fVOL. 16 NO. 2
Vol. 16 No. 2
Copyright reserved, and reproduction without permission strictly forbidden
1. HISTORY, FABLE AND MYTH IN THE CARIBBEAN AND GUIANAS
33. SUNSONG (POEM)
34. PATRONAGE IN COLONIAL SOCIETY:
A Study of the Former British Guiana.
Harold A. Luthman
51. CONCERN FOR CRITICISM
61. Collection One: New Beacon Reviews 1968 ed. John La Rose
65. Faustin Charles THE EXPATRIATE Poems 1963-68: Bookside
Press Lond. 1969 251-
Notes On Contributors
WILSON HARRIS, novelist and painter, one of the leading Guyanese authors,
recently writer-in-residence at Creative Arts Centre. UWI Mona Campus, Ja-
HAROLD A. LUTCHMAN, Ph.D., Lecturer in Political Science, University of
KENNETH RAMCHAND, Ph.D., Lecturer in English, University of the West
Indies, Mona, Jamaica.
MARTIN MORDECAI, Student, University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica.
JEAN D'COSTA, B. Litt., Lecturer in English, University of the West Indies,
L. E. BRATHWAITE, Ph.D., Lecturer in History, University of the West Indies,
History, Fable and Myth In the Caribbean and Gulanas constitutes a consider-
ably expanded version of two talks given at U.W.I.: this series (in revised form)
is the text of the Edgar Mittelholzer Memorial Lectures for 1970 delivered 18th,
19th, 20th February in Georgetown and to be published as a pamphlet by The
History and Arts Council of Guyana.
Cover photo: Painting
by Aubrey Williams, Guyanese born artist now teaching in U.K. Studied Art in
London (1952) and exhibited widely in U.K., Canada, U.S., Europe, Israel, and
Australia. Won 1965 Commonwealth Prize for Painting and represented Guyana
at Expo 67 and at 1969 Caribbean Artist and Writers Convention in Guyana.
The painting (photographed by undergraduate Paul Steinbok) now
hangs in the visitors' lounge, Mary Seacole Hall, U.W.I., Mona.
An official publication of the
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R. M. Nettleford, Director of Extra-Mural Studies (Acting).
Lloyd Bralthwalte, Pro-Vice Chancellor, U.W.I., St. Augustine, Trinidad.
Sidney Martin, Pro-Vice Chancellor, U.W.I., Cave Hill, Barbados.
J. J. Flgueroa, Professor, Faculty of Education, U.W.I., Mona, Jamaica.
L. S. Grant, Professor, Faculty of Medicine, U.W.I., Mona, Jamaica.
Roy Augler, Dean of Faculty of General Degree Studies, U.W.I., Mona,
Dennis Scott, Department of Extra-Mural Studies, U.W.I., Mona, Jamaica.
All correspondence should be addressed to:
Department of Extra-Mural Studies,
University of the West Indies,
Mona, Kingston 7, Jamaica.
We invite readers to submit manuscripts or recommended subjects which
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History, Fable and Myth in
The Caribbean and Guianas.
It occurred to me as I contemplated this series of talks entitled HISTORY,
FABLE AND MYTH that it may prove illuminating to look first of all at J. J.
Thomas's rebuttal of the 19th century historian Froude in his book FROUD-
ACITY. FROUDACITY was first published in 1889 and has been re-printed by
New Beacon Books in 1969. It is not my intention to review FROUDACITY at
this time but rather to highlight the crux of the dispute between Froude and
Thomas as I believe that will help to make clear the kind of historical stasis
which has afflicted the Caribbean I would suggest for many generations.
The crux of the dispute between Froude and Thomas appears to me to
have been set forth by C. L. R. James in his introduction to the 1969 republica-
tion of FROUDACITY.
In that introduction James quotes Froude as follows:
"In Egypt or India or one knows not where, accident or natural develop-
ment quickened into life our moral and intellectual faculties; and these facul-
ties have grown into what we now experience, not in the freedom in which the
modern takes delight, but under the sharp rule of the strong over the weak, the
wise over the unwise."
James then goes on to say that Thomas now "has him (Froude) in the
historical prison in which he has placed himself, and he (Thomas) overwhelms
the great historian." This overwhelming rebuttal, as James sees it, springs from
Thomas's insight into a controlling law of h i s to ry in contradistinction to
Froude's emphasis on the dicey, accidental character of nature and society.
In fact James sums it up in this way: "What is important is not the difference
in tone and temper of the two writers. It is that Thomas bases himself on a
sense of history which he defines as a controlling LAW. And if you have no
sense of historical law, then anything is what you choose to make it, and history
almost automatically becomes not only nonsense, i.e. has no sense, but is
usually a defence of property and privilege, which is exactly what Froude has
made of it."
The question nevertheless arises Does Thomas's stress on Law -
as C. L. R. James implies dispense with Froude?
In order to answer this let us look first of all a little more closely at
Froude's position and after that come back to Thomas.
As I read Froude I am reminded of a certain dilemma which was put
brilliantly by Darwin in his Descent of Man. Darwin begins by speaking of the
horns of certain beetles then he moves on to look at crests and knobs on other
"The extraordinary size of the horns, and their widely different structure
in closely allied forms, indicate that they have been formed for some important
purpose: but their excessive variability in the males of the same species leads
to the inference that this purpose cannot be of a definite nature. The horns do
not show marks of friction, as if used for ordinary work. Some authors sup-
pose that as the males wander much more than the females, they require
horns as a defence against their enemies; but in many cases the horns do not
seem well adapted for defence The most obvious conjecture is that
they are used by the males for fighting together; but they have never been
observed to fight, nor could Mr. Bates, after a careful examination of numerous
species, find any sufficient evidence in their mutilated or broken condition of
their having been thus used The conclusion which best agrees with
the fact of the horns having been so immensely yet not so fixedly developed -
as shown by their extreme variability in the same species and by their extreme
diversity in closely allied species is that they have been acquired as
ornaments. This view will at first appear extremely improbable; but we shall here-
after find with many animals, standing much higher in the scale, namely fishes,
amphibians, reptiles and birds, that various kinds of crests, knobs and horns
have been developed apparently for this sole purpose."
This ornamental stasis with implications that point to the wasteland to
excess baggage from cradle to grave depicts rather ironically but accurately
Froude's relationship to property as something so sovereign, so accidental,
so fortuitous, it serves to eclipse all sensibility. Such an eclipse of sensibili-
ty may well be an omen of an age in which, not long before, the person had
been property (slave property). And this area of eclipse of sensibility held
Froude's relationship to property as in its toils in its historical prison.
Indeed it is in this way, in terms of soveereign object or prison eclipse of the
person in slave property eclipse of the resources of sensibility that I find
myself re-reading James's remark that history makes nonsense or no-sense,
non-sensibility or no-sensibility.
Froude's defence of property property implying both flesh-and-blood
(in the fetish of the slave) as well as inanimate conviction (the world of things)
was a historical prison and Froude as prisoner of his age may well
have taken a malicious and pessimistic view of nature and society. The world
of objects, the world of achievement for him in its ornamental stasis -
was fortuitous, dicey (and therefore fundamentally precarious, fundamentally
inclined to be wasteful or purposeless) and the human person was an object
to be measured, validated, pronounced fit or unfit in an economic ruling con-
text. Froude therefore could see no merit in change. He prized stability as so
fortuitous, so accidental that any society which 'worked', which held itself to.
gether in some shape or form, should be safe-guarded against change. In this
context Anglo-West Indian society of the 19th century appeared to him to
'work', to hold itself together. Froude distrusted change since in his estima-
tion everything was so dicey, so fortuitously consolidated that change, in fact
was likely to rob it of any conservative historical shape it already possessed.
All of Froude's biases and aberrations in his reports on the Caribbean
sprang, I would suggest, from this central dilemma. A dilemma we have not
yet solved and which presses in on us in the late twentieth century in
many forms. It resides at the heart of economic fascism wherever this is prac-
tised. Rhodesia and South Africa are glaring examples.
And now I would like to return to Thomas. When C. L. R. James says
with brilliant polemic that Thomas overwhelmed the great historian Froude I
take it he means that Thomas broke out of Froude's prison of history by
visualising a law in contradistinction to a philosophy of fortuitous achievement,
dicey establishment, realm of accident.
But (with all due respect to C. L. R. James) we must ask ourselves -
Did Thomas really achieve such a breakthrough? The answer to this may well
lie in the way Thomas wrestled with the law in terms of the existing magistracy
of his day and in terms of various Governors of Trinidad and other nineteenth
It is here that beyond a shadow of doubt the unwitting irony of
Thomas's book is laid bare. For the scale of Froudacity upon which Thomas
measures his magistrates and governors is consistent with a comedy of manners.
In that comedy of manners the law consolidates itself as a just instrument -
around noble or benevolent figures which include Chief Justice Reeves of Bar-
bados, certain good and conscientious Governors of Trinidad and Gordon of
Khartoum. On the other hand it consolidates itself into a bad instrument
around bad magistrates, Governors, etc. Because of these fluctuations in
Thomas's comedy of manners the law comes into close rapport with Froude's
ornament and ironically reinforces fortuitous idols on the side of heaven or
on the side of hell.
According to Thomas had such-and-such a Governor remained things
might have been different Had such-and-such a Governor never arrived things
likewise might have been different. In the same token in the twentieth century
had Kennedy not been assassinated things might have been different in the
United States. In short Thomas's wrestle with the Law would seem to con-
solidate a fortuitous destiny or ornament of history.
In support of what I have been saying let us look at the implications
in these key passages in Thomas's FROUDACITY:
"It is almost superfluous to repeat that the skin-discriminating policy in-
duced as regards the coloured subjects of the Queen since the abolition of
slavery did not, and could not, operate when coloured and white stood on the
same high level as slave owners and ruling potentates in the colony."
Thomas expands on this in the following:
"History, as against the hard and fast White-master and Black-slave
theory so recklessly invented and confidently built upon by Mr. Froude, would
show incontestably (a) that for upwards of 200 years before the Negro
Emancipation in 1838, there had never existed in one of these then British
colonies any prohibition whatsoever, on the ground of race or colour,
against the owning of slaves by any free p e r s o n possessing the necessary
means, and desirous of doing so; (b) that as a consequence of this non-restric-
tion, numbers of blacks, half-breeds, and other non-Europeans, besides such
of them as had become possessed of their 'property' by inheritance, availed
themselves of this virtual licence, and in course of time constituted a very con-
siderable proportion of the slave-holding section of those communities; (c)
that these dusky plantation owners enjoyed and used in every possible sense
the identical rights and privileges which were enjoyed and used by their pure-
blooded Caucasian brother-slave-owners. The above statements are attested by
written documents, oral traditions, and, better still perhaps, by the living pre-
sence in those islands of numerous lineal representatives of those once
opulent and flourishing non-European planter-families."
According to Thomas, therefore, it would appear that with the decline of
capital "slave-property" with the decline of investment in human persons own-
ed by blacks and whites alike a hard and fast White-master and Black-slave
substitute theory came into force. This substitute high-lighted pigmentation dif-
ferences as never before as part and parcel of the ornament of society to which
the law conformed. In short the whole society remained an economic com-
modity though this time a new sophistication, pigmentation, came into force.
Thomas is not an apologist for slavery in fact he indicts slavery
with great passion but the trap into which he falls is in most ways identical to
the stasis (the stasis of ornament, of property as accident ,as fortuitous establish-
ment or comedy of manners) to which Froude conforms. Froude and Thomas.
in this respect, were children of the 19th century and neither possessed the
genius to penetrate intuitively or otherwise the ironic trap of the ornament, of
the prison of the wasteland.
Clearly Thomas failed to deepen the ornament of his age in such a way
that unpredictable intuitive resources would affect the prison of the object and
therefore the person of the object. Prison and person had become locked
together as uniform property and both Thomas and Froude played on this
synonymous condition in their individual comedy of manners. This meant, in
fact, that Thomas, passionate as he felt about objects of injustice, could not
supply a figurative meaning beyond the condition he deplored.
dance is a well known feature in the Carnival life of the West Indies today
though it is still subject to intellectual censorship as I shall explain as I go
along in this paper. The limbo dancer moves under a bar which is gradually
lowered until a mere slit of space, it seems, remains through which with spread-
eagled limbs he passes like a spider.
Limbo was born, it is said, on the slave ships of the Middle Passage.
There was so little space that the slaves contorted themselves into human
spiders. Limbo, therefore, as Edward Brathwaite, the distinguished Barbadian
born poet, has pointed ouvis related to anancy or spider fables. If I may now
quote from ISLANDS the last book in his trilogy -
drum stick knock
and the darkness is over me
knees spread wide
and the water is hiding me
limbo like me
But there is something else in the limbo-anancy syndrome which, as far
as I am aware, is overlooked though intuitively immersed perhaps in Edward
Brathwaite's poems, and that is the curious dislocation of a chain of miles re-
flected in the dance so that a re-trace of the Middle Passage from Africa to the
Americas and the West Indies is not to be equated with a uniform sum. Not
only has the journey from the Old World to the New varied with each century
and each method of transport but needs to be re-activated in the imagination as
a limbo perspective when one dwells on the Middle Passage: a limbo gateway
between Africa and the Caribbean.
In fact here, I feel, we begin to put our finger on something which is
close to the inner universality of Caribbean man. Those waves of migration
which have hit the shores of the Americas North, Central and South cen-
tury after century have, at various times, possessed the stamp of the spider
metamorphosis in the refugee flying from Europe or in the indentured East
Indian and Chinese from Asia.
Limbo then reflects a certain kind of gateway or threshold to a new world
and the dislocation of a chain of miles. It is in some ways the archetypal
sea-change stemming from Old Worlds and it is legitimate, I feel, to pun on
limbo as a kind of shared phantom limb which has become a subconscious
variable in West Indian theatre. The emergence of formal West Indian theatre
was preceded, I suggest, by that phan tom limb which manifested itself on
Boxing Day after Christmas when the ban on the 'rowdy' bands (as they were
called) was lifted for the festive season.
It is my view therefore that Thomas does not really overwhelm Froude.
The duel which they fought is nevertheless a very instructive one in pointing
up the historical stasis which afflicts the West Indian sensibility and which
may only be breached in complex creative perspectives for which the historical
convention would appear to possess no criteria. Oddly enough James ends his
introduction to FROUDACITY with a quotation from Merleau-Ponty which helps
to make the view I have been expressing more clear.
"The act of the artist or philosopher is free, but not motiveless. Their
freedom consists in appropriating a de facto situation by endowing
it with a figurative meaning beyond its real one."
In this connection we must note that both Thomas and Froude shared a
common suspicion of Haitian vodun and other primitive manifestations which
signified for them a "relapse into obeahism, devil-worship and children-eating."
Therefore they consolidated an intellectual censorship of significant vestiges of
the subconscious imagination which they needed to explore if they were to
begin to apprehend a figurative meaning beyond the real or apparently real
It is my intention in these talks to concentrate in some degree on those
vestiges as part and parcel of the arts of the imagination. In this respect I
believe the possibility exists for us to become involved in perspectives of re-
nascence which can bring into play a figurative meaning beyond an apparent-
ly real world or prison of history.
I want to make as clear as I can that a cleavage exists in my opinion
between the historical convention in the Caribbean and Guianas and the arts of
the imagination. I believe a philosophy of history may well lie buried in the arts
of the imagination. Needless to say I have no racial biases and whether my
emphasis falls on limbo or vodun, on Carib bush-baby omens, on Arawak zemi,
on Latin, English inheritances in fact within and beyond these my concern
is with epic stratagems available to Caribbean man in the dilemmas of history
which surround him.
There are two kinds of myths related to Africa in the Caribbean and
Guianas. One kind seems fairly direct, the other has clearly undergone meta-
morphosis. In fact even the direct kind of myth has suffered a "sea-change"
of some proportions. In an original sense, therefore, these myths which reflect
an African link in the Caribbean are also part and parcel of a native West Indian
imagination and therefore stand, in some important ways I feel, in curious
rapport with vestiges of Amerindian fable and legend. (Fable and myth are em-
ployed as variables of the imagination in this paper)
Let us start with a myth stemming from Africa which has undergone
metamorphosis. The one which I have in mind is called limbo. The limbo
I recall performances I witnessed as a boy In Georgetown, British
Guiana, in the early 1930s. Some of the performers danced on high stilts like
elongated limbs while others performed spreadeagled on the ground. In this
way limbo spider and stilted pole of the gods were related to the drums like
grassroots and branches of lightning to the sound of thunder.
Sometimes it was an atavistic spectacle and it is well known that these
bands were suspected by the law of subversive political stratagems. But it is
clear that the dance had no political or propaganda motives though, as with
any folk manifestation, it could be manipulated by demagogues. The whole
situation is complex and it is interesting to note that Rex Nettleford in an article
entitled THE DANCE AS AN ART FORM ITS PLACE IN THE WEST INDIES
(which appears in Caribbean Quarterly March-June 1968) has this to say "Of all
the arts, dance is probably the most neglected. The art form continues to elude
many of the most intuitive in an audience, including the critics."
It has taken us a couple of generations to begin just begin to
perceive, in this phenomenon, an activation of subconscious and sleeping re-
sources in the phantom limb of dis-membered slave and god. An activation
which possesses a nucleus of great promise of far-reaching new poetic
For limbo (one cannot emphasise this too much) is not the total recall
of an African past since that African past in terms of tribal sovereignty or
sovereignties was modified or traumatically eclipsed with the Middle Passage
and within generations of change that followed. Limbo was rather the renas-
cence of a new corpus of sensibility that could translate and accommodate
African and other legacies within a new architecture of cultures. For example
the theme of the phantom limb the re-assembly of dismembered man or god
- possesses archetypal resonances that embrace Egyptian Osiris, the resur-
rected Christ and the many-armed deity of India.
