palace of Luxembourg
Garden, in the triangle of Vaugirard Street, Hell Street and
Boulevard Montpamasse". (...)
"This triangle is also called Hell, the Negro Quarter or the Black
Pen. In the past, men from the city of Haarlem in Holland grew
flowers there using gardeners who they smuggled from their
colonies 21...The flowers left, the Blacks stayed! Around them, one
by one, the free Negroes and maroons escaped from their masters
came together. In the islands, they take refuge in the hills, in Paris
they live in Haarlem. )
We note that unlike Himes' fictional world, the historical dimension is
inserted at once into the description of Haarlem22 and with it, direct allusions to the
history of slavery and colonisation, veritable identity markers. For example, the
triangle in which Haarlem is situated clearly reminds us of the slave trade triangle.
On the other hand, Picouly's Haarlem resembles Himes' in many ways. Moreover,
in order to better bring together both worlds, Picouly introduced some humorous
details which crystallize the cliches we have about New York such as the yellow
cabs which are hailed by shouting < Yeil Ho Kab > 23 (TDN, 45) or the straight
streets, numbered New York style. In addition, he gives Harlem the same
geographical limits as Himes. In other words, "le quarter aux Noirs" (TDN, 32),
[the Black quarter) which becomes o l'Enfer >> [Hell) in L 'enfant leopard stops at
the most sordid neighborhoods situated in the centre of Harlem, where the
poorest Blacks live.24 When Ed and Jones set foot in Haarlem for the first time,
Jones locates the exact spot where the cab has left them by drawing a map:
On est lA. Derri&re nous, au sud, c'est le Parc central. Ce qui part en
biais, c'est Saint Nicolas. On va chez le Mac, ici, dans les Nox.
C'est I'ancienne avenue Les Noix, mais le i > a du &tre
(This is where we are. Behind us, in the south, is Central Park. The
diagonal street is Saint Nicolas. We are going to the Mac's, here, in
the Nox. It's the old Les Noix Avenue but the < i > must have got its
head chopped off.)
As we see here, the streets, like the famous places of the Harlem Renaissance
so present in Himes' work25, have been given French names. We also note in
Picouly, a Harlem equal to Himes', housing the same type of establishments, o des
boites a plaisir26 > [brothels), churches, dives: o Parait que lA-bas (A Haarlem), y a
plus de congregations, 6glises et sectes que d'habitants. > (EL, 88) [I hear that
down there (in Haarlem), there're more congregations, churches and sects than
people). True to the genre, violence is at a maximum with both authors. In
Picouly's work, Haarlem is recognized by its pervading violence:
-On arrive a Haarlem.
Comment tu sais ca Fossoyeur ?
On nous jette des pierres.
Le cocher confirm.
Je ne vais pas plus loin.
En posant le pied par terre, Ed compris qu'il 6tait bien a Haarlem. Il
sentait d6jA une centaine de regards plants sur son dos. (TDN, 51)
[- We're almost in Haarlem.
How do you know that Gravedigger?
-They're throwing stones at us.
The cab driver confirmed.
This is as far as I go.
As he stepped out of the cab, Ed understood that he was definitely
in Haarlem. He was already feeling about 10 pairs of eyes stabbing
him in the back)
In addition, in Himes'27 as in Picouly's novels, violence serves as an outlet
for the surrounding poverty, oppression and absurdity of life28. In fact, it becomes
an effective distraction for Delorme's men who are also known as "the
cut-throats". In Haarlem, violence bonds, so forever linked by an inalienable right
to fight (EL, 30) required upon their return from a mission Ed and Jones
paradoxically reinforce their friendship by exchanging blows: "Plus les coups
tombaient oO il fallait, avec la hargne voulue, plus chacun comprenait qu'il venait
de se faire un ami pour la vie." (TDN, 33) [The more the blows fell in the right
place, with the right spite, the more each man understood that he had just made a
friend for life.)
However, in Picouly, the violence and insecurity have spread beyond "le
Clos des Noirs" [the Black Pen). The other neighborhoods in Paris are not any
safer at this time in history when people are guillotine-happy. We are at the height
of the Reign of Terror29 and at night, Paris became a truly dangerous place
particularly for Blacks, not shielded from racial prejudices nor clashes. Here we
see Ed meeting a bunch of heavily made-up young people, the Merveilleuses and
the Incroyables 30 in the middle of Paris:
Un n6gre Un vrai negre, mes amis !
