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S VOLUME 17 Nos. 3 & 4
E. A. MARKHAM
M. G. SMITH
Vol. 17 Nos. 3 & 4
September December 1971
Copyright reserved, and reproduction without permission strictly forbidden.
LIST OF CONTENTS
7-14 The New Caribbean Man William G. Demas
15-35 Self & Identity Problems in Jamaica The Perspective
of Shame Errol Miller
36-44 Dreamers & Slaves The Ethos of Revolution in Derek
Walcott & Leroi Jones Lloyd Brown
45-52 African Affinities: The Blacks of Latin America
53 Poem The Optimist E. A. Markham
54-71 Walcott versus Brathwaite Patricia Ismond
72-82 The Making of a Writer A conversation with George
Lamming at University of Texas, November, 1970
Reinhard Sanders & Ian Munro
83-90 The Art of Extremity Wilson Harris' "Ascent to Omai"
91 Poems Nursery Mervyn Morris
Patience E. A. Markham
92-113 Some Problems of Assessment: A Look at new express-
ions in the Arts of the Contemporary Caribbean
114-127 Caribbean Perspectives: The Creative Potential & The
Quality of Life Rex Nettleford
128-138 A Note on Truth, Fact and Tradition in Carriacou
M. G. Smith
139-143 Review Article A Way of Teaching: A Review of
Literary Series Heinemann Series Cecil Gray
144-145 Mirror, Mirror, Identity Race & Protest in Jamaica
Rex Nettleford Gloria Cumper
146-147 Bitter Sweet & Spice These Things I Remember
F. M. Coard Rawle Jordan
NOTES ON CONTRIBUTORS
LLOYD BROWN, graduated in the early 60's from U.W.I. and currently
teaches courses in black literature in the comparative literature programme at
the University of Southern California. His book-length study on Black Revo-
lution in Afro-American writing is due for early publication.
PATRICK BRYAN, lectures in Latin American history at U.W.I., Mona and is
now engaged in research on the integration of the French emigre to Jamaica
in the 19th century.
GLORIA CUMPER, is a Lawyer and social worker, formerly Resident Tutor
and now a part-time lecturer in the Faculty of Social Sciences, U.W.I.
WILLIAM DEMAS, is at present Secretary to the Caribbean Free Trade Asso-
ciation. The article is the text of his address to the graduating ceremony at
University of Guyana in November, 1970.
MICHAEL GILKES, writes from postgraduate English studies at the Univer-
sity of Kent. He took his first degree at the University of Guyana.
CECIL GRAY, is well known to Caribbean Quarterly readers for his contribu-
tions on language teaching and W.I. literature. He writes from the Education
Dept., U.W.I. Mona.
PATRICIA ISMOND, is a recent graduate in English from U.W.I. now pursu-
ing a postgraduate thesis on Walcott at the University of Kent.
ERROL MILLER, brings to his post as lecturer in science education in the
U.W.I. Dept. of Education a deep interest resulting in frequent research
papers in social psychology in the Jamaican context.
E. A. MARKHAM, a native of Montserrat writes from England where he is
founder of the Caribbean Theatre Workshop. He is a fecund writer of a tense
poetry and complex dramas. His return to the Caribbean in 1971 resulted in
the performance of his play "Dropping out is Violence", in St. Vincent.
M. G. "Mike" SMITH, who is Professor of Anthropology at University College,
London, spent many years as a pioneer in sociological research as staff mem-
ber at U.W.I.
MERVYN MORRIS, is a well known Jamaican poet and sportsman who com-
bines literary scholarship with creative writing and now lectures in the English
Dept. at Mona.
IAN MUNRO & REINHARD SANDER, who both spent the summer vacation
of '71 in a Caribbean study tour are engaged in a graduate programme of com-
parative literature at the University of Texas at Austin, which is enlivened by
visits of contemporary writers to that campus. This is the first publication of
their interview with W.I. novelist George Lamming.
REX NETTLEFORD, is the Director of Extra-Mural Studies at U.W.I.
He looks with a historian's perspective at social change in the milieu of
the Caribbean. His best seller "MIRROR, MIRROR, Identity, Race
& Protest in Jamaica" is reviewed in this issue by sociologist Gloria Cumper.
GORDON ROHLEHR, who lectures in English at the U.W.I. St. Augustine
Campus, has sifted the variety of current popular West Indian cultural express-
ion to find a unity of understanding and feeling.
RAWLE JORDAN, has had many years experience as a school-master and
U.W.I. Extra-Mural Tutor in Montserrat.
UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST INDIES
R. M. Nettleford, Director of Extra-Mural Studies (Editor)
Lloyd Brathwaite, Pro-Vice Chancellor, U.W.I., St.
Sidney Martin, Pro-Vice Chancellor, U.W.I., Cave Hill,
J. J. Figueroa, Professor, Faculty of Education, U.W.I.,
L. S. Grant, Professor, Faculty of Medicine, U.W.I., Mona,
Roy Augier, Dean of Faculty of General Studies, U.W.I.,
Patricia Williams, Department of Extra-Mural Studies,
U.W.I., Mona, Jamaica (Assoc. Editor).
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
they would like to see discussed in CARIBBEAN QUARTERLY. Articles of
Caribbean relevancy will be gratefully received.
United Kingdom 1 (Sterling)
(a) Jamaica $2.00 (J.)
(b) Eastern Caribbean $5.00 (E.C.)
U.S.A. and other countries $4.00 (U.S.) or equivalent
**Subscription orders may be forwarded to the Editor or to the local
office of the Resident Tutor in any West Indian territory served by this Uni-
This double issue of CARIBBEAN QUARTERLY seeks to participate
in what is a continuing debate on the dimensions of the Anglophone Carib-
bean region's concern with itself. If there seems to be some emphasis on the
responses of literary writers to the society it is partly because of the character
of this journal but largely because it is through many of the writers and crea-
tive artists that penetrating questions about the society are being asked and
indications about the region's cultural potential are being explored and
If poets Derek Walcott and Eddy Brathwaite, the one a St. Lucian
domiciled in Trinidad, the other a Barbadian working in Jamaica, present
challenges to our contributors, it is because both writers have by now pro-
duced, in their albeit differing ways, bodies of work which concern them-
selves "visibly and unmistakably" (according to the Jamaican poet Anthony
McNeill) with the central Caribbean phenomena of "cultural discontinuity"
and "cultural disinheritance". One may refer more positively to the added
concern, explicit or otherwise, with the possibility of a real cultural regenera-
tion reflected and/ or consciously rooted in indigenous Caribbean experience.
As Patricia Ismond in her comparative study "Walcott versus
Brathwaite" would aver, they of course extend themselves beyond the
immediate concerns of their compatriots and explore themes which concern
the transplanted black and other peoples of the New World. So Lloyd Brown's
tracing in "Dreamers and Slaves" of what he terms "revealing parallels" be-
tween some of Walcott's work and that of Leroi Jones, the American Black
playwright and poet, has a special relevance. The pan-African affinities are
likewise given expression in the reproduction here of Patrick Bryan's lecture-
notes on "The Blacks of Latin America".