In this context it is interesting to note that limbo which emerges as a
novel re-assembly out of the stigmata of the Middle Passage is related to
Haitian vodun in the sense that Haitian vodun (though possessing a direct link
with African vodun which I shall describe later on) also seeks to accommodate
new Catholic features in its constitution of the muse.
It is my view a deeply considered one that this ground of
accommodation, this art of creative coexistence pointing away from apar-
theid and ghetto fixations is of the utmost importance and native to the
Caribbean, perhaps to the Americas as a whole. It is still, in most respects a
latent syndrome and we need to look not only at limbo or vodun but at Amerin-
dian horizons as well shamanistic and rain-making vestiges and the
dancing bush baby legends of the extinct Caribs which began to haunt them as
they crouched over their campfires under the Spanish yoke.
Insufficient attention has been paid to such phenomena and the original
native capacity these implied as omens of re-birth. Many historians have been
intent on indicting the Old World of Europe by exposing a uniform pattern of
imperialism in the New World of the Americas. Thus they conscripted the West
Indies into a mere adjunct of imperialism and overlooked a subtle and far-reach-
ing renascence. In a sense therefore the new historian though his stance is
an admirable one is debunking imperialism has ironically extended and
reinforced old colonial prejudices which censored the limbo imagination as a
'rowdy' manifestation and overlooked the complex metaphorical gateway it
constituted in rapport with Amerindian omen.
Later on I intend to explore the Amerindian gateways between cultures
which began obscurely and painfully to witness (long before limbo or vodun
or the Middle Passage) to a native suffering community steeped in caveats of
conquest. At this point I shall merely indicate that these gateways exist as part
and parcel of an original West Indian architecture which it is still possible to
create if we look deep into the rubble of the past, and that these Amerindian
features enhance the lmbo assembly with which we are now engaged the
spider syndrome and phantom limb of the gods arising in Negro fable and
I used the word 'architecture' a moment or two ago because I believe
this is a valid approach to a gateway society as well as to a community which is
involved in an original re-constitution or re-creation of variables of myth and
legend in the wake of stages of conquest.
First of all the limbo dance becomes the human gateway which dis-
locates (and therefore begins to free itself from) a uniform chain of miles
across the Atlantic. This dislocation or interior space serves therefore as a
corrective to a uniform cloak or documentary stasis of imperialism. The jour-
ney across the Atlantic for the forebears of West Indian man involved a new
kind of space inarticulate as this new 'spatial' character was at the time --
and not simply an unbroken schedule of miles in a log book. Once we perceive
this inner corrective to historical documentary and protest literature which
sees the West Indies as uttterly deprived, or guttted by exploitation, we begin
to participate the genuine possibilities of original change in a people severely
disadvantaged (it is true) at a certain point in time.
The limbo dance therefore implies, I believe, a profound art of com-
pensation which seeks to re-play a dismemberment of tribes (note again the
high stilted legs of some of the performers and the spider-anancy masks of
others running close to the ground) and to invoke at the same time a curious
psychic re-assembly of the parts of the dead god or gods. And that re-assembly
which issued from a state of cramp to articulate a new growth and to point
to the necessity for a new kind of drama, novel and poem is a creative
phenomenon of the first importance in the imagination of a people violated by
One cannot over-emphasise, I believe, how original this phenomenon
was. So original it aroused both incomprehension and suspicion in the intel-
lectual and legal administrations of the land (I am thinking in particular of the
first half of the twentieth century though one can, needless to say, go much
farther back). What is bitterly ironic as I have already indicated is that
present day historians in the second half of the 20th century militant and
critical of imperialism as they are, have fallen victim, in another sense, to the
very imperialism they appear to denounce. They have no criteria for arts of
originality springing out of an age of limbo and the history they write is with-
out an inner time. This historical refusal to see this consolidation of an in-
comprehension of the past may well be at the heart of the Terrified Con-
sciousness which a most significant critic to emerge in the West Indies at this
time, Kenneth Ramchand, analyses brilliantly in his essay in the Journal of
Commonwealth Literature, West Indies number July 1969 (published by
Heinemann and the University of Leeds). One point which Kenneth Ramchand
did not stress in his essay but which is implicit in what he calls the 'nightmare'
in Jean Rhys's novel Wide Sargasso Sea is that Antoinette is mad Bertha in
Jane Eyre and that Jean Rhys, intuitively rather than intentionally, is attempting
to compensate a historical portrait of the West Indian creole to bridge the
gap, as it were, between an outer frame and an inner dislocation. It is this
that sharpens the pathos of her novel and makes for that terrified conscious
ness which Ramchand sees now as a universal heritage.
It is this cleavage between a statistical frame and the inner portrait of
reality that makes for unwitting irony in the so-called new emancipated writer
and Gerald Moore in his new book The Chosen Tongue (published by Long-
mans, 1969) brings it into sharp focus when he states "Both M. G. Smith, the
Jamaican anthropologist, and V.S. Naipaul appear to believe that the West Indies
possess no genuine inner cohesion whatever and no internal source of power.
Having no common interests to cement them, the inhabitants of the area can be
held together only by external force. Professor Elsa Goveia reaches an opposite
but equally depressing conclusion. She argues that the West Indies had one
integrating factor historically, and this has been 'the acceptance of the in-
feriority of the Negroes to the whites'."
In this context it is illuminating to recall that Froude was doing on behalf
of imperialim what many contemporary historians are doing in a protest against
imperialism. Namely he, too, set out to demonstrate that the West Indies had
no creative potential. His view sprang out of the arrogance of the 19th century
civilised European whereas theirs would appear to spring out of what Martin
Carter the Guyanese poet, calls the 'self-contempt' of the exploited, formerly
indentured or enslaved, West Indian. Such a dead-end of history in which 19th
century imperialist and 20th century anti-imperialist come into agreement is
material for a theatre of the absurd.
I believe that the limbo imagination of the folk involved a crucial inner
re-creative response to the violations of slavery and indenture and conquest, and
needed its critical or historical correlative, its critical or historical advocacy.
This was not forthcoming since the historical instruments of the past clustered
around an act of censorship and of suspicion of folk-obscurity as well as
originality, and that inbuilt arrogance or suspicion continues to motivate a cer-
tain order of critical writing in the West Indies today.
Capitalism and Slavery (a brilliant and impressive formal thesis of re-
search written when he was at Oxford by Eric Williams, who is now Prime Min-
ister of Trinidad) would seem to be the model British West Indian historians
have elected. And I must now draw to your attention something which, I be-
lieve, confirms my view of the inbuilt censor in West Indian historical con-
vention. Professor Elsa Goveia regards Dr. Williams as "the most influential
writer on West Indian history to emerge from the West Indies during the present
century". Yet in an article entitled New Shibboleths For Old (appearing in New
Beacon Reviews collection 1, 1968) she has this to say of his recent work -
"In spite of all Dr. Williams's protestations about the need for cultivating
a West Indian inspiration, in spite even of his own authorship of a History of
the People of Trinidad and Tobago, can the reader be expected to draw any
other conclusion than that a West Indian subject-matter is somehow worthless?
Dr. Williams cannot have it both ways. If he ignores or devalues writers be-
cause they write about the West Indies rather than about other subjects, then
he is perpetuating the very attitudes of mind which have in the past led to the
neglect of West Indian studies which he himself constantly condemns. The
combination of omissions and hasty dogmatism which mars his present book
will not remedy the unhappy conditions which have for so long retarded the
development of our understanding of 'the unique antecedents of the people of
the West Indies'."
This I fear is lamentably true. Until the gap is visualised, understood and
begins to close, the West Indian historian and anthropologist will continue to
reinforce a high level psychological censorship of the creative imagination and
to consolidate a foreboding about the risks involved in every free election of
As such the very institutions of the day will become increasingly rigged
by fear and misgiving and political deterioration is the inevitable corollary. And
this indicates to me that In the absence of a historical correlative to the arts of
the dispossessed some kind of new critical writing in depth needs to emerge
to bridge the gap between history and art. Denis Williams stated the dilemma
very effectively in Image and Idea In the Arts of Guyana (The Edgar Mittelholzer
Memorial Lectures second series January 1969, published by the National His-
tory and Arts Council of Guyana). I now quote -
"Yet the first fact of the Caribbean situation is the fact of miscegena-
tion, of mongrelism. What are the cultural implications of this mongrel condi-
tion? It is important to have experienced' the homogeneity, richness, the
integrity of the racially thoroughbred cultures of the Old World in order pro-
perly to take the force of this question. It is important if only as a means fo
discriminating between our condition and theirs, of assessing the nature and
status of our mongrel culture when contrasted with the cultures of the thorough-
bred, of realising the nature and function of the ancestor as he determines our
cultural destiny. For we are all shaped by our past; the imperatives of a con-
temporary culture are predominantly those of a relationship to this past. Yet
in the Caribbean and in Guyana we think and behave as though we have no past,
no history, no culture. And where we do come to take notice of our history it is
often in the light of biases adopted from one thoroughbred culture or another,
of the Old World. We permit ourselves the luxury, for one thing, of racial
dialectics in our interpretation of Caribbean and Guyanese history and culture.
In the light of what we are this is a destructive thing to do, since at best it
perpetuates what we might call a filialistic dependence on the cultures of our
several racial origins, while simultaneously inhibiting us from facing up to the
facts of what we uniquely are."
I would now like to resume the earlier thread of my argument in the
dance of the folk the human limbo or gateway of the gods which was dis-
regarded or incomprehensible to an intellectual and legal and historical con-
vention. I had begun to point out that, first of all, the limbo dance becomes the
human gateway which dislocates (and therefore begins to free itself from) a
uniform chain of miles. In this context I also suggested that the gateway com-
plex is also the psychic assembly or re-assembly of the muse of a people.
This brings me now to my second point about limbo, namely, that it shares
its phantom limb with Haitian vodun across an English/French divide of Carib-
bean cultures. This is a matter of great interest, I believe, because Haitian
vodun is more directly descended from African myth and yet like limbo
which is a metamorphosis or new spatial character born of the Middle Passage
- it is also intent on a curious re-assembly of the god or gods. Therefore I ask
myself is vodun a necessary continuation of a matrix of associations which
had not fulfilled itself in the Old World of Africa? If so that fulfilment would be
in itself not an imitation of the past much as it is indebted to the past -
but a new and daring creative conception in itself.
If Haitian vodun is a creative fulfilment of African vodun one must ask
oneself where do the similarities and differences lie. The basic feature they hold
in common lies in 'possession trances' trance features, I may add, which
are not the case with limbo.
Pierre Verger in an essay appearing in Spirit Medlumship and Society h':
Africa (published by Routledge and Kegah Paul 1969) writes -
"Possession trances occur regularly among the Nago-Yoruba and Fon
people of Dahomey during rites for orisha and vodun They are the
culmination of an elaborate ritual sequence. Seen from the participant's point
of view, such trances are the reincarnations of family deities in the bodies of
their descendants reincarnations which have taken place in response to the
offerings, prayers, and wishes of their worshippers."
In a footnote to his essay he defines orisha and vodun as
"the general names given by the Yoruba and Dahomean people respec-
tively to the deities worshipped by them. They are generally considered to be
the very remote ancestors who dealt during their lifetime with some force of
nature, and who can still do so on behalf of their worshippers."
Pierre Verger has been speaking here of African vodun. I would like now
to give my definition of Haitian vodun which appears in Tradition, The Writer
and Society (New Beacon Publications 1967) as this will help me, in paren-
thesis, to unravel certain similarities and differences in African and Haitian
vodun and to look back afresh at the significance of the human limbo gateway.
"Haitian vodun or voodoo is a highly condensed feature of inspiration and
hallucination within which 'space' itself becomes the sole expression and re-
collection of the dance as if 'space' is the character of the dance since
the celebrants themselves are soon turned into 'objects' into an architecture
of movement like 'deathless' flesh, wood or stone. And such deathless flesh,
wood or stone (symbolic of the dance of creation) subsists in the very
protean reality of space on its own losses (symbolic decapitation of wood,
symbolic truncation of stone)) so that the very void of sensation in which the
dancer begins to move, like an authentic spectre or structure of fiction, makes
him or her insensible to all conventional props of habit and responsive only
to a grain of frailty or light support.
Remember at the outset the dancer regards himself or herself as one in
full command of two legs, a pair of arms, until, possessed by the muse of con-
traction, he or she dances into a posture wherein one leg is drawn up into
the womb of space. He stands like a rising pole upheld by earth and sky or
like a tree which walks in its shadow or like a one-legged bird which joins
itself to its sleeping reflection in a pool. All conventional memory is erased and
yet in this trance of overlapping spheres of reflection a primordial or deeper
function of memory begins to exercise itself within the bloodstream of space.
"Haitian vodun is one of the surviving primitive dances of sacrifice,
which, in courting a subconscious community, sees its own performance In
literal terms that is, with and through the eyes of 'space': with and through
the sculpture of sleeping things which the dancer himself actually expresses
and becomes. For in fact the dancer moves in a trance and the interior mode of
the drama is exteriorized into a medium inseparable from his trance and invoca-
tion. He is a dramatic agent of subconsciousness. The life from within and the
life from without now truly overlap. That is the intention of the dance, the
riddle of the dancer."
The importance which resides in all this, I suggest, is remarkable. For
if the trance were a purely subjective thing without action or movement -
some would label it fantasy. But since it exteriorizes itself, it becomes an
intense drama of images in space, which may assume elastic limbs and propor-
tions or shrink into a dense current of reflection on the floor. For what emerges
are the relics of a primordial fiction where the images of space are seen as in
an abstract painting. That such a drama has indeed a close bearing on the
language of fiction, on the language of art, seems to me incontestable. The
community the writer shares with the primordial dancer is, as it were, the
complementary halves of a broken stage. For the territory upon which the poet
visualizes a drama of consciousness is a slow revelation or unravelling of
obscurity revelation or illumination within oneself; whereas the territority of
the dancer remains actually obscure to him within his trance whatever revela-
tion or illumination his limbs may articulate in their involuntary theme. The
'vision' of the poet (when one comprehends it from the opposite pole of
'dance') possesses a 'spatial' logic or 'convertible' property of the imagination.
Herein lies the essential humility of a certain kind of self-consciousness within
which occurs the partial erasure, if nothing more, of the habitual boundaries of
I have quoted rather extensively here from my previous essay because
I think this may help us to see in rapport with Pierre Verger's definition of African
vodun that while the trance similarity is clear, the functions have begun to
differ. Haitian vodun like West Indian and Guianese/Brazilian limbo may
well point to sleeping possibilities of drama and horizons of poetry, epic and
novel, sculpture and painting in short to a language of variables in art which
would have a profoundly evolutionary cultural and philosophical significance
for Caribbean man. Such new resources (if I may diverge for a brief moment
and speak as someone whose chosen tongue is English) are not foreign to
English poetry except in the sense that these may be closer to the 'meta-
physical poets' to a range and potency of association in which nothing is
ultimately alien of which Eliot speaks in his famous essay on "dissociation
Such a variable emphasis is outside the boundaries of intention in
African vodun which is a conservative medium or cloak of ancestors. The
gulf therefore between an inbuilt uniform censor and the imagination of a new
art which exists in the British West Indies, in particular, is absent in Africa.
African vodun is a school of ancestors: it is very conservative. Something of
this conservative focus remains very strongly in Haitian vodun but there is an
absorption of new elements which breaks the tribal monolith of the past and
re-assembles an inter-tribal or cross-cultural community of families.
The term loa, for example, which means spirit or deity is of Bantu
origin not Yoruba or Dahomean, the tribal homes (some say) of vodun
Furthermore (I now quote from Harold Courlander's Vodoun In Haitian Culture
published by the Institute for Cross-Cultural Research, Washington).
"The various cults encompassed by the term Vodoun in its larger sense
are not easy to set down diagramatically because of different degrees of blend-
ing and absorption in different regions of Haiti. Had the old cults or 'nations'
remained independent of one another, as they probably were in early days,
they probably would have included the following: Arada (Dahomey or Fon),
Anago (Yoruba), Mahi, Ibo, Kanga, Congo (including Moundongue, Solongo,
Bumba, etc., or these elements also might have maintained independence), and
Petro (a cult in the African pattern that appears to have originated in Haiti). In
certain parts of Haiti one still finds Ibo, Congo, and Nago cults that have resist-
ed absorption, but this pattern does not hold for most of the country
There has been intrusion of Catholic practices and doctrine into Vodoun Many
of the loa are identified with Catholic saints."
Elsewhere Courlander has this to say -
"Vodoun has perhaps the same meaning to some Haitian leaders as
astrology to some leaders of India."
All in all while it is true that the role of Haitian vodun or vodoun
Is part and parcel of a prophetic and esoteric perspective in the Haitian body
politic the strict collective traditional sanction which belongs to Africa has
varied in a manner comparable in some degrees to the cleavage we have noted
between history and art in the British West Indies.
I could not help noting this passage in Courlander's essay -
"The question of Vodoun's Influence in politics in earlier days is blurred
or distorted for a variety of reasons. European writers sometimes were unaware
of Vodoun as a genuine religious pattern common to the entire nation, and,
as we have noted, frequently delighted In depicting the superstitious character
of the people. Haitian historians of the past were sensitive to the charge that
the country was overrun with pagan rites, and they largely avoided mention
of Vodoun. Little on the subject is likely to be found in government archives
for much the same reason."