Avant, tout le monde en avait un a son service. C'6tait devenu d'un
commun Ils pullulaient Et dans tous les m6tiers. Quelle
Rien qu'A Paris, on dit qu'ils sont des milliers. (TDN, 13)
(A nigger! A real nigger, my friends!
Everyone used to have one in their service. It had become quite
common! They were everywhere and in all occupations! How
They say there are thousands of them in Paris alone.)
Crooked Haarlem, Memorial to Slavery
The Picoulian Haarlem is overrun by a shady set as menacing and perverted
as in Himes' novels.3 It is swarming with people, particularly disreputable ones:
master conmen of all kinds, pickpockets and prostitutes short of clients.
Malgr6 l'heure, tout le quarter a l'air dehors. On croirait les 6tats
g6n6raux de pickpockets, escarpes et bouises. Ils sont r6unis par
ordre, sur les perrons d'entrte, et causent dol6ances, en guettant la
chaine de montre, la dupe ou le chaland A raccrocher. (EL, 108)
(Despite the time, it seems as if the whole neighbourhood is
outside. You would think they were the States-General of
pickpockets, criminals and harlots. They are gathered in order, on
the steps of the entrance airing grievances, while on the lookout for
a watch chain, dupe or customer to grab.)
It is a neighbourhood in complete revolutionary chaos, where prostitution,
stealing, trickery and killing constantly occur. We find the same master conmen
present in Himes' work: fortune-tellers, preachers and healers who, under the
guise of relieving their brothers' pain, relieved them of their wallet instead. Himes'
characters the Gypsy Ladies, Uncle Sam's sisters, Father Divine and Sister
Gabrielle32 have been replaced in Picouly's fictional world by F&licitt, the Mac's
wife and Delorme who profit from the naivete of their Black brothers.
The Negro Delorme is inspired by some of Himes' characters such as
Smith33 "saviour of the negroes", or Reverend Short34 who terrorise and harshly
treat their faithful sometimes even murdering them35 Calling himself either
"Premier Maitre Universel" (TDN, 72) [First Universal Master), "Notre Sauveur
Universel" (TDN, 74) [Our Universal Saviour) or "Maitre A Tous" (EL, 299)
[Master of All), Delorme the charlatan ruled the neighbourhood of Haarlem, like a
king in his "cour des miracles" reminding us of the famous "Divine Father" of
Harlem36 in the 1920's. He is one of the key protagonists of the two novels. An
ambiguous, bloodthirsty and terrifying character, who first appears to defend an
ideal symbolised by the painting which sits imposingly in a church pulpit in his
headquarters. The painting depicts the Marshal of Saxony leading his Black uhlans
in their green uniform, at the Castle of Chambord; interpreted as the Black man
attaining a better situation: En ce temps-l, (dit Delorme) les hommes de cette
trempe avaient leur quarter au chateau de Chambord. Pas dans les caves de
Haarlem, comme des rats! (TDN, 74) [At that time, (says Delorme) men of that
calibre had their quarters in the Castle of Chambord. Not in the cellars of Haarlem,
like rats!). In this first novel, because he is originally from Santo Domingo,
companion of Toussaint Louverture and dressed his men in the uniforms, albeit
threadbare, of the uhlans, one could believe that Delorme is training an army to
defend the Black cause. In reality, in an atmosphere of blind adoration, he submits
his men to a cruel tyranny and makes them live in terrible conditions: they are
literally confined to a world of extreme vice and violence where orgies and bloody
dead bodies are part of the daily d6cor (TDN, 74). "Trained to kill", they are as
bloodthirsty as their Master, as if killing soothed them. In L 'enfant lIopard,
Delorme's violence and cruelty towards his men goes up a notch. He starts to whip
them (EL, 293), and throw acid on them (EF, 285). He has practically reduced
them to serfdom, forcing them to work like beasts of burden to build his
phantasmagorical world called "La Route des Esclaves" [The Slave Route), a kind
of museum of slavery and the slave trade reconstructed in the basement of the
church37 "Sainte Zita des Causes Perdues" (EL, 142) [Saint Zita of Lost Causes):
Frere, nous allons bientot ouvrir le premier lieu de m6moire et de
comprehension consacr6 A la traite des Noirs.