But there are those who go beyond the predicament of the Blacks in
New World or Caribbean culture. The Guyanese novelist-thinker Wilson Harris
is a case in point, and his efforts to invest the West Indian experience with an
objective universality comes through in the article "The Art of Extremity" by
Michael Gilkes. Harris is quoted as follows "To speak of the situation of the
Negro Writer is therefore to speak of a problem of Man..................."
The 'universality' of Lamming seems of a different kind in the interview
conducted by Reinhard Sander and lan Munro of the University of Texas.
Some of the text cannot fail to remind readers of the source and the cultural
ambivalence of the West Indian intelligentsia as well as the reasons why an
entire generation of literary talent focused on London as their cultural centre.
Gordon Rohlehr, himself of a later generation, brings the centre back, as
it were, to the Caribbean in his survey of the poetry and music of protest
springing from the mass of the people and drawing on the richness of folk-
ritual and the gut-experience of urban ghettoes and gully courses.
But behind all these reflective contributions is the reality of some hard-
headed scholarly research. It was M. G. Smith who pioneered much of the
social anthropological research into Anglophone Caribbean society, and his
contribution in this volume is included because it demonstrates in part the
difficulties that objective research into the life and meaning of our ordinary
people encounter in the face of well-meaning, but sometimes unduly hyper-
sensitive, opinion that envisages an irreconcilable conflict between folk-reality
and latter-day aspirations to modernity. Professor Smith's reply to an earlier
piece by a Grenadian administrator on what is fact and what is fiction in the
tradition of Carriacou, one of the Afro-communities of the Caribbean, speak,
for itself. But it is well worth underlining Professor Smith's legitimate concern
with the denial by so many of the Caribbean elite of our people's "deepest
values, customs and beliefs" on the grounds that any recognition of such
values, customs or beliefs would mean surrender to a primitive atavism. This
not infrequently reflects the undertainty of one's own self-image. Errol
Miller's article "Self and Identity Problems. The Perspective of Shame" throws
some light on the problems here involved.
Such phenomenon is long evident in the debate on African survivals;
and attempts to redress imbalances or to shift focus or even to redefine frame-
works have dominated our scholarship as well as our creative expressions.
My own article "Caribbean Perspectives. The Creative Potential and
The Quality of Life" attempts to examine the limitations of any perspective
that would restrict Caribbean Life unrelentingly and inflexibly to the Euro-
African cultural conflict of plantation history or to some Marxist model of
exploiter-exploited class warfare. The presence of late-comer elements that
have not exactly shared in the original slave-based plantation experience but
are now numerically and culturally strong enough to augur new directions for
at least two sizeable Caribbean communities, is recommended for serious
consideration. In some ways this emphasises the view that a Caribbean
"homecoming" is the inevitable culmination of the current quest. For Carib-
bean society presents challenges for the forging of a new society and not
simply a transplanted conglomerate with energies directed towards Eng-
land, France, Holland or Spain, West Africa, or Ethiopia, Lebanon, India or
The inference is that the Caribbean persona is a new phenomenon in
the history of human development and William Demas, economist and public
servant, echoes Frantz Fanon in his attempt to define the "new Caribbean
man". The poems of two Caribbean men, Mervyn Morris and E. A. Markham,
complete the volume along with book reviews by C. R. Gray who examines,
inter alia, the role of the new Caribbean Writers series in the education of the
Caribbean student, Gloria Cumper who offers a commentary on a recent
account of the Jamaicans' concern with identity, race and protest, and Rawle
Jordon who assesses F. M. Coard's autobiographical but prototypical account
of a West Indian's progress to professional success at a time when opportuni-
ties for the native-born were extremely limited if not altogether non-existent.
The New Caribbean Man
"The New Caribbean Man" Is the full text of the Graduation Address given on November
7th, 1970 at the University of Guyana, by Mr. William G. Demos.
The theme of my address to you this afternoon is "The New Caribbean
Man." I have chosen this theme for two reasons. The First reason is the con-
cern of many Caribbean figures to define and create a New Man. The two
most prominent Caribbean names associated with this endeavour are, of
course, Frantz Fanon and Che Guevara. Fanon came from Martinique while
Guevara, although born in Argentina, closely identified himself with Cuba.
It is also not too fanciful to suggest that in the late nineteenth century Jose
Marti, "the Apostle of Cuban Independence," when he asserted the moral
equality between Black and White Cubans, was implicitly concerned with
the creation of a New Cuban Man.
My second reason for choosing this theme is the present preoccupation in
the Caribbean with the creation of a New Society in the Caribbean. This
contrasts with previous efforts by Caribbean intellectuals and activists to
create a New Society in countries outside the Caribbean.
In the 1920's Marcus Garvey of Jamaica sought to create a new society
for the Black American in Africa. In the 1930's and 1940's C.LR. James
and George Padmore, both of Trinidad and Tobago, sought to create new
societies for the Africans in Africa through liberation from British imperial-
ism. In our own time Stokeley Carmichael, also of Trinidad and Tobago, has
sought to achieve the redemption of the Black American on American soil
while Frantz Fanon sought to create a consciousness and a frame of reference
for all the peoples of the Third World.
But today we must be concerned with the creation of the New Society
here in the Caribbean. And, since this must be created by men, it is pertinent
to ask what sort of person, what sort of New Man will build the New Society
here in the Caribbean.
The most outstanding fact is that the New Caribbean Man is and must be
a young person. This is so partly because of coincidence and partly because
of inevitability. Coincidence makes it so because in the entire demographic
history of the Caribbean the percentage of young people in the total popula-
tion has never been so high. In many of the countries of the Region about
60% of the total population is less than 25 years of age.
It is inevitable that the New Caribbean Man will be a young person be-
cause Youth is or ought to be the vanguard of change in all societies. Carib-
bean Youth of today have clearly thrown off many of the psychological
shackles and complexes that so distorted the personality of the older
folk in the Region. Caribbean Youth have shown a readiness to reject many
of the irrelevant values, preconceptions and attitudes of the metropolitan
countries and are now actively seeking new values to replace the old. Further,
Caribbean Youth in terms of sensibility and the common quest for a new
ideological framework have achieved de facto unity, in spite of the dividing
factors of sea and political boundaries in the Region. They have achieved
integration ahead of our statesmen, businessmen, trade unionists and econo-
mists. They are truly a vanguard. They have the advantage of being better
educated and more prosperous materially than their parents and grandparents.
They are certainly more stimulated by events outside of the Region than
previous generations, for in this technological age, as has been aptly said, the
electronic mass media have reduced the world to a "global village".
What then are the tasks before the new young Caribbean Man in creating
the New Caribbean Society? They are many and formidable. Although all are
inter-related, four can, I think, be identified.
First, the New Caribbean Man must know, understand and come to terms
with his history. He must be intensely preoccupied with the History of the
Caribbean. We often hear the Philistines in our midst urging us to turn
away from the contemplation of our past experiences. This view is so ex-
tremely superficial that it does not even deserve the effort of refutation. I
shall therefore limit myself to two observations. In the first place, we cannot
create a New Society unless we know who we are and we cannot know who
we are unless we know where we have come from. In the second place, to be
acquainted with our history and to know that we have survived the moral and
psychological travail of slavery and indentureship, Crown Colony Government
and cultural deprivation and have retained our vitality, our elan and our cre-
ativity (although here and there, especially among the older folk, some
psychological scars are still left) ought to give us a tremendous amount of
self-confidence. We ought to feel elated rather than depressed by knowing
that we have the greatest gift a group of human beings can have moral
and psychological resilience.