It is my assumption, in the light of all the foregoing, that a certain rap-
port exists between Haitan Vodun and West Indian limbo which suggests an
epic potential or syndrome of variables. That epic potential, I believe, may
supply the nerve-end of authority which is lacking at the moment in the con-
ventional stance of history.
But we need to examine this with the greatest care in order to assess
and appreciate the risks involved.
In the first place the limbo imagination of the West Indies possesses no
formal or collective sanction as in an old Tribal World. Therefore the gateway
complex between cultures implies a new catholic unpredictable threshold which
places a far greater emphasis on the integrity of the individual imagination.
And it is here that we see, beyond a shadow of doubt, the necessity for the un-
committed artist of conscience whose evolution out of the folk as poet,
novelist, painter is a symbol of risk, a symbol of inner integrity.
With African vodun as we have seen the integrity of the tribal per-
son was one with a system which was conservative and traditional. There was
no breath of subversion no cleavage in the collective. History and art were
With Guyanese/West Indian lmbo that cleavage is a fact and the rise
of the imaginative arts has occurred in the face of long-held intellectual and
legal suspicion. Therefore the rise of the poet or artist incurs a gamble of
the soul which is symbolised in the West Indian trickster (the spider or anancy
configuration). It is this element of tricksterdom that creates an individual
and personal risk absolutely foreign to the conventional sanction of an old
Tribal World: a risk which identifies him (the artist) with the submerged authority
of dispossessed peoples but requires of him, in the same token, alchemic
resources to conceal, as well as elaborate, a far-reaching order of the imagina-
tion which, being suspect, could draw down upon him a crushing burden of
censorship in economic or political terms. He stands therefore at the heart of
the lie of community and the truth of community. And it is here, I believe, in
this trickster gateway this gamble of the soul that there emerges the
hope for a profoundly compassionate society committed to freedom within a
I would like to re-emphasise the roles of "epic" and "trickster". The
epic of limbo holds out a range of variables variables of community in the
cross-cultural tie of dispossessed tribes or families variables of art in a con-
sciousness of links between poetry and drama, image and novel, architecture
and sculpture and painting which need to be explored in the Caribbean
complex situation of apparent "historylessness". And furthermore in the
Americas as a whole, it would seem to me that the apparent void of history
which haunts the black man may never be compensated until an act of imagina-
tion opens gateways between civilisations, between technological and spiritual
apprehensions, between racial possessions and dispossessions in the way the
Aeneid may stand symbolically as one of the first epics of migration and re-
settlement beyond the pale of an ancient world. Limbo and vodun are
variables of an underworld imagination variables of phantom limb and void
and a nucleus of stratagems in which limb is a legitimate pun on limbo, void
The trickster of limbo holds out a caveat we must reckon with in our
present unstable situation It is the caveat of conscience and points to the
necessity for a free imagination which is at risk on behalf of a truth that is no
longer given in the collective medium of the tribe. The emergence of indi-
vidual works of art is consistent with and the inevitable corollary of an
evolution of folk limbo into symbols of inner cunning and authority which re-
flect a long duress of the imagination.
THE AMERINDIAN LEGACY
The cleavage which we have observed between history and art in res-
pect of the Negro in the Caribbean (as indeed in respect of all races -
Indian from India, Chinese, Portuguese etc. all of whom have become original
participants of limbo and Carnival) takes on even greater proportions with
One has only to glance at census figures, for example, in Guiana in
the middle of this century. Amerindians were excluded from the population and
their numbers given as an historical aside.
Hand in hand with the statistical ghetto goes a documentary stasis of
Amerindian cultures. I would like to draw your attention to a recent pamphlet
entitled The Amerindians In St. Lucia by the Rev. C. Jesse published by the
St. Lucia Archaeological and Historical Society 1968.
Father Jesse speaks of the Caribs as "resorting particularly to the
cannibalism for which they were notorious."
He also refers to "Shamans who acted as intermediaries of evil spirits.
From serious accounts left by early missionaries, it would seem proved that the
shamans dealt with the Devil and were at times possessed by him. In general
the Carlbe of the West Indies surrounded themselves with superstitious prac-
tices from the cradle to the grave."
In regard to the Arawaks he writes "In the way of religion, the
Arawaks seem to have specialised in zemis or small idols These objects were
supposed to be dwelling places for the spirits of nature and the spirits of their
ancestors to reside. Each person, according to Dr. Rouse, had one zemi at
least, sometimes as many as ten: the idols had the form of grotesque human
beings, turtles, lizards, birds, potatoes and maniac; some even were of geo-
metric design. Needless to say", Father Jesse continues, "the cult of the zeml
was associated with gross superstition."
It is revealing as another symptom of the cleavage between history
and art at which we have been looking that an organisation which describes
itself as an "historical society" should sponsor and publish in the year 1968
Father Jesse's biases. Clearly the historical assumptions and prison in which
Frazer wrote The Golden Bough have scarcely begun to thaw in the West
Indies. And this in spite of the researches of men like Mircea Eliade and Levi-
Strauss; in spite of a genuine renascence of sensibility which has erupted
into the work of the gifted Guianese-born painter Aubrey Williams through
Amerindian symbols; in spite of the new winds of scholarship blowing through
the work of men like the Revd. Father Placide Tempels and others.
I would like to say something briefly about Aubrey Williams's paintings
before I move on. There is no other painter in the Caribbean, to my knowledge,
who has attempted (as Aubrey Williams has) to map the sensibility of the Am-
erindian with colour. (By the way what I say here is my personal interpretation
of Williams. He may or may not agree with my view of his work).
It is my view that this use of colour is a poetic and liberating device.
One recalls a famous poet who saw colours within the vowel-structure of a
poem. More pertinent in this context is the kind of light which seems
to glow or expand in Turner and, in a different way, in Van Gogh: in another way
still in an Australian painter like Nolan, or in the work of the American Jackson
In fact paintings which intuitively or intentionally make colour a charac-
ter of metamorphosis are involved in the elements as a peculiar, often fantastic
scale. There is a musical intimation (which I find in Williams's use of colour -
a brooding, sometimes savage, undercurrent of music). But there is another
element to Aubrey Williams's paintings. Amerindian peoples for one reason
or another have been decimated. Therefore a transition of the blood of the
past into the scale of the elements is consistent with the character of space
- the theme of 'space' the re-assembly, reconstitution of the muse which
we explored previously in terms of sub-conscious and unconscious variables in
Negro/Guyanese/West Indian limbo and Haitian vodun.
In this sense I see Aubrey Williams as a painter of renascence who
has been affected in an original way by an Amerindian 'resurrection'.
Let us look, first of all, at the cannibal horizon of the extinct Caribs
which Father Jesse labels 'notorious'. Michael Swan takes a different view.
His isn't a searching analysis but he indicates certain signposts which are
useful. In the cannibal horizon he hints at "transubstantiation in reverse"
and points out that the accusations levelled by the Spaniards were largely
a smoke-screen for their own excesses. Excesses, I believe, partly com-
pounded and projected out of their own Catholic Spanish psyche of heaven
and hell. Therefore whatever inner fiends the savage Caribs truly possessed
as pre-Columbian conquerors of the ancient West Indies and Guianas these
were irrelevant to the Spaniards who were incapable of assessing the Carib
genius and psyche or the brooding melancholy of Carib temperament and
wished to find merely ready-made black devils in the New World consistent
with the ornamental surfaces of Latin symbolism.
Such a gateway complex between pre-Columbian primitive and orna-
mental Latin symbolism carries within it, nevertheless, a new latent capacity,
a caveat or warning we need to ponder upon deeply and to unravel in our age.
If we succumb to a blackhearted stasis to enclosures of fear we may
destroy ourselves; on the other hand if we begin to immerse ourselves in a new
capacity or treaty of sensibility between alien cultures we will bring into play
a new variable imagination or renascence of sensibility steeped in caveats of
the necessary diversity and necessary unity of man. In short we won't over-
simplify or crudify similarities or differences but will seek, as it were, however
difficult, even obscure, the path, to bring all perspectives available to us into
an art of the imagination.
We know from investigations into the psychology of the victim (con-
ducted, for example, in post-Hiroshima Japan) that it is he, the victim, very
often, whose consciousness is infused with omens of the future (apocalyptic
omens are often of this kind in a victor/victim syndrome). It is as though the
guilt of the victor stands on the threshold of a creative breakthrough in the
darkening consciousness of the victim as prelude to the birthpangs of a new
cosmos. It is not inconsistent, therefore, that we may discern, in the rubble of
the Carib past, signs akin to a new ominous but renascent consciousness at the
time of the Spanish conquest.
That new darkness or dawning renascence lay not simply in the ritual
morsel of the enemy they devoured or the flute they fashioned from his bone
but from a sudden upsurge of bush baby spectres which rose out of their
cooking pots like wraiths of smoke or sparks of fire. Certain vestiges of
legend in this context have come down to us and the bush baby syn-
drome corresponds to what C. G. Jung calls the puer aeternus the immortal
or archetypal child of dreams.
If this is the case we can look back at the Carib "immortal child" of
dreams with the aid of alchemical symbolism for which, as you may know,
there are three stages, namely, first of all the nigredo or blackness some-
times called the massa confusa or unknown territory (not to be equated
superficially with the colour black but with an undiscovered realm), secondly,
the albedo or whiteness (again not to be equated superficially with the colour
white since it means an inner perspective or illumination, the dawn of a new
consciousness), thirdly, cauda pavonis or the colours of the peacock which
may be equated with all the variable possibilities or colours of fulfilment we can
never totally realise.
The immortal wraith which the Caribs glimpsed as they crouched over
their campfires and consumed a morsel of the enemy carried therefore over-
tones of eclipse at the hands of Spain (akin to nigredo), overtones also of a new
dawn (akin to albedo) and of a host native (akin to cauda pavonis or rainbow
peacock). There was also the bone or flute they fashioned whose music has
long faded but retains for us the seed of an unwritten modern symphony. The
only attempt, as far as I am aware, to write a modern composition was made by
Philip Pilgrim in the 1940s. He based his music on A. J. Seymour's Legend of
Kaieteur. That music was largely in his head. It was his intention to put the full
score on paper but he died within a week of the first experimental performance
he conducted in Georgetown before a generous and greatly enthusiastic au-
To return to the main thread of my argument. The overtones and under-
tones of host native of a native consciousness could have occupied little
more than a latent threshold in the Carib/Latin world of the 16th century. For
that was an age whose over-riding character as in the centuries to follow
- remained rooted in notions of conquest. What I would suggest, however,
is that this over-riding character of conquest (the Caribs themselves were con-
querors of the ancient West Indies before Spain, England, France, Holland
came on the scene) was in a state of subconscious erosion. And I also feel
that this latent threshold this inner erosion of a certain dominant mould or
character of conquest this inner secret of the native (inner divergence of
the native from a consolidated given pattern which is the tyranny of history) -
is fundamental to the originality of the Guianas and the Caribbean and to a
renascence of sensibility.
All this is implicit, I believe, in our cannibal horizon out of which the
wraith of time ascends like subsistence of memory. I have often wondered
whether the ritual of Guyanese and Caribbean hospitality (with its religious
concern for the stranger) is not related obscurely to the theme we have been
unravelling the native or host consciousness.
The scale of the native as host consciousness is subtle and complex
and involves both inner and outer horizons we may only have begun to per-
ceive afresh in our age. The alchemical analogies I have chosen are not easily
comprehensible. They may need, in fact, to come into rapport with a new
anthropology capable of investigating the sub-conscious and unconscious
mind of an age. For we must remember the whole syndrome was latent,
unrealised in the West Indies from the Carib/Latin age to our day in spite of
the Carnival host. Indeed this latency, this lack of realisation except on
Carnival occasions when the whole populace seems to have been devoured by
a school of masks may have been inevitable. For the raw material of life
lived in the West Indies and the Central or South Americas has involved not
only peoples from Asia, Africa, Europe who were alien to each other (and
therefore caught, as it were, in culture shock) but situations of change (con-
quest, slavery, identure, emancipation etc.) which precipitated crises again and
again in economic terms. Thus, in effect, the Carib or Carnival "immortal
child" was an inner omen which diverged from the immediate realism of the
day. Such a divergence exposed latencies or sleeping resources. Those re-
sources of inner divergence need to be converted in our age, I feel, into an
original threshold in a West Indian architecture of consciousness so that
we may begin to cope within ourselves with the overburden or sheer raw mat-
erial of life lived which has been our blanket realism for centuries in these
In other words it is not that the Caribbean and Guianas are at the rim
of the world like a kind of gutted monster (as V. S. Napaul and others see it)
but rather, I would suggest, that the waves of action stemming from many move-
ments and continents since the Europeon Renaissance have come so thick and
fast that "realism" becomes, in itself, a dead-end, and the need begins to dawn
for a drama of consciousness which reads back through the shock of place and
time for omens of capacity, for thresholds of capacity that were latent, un-
realised, within the clash of cultures and movements of peoples into the
South Americas and the West Indies. Such an art of subsistence of memory in-
volves, I feel, a kind of shroud at times or organ of obscurity we need to par-
ticipate as intrinsic to the arousal of illumination in perspectives of sleeping/
awakening resources of the Imagination.
To return to the Caribs. It is possible to read into the Carib lot some-
thing of the sleepwalker of history which became their destiny in the wake of
the Spanish conquest. They continued to remain bogged down in the over-
riding character of the age they began to duplicate on an inferior level the
role of conqueror they had played in pre-Columbian times: they became
mercenaries or jungle-police of the Dutch and English. It was, in a way,
crowning indignity for a once proud sovereign people.
Thus the inroads inflicted on them by the Spanish Conquest never heal-
ed (perhaps we need to look even farther back Into the pre-Columbian mind of
the Caribs for the first causes of their downfall). There may have been a
brooding death-wish even before Spain arrived. With the dawn of the 19th cen-
tury they were virtually extinct. Their 'immortal child' omens, compounded of
morsel and flute, analogous to a prophecy of the birth of a native imagination
that could absorb both conqueror and conquered in an everlasting spiritual
tenant (or genius of place) remained a latent threshold they never crossed -
and assumed, as a consequence, inner proportions we would describe today
as nervous breakdown.
The process of shamanism resembles a nervous breakdown. The shaman,
as we know, is likely to appear in the tribe in times of crisis and his role -
far from being 'gross superstition' as Father Jesse believes is an indispen-
sable creative attempt to see through or break through a hang-over of the past
(in the Carib syndrome that hang-over was the diabolic overburden of the
character of conquest) and to make of every inner divergence, every subtle
omen of change subsistence of memory to feed imagination in the future.
There is a trickster element in the shaman which reflects his ambivalence and
can lead sometimes to self-enchantment or hubris. This is understandable
since the diabolic inflation of the warrior-king hangover is not easily seen
through. That this conversion of diseased character diseased warrior-king
into half-trickster, half-shaman occurred with the Caribs may be gleamed
from the events of the early 19th century.
As we know the Caribs were on the verge of extinction at the beginning
of the 19th century. It was at this time that Mahanarva the last Carib war-
rior chieftain to come to Stabroek arrived to claim his gifts from the English
Governor. These gifts constituted the pay the Caribs had been receiving for
services rendered as mercenaries or jungle-police to various occupying powers
since the Spanish. It was a custom or treaty which was fast becoming archaic
and little need existed any longer to guard the escape routes of African
slaves. In fact slavery had been or was on the point of being abolished.
Mahanarva claimed that a considerable fighting force lay under his com-
mand in the Bush which would constitute a threat to Stabroek. Little penetra-
tion of the interior by the English had been made at that time since their
fortunes lay on the coast. So the treaty with the Caribs was one which signified
a kind of over-all cover to imperial adventure since, in theory, the English
occupation extended far beyond the coast, and the treaty with the Caribs gave
that hypothetical occupation a symbolic seal gave 'teeth', as it were, to the
unknown world of the Bush stretching into a continent.
Such an arrangement seemed, on the face of it, empirical and astute
but the decimation at the heart of a people the primeval fall-out of a
broken tribe was something that may have been truly obscure to the Euro-
pean occupying powers.
It was Mahanarva who unwittingly parted the shroud for the eyes of the
English Governor. His tale of a considerable fighting force was accepted and
much impressed a scout was despatched unknown to Mahanarva to
reconnoitre the position. (That scout if I may diverge for a moment was
the beginning of certain new penetrations by Europeans the 19th century arm
of the conquistador amongst whom figure names like Barrington Brown,
Horsman, Schomburgh and others). However to return to Mahanarva. The
English scout discovered that the Carib chieftain had lied. There was no body
of warriors lying in the Bush. Mahanarva's ancient command had shrunken to
rags. A handful of warriors was all he possessed.
There are two issues which arise from this bald historical account which
we find occupying little more than a footnote in the history books.
First of all Mahanarva's "!ie" gives us an insight (if we begin to free our-
selves from dogmatic morality) into the trickster womb of the shaman. When
Mahanarva claimed that his fighting forces were intact we know now from in-
sights we have gleamed into our own psyche and into the so-called savage
mind, that he was compensating in himself losses his people had endured over
centuries. He became the womb of the tribe in certain respects that are
analogous to traces of mythology ancient Greek, Persian, Mithraic as well as
Christian in which stones and rocks become charged with architectural
latencies, inner rooms etc. and therefore give birth to a numinous tenant. In
the same token Pallas Athene half-feminine, half-warrior archetype of
wisdom leapt from the head of Zeus; the Christian aeon was born of Peter,
the Rock. The shaman therefore stands in a perspective wherein "death" be-
comes "life" and the diseased warrior-king is translated into half-priest, half-
feminine guide to the underworld. And that underworld of the lost Caribs con-
stitutes for us a very significant dimension of elements (animate and inanimate
realms of psyche, realms of subsistence of memory).