Delorme divide son programme. II explique comment le visiteur
pourra... en deux jours!.... et en situations reelles!... revivre la vie
de I'esclave, de la capture jusqu'A la plantation. Comment il
pourra... sans augmentation de prix!... se faire razzier, enchainer,
vendre, marquer au fer, pour enfin travailler dans une plantation
aux Antilles... Incroyablement reconstitube!... II pourra aussi
voyager a bord de l'Arche des Esclaves, une reproduction fiddle du
Brooks, le fameux bateau n6grier anglais. (EL, 235)
(Brother, we will soon open the first memorial of understanding
dedicated to the slave trade.
Delorme reels off his plan. He explains how the visitor will be able
to...in two days! ... and in real-life situations!... experience the life
of a slave, from the capture to the plantation. How he will be able
to...for the same price!... be kidnapped, chained, sold, branded,38
to finally work on a plantation in the West Indies...Incredibly
reconstructed!...He will also be able to travel onboard the Slave
Ark,39 an accurate reproduction of Brooks 40, the famous English
Delorme therefore reproduces a system that he condemns ending up in
complete contradiction with himself. Through this character and his museum of
slavery, the reader becomes a potential victim skilfully exposed to the violence of
a slavery system and the living conditions of Blacks at that time.
Another "guardian of memory" in L'enfant 1opard is Moka, alias "la
m6moire vivante" [the living memory), also a symbolic character in the novel
whose individual path is already a historical testimony:
Moka? Le fou dor6 ? La m6moire vivante ?
Ce gr616 qui nous court apr6s ?
Un peu de respect jeunes gens. Gamin, il a 6t6 canonn6 par un
Ed et Jones savaient qu'en cas de mutinerie des esclaves, les
6quipages tiraient sur eux aux pois sees, pour ne pas trop abimer la
merchandise. (EL, 133).
(Moka? The golden madman? The living memory?
The pock-marked one who is chasing after us?
Some respect young ones. When he was a child he was shot at by a
Ed and Jones knew that in the event of a slave rebellion, the crew
fired at them with dried peas so as not to damage the goods too
In addition to selling coffee and posterity41 in the prisons, Moka also
practices a genuine craft of memory, somewhat like his creator Picouly, making
figurines of heroes of the time and characters from both novels, White or Black, in
his workshop located in one of the basements of the church...Saint Zita "so that we
may remember" (EL, 142). Stored in the same church which becomes a memorial
to the history of Blacks in the 18"h century is a well-behaved crowd of painted
Dites, Moka, qu'est-ce que c'est que toutes ces statues?
Des jeunes de Haarlem ont organism un Front pour la liberation des
NMgres de Cour. Ils les raflent partout oi ils trouvent... ces
figurations humiliantes du Noir... C'est comme 9a qu'ils disent.
Puis ils les remettent en liberty dans la fort de Bondy.
Ed et Jones restent 6bahis. Ils n'imaginaient pas qu'il y avait tant de
Noirs en captivity. (EL, 151)
(Tell us Moka, What's with all these statues?
Some youths from Haarlem organised a Liberation Front for the
Negroes from the "cour". They swipe them wherever they see
them...these humiliating representations of Blacks...that's what
they call them. Then they set them free in the Bondy forest.
Ed and Jones are flabbergasted. They had no idea that there were so
many Blacks in captivity.)
Thanks to Delorme and Moka, the historical conscience of a Black identity
is no longer left to the fate of Edmond's memories and intuition like in TMte de
Negre42. In L 'enfant lIopard, these new characters have the well-defined role of
recomposing the identity memory by collecting vestiges and tangible proof of
Black history. Additionally, several more characters have been brought into the
second novel to allow us to explore the complexity of the racial question.
Black, White, Red43: The Sensitive Colour
In Picouly as in Himes44, the subject of skin colour is placed at the centre of
the story as a synonym of humiliations and racial segregation endured. Firstly, it is
one of the physical features essential to the characters and it can be said that
through these two novels, Picouly evokes all possible shades as well as their
taxonomy to describe the characters' skin: : "peau noire" (TDN, 7) [black skin),
"peau tann6e" (EL, 251) tanbarkk skin), "teint de banane just mfre" (TDN, 53)
[just ripe banana complexion), chocolate (TDN, 53) [chocolate), "caf6 au lait"
(TDN, 53) [coffee with milk), "(face d') encre" (TDN, 73) [ink (face)), "cul de
chaudron" (EL, 140) [cauldron bottom), fusainn 16ger" (EL, 140) [light charcoal).