The second great task facing the New Caribbean Man is the creation of a
distinctive Caribbean Society. The fundamental point to be grasped here is
that Caribbean political independence can be justified only if this inde-
pendence is used to create something new a better society with an identity
of its own. If we do not use our independence to do this, then we will simply
have changed our status as outposts of the British Political Empire to out-
posts of the North American Economic Empire.
The Technological Trap
In assessing our potentials and capabilities for creating a new and better
society in the Caribbean, we should not suffer from any undue inferiority
complex because of our shortage of resources, both physical and human, and
our inadequate mastery of modern technology. For Europe and America have
recently made the startling discovery that Technology is the God that failed.
The most advanced Western societies find that human action and human
creativity in shaping their social, political, economic and even physical en-
vironment nearer to the heart's desire is frustrated by the apparently autono-
mous power of Technology. Western Man now seems to be engaged in a losing
battle with a highly deterministic social process. Instead of Man freely making
his own choices and shaping his own society, human action is the dependent,
and man-made Technology the independent, variable in the process of social
More generally, we can say that in many ways the advanced Western
countries have not been remarkably successful in ordering their societies is not
so much through lack of will as through the devil's compact which they
made in the nineteenth century with the fiend of Technology. They have now
discovered in the second half of the twentieth century that Technology is
not neutral in terms of human values, as they once believed, but that Tech-
nology can actually triumph over human values. This disenchantment with
technology, organization and bureaucracy lies at the heart of the revolt of
the youth of Western Europe and North America and is perhaps the most
important factor in the emergence of the New Left.
It is one of the great tasks of the New Caribbean Man to escape this
trap. From the very beginning the New Caribbean Man must see and put
Technology in its true place as a servant of human values. To say this is not
to adopt a romantic attitude or to reject the desirability of material progress.
The New Caribbean Society will fail to develop its technological skills at its
own peril. The first priority of the New Caribbean Society must be to meet
the basic needs of all the people in the society for work, food, shelter,
clothing, education and recreation, and to ensure that these goods and ser-
vices are equitably distributed. Even to achieve this modest goal would de-
mand considerable application of Technology, and a very large number of
both high and middle-level technologists drawn from among the New Carib-
bean Men. Rather, what I am suggesting is that we so construct our economic,
political and social institutions that our New Society is susceptible of control
by our own human will and conscious activity rather than by the blind force
All of this means that the New Caribbean Society must rest on an in-
digenous and not an imported ideological basis. If we are to create a dis-
tinctive society in the Caribbean, we must formulate the intellectual and
moral bases of this society in the light of our own situation, our own history,
our own possibilities and our own aspirations. The New Caribbean Man must
look inwards for ideological inspiration.
This brings me to the third great task confronting the New Caribbean
Man. He must devise ways and means of reducing the negative aspects of the
metropolitan impact on the New Caribbean Society and of turning to his
own advantage the opportunities presented by contact with the metropolitan
countries. In other words, the New Society must be selective in its contacts
with the metropolis no less in economics, than in ideology, culture and
I shall not say much on this occasion about the economic aspects. Suf-
fice it to say that, while the Caribbean clearly needs to have extensive
economic intercourse with metropolitan countries, it has to- guard against
the danger of economic absorption into the powerful economics of these
countries. But two aspects of contact with the metropolis other than the
economic, need to be singled out here. The first is the cultural penetration
through the electronic mass media and the second is the drain of our trained
manpower out of our countries.
Properly conceived, the role of the electronic mass media in Third World
countries ought to be the preservation and strengthening of the national
cultural identity and the promotion among the people of attitudes conducive
to racial cohesion and national development. Instead we find that in many
Third World countries, particularly in the Caribbean and Latin America, the
electronic mass media, especially television, play a role which is destructive
of national cultural identity and of autonomous and independent economic
and social development. This role arises not only from the advertising of im-
ported goods but also from the actual content of the programmes which
brainwash the population into accepting and wanting the way of life of the
affluent societies. The New Caribbean Man will have to change the role of
the electronic mass media if he is to build the New Society. This is not really
Much more elusive of easy solution is the problem of "the brain drain". I
obviously on this occasion cannot go into the intricacies of this problem. Suf-
fice it to say that unless the New Caribbean Man can devise measures to retain.
the highly trained and the highly skilled for work in the Caribbean, then the
New Society will never be created. We shall remain outposts of economic em-
pire forever dependent on the metropolitan countries.
Extra- Caribbean Role
The final task among those which I have identified facing the New Carib-
bean Man is to convert the Caribbean from being the Third World's Third
World (to use Vidya Naipaul's witty but uncharitable phrase) into being a self-
respecting and respected society, exercising a certain moral influence over
the Third World generally and Afro-America in particular.
Let me elaborate this point. As I pointed out earlier, many distinguished
sons of the Caribbean have played an extremely important part at both the
intellectual and activist levels in creating the Third World and in developing
self-awareness among Black Americans. In the future the Caribbean will
have a somewhat different role to play.
First, since the Caribbean is only part of the Hemisphere where Black
people (originating from both India and Africa) control the State, what the
Caribbean does by way of creating a new and better society cannot fail to be
an inspiration to all the other Black peoples of Afro-America in their travail.
The New Society in the Caribbean can instil among the dispossessed coloured
peoples of the Western Hemisphere a sense of pride in the moral achievements
of the New Caribbean Societies controlled and run by children of Africa and
Asia. We should not forget that the creation of the State of Israel and its
successes have done more than anything else to give the Jews in the Diaspora
a sense of pride in themselves. In this profound moral sense, then, the New
Caribbean Man stands at the vanguard of the Afro-American struggle for
Second, by founding the New Caribbean Society on the basis of solidarity
between African and Indian, the New Caribbean Man can help directly but
no less powerfully through the force of moral example to contribute
to the solidarity between Asians and Africans in the wider Third World.
I have great hopes that the New Caribbean Man will be equal to these
formidable tasks. I am convinced that Caribbean Youth hold out brilliant
promise for the future of the Caribbean. But there are certain danger signs on
the horizon. Most of us will agree that one of the saddest spectacles to con-
template is that of an individual who never fulfilled the promise of his early
brilliance. If the Caribbean Youth of the 1970's do not fulfil the promises
of their early brilliance, it will mean that we in the Region will have to wait
yet another generation or possibly more for the creation of the New Society
and for the emergence of the New Caribbean Man.