Secondly Mahanarva's "lie" to the Governor brings into play a fateful
- however subconscious erosion in the character of conquest. The shroud
which was parted gave the Governor a view of his hypothetical kingdom. There
were no Carib fighting forces lying in the Bush either to threaten Stabroek or
alternatively secure the interior for the English Crown but instead a chasm of
losses the primeval fall-out of a broken people who were partly victims of
time. As I reflected on this kind of realism, as some would call it, I recalled
my boyhood (before World War II broke out) when I often swam at the Fort on
the Georgetown foreshore. I reflected also on the observation I made when I was
last in Georgetown in 1966: the sea no longer stands where it used to be and
the land has grown in its place by six or seven feet. Therefore if I were to en-
dow the de facto mound or grave which now exists in the foreshore with a fig-
urative meaning beyond the present stasis of reality I might see the ghost of the
past (the ghost of my childhood) swimming in dry land.
That kind of imagination which is clearly suspect to the politician
- is true of areas of the primitive world and in my conception it coresponds
to an architecture of consciousness within which the opaque mound or wall of
earth is a relative, not absolute, feature; and the swimmer in dry land witnesses
to a fluid room or dimension that was also relative when it occurred.
This is but a small illustration of a landscape of the imagination which
can be unravelled to lay bare many complex rooms and dimensions that have a
profound bearing on Caribbean man as a civilisation-making animal, as an archi-
tect or a poet.
In Latin American literature this reality is something which, I believe,
occupies certain artists and novelists. This kind of vision, however, is quite
rare in British West Indian literature. At the present moment I am glad to note
that there is a new critical grasp of the issues. And some of the credit may lie
with the Spanish Literature department of the University of the West Indies
and the work which Gabriel Coulthard and James Irish, for example, are doing
there. I am indebted to James Irish for the quotation I am about to read to you.
That quotation is a statement by Gabriel Garcia Marquez which James Irish re-
cords in a paper of his entitled MAGICAL REALISM: A SEACH FOR CARIBBEAN
AND LATIN AMERCIAN ROOTS:
"I am a realist writer" Gabriel Garcia Marquez declares, "because I
believe that in Latin America everything is possible, everything is real. There is
a technical problem in that the writer finds difficulty in transcribing real events
in Latin America because no-one would believe them in a book. We live sur-
rounded by these fantastic and extraordinary things and still some writers
insist on recounting to us immediate realities of no real importance. I believe
that we have to work investigating language and the technical forms of narra-
tion so that the entire fantastic reality of Latin America might form part of our
books and so that Latin American literature might in fact correspond to Latin
American life where the most extraordinary things happen every day. We Latin
American writers, when we sit down to write, instead of accepting them as
realities, enter into polemics and rationalise by saying "this is impossible; what
happens is this man was a lunatic'. We all start giving a series of explanations
which falsify the Latin American reality. I believe that what we should do is to
promote it as a form of reality which can give something new to universal
As you will see this 'form of reality' of which Marquez speaks is akin to
my swimmer in dry land or to Merleau-Ponty's endowment of the de facto situa-
tion with a figurative meaning beyond a historical stasis..
In the third and last section of this address I intend to look, amongst
other things, at one area of the work of Edward Brathwaite who possesses
I believe the greatest potential among Caribbean poets for the revival of poetic
CONTINUITY AND DISCONTINUITY
So far we have been looking at a cleavage between the historical con-
vention and arts of the imagination in the Caribbean. I have suggested that
the historical convention remains a stasis which possesses no criteria for as-
sessing profoundly original dislocations in the continuous pattern of exploiter/
exploited charted by the historian. As such the West Indies history-wise -
appear to me to be little more than an adjunct of imperialism. It has become
essential, I feel, to assess dislocations which point away from the straitjacket
of convention. These, I have suggested, may be perceived in areas of folk
obscurity such as Negro limbo or phantom limb of the dismembered god and
slave, in aboriginal features at which we have also been looking, and in the rise
of the individual artist and imagination in the West Indies today. We have also
touched on archetypal resonances the many armed deity of India, Euro-
pean alchemy, etc. In fact, the word native is not to be confused with local
prejudice. Karl Marx, for example, was a profoundly native phenomenon. This
meant this his resources went so deep they appeared obscure and embraced
many contradictions to acquire universal application in the Western World.
Many economic theses, however, which are easy to read have a pseudo universal
or local/insular application.
To turn to creative writers and artists Herman Melville and William
Faulkner, Wole Soyinka and Amos Tutuola, Denis Williams and Carpentier (if
I may give a few examples) are native/universal spirits not local ornaments of
middle class, working-class or any other class prejudice. I would like to make
it clear that it is not my intention to denigrate individual West Indian historians.
I have a high regard for Professor Elsa Goveia and for Mr. C. L. R. James, but
it is my personal view that there does not exist a philosophy of history in the
Caribbean correlative to the arts of the imagination.
I have not been able, in these talks, to look at the new, largely un-
published, poets of the Caribbean. But judging from manuscript poems I read
In Jamaica it would appear that Wayne Brown and Dennis Scott are certainly
rising poets to watch.
There is a certain point I would like to clear up at this stage. When I
used the word "evolutionary" (as I have been doing all along in these
addresses) I intended not to imply a kind of static progression in which later cul-
tures are seen as superior to earlier cultures or in which some sort of biased
projection is made back into primitive ages (either in the pseudo-romantic
sense which exalts the noble savage, so-called, or in the equally pseudo-romantic
sense which exalts the pride or arrogance of the consumer age as a stage of
evolution superior to early primitive levels of human existence).
My use of the word 'evolution' has nothing common with either of these
views. I am saying this because I was approached by someone who unfortunately
had gained that impression. When I emphasise 'evolution' I am concerned
with the gateway complex between cultures. Such a gateway complex means,
in fact, that one stresses a discontinuous line the missing links, as it were
- between cultures rather than a hard continuous dividing wall. Such a dis-
continuous or dotted line means, in effect, that one has no dogmatic evolu-
tionary walled creed of superiority and inferiority. One is, in fact, intent on an
original overlap or viable frontier between ages and cultures.
Such a quest invites us to look afresh in each age at the life of the
imagination as this addresses us from the past with a new intuitive logic and
design that diverges from the prison of the past, or which speaks through us
towards the past and the future in a manner that also subtly diverges from the
prison of the present and may I add from popular prejudice. In fact I be-
lieve that it is here (in this sometimes almost subconscious divergence it
takes a peculiar kind of mind I would think to perceive both sides of the coin in
his lifetime, namely, the wall of prejudice and the intimate phenomenal re-
sources for divergence or discontinuity) it is here, I repeat, that the essential
objectivity or life of art resides.
It does not reside in the given historical prejudices of the artist or poet or
novelist or sculptor but in what is virtually intuitive and subconscious terrain
that may acquire its conscious application later in the extensive body or de-
velopment of the artist's work or at a later post-mortem re-appraisal stage by
critical intelligence who may be better placed to appreciate the intuitive
breakthrough in a work of Art executed within a certain eye on prisons of his-
tory. This view of art as an extraordinary drama of consciousness whose
figurative meaning lies beyond its de facto historical climate is anathema to
the materialist or conventional realist, though I know that Lucacs, a Marxist
critic, toyed with the idea and that the great Irish poet Yeats attempted to
articulate it when he wrote "man can embody truth but he cannot know it."
This is a helpful point at which to turn to a poem like Edward Brath-
waite's MASKS, the second book of his trilogy. There is an abrupt terrain or
discontinuous line in MASKS which constitutes for me anyway (the poet himself
may not agree) what I would call the dramatic breath of the poem.
Take for example
So the god,
mask of dreamers,
I repeat, "hears lightnings/stammer."
Note the echo of the drums, of thunder implied there is association
with the lightning that stammers across the sky. That stammer in association
with the thunder of heaven's drum constitutes the oracle of the poem.
"So the god
mask of dreamers,
rustle their secrets,
blood shiver like leaves
on his branches. Will
the tree, god
guide us? Will
your wood lips speak
so we see?"
Sound becomes sight because of the discontinuous line of the drum,
of the mask that allows for the breath and life of the icon.
Edward Brathwaite is, I believe, a Caribbean poet of renascence. He
has been affected by African images but in an evolutionary way as I under-
stand it. Evolutionary in that, it seems to me, a discontinuous line makes for
areas of overlap or gateway drama between Africa and the West Indies -
between sound and sight. Therefore there is an oral and visual coincidence in
his poems which invokes a speaking oracular voice as well as an imagistic In-
telligence. Because of this gateway between voice and image his icon breathes
and the oracle addresses us through the elements in a manner consistent with
West Indian folk consciousness.
One must remember that breath is all the black man may have pos-
sessed at a certain stage in the Americas He had lost his tribal tongue, he
had lost everything except an abrupt area of space and lung: he possessed
nothing but the calamitous air of broken ties in the New World. Historical
convention has no criteria for this inner subtle storm of reality (almost Yoga
reality in the Indian sense of the yoke between the breath of man and God)
- the yoke of imagination in the trickster theatre of the Caribbean as a breath-
body or field of metamorphoses beyond the de facto embalmed posture of the
slave in every catalogue of injustice.
This continuous exploitation of man by man, inhumanity of man to man is
reinforced, ironically, I believe, by ceaseless catalogues of injustice. We need
somehow to find an original dislocation within which to unlock a body of claus-
trophobic assumptions which strengthens itself by promoting a self-encircling
round of protest a continuous obsession with irreconcilable differences ir-
reconcilable frontiers irreconcilable ghettos like a static clock that crushes
all into the time of conquest. Much of the character of civilisation as we have
known it has been geared to this static clock which obviously seeks to shape
its material, all its human material, into time-tables of defensive capital, defen-
sive labour and other territorial imperatives. That is why the catalogues of
deeds compiled by historians conform to dead time that measures man as a
derivative industry-making animal, tool-making animal, weapon-making animal.
The quest for an inner clock is so necessary in our situation of social and
industrial character geared relentlessly to static time (to statistical hundles of
labouring, fighting time etc.) that it constitutes a universal, complex and libera-
ting theme. Something far different, needless to say, to the tautology of fact -
the continuity of embalmed fact.
It is in this context that we look back again at the discontinuous line or
breath of the icon in Edward Brathwaite's MASKS.
This brings me to the last section of my talk. I have felt from various
writers' conferences I have attended (whether a Commonwealth Conference
in Australia, UNESCO Conference in Cuba, seminars in British Universities, etc.)
that no philosophy of history exists in regard to the Third World. One has the
sense that a continuous plea is mounted on behalf of the black man and the
deprivations that he suffered. A plea which invests in deterministic horizons
within the past, present and future. Once again, therefore, it seems to me the
native consciousness is being overlooked within deterministic projections, and
criteria are invalidated which might probe into unpredictable perspectives,
latent spaces we need to unravel in our age. One has the sense also that vested
interests are at work to embalm the facts of exploitation Thus a new kind of
callous is enshrined which blocks perspectives. How many people are aware,
for example, that when the horrors of slavery were being mounted in the Carib
bean, press-gangs roved England in search of able-bodied men for the Navy.
The appalling deprivations such men suffered in the age of Nelson, the great
Admiral, would make for a catalogue of almost unbelievable horrors. Surely
this is a related aspect of a civilisation which saw men as bundles of labouring,
fighting time, time-fodder to fertilise the fields of industry or to fence the high
seas. For the Navy is not an arbitrary choice since without it the West Indies
would not have become a British possession.
So I return to the thread of my argument. In a society which has been
shot through by diverse inter-racial features and inter-continental thresholds,
we need a philosophy of history which is original to us and yet capable of
universal application. Caribbean man is involved in a civilisation-making pro-
cess (whether he likes it or not) and until this creative authority becomes in-
timate to his perspectives he will continue to find himself embalmed in his
deprivations embalmed as a derivative tool-making, fence-making animal.
As such his dialectic will remain a frozen round of protest
It would seem to me that the closest West Indian historians have come
to a philosophy of history is in terms firstly of a Marxist dialectic (C. L. R.
James was notable in this respect and deserves the closest attention). In terms
secondly of Marxism allied to various humanitarian and egalitarian principles.
Elsa Goveia is notable in this respect. She too deserves to be read with the
In her SLAVE SOCIETY IN THE BRITISH LEEWARD ISLANDS AT THE
END OF THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY there emerges what seem to me a key
"Sooner or later we shall have to face the fact that we are courting de-
feat when we attempt to build a new heritage of freedom upon a structure of
society which binds us all too closely to the old heritage of slavery."
For that "old heritage of slavery" as Professor Goveia sees it (and as
many liberal West Indian intellectuals see it) serves to buttress a state of in-
equality and deprivation of opportunity that threatens democracy. In short that
"old heritage" may come to constitute if it does not already constitute an
adamant and inflexible psychological fortress.
But as a humane scholar she reasons "Perhaps, however, there
is still good reason to believe that the forces of radicalism will prevail. For
now that a democratic suffrage has been established in many parts of the
West Indies, the time may be ripening for the emergence and success of re-
newed movements of protest."
Right here we see how Elsa Goveia has invested in a continuity of
humane intellectual politics which has no criteria for the subtle dislocation or
original metamorphosis within the prison of time she characterises as "the
old heritage of slavery".
In fact intuitively, unintentionally, Elsa Goveia puts her finger on the
sterility of West Indian politics and intellectualism. Protest in intellectual poli-
tical terms (marxist and humanitarian) continues to divide the Caribbean.
There is reason to believe that Dr. Jagan's marxist party in Guiana radical
and far-thinking as it once was eventually became dominated by the self
interest of an Indian peasantry who built a wall in the face of that very "old
heritage of Negro slavery". In saying this is not my intention to denigrate the
Indian peasantry. Far from it. Their tactic occurred simultaneously with sus-
picions directed at them from other sides. And in the same token the West
Indian Federation has already split into island fortresses who are intent on
building a hard-and-fast wall against that very "old heritage of slavery" within
themselves and without.
It seems to me that the continuity of intellectual political moral protest
(which has been the liberal climate of the West Indies spreadheaded by think-
ers like Elsa Goveia) will remain an embalmed posture until immense new dis-
ciplines (a new anthropology I would think) can assess discontinuities and
original divergences from the continuous character line charted by historians
as a humane imposition, one hand, or an oppressive deterrent, on the other.
Kenneth Ramchand and Paul Edwards put their finger rather well on that
continuous wall of deprivation which hems in the West Indian intellectual. I
quote from their article on Michael Anthony in The Journal of Commonwealth
Literature, July 1969 No. 7 "Anthony is committed in The Year in San Fer-
nando to involving us in the feel of a peculiarly open state of consciousness;
that this is achieved by a scrupulous adherence to the boy's point of view in a
deceptively easy style that carries the necessary sensuous burden as well as
sustaining the illusion of adolescent reportage. The kind of participation invited
in this way seems to us to be of a more experimental kind than that which V. S.
Naipaul suggests may be achieved in another way:
A literature can grow only out of a strong framework of social con-
vention. And the only convention the West Indian knows is his in-
volvement with the white world. This deprives his world of universal
appeal. The situation is too special. The reader is excluded; he is
invited to witness and not to participate. It is easier to enter any
strong framework of social convention, however alien. It is easier to
enter the tribal world of an African writer like Camara Laye".
The reader's sensuous involvement in Anthony's fiction will be further illustra-
ted, but there is another element (not restricted to the question of involve-
ment) to be traced in Naipaul's remark. The West Indian hankering after some-
thing like a tribal past or coherent social present as an organizing principle
for fiction, only latent in Naipaul's comment, appears more distinctly in Bim,
where praise for A House for Mr. Biswas is followed by this conclusion:
The Negro West Indian cannot really expect novels like Biswas until
he has a strong enough framework of social convention from which
Novels do indeed reflect the society out of which they have been created.
but coherence in the world of the novel is one thing and an external framework
of social convention is another. It is naive to confuse life with fiction at this
The line of reasoning pursued by Naipaul and Bim makes it all too
clear ironically perhaps how strong is the de facto historical situation
in the West Indies in black/white rigidity and how it encircles the imagination.
Edwards and Ramchand in their study of Michael Anthony seek to break
out of that prison by exploring The Year In San Fernando as an open state of
consciousness which endows the de facto situation with a figurative meaning
beyond the conventional stasis. Herein lies, I believe, the immense possibility
which the Caribbean novelist or poet may pursue. It is something which the
Latin American writer unlike Naipaul and Bim understands at this moment
It is my view that the subtle key to a philosophy of history is embedded
in the misunderstood arts of the Caribbean which we have traced through
Negro limbo, Haitian vodun, Carib Bush Baby, Arawak zemi, Latin and English
inheritances as well as the intuitive logic of a few Caribbean poets, painters,
novelists etc. One area I have neglected is to deepen our perception of the
fauna and flora of a landscape of time which indicates the kind of room or
space or material vision of time in which whole societies conscripted them-
We saw with the Caribs that they possessed an apparently continuous
character line which embodied pre-Columbian conqueror in post-Columbian
mercenary. That continuity, however, of historical line of the character of
conquest had been secretly breached in their Bush Baby omens of a new
native consciousness. This was not apparent in a collective sense to the Caribs
who continued to enact the sleep-walking role of conqueror at an inferior
Let us note also that parrots were the heralds of Manoa or Eldorado --
heralds of a bank of time. The Aztecs of Mexico, as you know, also visualised
a bank of time which possessed a cyclic character. For this reason at the
end of each cycle of 52 years according to our reckoning they were con-
vinced time might die unless replenished with the heart's blood. This terrifying
emphasis on replenishing the bank of time fatefully determined the character
of man as slave to an industry of priests who worshipped the sun. The living
hearts of men were torn out of their breasts to feed the gold of time if I may
be permitted to invoke an overlap between Eldorado and ancient Mexico -
and one is reminded of that 'mire of human veins' which Yeats associated with
Byzantium at a certain level of artifice and desperation.