Moka, in charge of the colour chart, notes "64 different complexions for mulattos
and Blacks" (EL, 140). We also recall that "nigger head", title of the first novel,
designates the colour dark brown. Furthermore, it is a complexion which Picouly
adds ironically to his colour chart which appears more privileged45: it is the one
which bestows money and titles.
Allons, citoyenne, vous imagine un prince du sang noir?
Messieurs, quand on a deux millions de rente, on est pas noir. On
Voili une teinte qu'il faudra ajouter au nuancier de Moka. (EL,
(Come now, can you imagine a black-blooded prince?
Gentlemen, when one has two million dollars, one is not Black.
One is rich!
Now there's a complexion that should be added to Moka's colour
Racial injustice, by fading in front of social status, seems to obey the law of
the richest and finds itself caught up by social injustice in a way. Moreover, in Tete
de Negre, the conscience of class often sublimates the conscience of race opposing
poor and rich, republican and aristocrats, even when they are Black.47 So, when
General Davy-Dumas, mulatto and father of 19th century writer Alexandre
Dumas passes by, Gravedigger exclaims:
Ed, quand je vois les femmes le regarder comme qa, je me dis
qu'on aurait peut-6tre dii rester militaire.
Ton pare s'appelait de la Pailleterie, toi ? Non Alors, restons A
notre place. Nous, on nettoie les 6curies de Haarlem; lui, il y m6ne
ses chevaux. (TDN, 60)
(Ed, when I see women looking at him like that, I say to myself we
should have stayed in the military.
Was your father's name Pailleterie? No! So let's stay where we
belong. We clean Haarlem's stable, he takes his horses there.)
Conversely, in L 'enfant leopard, the feeling of belonging to one race seems
to prevail because, for example, Knight Saint George's dismissal from his post of
colonel is at the origin of Ed and Jones' decision to go off to America. In fact, our
two Republicans who, in Tete de Negre had faith in the Revolution and in the ideal
of an egalitarian system, are much more bitter in L 'enfant lIopard. A little over one
year after the September Massacres of 1792, the Revolution has not kept its
promises: social inequality and racial segregation still prevailed. Moreover, it is
the eradication of the latter which is now at the core of their actions.
Lieutenant, pour parler en soldat, nous pensions avec Edmond
qu'il n'y a pas de veritable avenir ici pour des gens comme nous.
En plus de quatre ans, les d6put6s n'ont pas encore trouv6 le temps
de prendre un d6cret d'abolition. (EL, 37)
(- Lieutenant, speaking as soldiers, Edmond and I think that there is
no real future here for people like us. In more than four years, the
deputies have not yet found the time to pass an abolition decree.)
It must be said that Ed and Jones are not any safer from the prevalent racism
and the racial prejudices48 of the time. Ed in particular, "is very touchy about the
issue of skin colour" which can make him fly into terrible fits of anger, a kind of
instinctive, uncontrollable rage (EL, 53). Source of extreme violence in Himes49,
skin colour is also the motive for several crimes in Picouly when it opposes Black
and White and also mulatto. The character of the Commander0s, a mixed breed
from Santo Domingo is a true Fanonian figure who can only understand the world
through the prism of skin colour. His inability to accept himself as he is will drive
him to commit three murders. He is the one in L'enfant I~opard, who best
personifies the relationships between mulattos and Whites. It is also this character,
in his association with Zamor, former free slave, which embodies the nature of the
relations between mixed breeds and Blacks. Theirs is one of master (or his
substitute) and slave, based on violence and fear. It is for this reason that the mere
presence of the Commander triggers in Zamor a wave of painful memories of the
plantation, oppression and repression:
L'homme parle comme un maitre avec la chicotte dans la botte. A
lui seul, dans ses yeux, il est la meute, le fouet, les chiens et les
flambeaux... la traque !... (EL, 251).