Is it possible to identify the factors which may stand in the way of Carib-
bean Youth fulfilling its present high promise? I shall attempt to identify
a few of them; but I do so with the greatest diffidence since in the 1970's it
is almost heretical even to appear to be slightly critical of youth not only in
the Caribbean but in the world as a whole. In attempting to point out some
of the pitfalls into which Youth may fall, one runs the risk of being deemed
a reactionary, or a counter-revolutionary. One runs the risk of appearing in-
sensitive to the aspirations and thoughts of the new generation. My diffidence
is however qualified by the fact that I have a foot in each camp somewhere
between youth and maturity. (Perhaps many of you will not agree with me,
since it sometimes appears in the Caribbean today that anyone more than
twenty-five years of age is beyond redemption!)
First, the New Caribbean Man must set about the task of building the New
Society rationally. Here again I am not trying to inject a dose of conservatism
into the ardent and impatient blood of Youth. Both the revolutionary and
the conservative can be rational. Rationality falls into the category of means
and not ends. If we reject rational means and what is rational depends al-
ways on the specific situation and the specific time then we shall com-
promise the achievement of our ends. Rationality must always guide and dis-
cipline emotion. For to be rational is to be human.
In the second place, the Youth of the Caribbean is doing neither itself nor
the society any good by rejecting the older people. To seek to excommuni-
cate everyone over forty and in some cases even thirty is not only wrong but
silly. Discrimination by age is no more justifiable than discrimination by
race or by sex. Moreover, while it may be true that many of the older people
have not achieved the degree of psychological liberation in many ways in
which the majority of the younger people have, the older folk, although limited
by metropolitan values, have proved themselves and have in their own way
shown themselves of great moral and social worth. Some of you are not so
young as to have forgotten the old type of West Indian headmaster who is
now rapidly disappearing from the scene. How many examples are there today
among the younger people of this kind of integrity, commitment and dedica-
tion? Persons such as these may have been building badly designed structures;
but they built well. Today many young people are rejecting what now appears
to them to be ill-designed structures but they have not designed a new
structure even in outline nor do some of them seem interested in building
The third factor I would like to identify as a possible pitfall for youth is
lack of discipline. And by discipline I mean not only old fashioned discipline -
which is indeed important but also moral and intellectual discipline. I see
certain signs of self-indulgence developing among the young people of the Re-
gion; and here I am referring not to the indulgence of the sensual appetities
but to an absence of intellectual toughness and of moral integrity and auth-
enticity. How far are some of the rebellious postures of Caribbean Youth
authentically and genuinely felt and reasoned through? To what extent are
attitudes of dissatisfaction being simulated? To what extent do they derive
from the knowledge that Youth is angry and dissatisfied in other parts of the
Let me end by turning to the fourth possible pitfall the misunderstanding
about violence. The spread of the cult of violence as a means of resolving
social and political problems in the late 60's and 70's throughout the world
will certainly be noted by future historians when they come to write about
Let us begin by noting that violence is and has been a means of effect-
ing political and social change. No intellectually honest person can escape
this conclusion when he reviews the several cases where violence has brought
about social and political change in Europe, in America and in Third
World Countries. Violence (or the desire on the part of those who hold
power to avert violence) let us admit, at certain specific times and in certain
given circumstances, is probably the only means of achieving change. I say
"probably" because, history being an irreversible process, we can never be sure
that non-violent means may not have succeeded in achieving the same ob-
Where one has to take issue with many of the young exponents of the cult
of violence all over the world is with respect to the glorification of violence as
an end in itself. This.particular line of thought can, of course, often be traced
back to the writings of Frantz Fanon. Fanon's greatness as a political theorist
and as one of the forgers of the conscience of the Third World is indisputable.
His writings display a rare blend of vision, insight and commitment. But to
my mind his work is deeply flawed by his strange attitude towards violence. It
is the irony to crown all ironies that Fanon, who called on the peoples of the
Third World to make a total break with Europe, should in glorifying violence
be merely reflecting a certain strand of contemporary European thought.
This strand of thought derives largely from French Existentialism which
boldly proclaims and insists on the autonomy and freedom of choice of the
individual. No one can quarrel with this, but certain Existentialists have ele-
vated individual self expression to the point where the violent killing of
another human being is claimed to exalt or purify the individual killer who is
held to assert his manhood by exercising his free choice.
Merely to state this doctrine is to show how absurd it is and how much it
derives from certain decadent aspects of European Existentialism. It is more
than time that some commonsense where introduced into the discussion.
Among human beings violence can only be a means towards certain ends,
never an end in itself. An African guerilla who kills a Portuguese soldier in Mo-
zambique does so not in order to purify himself but in order to liberate Mo-
zambique. If he were purifying himself, he would probably stop fighting
after killing two or three soldiers. Fortunately, the African guerilla has more
commonsense than an Existentialist philosopher. If we count the number of
times in modern history when the oppressed have killed the oppressors, then
we should by now have a highly purified and exalted human race.
Having thus expelled this alien body of the Existentialist-derived cult of
violence for its own sake from Fanon's thought, we in the Caribbean can
take up the noble invocation at the end of his great work:
"For Europe, for ourselves and for humanity, comrades, we must
start afresh, develop a new way of thinking and bring into being a new
WILLIAM G. DEMAS
Self and Identity Problems
in Jamaica -
The Perspective of Shame
Part I of a statement on Self and Identity in Jamaica, which formed the basis
of a lecture by Dr. Miller to The Caribbean Youth Leaders Course at UWI,
Mona, July 1970.
The concept of identity has been the topic of much discussion in Jamaica
in recent times. Also to a certain extent many people have become interested
in the idea of Self Concept. In this paper I propose to look at the relationship
between Self Concept and Identity and to examine both these concepts in
relationship to the concept of shame. The intended purpose is to look at Self
and Identity conflicts and problems of people in Jamaica from a fresh view-
point which at best will reveal new insights or at least underscore the validity
of insights gained by approaches from other perspectives.
It could be argued that shame is a negative concept hence the kinds of in-
sights gained will be limited to negative aspects of Self and Identity. One
would answer by saying that in any consideration one is limited by the ana-
lytic tools that are employed. It might be helpful to point out that the intent
here is not that of building Self Concept or establishing identities or images,
but rather that of attempting by analysis to reveal in essence the nature of
Self and Identity crises, conflicts and problems of Jamaican people. The tool
is appropriate for the purpose for which it is employed.
The concepts of shame, self and identity are used by psychologists of
different persuasions to mean different things. Also the terms are sufficiently
used in everyday talk to acquire common sense meanings. It becomes doubly
necessary, therefore, to begin by defining and describing the ways in which
these concepts are being used in this paper.
I. Self and Identity
D. R. Miller,1 in his processual view of Self and Identity, advocates that
the individual in his movement through the social structure is placed in many
different positions and is required to play various roles. He is first baby, then
child, then adolescent, then young adult, middle-aged man, and then old man.
He is intelligent student, Smith's son, member of a cricket team, altar boy,
and John's best friend. As he performs these roles he develops Subjective
Public identities corresponding to each, as he learns what is expected of him
in each role. The view the individual has of himself consists of many facets
and aspects, each corresponding to an identity. These identities, however, do
not remain independent. As he grows older, out of his experiences he ul-
timately forms a core, an inner self, which consists of his most valued, most
salient attitudes toward himself. This inner core represents an internalization
and agglomeration of some of the individual's Subjective Public Identities.