The parrot was the herald or omen of Manoa, the rabbit figures in the
calendar of ancient Mexico, and if we appoint these as fauna of the land-
scape of time we are involved in the character of man as this was fatefully
established through philosophies of time in those civilisations.
The curious spin-off available to us today from cyclic orders, half-moon
orders, waves or troughs of time, rooms of time, some approximately vertical,
some horizontal, which we can trace through many civilisatlons is this: relative
time becomes the spectre of humanity. Cyclic time in ancient Mexico meant a
cyclic relative ghost of man to feed the blood or gold of the cosmos, linear
time in our 20th century programmed age means a linear relative ghost
of man to serve five year or ten year or twenty year plan. Architectural time
(in which the relative scale overlooked by each monolithic age would
emerge as the thread running through a philosophy of history) would bring us
into rapport with a liberated spectre of man inhabiting shapes of time all
being rooms in an architecture of consciousness. So far this relative vision
has not been the case and the character of man has been encased in a
monolithic or continuous wall and one needs immense concentration upon the
texture of an age (through the texture of an age into discontinuous corner-
stones which are liberating architectureweek).
In a sense it is the revitalised fauna and flora of legend, in an age of
renascence when perspectives into the past re-open afresh, which invoke the
strangest ironical overlap between apparently irreconcilable ages or cultures.
Let me re-state the position. History in pursuing a continuous wall as its
domain, in consolidating national or local political and economic self-interest,
becomes the servant of a material vision of time. As such it has not realized
criteria to assess the subtle discontinuities which point to the originality of
man as a civilisation-making animal who can alter the architectural complex of
an age. Such an alteration or dialectic of alteration would seem to me the
cornerstone for a philosophy of history in the Third World of the Caribbean.
It would bring into play the inspiration for new criteria within the dead-end of
economic and political institutions. It would alert us to the duality that is
characteristic of calendars of fate associated with dead time as the spectral
irony and archaeology of the muse.
And as there have been
there are drums,
a prospect of fluidity: and
a special melancholy, horns
arching their mossblue thoughts
across cane-sharpened skies:
more than a simple longing
after yesterdays and fruit.
Things fall apart:
the merest sigh of grass
and dryveined fingers reach
toward the child, imperial
in her cloth-of-dust and grave
beyond her means: all childhood
robed in singing flies.
Time has flown on dusty wings
and bats despair of ever
being born; slow
ground lizards fluctuate
in thrall to green impressions.
And at these times I like to think
I was wrenched from those moon-
dreamt mountains, trailing flutes
and bleeding vines, dark culture
and the rituals of semen feverish God-
men plundered with my mother
of their legends; that sluggish river
voices echo somewhere in the distant
morning of my blood; that something
trumpets on this windless afternoon.
Patronage in Colonial Society:
A Study of the Former British Guiana
Patronage is a matter of serious concern in newly independent states.
Very often as part of the package deal of independence, conscious attempts
are made to ensure that the administration of certain agencies is insulated
against what is regarded as "improper pressures." The 1951 Constitution Com-
mission on Guyana had, for example, pointed to the possibility of ministers being
the object of political pressures from supporters who would be seeking posi-
tions in return for their political support.2 As a consequence, a conscious
attempt was made to establish bodies such as Civil Service Commissions,
Police Service Commissions and Judicial Service Commissions with members
supposed to be independent and impartial, with a view to ensuring that the
public servants involved received justice in personnel matters, and that ap-
pointments were properly made. 3
The contrast between behaviour during the colonial and post-colonial
periods is only too striking, and the unwary observer is likely to conclude that
such agencies were not necessary in the era because the possibilities of
abuse were then remote. It is, after all, only too frequently asserted that the
responsibility which the colonial administrators owed to the Secretary of State
for the Colonies was sufficient, and an effective safeguard, against malprac-
tices. But it is generally true that this arrangement worked better in theory
than in practice, and in fact in most cases colonial officials enjoyed a wide
measure of freedom of action.
In this study the concern will be not so much with the question of how
patronage affected the colonial civil servant as with its impact on the politician,
particularly during the period between 1891 and 1928. However, the conclu-
sions arrived at should have a wider application than for this period, if ony be-
cause colonialism had a much longer history in the country. Further, the
conclusions should also have considerable revelance for a wider area than
Guyana, especially for the group which, until recently was referred to as the
British West Indian Islands. It is quite common knowledge that there was much
in common between colonial practice in Guyana and her West Indian neigh-
bours. Though geographically separate from the West Indies, the colony of
British Guiana was always administered as a part of the area. There was also
the frequent inter-change of colonial officials between British Guiana and the
islands. Further, they shared a similar social, economic and political history.
It is the intention to demonstrate in this study that patronage was not
only quite common during the colonial era, but also that it performed certain
very important functions. In short, that it was a very useful aid to the colonial
administrator in his task of governing colonial peoples.
THE CONSTITUTIONAL SETTING
In order to place the discussion in perspective, it is necessary to define
the nature of the constitutional instruments in existence in the country during
the period under review. It is usual to refer to the Constitution of Guyana be-
tween 1891 and 1928 as "unique in the Empire" We need not trace in any
deail the origins of these somewhat peculiar institutions, which were closely
bound up with the Early Dutch Settlement dating back to the 16th century.
For one thing, this is not altogether relevant to this study and secondly, the
story is amply documented in the monumental work of Sir Cecil Clementi, a
former Colonial Secretary of the colony. For the present purpose it is sufficient
to know that the legislature was divided on a functional basis into two parts.
Firstly, there was a Court of Policy,6 charged with lawmaking, consisting of
eight elected and eight official members. However, in case of a tie, the Gov-
ernor, who presided at meetings of the body, could have broken the deadlock
by exercising a casting vote. This meant that the Government was in a position
to secure a majority in the Court of Policy.
Secondly, there was a Combined Court of twentytwo members consisting
of all members of the Court of Policy (i.e. the eight official and eight elected)
plus six additional elected members called Financial Representatives. Both the
members of the Court of Policy and the Financial Representatives were elected
on the basis of a property qualification, by a very small electorate. Prior to
1892, Members of the Court of Policy were elected through an electoral college
(called the College of Kiezers) but this body was abolished in that year and
both groups of politicians were then elected by direct ballot.
In terms of functions, the Combined Court was considered the more
important body since it possessed the duty of raising and authorising the
spending of money. It was mainly the control the sugar planters possessed
over this body which placed them in a position to dominate the politics of Bri-
tish Guiana during the 19th century. After the constitutional changes of 1892,
the elected members were in a clear majority of six in this body. It is this fact
that has led to the assertion that the elected members possessed exclusive
control over financial matters, but although on the face of things this state-
ment seems reasonable and logical, it is in fact very misleading.
There were a number of de facto limitations on the politicians' position.
For example, no elected member could have moved a motion committing funds
on any item of expenditure, though they possessed the right to move a motion
for a reduction or omission of an item.'The former function remained ex-
clusively with the official or Government section. Therefore, if the elected
members desired to commit a certain item of expenditure, they had to do so
through the official section. This naturally placed some powers in the hands of
the official section. Again, even if an item was authorised, it remained with
the Government to, or not to, make it a reality by taking action on it. The Gov-
ernment was not always inclined to take action on measures even after they
were approved by the Combined Court.
Finally, the position of the Secretary of State also operated as a limitation
on the powers of the Combined Court. It is sometimes represented that British
Guiana was not, under the old Dutch system, a typical Crown Colony because
the Governor did not possess reserve powers, and the Secretary of State did not
have the final say in its administration." Certain limits were, however, placed
on the size of items which the Combined Court could have dealt with prior to
approval by the British Minister, and it sometimes occurred that he disagreed
with expenditure approved by the Combined Court and exercised a very effec-
tive veto." "
Before 1892,2 the membership of both the Combined Court and the
Court of Policy was monopolised by the attorneys of the large sugar and allied
commercial interests. This was ensured by the relatively high property and in-
come qualifications required cf candidates, and the existence of the College of
Keizers which was also effectively controlled by the interests. The members of
the College were elected for life also on the basis of a high property qualifica-
tion. They had the single function of submitting two names to the Court of
Policy, one of which was selected to fill any existing vacancy. However, partly
as a result of the changes introduced in 1892, the monopoly of the planters
was broken and by 1926, the stage was reached where there was only one
sugar planter among the members of the Combined Court. Their successors
were members of a professional and commercial group belonging to the middle
class of mainly Negroes, Coloured Portuguese and, to a lesser extent, East
Indians. More would be said later about this group of persons, but to continue
the description of the constitutional instruments in 1892, an Executive Council
was created for the first time and it relieved the Court of Policy of the execu-
tive functions which it previously possessed. The new Executive Council was
by no means executive in the true sense of the term, but was advisory to the
Governor. It consisted of both official and un-official members and was ap-
pointed by the Crown on the recommendation of the Governor. From its incep-
tion the Government pursued the policy of appointing the un-official members
from the ranks of the representatives of the sugar and commercial interests.
After 1916 no elected member enjoyed membership but the representatives of
sugar and commerce were still appointed even though they did not possess
seats in the legislature. Therefore after that year, in so far as the formal institu-
tions of Government were concerned, there was no connection between the
Government and the elected members, except in the common membership
which the two sides enjoyed in the Combined Court. Yet in spite of this, and the
Government being in a minority, the stage was seldom reached where the Gov-
ment's proposals were frustrated i.e. after the so-called accession to power
of the middle class politicians.
Before any light could be thrown on the matter it would be necessary to
give some consideration to the type of persons who were described as "middle
class politicians" The main characteristics of the 19th century type politician
may be summarised as his association with the sugar and allied industries, his
whiteness (whether or not he was locally born) and membership of the upper
class. Portuguese did not qualify under the third characteristic, nor did all per-
sons of European origin. The lesser group of whites belonging to the "over-
seer class' were not allowed to interact socially with the more "important"
manager class. Their associates were usually the very few more highly placed
East Indians, fortunate enough to achieve limited positions of authority over
their more numerous less fortunate brethren.' Outside of the estate system,
there was also a group of Europeans, mainly resident in Georgetown, who did
not enjoy the high status of the heads of the more important commercial con-
cerns, and the Heads of Government Departments. These were generally group-
ed with the more educated Negroes, Portuguese, East Indians, Chinese and
Coloured. Although social stratification was not a simple matter of race, it was
generally true to say that the upper class was recruited exclusively from Euro-
During the period under review persons from the upper class were still
occasionally returned to the legislature but by 1926, as we have seen above,
their number was reduced to one. They were replaced by the new type politi-
cian of middle class standing. Culturally there was little to choose between
the upper and middle class politicians. One of the best descriptions of the latter
was provided by E. F. L. Wood on his visit in 1921-22. According to him the
rapid spreading of education had tended to produce "a coloured and black
intelligentsia", whose members were quick to absorb elements of knowledge
requisite for entry into the learned professions. After their "return from travel
abroad with minds emancipated and enlarged" they were ready to devote their
time and energy to propaganda among their own people. There was another
group of the population, consisting of those with mixed stock, who while colour-
ed in appearance possessed "a large infusion of European blood" Wood voiced
the prejudice of the time when he stated that those of mixed race threw up
"not a few individuals of somewhat exceptional capacity and intelligence, who
play a prominent part in the public life of the communities" 16
The politicians, too, supplied some description of themselves when they
advanced arguments to refute the claim that "the European class or section of
our population is better qualified to hold public office. As far as they were
concerned, although there was a racial difference, they were 'part of a large
number of men of the same culture, refinement and influence ,,
The new type politician did not reject the dominant British values but
embraced them with a fervour which even the Europeans could not surpass.
Thus, it should occasion little surprise that a lawyer of "pure Negro stock"
was reported as saying that he was no African. He was born in the celebrated
village of Buxton and was given what he termed a British civilisation, and knew
no other." Not only was the class inspired culturally by British values; they
also contrived to maintain frequent and active cultural relations with England,
which they regarded as the Mother country. They were also in very keen com-
petition with each other for opportunities to display their Britishness. Membership
of the legislature provided one such opportunity, and other forms of involve-
ment with Government, were frequently envisaged as means of gaining social
recognition in the society. This was the more necessary because, in spite of the
absence of any meaningful or significant cultural differences between them and
the upper class, they were not afforded the same degree of social acceptance
and deference as their white counterparts. There are numerous cases of dis-
criminatory treatment being meted out to the politicians by colonial officials."
But the important point to note is that their attitudes, and social position, were
important in defining the nature of the political relationship which existed be-
tween them and the Government.
THE POLITICIANS' BEHAVIOUR
There were at least three situations in which the Government could have
secured a majority in the Combined Court in spite of its numerical minority.
(a) If on a division all of the officials voted together while a sufficient
number of elected members voted with them and not with the other
(b) If a sufficient number of elected members were absent from a sitting
of the Combined Court while all the officials were present.
(c) If a sufficient number of elected members abstained from voting at
Nothing in these statements should be construed as suggesting that all, or
most of the Government's measures were forced to a division. The evidence
suggests that the great majority were passed unopposed, but where divisions
occurred, one, or all three of these conditions often obtained. For example, in
1920 the Governor reported to the Secretary of State for the Colonies that on
occasions a significant number of members would absent themselves from the
Council room before a division so as to ensure, while not appearing to sup-
port the Government, that its views prevailed." Again in 1931 another Governor
provided further evidence on this practice when he reported that it was not
infrequently the case that the elected members absented themselves from de-
bates "instead of supporting a Government Motion with which they were in
agreement" because they did not wish "to divide against their fellow elec-
The question that has to be answered is what prompted the politicians
to behave in the way described although they constituted the clear majority
stated above? The politicians could have been grouped under two broad types
(a) Those who were supporters, and advocated support of the Govern-
(b) Those who opposed, and advocated opposition of the Government.
These attitudes should not, however, be regarded as representing permanent
and unchanging attitudes, but the posturing of elected members at particular
times, and in response to particular circumstances. The once most inveterate
opponent, or dedicated supporter of the Government found no difficulty in shift-
ing from one position to the other. Thus, Francis Dias was in 1917 numbered
among the opposers of Government to the extent that he declared that "he did
not go to Government House or tennis parties or tea parties" 22 He also called
for the election of men "who would keep away from Government House
the seat of corruption".2 But by 1928 Dias was not only in occupancy of a seat
in the Executive Council, but also in the new Legislative Council through nomi-
nation by the Governor.2" The latter gave as one of the reasons for nomina-
ting Dias the fact that he could have been relied on to support the Govern-
ment "in practically anything which does not expose him to odium in legal,
Portuguese or Roman Catholic circles 25
Another similar case was that of P. N. Browne who was not awarded the
K.C. on application in 1915 because he was considered politically dan-
gerous.26 But by 1917 a much more favourable report was submitted on him
and it was clear that by this time he was well in the "Government camp. He
had, according to the O.A.G.'s account, "steadily and courageously supported
the Government both in connection with the attack upon Sir Walter Egerton and
the difficulties arising therefrom and also in the recent sea defence negotia-
A. A. Thorne was also up to 1919 regarded as one of the foremost op-
ponents and critics of the Government, and during this time spared no oppor-
tunity of attacking its policies and some of the personalities involved. However,
by 1921 he was numbered among the "supporters of Government" Nelson
Cannon, too, had passed through a similar process. On his election to the
Combined Court in 1916 he was grouped among the opponents, but he too had
by 1921 found himself in the "Government Camp" to the extent that he was
described as a "quasi-nominated member" 2 By 1926 he was again among
the chief opponents of Government and Leader of the "Popular Party"2'
which were the chief exponents of opposition to, and coercion of the Govern-
THE USE OF PATRONAGE
The ambivalence of the politicians was brought about mainly by the
favours the Government had at its disposal and the use which was made of
them. So a short answer to the question posed previously is that support of the
Government contained the possibility of rewards. In the situation in which execu-
tive power and authority resided with the Government, no politician who
wanted to secure benefits from the Government could have afforded to main-
tain an attitude of permanent hostility. Everyone had to be sensitive to the
Government's thinking or desires before casting his vote at a given division.
There was always the possibility of the unfriendly politician being excluded
from the ranks of those who enjoyed the Government's favours, whether this took
the form of granting a favour needed for a particular constituency, or which
served to enhance the personal prestige of the individual.
Politicians frequently made it clear that these considerations in fact in-
fluenced their behaviour. In the case of A. A. Thorne, after his conversion to the
Government side, even those who were critical of his relationship with the Gov-
ernment thought that "he was placed in a position to carry through important
measures to the benefit of the people." 30
But important as such favours were, they were probably not as significantt
as the other types, which were closely related to the psychology, and social
demands of the class to which the politicians belonged. There was a whole
range of benefits at the disposal of the Government, which served to enhance
their personal prestige and status. A comment on the changed attitude of Thorne
to the Governor alluded to the fact that "Sir Wilfred Collet with dinners
and favours in his pocket" was a different person to that which le was a few
brief years previously.3' Thorne was reported as treading "the carpeted stairs
with frequency",3 and his social familiarity at Government House was men-
tioned. Both he and Cannon, by being frequent visitors and entertainees of Gov-
ernment House had access to the centre of social life in the country. Despite
the claim of Dias that Government House was the centre of corruption, it was
nevertheless socially desirable by the politicians, and few of them would have
refused an opportunity of being associated with society at such a very high level.