(The man speaks like a master with a stick in his boot. In his eyes,
he represents the pack of dogs, the whip and the torches...the hunt
The Commander symbolises the Creole, a mixed race person rejected both
by Blacks, because he represents the authority of the master on the plantation and
by Whites because of colour prejudice. He aspires to White assimilation and so has
contempt for the other Blacks and refuses to accept the colour of his skin: Ne
jamais parler de sang-me16 a un creole. Zamor le savait, pourtant. (EL, 253)
(Never mention mixed-race to a Creole. Zamor was aware of this, nevertheless.)
Like in Himes1 at the centre of the story, we find the conflict between races and
the colour boundaries which cannot be crossed (White/Black/Brown). Again as in
Himes52, only sex seems to be able to bring together men and women of different
races and social classes. However, only the fictional Picoulian world openly
establishes a link between Blacks and the slavery system.
The subject of colour arises in another form firstly in Tete de Negre when the
issue of adding the colour black to the tricoloured flag53 comes up. It is an allusion
both to the place reserved for Blacks in the French Republic and to the racial
inequality perpetuated during the first part of the Revolution54: Edmond se
demandait si cette histoire de couleur changerait...apr6s. On aurait dfi ajouter le
noir au tricolore. (TDN, 30) (Edmond wondered if this business of colour would
ever change...afterwards. We should have added black to the flag.) In L 'enfant
leopard, the play on colours arises again during the voodoo ceremony orchestrated
by the Marchioness, West Indian priestess and mulatto. The scene is reinforced by
the image of three circles which were colourless in Tete de Negre and have become
white, blue and black. Here we see the affirmation of the consciousness of race.
These three colours which are represented by products from the West Indies
cultivated by slaves: coffee, cocoa (black), indigo (blue), sugar and cotton (white),
are placed in the circles to portray a strange map which leaves us wondering if it is
a map of the West Indies or of an island in the West Indies. Nevertheless, this
skilfull stratagem ensures that we retain that the colours of the slavery system,
represented by the products of slavery are surreptitiously juxtaposed with the
colours of the Republic.
Against an Essentialist Concept of Race
Although skin colour is essential in Picouly, it does not, on its own,
crystallise the complexity of the identity question. All the categories and castes of
colours along with their various names are present in the two novels: Mulitre
(TDN, 22), mulatresse (EL, 89) (mulatto), n6gre (nigger) (TDN, 10), Noir (TDN,
29) (Black), n6grillon (TDN, 37), piccaninnyy), n6gre rouge (TDN, 11)" (red
nigger), sang m616 (EL, 253) (mixed breed), creole (EL, 253) creole.
Picouly also refers to classification by geographical origin which was
practised by slave traders at the time: "Coastal Blacks", "Guinea Blacks",
"Indians" (EL, 114). The classification of Black individuals by legal status as done
at that time is also mentioned throughout both novels. Reference is made to "free
Negroes" (EL, 46) and Black slaves. Picouly also introduces a completely fanciful
denomination "des Noirs RCB", "Des Noirs Reconnus Comme Blancs" (EL, 114),
("Blacks RAW", "Blacks Recognised as White"), a name which undoubtedly
alludes to the 1792 laws on free coloureds56 and which shows how arbitrary the
classifications are. This idea is repeated in the same novel when one of the
characters, Norcia, noting the capricious nature of skin colour, declares that he no
longer knows the colour of the leopard child (EL, 203-204) or when the Mac
declares that all the Blacks in Haarlem have become Indians.57
-Noir! C'est d6pass6 mes amis. Aujourd'hui, il n'y a plus de Noirs
Non, mes amis, il n'y a plus de Noirs de la C6te, ni de n6gres de
Guin6e! Rien que des Indiens. Sur leurs papers, ils viennent tous
des Indes C'est la demibre nouveaut6. (EL, 114).
(- Black is over, my friends There are no more Blacks in Haarlem
No, my friends, there are no more Coastal Blacks, nor Guinea
Blacks! Only Indians. On their papers, they're all from the Indies!
It's the latest thing.)