Those Identities which finally comprise the Self are those that the individual
comes to regard as being more 'ME' than all the others.
From this approach the Self Concept of an adult is the internalization of
certain identities developed mainly in childhood and adolescence as the indi-
vidual performed various social roles.
This approach to Self and Identity places great emphasis on their social
nature. It gives insight into the way in which social forces through inter-
personal interactions make their impact upon the individual. It also gives in-
sight into why there will be a fair degree of common identities and common
features in the self concepts of individuals growing up in a particular social
context. According to this view, the Self an individual has is almost totally
the product of his environment. However, this assertion is untenable to many
theorists because largely it ignores the idiosyncratic aspects of Self and
The Phenomenological psychologists have approached Self from the indi-
vidual's frame of reference. From this viewpoint Self is what the individual
has discovered and learned about himself. Staines defines Self as "the person
as known to the person".2 Krech and Crutchfield states that it is "The I or me
of which the person is aware in his thoughts, feelings, and actions".3 Jersild
says Self is "all ideas and feelings a person has regarding the properties of his
body, the qualities of his mind, and personal characteristics."4
It is important to note the difference between Person and Self. Person re-
fers to those aspects of an individual that can be objectively assessed by any
observer. In other words this is what the individual really is. On the other hand
Self is the individual's subjective estimate of his person. The Self is formed
through interaction between the individual and parents, peers, and peda-
gogists. From the experiences he comes to learn things about himself and
builds up a whole complicated set of concepts and attitudes about himself. It
should be pointed out that although this approach views Self from the point
of view of the individual, it recognizes that the culture context in which the
person learns and discovers himself is an extremely important determinant
of the Self that is finally formed.
The Self once formed, tends to resist disruption, hence it is very stable.
This is because the overriding need of the individual is to maintain and en-
hance the fundamental organization of the existing Self. Mechanisms which
the individual uses to maintain the Self as it is, includes misperception,
selective interaction, selective evaluation of other persons, and selective eval-
uation of Self.
In order to satisfy the need to maintain and enhance their images of Self,
one technique individuals use is that of identification with individuals, groups
and Ideals. These identifications lead to a sense of identity since they involve
an engagement with and within one's society with a view to answering the re-
lated questions of Who am I? and Where do I belong? The sense of identity
that is developed involves both the discovery of the similarity in lifestyle which
one shares with one's own society, and culture and also the idiosyncratic
elements of one's own disposition.
In summarising these two approaches to Self and Identity which are in
some way conflicting but mostly complementary, let me emphasize a
few essential points for us to bear in mind. Self is not the thing that per-
ceives but rather is the thing perceived. It is not knower but known, not
player but product. It is an object the individual's experience of himself.
With respect to the question of the relationship between Self and Identity one
could say that Self represents an internalization of identifications the person
has made with roles he has played within his culture. On the other hand, it
could be conceived as an alignment made by an individual with groups, indi-
viduals and ideals which are in keeping with the maintenance and enhance-
ment of Self. There needs to be no dichotomy here, the relationship between
Self and Identity could and does involve both processes. It should be noted
that Self, Identity and Culture are intricately intertwined.
There are instances where the term identity is used to present an indi-
vidual's peculiar sense of his uniqueness as a human being, his being different
from all other men. There are instances in which it is used in the sense of
identification, one's involvement with other people. In this sense identity is
the individual's perception and conception of himself in terms of others. It is
"seeing" others as part and parcel of one's self. This may be as wide as that of
perceiving all mankind as being "part of me" or as restricted as that of only
including the few persons with whom the individual is intimately involved.
In this paper both the individual's perceptions and conceptions of his unique-
ness as a person and his perceptions of his identifications with other people
are regarded as being part of his Self Concept. Identity is used in the sense of
the individual's identification with groups, other individuals and ideals.
Wallace has drawn attention to the fact that Self is a construct univers-
ally applicable to human personality.5 It is one of the few ideas about per-
sonality postulated in the Western world that has not been destroyed by the
anecdotal veto of the anthropologists. (The anecdotal veto is described by
Wallace as the announcement by some anthropologist that some proposition
advanced by western folk wisdom, or by some luckless professor of Psy-
chology or Sociology is not true among the so and so. (Examples are Margaret
Mead's veto of the universality of turmoil during adolescence by quoting the
Samoan example6 and Malinowski's veto of the universality of the Oedipus
complex by citing the example of the Trobriand Islanders.)7
It is necessary at this point to define Shame and relate it to the concepts of
Self and Identity. In doing so it would be instructive to examine two examples
of experiences involving shame.
In conducting a certain research project, I went into a secondary school
in Jamaica to measure the heights and weights of some girls in the school.
This necessitated the removal of their shoes. There was one girl who was ex-
tremely hesitant to do so but because of the situation, she had to. When she
finally removed her shoes, a medium size hole in the front of her socks was re-
vealed. All the girls present who saw this began to laugh and called the atten-
tion of the others to it. The girl in question showed visible signs of being
seriously embarrassed ashamed. There could be no doubt that this was a
very painful experience for her and that she'had been the object of ridicule.
In analysing this incident one must first ask: Is the exposure of the fact
that a piece of material of a sock is missing, sufficient to evoke a sense of
shame on the part of the individual wearing the sock and sanction, by ridi-
cule, from her peers. The answer certainly is that a hole in a sock has no such
inherent property and that surely there are circumstances in which that girl
would not have experienced shame or ridicule on the exposure of that hole.
To understand this response one has to have some insights into the history
and tradition of high schooling in Jamaica where it has functioned mainly for
the more well-to-do members of the society. One has also to appreciate the
fact that it is an agent of social mobility in the society and that one of its
main functions is to socialize those who attend high school for membership
in the middle-class, or, a better name the 'Privileged class'. In this class in
Jamaica the only place for socks with holes is the garbage pan. Wearing such
socks signified either a lack of sense of good grooming or a lack of financial a-
bility to do any better. Within such a context the behaviour previously de-
scribed is to be expected.
Take another example. The West Indies and England are playing cricket
in a Test Match at Sabina Park, Jamaica. The match is not going in favour of
the home team. The umpire makes a decision against the home team that
appears unfair to the fans of the home team. A barrage of bottles and other
missiles is hurled on to the field. The police present rush to the scene. The
missiles are now hurled at them. The riot squad is called in and tear gas is
used to disperse the disruptive element. The game resumes ninety minutes
later. Native sports commentators of the radio, television and press
all express their shame and regret for this shameful incident. In discussion of
this incident in homes, offices, bars, etc. across Jamaica the expression of
shame is equally profuse. In the days following, many concerned citizens
write letters to the Editor of the local newspaper which include among other
things the sense of shame at being Jamaicans in the light of the incident.
It is necessary to note from a worldwide viewpoint that visible and violent
dissension on the part of sports fans of home teams with umpires' and ref-
erees' decisions is a common occurrence. The incident at Sabina Park was in
no way uncommon or singular. Also that shame is by no means the only or
even the most prevalent response to such incidents. In ice hockey in the Uni-
ted States and Canada more violent dissension with the referee's decision by
home team fans has been more or less institutionalized. When such an incident
occurs, if the feelings about the decision is not very strong, the crowd chants
"So and so is a bum" (so and so representing the name of the referee in-
volved). In some places a few banners bearing obscenities may be unfurled.