The Governor was not the only person in actual charge of the Government,
but more important for the point under discussion, the ceremonial head repre-
senting the Monarch, and therefore surrounded by a tremendous amount of
social prestige. Some idea of the value of social connections with the Govern-
ment may be seen in the tribute which Thorne paid Sir Wilfred Collet for the
favourable treatment which he received. He praised him for showing "the liberal
British spirit of recognizing a man's work irrespective of his race." 3 ToThorne,
a Negro, this represented a tremendous boost to his personal position.
Others less fortunate had to be contented with lower levels of patronage
but there was no shortage of these at the disposal of the Governor. For ex-
ample, the various administrative and quasi-administrative boards, and com-
mittees and commissions, were instruments which provided useful points of
contact between the Government and the elected members. They were nor-
mally composed of officials, members of the public and elected members.
Though the membership of any such body was the prerogative of the Governor
certain practical considerations influenced the manner in which the prerogative
was exercised. It was theoretically possible for any board or committee to be
appointed with no elected members among its members, but commonsense if
not expediency dictated otherwise since most matters dealt with involved
finance, and no Governor could have afforded to ignore the fact that the elected
members were a majority in the Combined Court. They were quite likely to
react unfavourably to any matter in which they were not involved, and there
is evidence of such mistake resulting in the summary rejection of measures by
Where non-representation provoked opposition, the opposite was general-
ly true where representation was granted. When the report of a committee of the
latter type was submitted, so long as its findings were unanimous (and most were)
the elected members felt it their duty to support it, not only by voting for it but
by speaking favourably on it.36 Support was likely to arise from the very nature
of the functions which such bodies were called upon to perform and the man-
ner in which they went about their tasks. The appointment of a Committee in-
variably reflected the need for detailed examination of a particular subject, and
the acceptance of membership by any person was often a reflection of his
interest in the subject under investigation. During the course of the delibera-
tions of the committee, the members, booth official and non-official, were in a
position to express their views and place them against those of each other,
and influence, and be influenced by, the points raised. It was not a very difficult
matter in such circumstances for a compromise to be struck and some con-
sensus arrived at. Where this occurred, the report of a committee represented
the joint effort of the members, and the elected, as well as the other members,
developed a vested interest in the matter. Any criticism of the committee was
equally a criticism of their effort since they did not normally dissociate them-
selves from any report after they had indicated their agreement with its contents.
On the other hand, any praise of the committee equally went to them and they
were never reluctant to take praise for anything.
But apart from the opportunity provided for involvement in administra-
tion, membership of boards and committees provided an avenue for self-
expression, and a means of the persons involved satisfying their feelings of
self-importance A great deal of value was, without doubt, placed on member-
ship of these bodies both by the politicians and the public. At a meeting held
by J. A. Luckhoo in support of his candidature for re-election to the Combined
Court, he was reported as informing his audience that he had the honour of
being appointed a member of the Committee to establish an Agricultural Col-
lege for the West Indies. He cautioned them against thinking that only those
members whose speeches were reported worked for the people. They did a
great deal of work as members of various committee of the Combined Court
and he had the honour of sitting on nearly all the committees of the Combined
This was a case of a politician presenting his service on committees as
evidence in his favour. Further evidence of the value attached to such service
was seen after Luckhoo was awarded the K.C. On eulogising him, the "Daily
Argosy" thought it important enough to point out that he had served as a
member of the Secondary Education Committee appointed in 1917 to inquire into
the working of Queen's College.
In view of the foregoing the Governor was provided with a useful source
of patronage which could have been offered as a quid pro quo for support.
Needless to say, this was never done overtly, but it was a relatively easy
matter for the Government to appoint members of Committees from those elected
members who were generally friendly to Government, while overlooking the
unfriendly or hostile ones. In some cases, even the hostile one could have been
won over, or silenced, by appointing him to such a body. Thus in 1926, the
Governor surprised a section of the community by appointing Nelson Cannon,
one of his chief critics, a member of a commission to inquire into the George-
town Sewerage Scheme. According to one source of criticism Cannon's ap-
pointment was inept, and the Governor was guilty of displaying a lamentable
weakness which deserved "the reprobation of all right-thinking men, who are
not blinded by imagined political expediency 3
In retrospect, rather than condemning the appointment on the grounds
stated, it should have been praised as a shrewd piece of political diplomacy,
as it turned out to be. In addition to being the foremost general critic of the
Government, Cannon was particularly critical of its control of the Georgetown
Sewerage Scheme which had greatly exceeded the original estimated cost. He
blamed the Government for the excess. Appointing him to the commission
served at least one immediate purpose; he was silenced, since he could not
continue to criticise the Government while the enquiry was pending and some-
what sub-judice, at least insofar as the members of the commission were con-
cerned. Again, there was no harm in appointing him to the commission so long
as the Government was satisfied that it had a good case. The most that he
could have achieved was to help vindicate the Government. And finally, it
was a useful means of trying to win him over to the side of the Government,
on the Sewerage Scheme in particular, and other matters in general.
Patronage was at times dispensed by the Government to the elected mem-
bers not in their own benefit, but in that of others though the two are somewhat
difficult to separate. For example, it was "one of the most cherished privi-
leges of the Electives to obtain positions in Government service for their
relatives or proteges". At the time appointments were made not in accord-
ance with any established system of merit, but the Government service was
"steeped in nepotism" and "family or political influence invariably counts
infinitely more than merit ... If such persons have the necessary 'pull' they find
little difficulty in securing a Government post The office of Elective
placed the holders among those who qualified as 'pulls' Closely related to
the question of appointments was that of granting salary increases and pen-
sions." This was another field in which there was no regular system, and in-
creases were normally granted, not as a matter of right, but by the Government
in its discretion. Consequently, it was not unusual for elected member to make
representations on behalf of serving, or retired Civil Servants, for increase of
salaries or pensions.
Government patronage sometimes took the form of engaging the ser-
vices of the politicians in their professional capacities. It was, for instance,
not unusual for Government to grant briefs to the politicians who were lawyers.
Thus P. N. Browne and E. G. Woolford at times appeared in the Courts in the
role of prosecutor on behalf of the Crown.43
Perhaps what was as important as the actual favours which the Govern-
ment granted time and again was its capacity in potential to grant favours. If few
persons gained the privileged position of Nelson Cannon and A. A. Thorpe many
more must have thought of the likelihood of reaching a similar position if they
displayed the "right" type of behaviour, and this expentancy must have exerted
as much influence on their behaviour. In short, so long as the Government
possessed the means of granting favours, it was in a very strong position to
influence behaviour in its chosen direction. Those who were receiving favours,
as well as those who were not, but hoped to, had to have some regard to its
THE ROLE OF THE GOVERNOR
The manner in which the politicians responded was very often depen-
dent on factors external to the patronage itself. For example, the person of
the Governor counted for much. It sometimes happened that a Governor found
himself in a position where he either readily secured co-operation from the poli-
ticians, or they were "up in arms" against him and the Government. Of course,
these were not the only possibilities and one could well conceive of a con-
tinuum with the two situations occupying the two extremes, and various inter-
mediate situations obtaining, with Governors being able to secure various
degrees of co-operation. The success which attended a Governor was largely
a function of the skill with which he made use of the various means at his
disposal a quality which varied from Governor to Governor. Also of import-
ance in this regard was the point of time which the Governor had reached in his
regime. A Governor nearing the end of his period usually found it increasingly
difficult to exercise effective control over the politicians, and he was in a
position somewhat similar to that of a President of the United States of Am-
erica nearing the end of his term." The politicians realized that the Governor's
ability and capacity to dispense patronage were drawing to an end, and that they
stood to lose little by incurring his displeasure. Consequently, they voted more
against the Government. On the other hand, the arrival of a new Governor pre-
sented the opportunity for them to vie for favours. The initial reaction which
they received at this stage was very important in conditioning their later atti-
A forthcoming election was likely to make the politicians more militant
than usual against the Government. It necessitated their defending their re-
cords before the electorate, and where failures existed, finding reasons not
discreditable to themselves. Although the electorate was small, the elected
members, nevertheless, felt some responsibility to it. The usual target for blame
was the Governor and Government, and they used the fact of the Government
alone, being empowered to initiate expenditure to good account. The result
was that as the election drew near, in order to justify their argument they
attempted to follow a line independent of Government, but once the election
was out of the way they invariably resumed their flirtations with Government.
OTHER FUNCTIONS OF PATRONAGE
Patronage was also used as an important "instrument of social control"
There was always a great deal of uneasiness among colonial officials, and the
white section of the population, about the relationship between the various
racial groups. They were particularly concerned about their own positions. There
was a feeling that if colonial administration were to be successful it had at all
times to be portrayed in a favourable light. The emphasis was on respect and
deference to authority. Protests and criticisms were regarded as agitation, and
the persons involved, as agitators, both disreputable terms."4 Nothing was to
be done to reveal the European in a bad light and therefore bring his position
into disrepute."6 The whites were fearful of the fact that because they were
greatly outnumbered by the other groups, they were likely to suffer in the event
of a civil disturbance. Of particular concern to officials was the possibility of
conflict between the two major races the East Indians and Negroes taking
a violent form. The latter were considered the more dangerous because of
their greater political awareness and activity. It was thought that they were
much more likely to involve in political agitation resulting in ill-feeling for the
Europeans. The East Indians, on the other hand, were considered docile and
more amenable to discipline.
Means had to be found to dampen the enthusiasm of the Negroes and
lessen the possibility of rebellion, or revolution. There were at least two levels
at which the solution was envisaged, viz., on the physical, and on the spiritual or
psychological. As regards the first, the local officials through the Governor,
were to ensure that the forces of law and order were properly equipped and
organised to deal with any eventuality.47 The Negroes, who constituted the
majority of the armed forces, were not to receive commissioned positions in
the police force, which were to remain the exclusive preserve of the whites as
an effective means of discipline and control.
As regards the other level, the idea was for Government to utilise
some of the less physical means to win the confidence and cooperation of the
masses. The whole range of patronage discussed above has relevance for this
matter, and it is clear that on many occasions the Government dispensed fav-
ours with equal thought of its likely effects on the recipients, as on the masses.
The following two cases illustrate the point admirably. P. N. Browne was
awarded the K.C. in 1917 because, quite apart from being one of the leading
barristers who "steadily and courageously supported the Government" the ap-
pointment "of a barrister of negro race to the King's Council was likely to have
a good effect locally.""4 The case of A. B. Brown seems more to the point.
He was granted the right, after 24 years continuous service in the legislature
and other public capacities, to retain the title "Honourable" which he had
been previously entitled to use as a Member of the Court of Policy. The honour
was not only considered well deserved but timely "when the prominence given
Io the East Indian section of the community in connection with immigration
from India is causing some trepidation on the minds of the negro population
who are inclined to view the possible influx of large numbers of East Indians
with some apprehension.""' This clearly demonstrates that very often when an
honour was bestowed, a person and his racial group were considered. Ex-
amples exist of honours being bestowed on other racial groups for similar
Patronage was also used to achieve the same end in a slightly different
way. We have hinted at some of the social inequalities which formed an import-
ant part of colonial society, assigning different statuses to different groups. This
pattern was in part maintained, or emphasised by the principle on which
patronage was dispensed. For example, there was the understanding that cer-
tain types of honours were only to be conferred on certain types of persons. Thus
knighthoods, C B Es 0 B Es and M.B.E.s were not normally awarded to the
politicians of the middle class. The beneficiaries were rather the senior officials
of the colonial civil service and the white representatives of the sugar and allied
commercial interests. Such awards were only granted to the class to which the
politicians belonged after the constitutional changes of 1928. There are in-
stances of white persons serving for much shorter periods and with less distinc-
tion than some of the politicians and yet receiving much higher awards. The
politicians had, for the most part, to be satisfied if they were as fortunate as
A. B. Brown, in being permitted to remain "Honourable", or with the ability
to use the letters M.C.P. (Member of the Court of Policy) and F.R. (Financial
Representative) after their names. Of course, the first type of honours were
conferred by the King on the recommendation of the Governor, while the latter
were in the gift of the people i.e. achieved through successfully contesting an
election. Needless to say that, given the predominant values and orientation of
the society, those granted by the King conferred much higher status. The
Crown, and anything emanating from it, were always held in awe by all classes
in the society. Therefore by careful manipulation, the colonial authorities were
able to use this type of patronage as a means of maintaining the social divi-
Accounts of the politics of the period reviewed have tended, in examining
the position and influence of the elected members vis-a-vis the instruments of
government, to define the matter in terms of the majority of six which the
elected members possessed in the Combined Court. But such an approach
suffers from the error of regarding the elected members as a close, cohesive
group. Quite apart from the fact that the constitutional arrangements and the
types of persons involved, did not make for strict discipline among the politicians,
the control of patronage by the Government gave it a means of splitting the
ranks of the elected members. This state of affairs was in marked contrast to
the position of the official section whose members were subjected to the very
rigid control imposed on their behaviour by the Governor. They were less likely,
than their elected counterparts, to vote according to conscience or whim. The
result was that on many occasions when the elected members faced the
official section, because of fragmentation among their ranks, the latter were
able to secure the passage of their proposals. On such occasions the majority
possessed by the elected members in the Combined Court was of little signifi-
cance. It may therefore be concluded that no account of the politics of the
period could be meaningful in the absence of an understanding of the very im-
portant function performed by patronage.
HAROLD A. LUTCHMAN
1. This study first appeared in the form of a Public Lecture given in 1968 under the auspices
of the Unversity of Guyana.
2. Report of Ihe Constitutional Commission on British Guiana 1950-51 (H.M.S.O.) 1951
Colonial No. 280), p. 33
3. Vide, for example, The Constitution of Guyana and Related Constitutional instruments,
May, 1966 (Government Printery, Georgetown)
4. Command Paper No. 1679, p. 87, Report by the Honourable E. F. L Wood, M.P., Parlla-
mentary Under Secretary of State for the Colonies, on his visit to the West Indies and
British Guiana in 1922, quoted in Cecil Clementi, A Constitutional History of British Guiana
(Macmillan and Co. Ltd., London 1937), p. vii
6. Prior to 1892, the Court of Policy possessed both legislative and executive functions.
7. Vide Clementi, op. cll. pp. 359 et seq.
8. Ibid. p. 377
9. Vide Harold A. Lutchman, Middle Class Colonial Politics: A Study of Guyana with special
reference to the period 1920-1931. (unpublished Ph. D. thesis, Manchester University,
1967), pp. 207 et seq.
10. Clementi, op. cit, pp. 326 et seq.
11. Lutchman, op. cit., pp. 214 et seq.
12. For details of the form of, and reasons for, the changes see C. Clementi, op. cil. Cap
13. For the details of the franchise see Ibid, pp. 347 et seq
14. The writer does not accept the conclusion that those changes were solely responsible for
the difference in the membership of the Combined Court. There were in fact a number
of other influences at work which operated to limit the number of sugar/commercial
politicians vide Lutchman, op. cit., pp. 86 et seq.
15. For a useful account of life on a sugar estate see Cheddi Jagan, "Growing Up": New
World (Guyana Independence Issue), (New World Group Association, Georgetown,
Guyana) pp. 4-9
16. Cmd. 1679, op. cit. pp. 5 et seq.
17. Memorandum prepared by the Elected Members of the Combined Court of British Guiana
In reply to the Report of the British Guiana Commission Cmd. 3047, H.M.S.O. 1928) p. 59
18. Reported in the "Dally Argosy" 19th January, 1928
19. These, and a more detailed description of the middle class politicians, are discussed In
Chapter III of a book expected to be published soon under the title, "The Middle Class
In Colonial Politics The case of Guyana during the early 20th century"
20. Confidential Despatch dated 12th January, 1920 from Sir Wilfred Collet to the Secretary of
State for the Colonies.
21. Confidential Despatch dated 12th August 1931 from Governor of British Guiana, Sir
Edward Denham to Lord Passfield, Secretary of State for the Colonies.
22. Confidential Despatch dated 11th January 1917 from the O.A.G., Mr. Cecil Clementi to the
Secretary of State for the Colonies.
24. In 1928 both the Court of Policy and Combined Court were abolished and replaced by a
single legislature entitled the Legislative Council.
25. Confidential Despatch dated 7th May, 1928 from Sir Cecil H. Rodwell to Mr. L. S. Amery,
Secretary of State for the Colonies.
26. Confidential Despatch dated 23rd June, 1915 from the Governor, Sir Walter Egerton
to the Secretary of State for the Colonies.
27. Confidential Despatch dated 26th March, 1917 from O.A.G., Mr. C. Clementi to the Secre-
tary of State for the Colonies.
28. Leading article of the "Dally Chronicle"
29. For an account of the "Popular Party and its organisation", see Lutchman, op. cit. pp.
150 et seq.
30. The leading article of the "Dally Chronicle" 22nd May, 1921
31. Leading article in the "Dally Chronicle" 29th May, 1921
33. "Dally Chronicle" 22nd May, 1921
35. See, for example, Lutchman, op. clt. pp. 246 et seq.
37. The issue of the 7th October, 1923
38. The "Daily Argosy" 31st December, 1926
39. The "Dally Argosy" 5th December, 1925
41. The "Dally Argosy" 28th November, 1925
42. The "Daily Argosy" 13th December, 1925
43. See, for example, Ibid.
44. Clinton Rossiter, The American Presidency (Rupert Hart-Davis, London, 1960) pp. 232
45. Despatch dated 11th January, 1917 from the O.A.G., Cecil Clementi to the Secretary
of State for the Colonies.