Yet, all of Picouly's Black characters are strongly identified. Indeed, if an
identification card is established giving the colour, place of birth, degree of mixing
and the legal status of each one,58 we see that none is identical and therefore has
followed a different itinerary. In truth, thanks to all these individual stories,
Picouly offers a general look of Blacks in the 18th century. Putting racial
segregation in the foreground, he reminds us that it is based on the slavery system
and thus on a system of complex stratification59. Furthermore, he shows, just like
Himes60, that racial identity must join with other contingencies (colour, culture,
class) with which they are irrevocably linked, forcing us to take another look at our
essentialist concept of race. Finally, both of Picouly's novels accord an important
place to free coloureds, this ruling minority of the 18 h century long ignored by
Towards a Transnational Identity
However, transplanting Himes's Harlem in the Paris of the Revolution is
going to result in the identity perspective, so close to Himes' in many ways, being
completely shattered due to the historical dimension of the story. Paradoxically,
the superposing of several periods of time or places in the story forces us to rethink
identity. In the Picoulian Harlem, in addition to the Incroyables and the
Merveilleuses of the Directory, we also meet horsemen in white tunics who could
be mistaken for members of the Klu Klux Klan created in 1865, yellow taxis
introduced to New York at the beginning of the 20th century, post-it notes and
graffiti taggers from the suburbs of the end of the 20" century, all of course, cast in
a 1789 mould.
Ca devient une vraie calamity, ces graffiti! Y en a partout. Avant,
c'6tait Vive la Nation! A bas les affameurs! o Maintenant, on
comprend m8me pas. (...)
Il y a une bande de jeunes, c'est < Ta gueule Robespierre! > Ta
gueule Marat! < Ta gueule Danton! > Tout le monde y passe. On les
appelle les tagueuleurs. On croirait qu'y a qu'eux qui ont le droit de
s'exprimer! (TDN, 52).
(Graffiti is becoming a real disaster! It's everywhere. Before, it was
Long live the Nation! Down with the starvers!" Now we don't
even understand. (...)
There is a group of young taggers, it's "Shut your trap
Robespierre!" "Shut your trap Marat!" "Shut your trap Danton!"
Nobody is spared. They call them the shutyourtraggers. You'd
think they're the only ones who have the right to express
From here on, the individual is no longer really anchored in a time or a
geographical area. Furthermore, going against a reconstruction which is supposed
to be purely historical, Picouly portrays Moka and the Mac, true businessmen who
have perfectly acquired all the know-how of the liberal economy. Moka, for
example, presents himself as a genuine speculator who correctly bet on the
inflation of the assignat (EL, 142-143). As for the Mac from Haarlem, "the king of
the fast en-bourgeois"61, "que l'on mange "en bourgeois", vite fait, sur le pouce,
entire deux 6meutes" (TDN, 55) (a quick bite to eat like a bourgeois between two
riots), he symbolizes of course, American style junk food. The Mac is also called
"l'entrepreneur en viande avari6e" (TDN, 64) (the rotten meat businessman) and
with good reason:
Dis-moi, Jones, demande Ed), c'est qui, ce Mac de Harlem ?
Un maquereau qui est boulanger. Ou l'inverse. II tient boutique
dans la 1226 Rue. II fait des petits pains a la viande don't personnel
ne sait avec quoi ils sont fourr6s.
Tu veux dire...
... qu'en pleine disette il ne manque jamais de viande.
Du pit6 de tete ?
C'est ce qu'on dit.
On va aller gotter.(TDN, 45).
(- Tell me Jones, (asks Ed), who is this Mac from Harlem?
A pimp who is a baker. Or the opposite. He has a shop on 122nd
Street. He makes buns with meat but nobody knows what's in it.
-...that in the middle of the food shortage he always has meat.
Head p&t6 ?
That's what they say.
Let's go give it a try.)
Between Tete de Negre and L 'enfant lIopard, his business thrived;
he is now head of the largest fast-food restaurant in Haarlem, and
even Paris. The restaurant has also been updated:
Les murs affichent des natures mortes qui repr6sentent les
diff6rents en-bourgeois proposes << Marat ), << Egalit6 ), << Patrie
))... On les mange debout. II n'y a pas de tables. Seulement de hauts
gu6ridons. (EL, 109).
(On the walls, still life paintings showing the various
"en-bourgeois" available "Marat", "Equality",
"Motherland"...Customers eat standing up. There are no tables to
sit at. Only high pedestal tables.)