However, if the fans feel strongly on the matter, they hurl eggs, tomatoes,
and other such projectiles which they have brought for the occasion. When
this happens the players and referees skate off the ice, a clean up detail
skates on, clear away debris, and the game resumes forthwith. (This may
represent the ultimate stage in the evolution of partisanship in sports where
visible and violent dissension against decisions is taken for granted and pro-
vision is made for it.)
As far as I can trace, when incidents like these occur there is generally
some apology offered and some excuses made for the misguided zeal of the
fans involved. There may even be some public pleas to these people to restrain
their enthusiasm. However, somehow this is all tolerated as being part of the
Why then should the Sabina Park incident evoke a sense of shame on the
part of so many Jamaicans? To appreciate the reasons for this one has to under-
stand that when the West Indies and England are playing cricket, much more
than cricket is involved. When this occurs in the West Indies not only the
players, but the fans and in fact the whole population of the area are both on
show and on trial. The stakes of the game are high. I am almost certain the
incident would not have occurred if the game was going against England and
the decision had also been against them. One can also say that neither would it
have occurred if the West Indies were in a winning position and the same de-
cision was made. One could even doubt if the team was either India or
Pakistan whether the same response would have been made to the umpire's
decision. These considerations aside, however, the crucial point is that a few
hundred Jamaican fans and police acted in ways that were, in the eyes of the
rest of Jamaicans, inferior to the ways in which their contemporaries in Eng-
land would have acted under similar circumstances. The 'shame reaction' was
a result of this exposure of supposed inferior behaviour on the part of those
involved in the incident and the identification on the part of those who were
ashamed with all that was taking place at Sabina Park.
What then can be said about the concept of shame and its relationship to
identity. The experience of shame usually involves an exposure or uncovering
of some sensitive, intimate and vulnerable aspects of the Self. Usually this ex-
posure may be to others but it can also be in one's own eyes. The exposure
does not involve anything wrong that the individual has done. It is not a
question of the uncovering of some sin or transgression. This would be to
confuse shame with guilt. It is true that the exposure of wrong-doing can lead
to shame but this is a special case and the reverse is not true. The exposure
usually involves the revelation of some inadequacy, some weakness, some
failure, some ineptitude, some inferiority in other words some discrepancy
between the individual and the social situation. The thing uncovered places
the individual in the position where he is out of joint with his social situation.
Helen Lynd (1958) points out that a trivial incident can give rise to an in-
tense feeling of shame.8 This is because the experience of shame involves the
whole Self. Hence a trivial mispronunciation of a word may set off a chain of
associations that ultimately terminates in an intense feeling of shame. Be-
cause of this, she says, "an experience of shame can be altered or transcended
only in so far as there is some alteration or change in the whole Self.... In
shame there is no comfort .... It is not an isolated act that can be separated
from the Self.. .The thing that has been exposed is what I am."
It has been stated previously that the Self is composed not only of one's
personal features and characteristics but also of identifications with other
individuals, with groups, with ideals, and with one's society itself. Hence the
experience of shame is not only occasioned by the sudden exposure of per-
sonal failure, inferiorities, and unloveliness but also by the exposure of weak-
ness, ineptitude, and inadequacies on the part of individuals and groups with
which the individual is identified. Shame for others may pierce deeper and
leave larger scars than shame for one's self. What is exposed is not only who
one is, but also one's society or group and the individual's place in it.
Although shame involves the whole Self and also others paradoxically it
is a highly personal and isolating experience. It cuts the individual off
from others. It seriously alters trust. It is possible for shame to destroy trust
and confidence in oneself, in others, in one's values, or even in one's society.
A sense of insecurity and emptiness almost always accompanies shame.
From the preceding illustrations and discussion, sketchy though they may
be, it can be seen that shame is very closely related and integrated with both
a sense of Self and a sense of Identity. Shame is the experience which results
upon the exposure of vulnerable aspects of Self and Identity. By analysing
shame one is able to get some clues concerning the person's sense of self and
identity. Shame is a universal human experience. However, the particular vul-
nerable aspects of Self which upon exposure generate shame varies with peo-
ple living in different societies and culture s. Hence if the study of shame is to
be instructive in our attempt to understand Self and Identity problems in Ja-
maica, this study must include not only a general consideration of what
shame is but consideration of particular ways in which the experience mani-
fests itself among the peoples of this region.
Lastly, shame does not result merely upon any exposure of vulnerable as-
pects of Self but when such exposure occurs in a particular context. In order
for shame to be experienced there must be a particular audience, a particular
public. In addition to an examination of vulnerable aspects of Self one must
also include a study of the particular situations in which shame results if one
is to benefit maximally from the use of the concept.
Preservation of Self
In referring to the motivational functions of the Self concept it was stated
that the primary need of the individual is to maintain and enhance the Self
concept as it currently exists. On the other hand, the effect of the experience
of shame is completely the opposite. In the situation in which shame is ex-
perienced Self is diminished, it is brought into disrepute, it is down-graded.
As it has been stated previously shame can only be transcended insofar as
there is change and alteration in the Self as it is currently organized.
It is logical to assume, therefore, that if an individual is frequently placed
in situations that are potentially shameful, he will develop defensive strate-
gies designed to forestall the occurrence of the experience of shame. This is
in keeping with his need to maintain Self. It would be instructive in the con-
text of this paper to see whether there are any common strategies employed
by Jamaicans which could be effective in coping with potentially shameful
III. Shame in Jamaican Society
In the sections following I am going to examine areas in which shame is
common, practices which cannot be fully understood without being placed in
the context of shame, common defence strategies designed to combat shame,
and the situations in which shame is most likely to occur in the Jamaican so-
Areas of Shame: In attempting to catalogue some of the areas of shame,
let us begin with probably the most obvious and certainly not the most im-
portant area the use of language. Everyone is aware that Standard English,
Jamaican dialect and various mixtures of these are in common usage in the
society. Also while the privileged groups tend to use Standard English, the
peasant group uses dialect. The child of the former group who uses dialect in
his home will be sanctioned for doing so and exhorted to use "proper"
speech. Similarly the child of the latter group who uses Standard English in
speaking to his parents and siblings will be sanctioned for trying to "pose
off" on them. However, in social intercourse involving individuals of both
types of groups it is recognized that in order to communicate and to impress,
for one reason or another it is necessary to use both forms of language.
This language situation, as it currently exists, has a high shame potential
and does in fact generate a considerable amount of shame both on the part of
the one who speaks, those who are spoken to, and those who happened to
have listened. Shame results, for example, from the sudden revelation of the
condescension of'resorting to dialect, something improper, in order to com-
municate. Also considerable shame is associated with the experience de-
scribed by the phrase "him speak until him spoke". By interpretation this
usually means the desperate attempt on the part of a user of dialect to com-
municate in Standard English which ends in total failure. There are many
people who turn off their sets when dialect is used on radio or television not
only because of strong convictions about proper speech but because of shame
in the past which they are trying to forget or because of the shameful present
which they are seeking to ignore.