46. Confidential Despatch dated 19th March, 1925 from the Governor Graeme Thomson to
the Secretary of State for the Colonies.
47. See, for example, Secret Despatch dated 23rd December, 1919 from L. S. Amery to Sir
48. Clementi's Despatch dated 26th March, 1917, op. clL
49. Confidential Despatch dated 21st December, 1923 from Sir Graeme Thomson to the
Secretary of State for the Colonies.
Concern For Criticism
Several years ago, Mr. Gerald Moore produced a little book of essays
dealing with writers from Africa. Seven African Writers (1962) was intended
neither as literary criticism in the strictest sense nor as original scholarship.
Mr. Moore's purpose was to alert us to the new literatures that were emerging
from Africa; and such background information as he provided was sub-
servient to the smooth and enthusiastic content analyses of the work of the
writers being introduced. Seven African Writers was an admirable, if modest,
piece of journalistic criticism for which Mr. Moore has come to be highly re-
His most recent offering, however, (The Chosen Tongue: English Writing
in the Tropical World, Longmans, 1969, 45s) intends to impress us as a sustain-
ed act of literary criticism, and as an analysis of a socio-cultural situation.
The challenge begins with the title itself: The Chosen Tongue. The reader
coming innocently to the work of Mr. Moore might be forgiven for expecting
a profound and aware discussion of the outer linguistic situation and its im-
plications, in addition to a rigorous concern for style; for one is made to think
that the author will show how these Black writers, whether using English as a
first or second language, have seized it and made it their own not only in the
general, almost incidental, sense of using it to reflect their culture and society,
but in the more intimate and exploratory manner of artists possessing and
being possessed by the word.
But a superficial Introduction moves us comfortably past or through
larger linguistic issues to a rather more popular thesis, one that depends less
upon close critical analysis of particular texts than upon a broad discussion
of themes: "By confining this study to the English writing of tropical Africa and
the Caribbean, as I propose to do, a much greater degree of coherence can be
attained. Quite apart from their common use of English, these areas have
direct historical, cultural and ethnic links with one another too obvious to need
labouring here The density and antiquity of these connections across the
Atlantic basin would itself justify an attempt to study the area as a whole"
(pp. xxi and xxii). It is this thesis and not any concern for language that lies
behind the organisation of The Chosen Tongue. It is divided into four parts:
'The Islands'; 'The Continent' (Guyana); 'The City' (London) and 'Guinea'. In
'The City', Mr. Moore deals with the exile theme in works by West Indians and
Africans; the section called 'Guinea' opens with Chapter 8 'The Revenants',
covering L. Edward Brathwaite's Masks and Denis Williams's Other Leopards,
but goes on to concentrate on African writers. And the epigraph to Chapter 8
"We goin' home, we goin' homel Israel is redeem'! King Rasta a come fo' 'im
pickney them!" confirms what is implicit in the ordering of the work Mr.
Moore is encouraging us to see 'Guinea' the section in which the book comes
to its end, as symbolising some kind of return to the spiritual home.
The attempt to see West Indian literature and West Indian culture as
part of African literature and African culture is most clearly discernible in the
work of a German theorist Jahnheinz Jahn. In the introduction to his massive
and invaluable catalogue, A Bibliography of Neo-African Literature (1965),
In contrast to Western literature Neo-African literature has cer-
tain stylistic elements which stem from Negro-African oral tradition.
It is this style which characterises Neo-African literature and not the
author's language (for the most part European) birthplace or colour
of skin Works written by Africans which lack these specific
stylistic elements do not belong to neo-African but to traditional
African literature The main centres of Neo-African literature
are Africa, South of the Sahara and the Caribbean, but we find it
also in other areas of the world where African and Western tra-
ditions have mixed: Latin America, North America and even Europe.
In the same introduction, however, Jahn confesses that the criteria for recog-
nising neo-African literature are "still under discussion" and that "all the
material which could be contained by such criteria has not yet been compete-
ly analysed" But there is much less reticence in Muntu: An Outline of Neo-
African Culture (1958), an earlier publication by the same author where, as
it happens, the uniqueness and objectivity of these stylistic criteria, and their
value as part of a critical method are put in serious doubt
Discussing poetry written by Negroes in America, Jahn takes up James
Weldon Johnson's 'Negro National Anthem' whose Neo-African qualities are
discovered in "the imperative style" "the intensification through repetition",
the "Nommo which transmutes the old Biblical images into new living actual
images", and the "responsibility of the word" It might be objected that there
is nothing specifically African about the stylistic features and the imaginative
processes here enumerated. More damaging reflections arise when we look at
the lines being "analysed":
Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies,
Let it resound low as the rolling sea.
The terms in which Jahn describes the stanza, and his enthusiastic tone do not
seem justifiable from the words on the page. What the example helps to in-
dicate is that "stylistic criteria" are being advanced to give an impression of
objectivity while the author pursues a more subjective hypothesis, and one
that has little to do with literary criticism.
This neo-African theory is neither sleeping nor dead. It appears in a
more subtle and authoritative guise in L. Edward Brathwaite's 'Jazz and the
West Indian Novel' ('Blm_44, 45 and 46) where the same stylistic elements are
celebrated as in Jahn's discussion, and where one must also doubt the validity
of the critical performance. For Brathwaite climaxes his attempt to find in the
West Indies "some mode of New World Negro cultural expression based on an
African inheritance, no matter how unconsciously" with a discussion of
Brother Man, "the most successful, though far from perfect" example of "the
jazz novel". Since Brathwaite himself tell us that there have been few such
"jazz novels" so far in the West Indies, and concedes that Brother Man is a
badly flawed novel, how useful is this aesthetic as a critical tool for describing
or evaluating what we have? In fairness, it must be noted, Brathwaite warns
us that his stressing of the African aspects of West Indian literature
in this essay is only a corrective stress; his larger intention is "to see
West Indian literature in its (it seems to me) proper context of an expression
both African and European at the same time" Nevertheless, one must be
reluctant to welcome an aesthetic which is so useless critically, and which for
all its ceremonial respect, courtesy and appreciation so firmly refuses ad-
mittance to Naipaul, and then, surprisingly, to Lamming and Harris. After a
brilliant verbal analysis of an "extraordinary act of improvisation" in the open-
ing movement of Harris's The Waiting Room, Brathwaite continues: "Harris's
book, taken as a whole is not a jazz novel. As with Lamming his concern re-
mains individual rather than social. Lamming is concerned with individual
consciousness; Harris with individual vision" Is the historian of creolisation
in the West Indies here driving unwittingly towards a theory of aesthetic plural-
Mr. Moore prudently avoids these deep waters. He permits himself to
advance archetypal correspondences between Wilson Harris and Tchicaya U
Tam'si as evidence of "the African parallels to much of Harris' thought and
imagery", but ignores Lindsay Barrett's Song for Mumu (1967). He fails to see
that the story of Other Leopards (1963), is not just "the record of a personal
failure" to "flow naturally back into the stream of African existence", that
the terrifying madness of the hero at the end is not a "plunge into fantasy"
from which the book suffers, but is the point of the book: Lionel Froad goes
mad because the world in which he lives presses him too hard with ready-
made answers and allegiance. Williams depicts him as having just enough
integrity to reject these identities as illusory but not enough vision to create
the private space, the centre of being, from which he might be able to take
from each group what it has that speaks to his inner longings. His difficulties
with Other Leopards notwithstanding, Mr. Moore arrives at this common sense
judgement of L. Edward Brathwaite's Masks (1968): "Masks stands as the
most impressive and complete work yet produced in this literature of the black
revenant who finds in Africa something less than a real homecoming, but
something infinitely more than failure or disappointment. Here Brathwaite
finds something which he can connect, something from which both his life and
his art can feed and grow. But ultimately he must abandon it and return to the
islands which are his own real and now sufficient world." (p. 131). What this
tells us of the organisation of Mr. Moore's book, rather, its apparently ruling
thesis, is that he does not really believe in it, but finds it convenient as a formal
and fashionable shelter for two different sets of essays.
Of the African sections in The Chosen Tongue there is no need to say
much here. In general, Mr. Moore's ideas do not seem to have grown much
since Seven African Writers. There is an interesting introduction to Okigbo's
poetry; Tutuola is celebrated in the same terms as in 1962 but one looks in
vain for discussion of Gabriel Okara's The Voice (1964), surely one of the
outstanding novels from Africa, and one which anybody interested in Harris,
Tutuola and Soyinka ought not to ignore; it is surprising that in a work
about African and West Indian writing, commentary on Achebe's A Man of the
People (1966) can proceed without any reference to Naipaul's The Mimic Men
(1967); and one wonders whether in digesting Tutuola, Soyinka and Okara
for instance, It has ever struck Mr. Moore how different these sensibilities are
from that of any Negro West Indian writer, how inimitable even by a West
Indian, whether consciously or unconsciously, are the imaginative worlds
these writers create? An African critic will find Mr. Moore's comments on
African writings as critically limited as a West Indian finds him on West Indian
writing. For The Chosen Tongue belongs to a tradition of enthusiastic con-
tent-summary and naive/pretentious socio-political and racial-cultural gen-
eralisation that passes for literary criticism in the West Indies. In such criticism
writers who do not fit generalisations are either dismissed or excluded.
Mr. Moore tries to do both to V. S. Naipaul. How can a critic with
pretensions to sensitivity or social awareness afford to ignore the challenge of
our most technically assured (although most conventional) artist, and one of the
most disturbing observers of West Indian social realities? Mr. Moore crassly
advances that the author of A House for Mr. Biswas "admits" that the "dense
pattern of associations with India is rapidly disappearing." It is obvious to any
attentive reader that the nightmare world Naipaul creates for Mr. Biswas to
toil in is generated out of Naipaul's fully felt awareness of the decay and
menace of Hindu cultural forms in Trinidad. Mr. Moore rightly reports that
creolisation is one of the principal themes of Naipaul's novels but alleges that
Naipaul laments the process as one of loss. No, it is lamented as a growth into
mimicry: Negro creolisation is seen by Naipaul as a treading of the weary
road to whiteness; Indian creolisation is an imitation of this imitation. It is dis-
appointing to find Mr. Moore repeating the common prejudice of West Indian
intellectual gatherings without having taken up the critical challenge present-
ed by the author's novels.
Metropolitan critics have so far failed to serve West Indian literature be-
cause they have been unable to resist offering second-hand and superficial
analyses of the society, and unwilling or unable either to pay close attention
to particular texts or to relate their interests in other literatures to their
interest in West Indian literature. Louis James's space in the Introduction to
The Islands In Between (1968) would have been better used in reflections on the
gap that seems to exist between the largely illiterate West Indian reader and
those highly developed West Indian writings. Dr. James's thoughts on the ab-
sence of a sub-literature in the West Indies and on the not un-related absence
of a habit of reading might have been useful, for this is the kind of situation
with which he dealt, in part, in his Fiction for the Working Man.
But who cares about literary criticism in or for the West Indies? In her
'Reflections on West Indian Writing and Criticism' (Jamaica Journal Vol. 2 No. 4
and Vol. 3 No. 1), Sylvia Wynter makes a forceful assault upon the cultural myth
of Europe its consequences upon criticism in the West Indies and its con-
tribution to "the air of inauthenticity" at the University. It is impossible to
disagree with the main lines of Miss Wynter's attack. One movement in her
argument, however, calls for analysis, for in it she seriously underestimates
the gravity of the situation and the responsibility it imposes upon literary
criticism in these islands. "Whilst the critics are safely 'home and dry' at the
university", Miss Wynter complains, "the writers are scattered, in exile." A little
later we read that "the interpreter replaces the writer; the critics displaces
the creator. Yet in displacing the creator, he diminishes his own validity."
Miss Wynter obviously does not need reminding that literary criticism is in a
bad state. How else could she write of it with such contempt and unawareness
of its potential? But there are other emphases than her own:
To those who take a serious interest in literature it must often seem
as if their interest were curiously irrelevant to the modern world;
curiously, because a serious interest in literature starts from the pre-
sent and assumes that literature matters, in the first place at any
rate, as the consciousness of the age. If a literary tradition does not
keep itself alive here, in the present, not merely in new creation,
but as a pervasive influence upon feeling, thought and standards of
living then it must be pronounced to be dying or dead. Indeed,
it seems hardly likely that, when this kind of influence becomes
negligible, creation will long persist. In any case a consciousness
maintained by an insulated minority and without effect upon the
powers that rule the world has lost its function. And this describes
well enough the existing state of affairs.
The greatest English critic and teacher of the century found the atmosphere in
England in 1932 as discouraging for literature and literary criticism as we find
the atmosphere in the West Indies in 1970. The year 1932 saw the founding of
the magazine Scrutiny. From 1932-1953, in the lecture room and in the pages
of Scrunlty, Dr. F. R. Leavis, his colleagues and his graduated students labour-
ed successfully to create a consciousness throughout their society that
literature matters as literature, not as a substitute for something else; and that
literary criticism is a craft calling for maturity, intelligence and sensitivity to the
organisation of words on the page.
The seriousness with which Dr. Leavis practised the craft of literary
criticism was a direct function of his belief that literature matters, potentially,
as the deepest and most subtle influence upon feeling, thoughts and standards
of living. His dismissals of writers who do not, in his view, enhance life have
sometimes seemed hasty ("That Dickens was a great genius and is per-
manently among the classics is certain. But the genius was that of a great
entertainer, and he had for the most part no profounder responsibility as a
creative artist than this description suggests"). On the other hand, who else
could have given such respectability to the great boredom we feel in reading
Trollope and Thackeray and our growing conviction that life is too short for
either: "Thackeray is a greater Trollope. His attitudes, and the essential sub-
stance of his interest, are so limited that for the reader it is merely a
matter of going on and on: nothing has been done by the close to justify the
space taken, except of course that time has been killed (which seems to be all
that even some academic critics demand of a novel)".
The strictness with which Dr. Leavis has applied standards in his critical
practice have led to accusations of narrowness, even bigotry, and the asperity
with which he has attacked bad critics has at times been attributed to arro-
gance and waspish malice.
It is worth pointing out that most of his judgments of significance have
passed into critical orthodoxy, influencing syllabuses at schools and universi-
ties. Yet his value resides not so much in the "rightness" of his particular
conclusions but in the atmosphere he helped to create; and in procedure -
the method of analysis he so scrupulously and sensitively applied to literary
works. The frequent attack ks on other critics, the forceful dismissal of
writers and books, do not have to be defended or apologised for simply as con-
comitants of his belief that if literature is a power for good, bad literature and
the criticism that elevates it are powers for harm. There is that; but the
creation of controversy was the prelude to and part of that genuine dialogue
on which literature thrives. So many discussions of critical theory or about par-
ticular works took place because someone was reacting to a Leavis aside or a
Leavis broadside (everybody read him), that we have to see the asperity as part
of a deliberate attempt to provoke discussion. As he wrote in the Preface to
The Common Pursuit: "Collaboration may take the form of disagreement, and
one is grateful to the critic whom one has found worth disagreeing with.
Most of the matter in this volume originated in a consciously collaborative
enterprise a sustained effort to promote the 'co-operative labour' of critic-
It is a sad reflection on the quality of our intellectual life in the West
Indies or on the state of our psyche that we do not argue with one another
about what matters to us neither in literature nor in any other fields. Are
we too busy to read what our colleagues are writing? Is it that they haven't
written enough? Is it that what is written by someone we know is somehow
already known and judged by us? Or are we afraid, in the atmosphere of
insecurity, jealousy and distrust that is so thick in our half-baked society that
an intellectual disagreement will always be construed as a personal assault?
Without discussion and disagreement literature will not yield up its
powers to transform and release us. But it is true that without a method to
guide us, discussions can easily lose purpose and meaning. Dr. Leavis's
essay on The Irony of Swift is a classic illustration of method and belief
operating to each other's advantage. Dr. Leavis's belief is implicit in the serious-
ness with which he approaches Swift and in the scrupulosity with which he
applies his method of analysis to the text: if you do not believe literature
matters you will not take the craft of criticism seriously. At the end of the
essay, belief becomes explicit and interferes with the final judgment, but be-
cause of the soundness of the analytic method and the over-all procedure, it
is possible to see the interference for what it is and adjust our own attitudes
The essay begins with the iron determination "to discuss Swift's writ-
ings to examine what they are", and it begins with this kind of insistence
because as students of Swift know, it is peculiarly difficult to discuss the works
"without shifting the focus of discussion to the kind of man that Swift was."
(Another advantage of looking at this essay of Dr. Leavis's Is that it provides
one model for writing about V. S. Naipaul). By beginning with the writings, Dr.
Leavis hopes that reference to the man will be reduced only to what is essen-
tial for purposes of literary criticism. He concentrates upon Swift's irony be-
cause it gives "the best chance of dealing adequately without deviation or
confusion, with what is essential in his work." What follows is perhaps the most
controlled example of close reading and verbal analysis in English literary
criticism. Dr. Leavis not only communicates what it feels like to read and res-
pond to Swift; he selects passages for discussion which would justly represent
the writer's cast of thought and stylistic qualities in the most fastidious of
anthologies. By the end of the analysis we know exactly what Dr. Leavis means
by irony, and how Swift's irony works: "The dispassionate, matter-of-fact tone
induces a feeling and a motion of assent, while the burden, at the same time
compels the feelings appropriate to rejection, and in the contrast the
tension a remarkably disturbing energy is generated. A sense of an extra-
ordinary energy is the general effect of Swift's irony."