Internationalisation and standardisation of lifestyles, we are projected right
into the 21" century where America has become a cultural and economical
super-power. However, what more ironic image of American cultural and
economical supremacy could one dream of than the popular Harlem
neighbourhood transplanted in Paris, especially when it is the exact copy of the
famous African American writer's Harlem? Even though it is still about the
Harlem Renaissance, heart of Black American culture in the 1920's, the Mecca of
Black American culture did not resist White America, its junk food, its extreme
economical liberalism, and the standardisation of lifestyles. Transposing the
1930's Harlem in a Paris of the Revolution erased all cultural, spatial and temporal
borders. Moving from one continent, country, time to another, it is somewhat as if
nothing ever changes. In reality, the intrusion of Chester Himes' two characters
and the transposition of the New York Harlem to the Parisian landscape of the
French Revolution, a kind of bridge between two spaces and two times, are the
sign of a continuity between the Black condition in the France of the end of the 18th
century, the America of the middle of the 20th century and the Western world of
today. Blacks remain marginalised and affected by the culture of the dominant
society. While exploiting the historical inspiration, Picouly's novels offer a
reflection on the present and the never-ending situation reserved for Blacks. Like
Himes, Picouly seems bitter because the day after the 18th century is already the
1930's, the end of the 20th century and a reproduction of the same injustices. In
fact, this contamination of the present by the past and vice-versa and the erosion of
borders between countries and continents indicate that the Revolution may not
have accomplished much and certainly did not change the societies and the
dynamics of power. The difficult conclusion is that the French republic like the
United States of America, has built its democracy on racial segregation and the
oppression of Blacks.
At the end of this article, we can conclude that both of Picouly's novels have
many similarities with Himes' novels. Since they belong to the same literary genre
of the American roman noir, they share certain obvious characteristics. However,
Picouly considered it important to pay a personal homage to Himes by including
direct references to the American writer's work, by reusing the characters of the
two Black detectives and by recreating an almost identical Harlem. The similarity
of the themes discussed is equally striking: parody of religion, violence, sex, Black
oppression, interracial relationships, absurdity of life. Picouly also kept the
identity problematic dear to Himes. Its historical foundations enrich the racial
discrimination at the centre of Himes' story, namely the history of the slave trade
and slavery. By putting back his story in 18th century Paris, Picouly chose to
reconstruct one of the most important periods in the History of French society
including a chapter on the often forgotten history of Blacks. In fact, at the heart of
both writers' novels is a powerful political message: Picouly demystifies the
republican dream as surely as Himes' does the American dream.62 In full
celebration of the 150th anniversary of the commemoration of the abolition of
slavery, Picouly reminds us that at the time of the French Revolution of 1789, of
liberal and egalitarian speeches of "Liberty, equality, fraternity" there were some
4000 Blacks, slaves or free coloureds in France and that the slave trade was at its
height. It is only in 1794, at a date later than the plot of our two novels, that slavery
is abolished for the first time by the Constitution before being, as we know,
re-established under the Republic of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 and lasting until
1848. It is not until 2001 that France will officially recognize63 the slave trade and
slavery as crimes against humanity. Picouly therefore, wanted to return to the time
of the 1789 French Revolution, show the true face of the "country of human
rights" and the beginning of the Republic: of a system based on racism and social
injustice. His writing is a disturbing criticism of official History which has only
wanted to retain the memory of an egalitarian society and a monolithic national
identity as the foundation of the French Republic. He suggests as well that in 1998,
year of the commemoration of emancipation and the victory of the 'Bleus'64
during which the media enthusiastically glorified a "black-blanc-beur"
(Black-White-Arab) France, the problem of social and racial inequalities have still
not been resolved and that France still refuses to recognize its ethnic diversity.65
In conclusion, with Picouly, there is suddenly no more America, no more
France. Only the force of racial, cultural and economical oppression by the
dominant society and its power to confiscate History and thus the identity of
marginalised groups. At the gates of the American ghettos and French suburbs, a
"global village"66 is born which opposes the concept of a monolithic national
identity, a transnational identity of the "wretched of the earth" and the "lost
causes". Picouly's novels, like Himes', tell the story of a History that repeats itself:
the story of violence committed against Blacks by Western societies.
1. We also note Himes' influence on the work of Dany Laferrire, the Haitian writer
living in North America. Read the article by Anne Marie Miraglia, "Dany Laferrimre,
cultural identity and African American intertext", Presence Francophone, no. 54, 200,
2. Refer to Ambroise Kom's article "Chester Himes outre-Atlantique" Regards
croises sur les afro-am&ricains, Cross perspectives on African Americans, GRATT no.