Probably of greater significance and higher intensity than the shame ex-
perienced in the oral use of language is that associated with reading ana writ-
ing. The inability to read and write is the source of great personal shame
among a large section of the population and this isn't confined only to the
peasant groups. The inability to read and write satisfactorily is not seen as
being mainly due to the lack of adequate educational opportunity and facili-
ties but rather as evidence of either a serious lack of "ambition" or a great
intellectual deficiency. Situations which expose this disability trigger an in-
tense sense of shame not only on the part of the individual but also on the
part of those who are in some way identified with him.
Body characteristics such as type of hair, facial features, and skin colour
are sources of shame in Jamaican society. It continues to be an ideal held in
Jamaican society that the ideal body characteristics beauty consists of
"straight" or "good" hair, straight nose, Caucasian type eyes, preferably blue,
small mouth, thin lips, with skin colour being either "fair" or "clear". The
shade of skin colour being referred to here is one or two shades removed
from the whiteness typically associated with Caucasian. It comes close to the
shade that many Caucasians seek to acquire by the process of a suntan. (It
should be assumed that the facial features referred to are arranged in a pat-
tern that is accepted as being "pretty"). Needless to say, the majority of the
members of this society lack many or most of the features. The experience
of shame involving some aspect of these body characteristics is almost uni-
versal in the society. This comes about when, the discrepancy between who
one is and what one has, in terms of these features, is exposed in the light of
the socially accepted stereotype of physical beauty. This is especially true
among young people who are in the process of discovering themselves and
forming identities, particularly at the time at which social interaction is of
paramount importance to them.
In a particular survey I did I asked certain adolescents to describe their
idea of beauty.9 Previously, without their knowing, I had collected data on
their skin colour and their answers were analysed with reference to this. I
found that many of the 'dark' skinned and 'jet black' subjects individuals
who are classed Negroes in the Caribbean usage of the term either wrote
very little or returned blank sheets. My first reaction was to wonder why. A
plausible explanation appears to be that from their genetic composition, one
could not normally expect these individuals to have many, or any, of these
features, in the state in which the society regards as beautiful. The exercise I
had given them forced them to confront this discrepancy. The shame in
which in all probably resulted was sufficient to cause them to refrain from
taking part in the exericse.
Another area of shame is Jamaica, the country it is perceived to be.
To a small number of people in Jamaica, the country is no more than a"2 x 2"
scrap of land which is of no significance or status in the world community.
The only thing it has is scenic beauty which in all probability was an accident
of creation or at best a consolation prize for having nothing else. As far as
history is concerned Jamaica is less than 500 years old. In the 1490's when
Columbus came the place was occupied by some Arawak savages who were of
no consequence and in any case they were so weak that they all soon died.
From then until now what has taken place should largely be forgotten be-
cause the whole experience is too filled with suffering, sorrow and sordid de-
tails. There is no accomplishment, no achievement, no glory of the past which
is uniquely ours and of which we can be justly proud. The glories that are
now being bandied about have been manufactured for convenience but they
are not actually real. The national heroes, Bogle and Gordon, are heroes of
decree and not of fame. The other heroes, Garvey and Manley and Busta-
mante may be more genuine articles but universal acceptance of this is
clouded by the fact that many people who are not particularly old, can re-
member that not too long ago these very men had been regarded by sections
of the society as villains of one sort or another.
But what of the present? These persons would reply that the present is in
keeping with the past. They would give as evidence the fact that there are
many things that are inadequate, so many deficiencies, so many shortcomings,
so many attempts to "rectify things" which have apparently failed. They
would also point out that the prevailing attitude is one of apathy and resigna-
tion. This being most ably summarized in the title of a popular "reggae" song
What then is the common attitude to the future? To these same people
there is no reason to expect or even to suspect that the future will be any dif-
ferent from the present or the past. The attitude then is one of hopelessness.
Jamaica therefore is a complete "write off" as far as being of any significance
or any importance as a country in the world.
I hope no one gets the impression that the views about Jamaica articulated
in the preceding paragraphs are commonly held by the Jamaican people. Also
that no one feels that I have expressed a personal view. This would be a great
mistake. What I am asserting however, is that there are those who feel this
way and actually express it. There may be some who feel similarly but have
never articulated it in this way. This feeling of shame about the country,
however, is described in an extreme form hence one could not expect it to be
the dominant feeling. At the same time I think it fair to say that less in-
tense, more moderate, feelings of shame about different aspects of the
society are shared by a significant number of members of the society. This is
despite the show of pride that is sure to be displayed to the outside world
and to the visitor. These feelings about the country, I think, may be more
common among the older people than among youth.
Family relationships are another area of shame. In Jamaican society
there is a great desire on the part of children "to make good", "to amount to
something in life", "to become somebody". To a large degree this desire is
developed and encouraged by parents, teachers and other significant adults
in the child's world. Shame can result in cases of both success in achieving or
failure in realising this goal. Children who deem themselves, or are deemed, to
have succeeded may become ashamed of their parents and those brothers
and sisters who are seen as having failed to achieve similar success. On the
other hand, parents and brothers and sisters may feel ashamed of children
who in their eyes have failed to make good. This matter of differential success
of members of families and resulting shame occurs sometimes even between
husband and wife.
The matter of illegitimacy is another source of shame in families. Probably
this no longer carries the same intensity of social censure as was previously
the case but it is still a source of shame for many people in many families.
Yet another area of shame is that concerned with public figures and
public occasions. People who hold public office when performing their duties
on public occasions are not simply doing their job but there is the sense in
which they are "on show." This is not in the sense of performing an act for
the sake of entertaining but in the sense of acting on behalf of the people. If
his conduct, manner, dress, or speech is out of joint with the occasion then
there is a sense of shame not only on his part but on the part of many people
identified with him and with the occasion. There is also the matter of the in-
dividual's conduct on public occasions. Coupled with this also is the matter
of the conduct of groups or crowds on public occasions. These quite
commonly generate shame. The Sabina Park incident quoted previously illus-
trates the point being made.
The last area of shame that will be mentioned here is to a certain extent
more related to young people than older people although it cannot be said
to be peculiar to them. It concerns the kind of work that a person does. For
the male, manual work or agricultural work that only involves using such
implements as hoes, shovels, machetes, etc. is regarded as degrading work.
To engage in it brings a sense of shame. To females, housework frequently
called domestic work, is regarded in a similar light, especially if no gadgets
are available to assist in such work and where the employers are black Ja-
Common Practices Utilizing Shame
Let me turn now to a consideration of certain practices of people within
the society that cannot be fully appreciated without some understanding of
the implications of Self, Identity and Shame.
Nicknaming is a common phenomenon in human society involving the
assignment of a humourous label to a person. The reasons for doing so are
diverse. This type of behaviour is particularly common among children. In
Jamaica nicknaming is prevalent among individuals who could in no way be
classed as children. It is used as a form of sanction to remind someone, who
has been forgetting himself of some disability or inadequacy in order to
"keep him in his place". It is used not to provoke to anger but to "shame"
and humiliate to "bring him down a peg or two."