These elements of scrupulous shaping-up, particular reference and
analysis, and a progressive defining of critical terminology are missing in
Gordon Rohlehr's ambitious esssay on Naipaul, 'The Ironic Approach', in The
Islands in Between. Rohlehr precludes any real discovery of his author
through the critical performance itself by beginning with a conviciton: "Naipaul
is a Trinidad East Indian who has not come to terms with the Negro-Creole
world in Trinidad or with the East Indian world in Trinidad or with the grey-
ness of English life, or with life in India itself where he went in search of his
roots." Because Rohler does not work towards this sweeping pronounce-
ment, and does not seek to convince us by the methods of literary
criticism, the reader who does not already agree with the judgment of Nai-
paul the man finds the essay as a whole difficult to accept. Something different
happens when Dr. Leavis passes judgment on Swift. The essay is moving
towards a climax and the reader agrees with the bridging resume: "We have,
then, in his writing probably the most remarkable expression of negative feelings
and attitudes that literature can offer the spectacle of creative powers
exhibited consistently in negation and rejection." (This might have been a
judgment on Naipaul's work). So far pure literary criticism takes Dr. Leavis.
But because he believes that literature is life-enhancing and that the great
creative writer not only has feelings but has insights into them, it becomes neces-
sary to limit Swift's achievement: "A great writer yes; that account still im-
poses itself as fitting, though his greatness is no matter of moral grandeur
or human centrality, our sense of it is merely a sense of great force
He is distinguished by the intensity of his feelings, not by insight into them,
and he certainly does not impress us as a mind in possession of its experience."
It is obvious that Leavis as close-reading critic is moving in one direction through
his analysis of the writing, while the Leavis who believes that literature
matters (is life-enhancing) has the desire to suppress the negating author.
The crucial point here, however, is that the reader who disagrees with the final
judgment is free to reject or modify it without necessarily denying the truth of
the actual criticism. For, as it develops, the critical analysis is not an illustra-
tion of a thesis declared before hand or imposed from the outside. We can
accept the analysis and make such reservations about the judgment as we find
necessary. This possibility is always present when we read Dr. Leavis, and
arises from another article in his critical faith:
The analysis and judgment of literary art belong to the literary critic,
who is one in so far as he observes a disciplined relevance in res-
ponse, comment and determination of significance. He is concerned
with the work in front of him as something that should contain within
itself the reason why it is so and not otherwise.
To return to Miss Wynter's fears. The critics, such as they are, are not
displacing the creators. For they are employed, increasingly, to function not as
as critics but as pedagogues. I doubt very much whether our creative writers
could survive long in the conditions that the critics has to put up with in our
society. By his teachings and by the fanatical practice of his craft, however,
the critic at the University can help to spread the belief that literature
matters; primarily, in the sense described by Dr. Leavis in 'What is Wrong With
Criticism,' and only secondarily in the senses to which the socio-political com-
mentators like Mr. Moore and sometimes Miss Wynter herself have too often
reduced it. It is from their position as pedagogues, if they choose to work in the
West Indies, that the critics can begin the long task of creating in the society
an atmosphere in which both literature and literary criticism might flourish.
1. F. R. Leavis, "What's Wrong With Criticism", Scrutiny, Vol. 1, No. 2, (1932).
2. F. R. Leavis, 'The Irony of Swift', The Common Pursuit (1958)
3. F. R. Leavis, 'The Function of Criticism', The Common Pursuit.
Collection One: New Beacon Reviews 1968 ed. John La Rose.
The stated aim of Collection One is to open "new windows" on West
Indian thought and art. The four articles which make up the pamphlet offer a
nice balance of varied topics. The literary analyses of Jean Rhys and Wilson
Harris take on a wider perspective from juxtaposition with Elsa Goveia's acid
remarks on West Indian historiography, and with the teasing biographical study
of McKay by Cooper and Reinders.
An attractive feature shared by all four articles is the absence of socio-
political jargon. Stereotyped attitudes are also largely aided in favour of a
frank appraisal of the matter under discussion. I found, too, a curious thematic
unity in Collection One, which I will try to demonstrate in the following para-
I was intrigued with "Claude McKay in England, 1920" The glimpses
given of the man, the place, and the time are fascinating, and surely call for a
full-length study. A footnote informs us that Wayne Cooper, one of the co-
authors of the article, is working on a critical study of McKay. What I should
like to see emerge (from this or from some other work), is a study of the inter-
action of cultures and ideologies as revealed through the lens of such a history
as McKay's. The article does not claim to spend any time on actual criticism of
McKay's writing, though some comments on his political writing unavoidably ap-
pear. The achievement of the article lies in its portraiture of McKay both
through his own eyes, and through other contemporary evidence. As this period
of the history of West Indian culture is now known almost exclusively to those
who lived through it, an expose such as this is of considerable current interest.
The authors, moreover, do not set out to pass judgement on the situations
they describe. The reader is given a dispassionate presentation of fact from
which he may deepen his knowledge of twentieth century ideological history.
Wally Look Lai's critical review of The Wide Sargasso Sea raises
issues of a spiritual and cultural nature within the narrower confines of literary
criticism. He deals swiftly and convincingly with the problem of the 'West
Indianism' of Miss Rhys' work. His interpretation draws the reader's attention to
the forces of synthesis and disintegration in Atlantic culture, which form the
basis of West Indian experience. Commenting on the meaning of the novel,
Within the context of West Indian history, and the definitions born
of that history, (the heroine) is a descendant of the white masters,
and in a world in which the slaves have just been emancipated, she
becomes an outcast, a victim of the definitions into which she has
been born. It is because she is an unhappy stranger in her own
world, therefore, that she finds herself impelled in the direction of
Rochester and his world, who become under these circumstances
her last hope of salvation. And her real tragedy is that the reasons
for which Rochester rejects her her fundamental oneness with
the people of her own world, and thus her strangeness to him (my
bold) are not reasons which her own world will accept.
Look Lai's analysis of the structure of the novel and the texture of Miss Rhys'
writing is clear and stimulating. Nowhere does academic interest lead him away
from contemplation of the core of The Wide Sargasso Sea: its bifocal repre-
sentation of frail, transient homo sapiens caught in a web of conflicts and con-
Far from being a story of a personal relationship, The Wide Sargasso
Sea is a profound statement about identity, and about the existential
dilemma of a minority condemned by history to a claustrophobic
existence which can end only in madness.
In contrast with these two articles, Elsa Goveia's review of British HIs-
torians and the West Indies sets up definite parameters of argument and fact
by which West Indian historiography can be measured. I must leave to the pro-
fessional historians the task of assessing Professor Goveia's commentary on
West Indian historians past and present. To the layman, it seems that she
presents a wide and generous view of the situation, noting both intrinsic merits
and broadly symptomatic qualities. All this is done in a nice mixture of
scholarly thoroughness and biting argument. British Historians and the West
Indies is placed not merely in the context of historiography, but in that of
changing West Indian attitudes. I will not spoil this for the reader by saying
any more, save that the article also points up the average West Indian's
ignorance of his remoter past.
I have reserved comment on Joyce Sparer's article for the last, because
it contains, in a kind of symbolic unity, many of the themes and situations dealt
with in the other articles. Out of the involuted, tensile net of Wilson Harris'
writing comes the statement of relatedness which I felt throughout my reading
of Collection One:
Entering the 'subterranean cave of Susan' the essence of Susan
in a new guise again he (the hero) hears an ancient blast 'able to
reach him in an echo long muffled and nurtured and preserved (like
the sound of the sea in a shell) Ancient metamorphosis. End-
less creation species of fiction within whose mask of death
one endured the essential phenomenon of crisis and translation'.
Within the radius of the delayed blast he feels himself 'begin to
relive with new awareness his descent through the door of the
middle passage'. And he becomes integrated into the spiral con-
tinuum of man space time.
Wilson Harris is no easy writer, and Miss Sparer does not reduce him to
simplicities. She takes a wary path through the symbolism of The Waiting
Room, and makes useful connections between the novel and the critical essays
in The Writer and Society, both published in 1967. It is difficult to deal with so
complex a writer as Wilson Harris within the scope of an article, and much
space has to be given to documentation rather than discussion. The title, too,
is slightly misleading. Essentially, Miss Sparer deals with one aspect of Wilson
Harris' art: the artist's "intense perception by the physical senses and the
'realization' of ideas in terms of things perceived". The relationship between
Wilson Harris' stated philosophy and his fulfilment of this philosophy in art, is
the topic of the essay, and Miss Sparer's discussion is confined to the critical
essays and the novel referred to above.
Even within this narrow frame of reference, Miss Sparer is able to show
the reader new views of man and art. She evokes a sense of the "really-lived"
quality of the novel, and she brings out the relationship between its dramatic
symbolism and the underlying philosophy set out in The Writer and Society.
As a statement of the interrelatedness of all things human, it is powerful and
well worth reading.
This brings me back to that quality of thematic unity which I found -
quite unexpectedly in Collection One. This is, in a sense, no more than a
chance unity, which could hardly form the basis of editorial policy. It is a
natural and unprovoked unity, arising out of the matter as much as the manner
of the essays. Without preaching, the paradoxical discordia concors of West
Indian life is made more real to the reader unselfconsciously and unapol-
ogetically. It will be interesting to see whether or not this oneness of mood
and insight will become the characteristic feature of serious West Indian
1. Wally Look Lai, "The Road to Thornfield Hall", New Beacon Reviews, Collec-
tion One, 1968, p. 42.
2. Ibid., p. 43.
3. Joyce Sparer, "The Art of Wilson Harris", New Beacon Reviews, Collec-
tion One, p. 29.
4. Ibid., p. 24.
Faustin Charles THE EXPATRIATE Poems 1963-68: Brookside Press
Lond. 1969 25/-
Faustin Charles' The Expatriate should be read in conjunction with Islands.
Both books, published late in 1969, are concerned with the possession of the
Caribbean through word, metaphor and symbol:
Conquer and penetrate the stormy islands.
The snail's journey passes silently
Over the dusty trail of the buffalo
and the lourd
hedgehog, following the mongoose and the
reaches the green pool
by the birthpangs of bubbles
(Islands, p. 81)
Whereas, however, Islands is concerned with people as well as things; with
ascertainable history as well as myth, The Expatriate, perhaps because it is a
more expatriate production (Charles has been living in London since 1962),
is almost entirely concerned with the creation of natural cosmology:
History is a madman
Dreaming he is sane
Blood vessels spout
Mahogany-rain and sun-ripen juice,
Raging, washing away the memory
Of homicidal philistines
And ancient fortresses.
Cannibal teeth lust in the vein,
Rip the heart, then fall silent
To the plume of rainbow feathers
('Aborigine', p. 33)
The effort here is to include it all within the compassment of Nature, as Wilson
Harris so successfully does in Eternity to Season (1954). But Charles has not
yet achieved the metaphorical magic and authority of Harris ('Ragin, washing
away the memory, Of homicidal philistines indicates the nominalist nature of
the rhetoric); and the environment from which he soaks up his images is,
unlike Harris', neither actually nor spiritually unified. Harris spoke from and for
the Guyana forest and its riverian territory. Faustin Charles refers to a more
eclectic set of adjectival stones and omens which, within the terms of his verse.
can only be vaguely defined as Caribbean locus of human synthesis:
Children of a thousand races
Scavenging a mother's irritated womb;
Generations battered on the highlands,
And replenished in the valleys.
A crimson sun melts the fugitive mixture
Of pirated and delirious blood.
A carnival of miraculous faces
Discovery a ceremony
Of dispersing races;
Diversity equals identity,
Ethnic transition survives erosion.
Rivers flow forever
To the pungent, swelling sea;
The sea is the living truth
Of the racial synthesis. ('Mestizo', p. 14)
Or, asserting the natural and spiritual principles:
Uncompromising in its discontents,
Has destroyed the tree-top palaces,
The spontaneous jungle and life-giving volcano,
Leaving only the unconscious vision of language. (p. 33)
'Mestizo' is In many ways an unfortunate poem. On the basis of its language
alone, one is not convinced of Charles' vision of 'racial synthesis'. On the matter
of natural or 'cosmic' synthesis, where he is nearer to Harris, there is con-
siderably more confidence; but Charles' statements, at the moment, are merely
echoes of the profound original:
The world-creating jungle
travels eternity to season. Not an individual artifice -
this living movement
this paradoxical stream and stillness rousing reflection.
The living jungle is too full of voices
not to be aware of collectivity,
and too swift with unseen wings
to capture certainty
Branches against the sky smuggle to heaven the extreme beauty
of the world
(Harris: Eternity to Season)
But in the final poems Obeah, Home, Porgy without Bess, Sugar Cane, and
The Far Journey of this book, Faustin Charles offers an utterance of his own,
which promises to push the frontier of West Indian expression in poetry one
understanding further on. Significantly, it is in this group of poems (pp. 36 to 63
of the book), that there is at last a 'personal' poem of some significance -
The Father From Home. Earlier, we had had The Passing of my Grand-
mother; but this was more dutiful than realized:
She was a merry old lady,
A kind-hearted old spirit (p. 15)
But in The Father we are aware of a deeper more truly elegaic tone:
No ghost can speak for him,
Nor revenge alter his sins;
Death cannot disguise him,
He rests in peace. (p. 40)
The simplicity here is almost Lorcan. But there is another, very relevant in-
fluence at work in these later pages the complex, grounded, 'metaphysical',
lateral pressure of Derek Walcott (the poem, Aborigine, is dedicated to him);
and this restraining equilibrium, coming to mix with the parabolic curve of
Harris' presence, results in the movement and life of
Night swallows night
Dawn swallows the frightened sinners
from Obeah (p. 36); and
Into the world then, comes the phoenix,
Breathing new sunshine breezes;
Ready to survive in a world of snakes, grasshoppers
And the cruel grey hawk
Who whispers new songs to dead frontiers.
For practice and purpose, only in Caliban's shell,
The phoenix is reunited time will tell,
She responds to the tune of a starlit bell.
'The Far Journey', p. 58)
At last, Eliot-like and Cesaire-like, we hear the voice of the religious traveller and
What is this life surpassing death through life?
What is this dream-image surpassing life in miracles?
Where the soil is the miracle of the tree,
The sea is the miracle of the fish,
The sky is the miracle of the cloud of birds,
And man is the miracle of the Godhead.
(The Far Journey, p.60)
But Charles is not yet a religious or mystic poet, though in this volume, this
would appear to be his present orientation. And despite the increasing con-
fidence of his work, its metaphorical life still remains arbitrary; it does not well
up from a central sun and soil. Word and experience are separated by too
great a gulf. The dichotomy is deepened by the fact that Charles writes about
the Caribbean from the separation in time and distance of London. Though a
purification of Caribbean experience may in time be possible from this position,
there is still the danger, it seems to me, of this purification escaping into wraiths
of smoke, unless the raw material that is being consumed is near, is real, is
solid, is meaty enough to bear transfiguration. It is all very well for the poet to
feel the sweet vibrations
Of that virgin of singing flowers; (p. 42)
to watch his first 'bleak' words 'Straining in the festival of dewdrops'; to
sanctify Sobers, Toussaint and the Rasta Man. As Charles himself recognizes:
Flesh cries, flesh dies,
But the soul strengthens its vernacular (p. 56)
Yet that flesh, that soul, that vernacular, all parts of a whole, all elements of our
living, must have their single root, their source, their harbour. Strengthened,
the soul's vernacular will first seek earth, ground, stone, living contaminating
soil, like Coltrane's saxophone, before taking off into
The ever-green cycle
Soaring above the eagle's circuit
Of the mind's eye. (p. 56)
PUBLICATIONS OF THE DEPARTMENT OF EXTRA-MURAL STUDIES
L. S. Grant: Training for Medicine in the West Indies 15c. J.
G. P. Chapman: A New Development in the Agronomy of Pimento 15c.
G. R. Coulthard: Spanish American Novel, 1940-1965 30c.
M. G. Smith, Roy Augier, R. M. Nettleford: Report on the Rastafari
Movement in Kingston, Jamaica 50c.
R. M. Nettleford: Trade Union and Industrial Relations Terms 35c.
H. R. Roberts: Job Evaluation 35c.
Carlyle Dunkley: Collective Bargaining 35c.
John Hearne, Rex Nettleford: Our Heritage .30c.
CARIBBEAN AFFAIRS NEW SERIES
2) Adams, Magnus and Seaforth: Poisonous Plants in Jamaica .30c.
3) George Cumper: Looking at Figures 50c.
Agricultural Research in Jamaica(Five Papers from Seminar
in 1965) 20c.
WEST INDIAN PLAYS:
Catalogue and Plays may be obtained on application to:
Mrs. Myra Hinkson (Publications),
University of the West Indies,
113 Frederick St.,
Port-of-Spain, TRINIDAD, W.I.
RADIO BROADCASTING SCRIPTS: Scripts of broadcast programmes are
available from the Radio Education Unit of the Department 5c.
Catalogues of back issues of C.Q. available (with list of contents) may be
obtained on request from the Editor.
Moritz Thomsen: Living Poor -
University of Washington Press 1969 $6.95
David W. Foster and Virginia Ramos Foster: Manual of Hispanic Bibliography
University of Washington Press 1970 $11.00
Johnson U.J. Asiegbu: Slavery and the Politics of Liberation 1787-1861
Longmans 1970 60/-
Forbes Burnham: A Destiny to Mould -
Longman Caribbean 1970 22/-
John Eaden: The Memories of Pere Labat 1693-1705 -
Frank Cass & Co. Ltd. 1970 65/-
Ronald Hilton: The Scientific Institutions of Latin America -
California Institute of International Studies 1970 ............... $12.00