27, Presses Universitaires Francois Rabelais de Tours, 2003, pp. 90-102; refer also to
Pim Higginson, "Mayhem at the crossroads: Francophone African fiction and the rise of
the crime novel", Yale French Studies 108, ed. Andrea Goulet & Suzan Lee, 2005, pp.
3. Daniel Picouly, Tete de Negre, Paris Librio, Policier, no. 209, 1998, 91 p. Id.,
L 'enfant leopard, Paris, Grasset, Le livre de Poche, no. 15074, 1999, 347 p. From here
on, references to these works will be indicated in brackets by the initials TDN and EL
followed by the folio.
4. It is appropriate to point out Picouly's veiled reference to the "nigger head", the
1950's French chocolate-flavoured pastry which was oval shaped and made of liquorice
(therefore black) with one side made to look like the face of a Black person.
5. A barely disguised allusion to Himes' character, Lieutenant Anderson, superior of
the two Black detectives from Harlem and representative of the social order and thus
oppression. The Marquis d'Andergon who put his savings in the West India Company,
supports slavery and the slave trade; he therefore also stands on the side of the
6. This comparison between the Chester Himes' Romanesque world and Picouly's
refers to Ambroise Kom's work, Le Harlem de Chester Himes, Sherbrooke, Editions
Naaman. "Etudes", no. 20, 1978, 222 p., which proposes an in-depth and very interesting
analysis of the Black American writer's novels.
7. See Ambroise Kom, op. cit., p. 99-100.
8. Chester Himes, Imbroglio negro (All Shot Up), transl. J. Fillion, Paris Gallimard,
Folio policies, no. 19, 2002, (1959).
9. Id., I pleut des coups durs (The Real Cool Killers), transl. C. Wourgaft, Paris,
Gallimard, S6rie Noire, no. 123 1984, (1958), 184 p.
10. Id., La reine des pommes (For love of lmabelle) also called A Rage in Harlem,
transl. Minnie Danzas, Paris Gaillmard, Folio policies, no. 66, 2005, (1958), 281 p.
11. Id., Couche dans le pain (The Crazy Kill), transl. Jeanine Herisson and Henri
Robillot, Paris, Gallimard, Coll. "Folio policies", no. 245, 2004, (1959), 248 p.
12. Id., Dare-dare (Run Man Run), transl. Pierre Verrier, Paris, Gallimard, Folio
policies, no. 351, 2004, (1966), 275 p.
13. Id., L 'aveugle au pistolet (Blind Man with a Pistol), transl. Henri Robillot, Paris,
Gallimard, Folio, no. 818, 1972, (1969), 373 p.
14. "What's all this mess, negro?" (...); "- If he hollers, let him go", T&te de Negre,
op. cit, p. I I/Chester Himes, S'il braille, ldche-le (If He Hollers, Let Him Go), transl.
Renee Vavasseur and Marcel Duhamel, Paris, Gaillmard, 15. Folio, no. 1618, 1985,
(1948). Lafin d'un primitif(The End of a Primitive), Ibid. p. 79. Chester Himes, transl.
Yves Malartic, Paris, NRF Gallimard, 1956; Dare-Dare (Run Man Run), Ibid. p. 80.
15. L 'enfant ldopard, p. 149; Chester Himes, Couche dans le pain (The Crazy Kill), p.
16. See Chester Himes, La reine des pommes (For love oflmabelle also called A Rage
in Harlem), p. 125; Tete de Negre, p. 79.
17. Chester Himes, id., p. 12; Tite de Negre, p. 60.
18. "In recent times, the French roman noir has gained reputation as an influential
narrative genre of investigating troubling periods in European history." Claire Gorrara,
"Reflexions on crime and punishment: memories of the holocaust in recent French crime
fiction", Yale French Studies, 108, 2005, 131-145.
19. In this article, Haarlem will be spelt with two a's in reference to Picouly's two
novels. However, when referring to Himes' world or the New York neighbourhood,
Harlem will be spelt with one a.
20. This view however, obviously tarnished by what we know of the Black situation in
America, largely described by Himes, prevents the reader from endorsing the illusions
held by our two heroes.