The circulation of "stories" or "jokes" about certain individuals is
another such device. For more than two years now, stories have been circula-
ting in the country about a certain alleged tragedy in the romantic life of a
certain public figure. As soon as one version grows old with repetition,
another is stated, a new twist is added, a new angle to it is reported. While
one can almost certainly declare that these "stories" or "jokes" are false, one
would be mistaken just to dismiss them as wicked, or even harmless rumour.
The intention of these "stories" or "jokes" is deadly serious. They are in-
tended to sanction this individual's behaviour in this area of his life by using
the power of ridicule and shame.
I shall define the phenomenon of the Jamaican expression "tracing" for
clarity's sake. It is a recounting of the life history of an individual, which may.
even include carefully recalling his ancestry, in the most unfavourable light
possible. It of necessity includes exposures and disclosures of past occur-
rences of which no one could be justly proud. This is a procedure adopted by
someone with whom the individual has had serious differences of opinion.
The "tracing" is usually more biting if the speaker happens to have known
the individual for some time. There is no question that the whole intention
of this exercise is to forcibly bring the individual into an instant experience of
of shame. In most "tracing" situations there is the assertion or the assump-
tion that the person being "traced" regards himself as being "better than"
the person doing the tracing. The purpose of tracing is to redress the balance
and put them on at least equal footing. When, however, the situation is a
"tracing match" then the contest is to establish "who is better than who".
The involvement of self and identity and the exposure of these is unmis-
takably a part of the phenomenon. A "tracing" is something to be avoided
and many concessions have been granted by individuals who have been
threatened with such an occurrence.
It is not possible to understand the tactics used by politicians in conduct-
ing campaigns for elections in Jamaica without a consideration of the shame
aspect. In fact an election campaign in any constituency almost always in-
cludes a contest to see who can expose and uncover more hitherto unknown
details about the life of the opponent. Part and parcel of the contest is to see
which candidate can cause more shame for the other. This sometimes takes
precedence over the promises and/or performance of the candidate as the
representative for the area. The assurance of candidates "giving each other
hell" is part of the attraction of attending street meetings. All of this is con-
sidered fair game. Some people may condemn the "character assassination"
employed in these campaigns but almost everybody enjoys it.
IV. Defensive strategies.
Now it is necessary to turn to the question of whether or not it is possible
to identify any habitual modes of defence used by many people in the so-
ciety to combat shame and help to maintain integrity within the Self struc-
ture. The position taken here is that it is possible to identify at least four
modes of defence habitually used by many Jamaicans to combat shame.
These are laughter, apathy, denying Jamaican nationality, and migration.
By caricature, Jamaicans are carefree, spontaneously gay, full of fun and
laughter, in other words happy-go-lucky. The Jamaican is seen to have a
very keen sense of humour and is able to laugh under the most difficult and
trying situation. This stereotype of the Jamaican emphasizes laughter, fun
and a carefree attitude. It is necessary to note the same sudden exposure of
self that can lead to shame can also lead to laughter. The laughter functions
to combat and forestall shame. By "laughing off' the incident involving a
sudden exposure of a vulnerable aspect of Self the individual is saying "take
no notice of this incident, it is of no significance, it is just an accident which
in no way characterizes what or who I am". By glossing over the experience
of exposure of Self by a humourous comment or gesture, one is saying that
this whole incident exposure plus the humorous comment or gesture is
not really serious; it is no more than a joke. By habitually employing laugh-
ter and humour as a defensive strategy against shame, one can easily be
characterized as being carefree and full of laughter.
By caricature also the Jamaican is said to be lackadaisical, lazy and lack-
ing in ambition. He is said to be apathetic and unconcerned about serious
purposes in life and also with regard to his social environment. In examining
this aspect of the stereotype of Jamaican personality one needs to realise
that if an individual puts no effort or enthusiasm into a particular task being
performed and finally fails to accomplish the task there is some doubt as to
whether the failure is the result of the lackadaisical attitude or to inadequacy
or inability of the individual. If one is able to say that one's failure was due
to not trying then the problem principle is that of motivation rather than
inability. This could be somebody else's fault. By employing this strategy one
greatly minimizes the risk of shame consequent upon failure. Again by being
apathetic, unconcerned, and uninvolved with one's social environment, the
individual is virtually isolating himself from others with the result that their
failures and shortcomings and the exposure of these will have little chance of
causing him shame.,
In referring to the matter of denial of Jamaican nationality one is not
making reference to a legal fact but rather to the way in which some people
in Jamaica conceive and perceive themselves. There are people born in Ja-
maica who do not regard themselves as Jamaican, but rather claim to be Eng-
lish, Syrian, Indian, Chinese or African. By making strong identification with
ancestral groups and refusing to make similar identifications with one's peers
the individual conceives of Self in such a way as to greatly restrict the ways
in which it could become vulnerable in the Jamaican circumstances in which
he happens to live.
Migration is another technique employed in coping with shame. There is
the fact that some people migrate in order to seek adventure, to explore new
opportunities, to enjoy a higher standard of living, to make money, to get a
better education etc. However, these are not the only reasons why Jamaicans
migrate. To some people it is a means of escaping from the Self and Identity
problems inherent in the society. It also represents a chance to belong to a
powerful and important society within the world community. Even if one re-
turns to Jamaica having lived abroad for some time, this is perceived by the
society as being to the credit of the individual concerned. It is a boost to self
esteem. The migrant experience certainly adds many increments to one's
V. Context of Shame.
In the foregoing discussion there has been the implicit assertion that
shame is a widespread and frequent experience in the Jamaican society. In
order to amplify and strengthen the point being made it is necessary to strike
a contrast. In the United States at the moment the distinct tendency is for
people to be concerned with experiences involving guilt. People, Caucasian
especially, are concerned about transgressions and injustices committed
against individuals and groups both within and without the society. There is
widespread concern about the morality of the actions of individuals, groups
and the society as a whole. While shame is experienced, it is the sense of guilt
that dominates. In Jamaica, on the other hand, people are preoccupied with
instances of failure, inadequacies, weakness, unsatisfactory conditions, in-
feriority, backwardness, and shortcomings. Every round of exposure of new
examples of these brings with it a new wave of shame. This operates both at
the public and private levels. While there is some sense of guilt, especially
certain injustices, it is the sense of shame that dominates.
Although one may assert that shame is a common experience in the
society one may still ask whether it is more prevalent among members of one
section than others. In order to answer this question it is necessary to ex-
arhine the context and circumstance in which shame is usually most likely to
be experienced. Jamaican society has two major social sections; the privileged
class, commonly called Middle class, and the peasant class, commonly called
Lower Class. In examining the contexts in which shame occurs, it would
appear that it occurs more commonly in the Privileged Class context than in
the Peasant class.
In asserting that shame is more likely to occur in a Privileged or Middle
Class context in Jamaican society it is necessary to elaborate and validate it
by examples. One is saying first of all that members of this class are more
susceptible to shame. It is well known that members of the Peasant class
use the threat of "Tracing" to win many concessions from middle class peo-
ple. The possibility that the maid will "trace" the mistress at the front gate
has caused many a Privileged Class housewife to concede many of her rights
as an employer.
Again one is pointing to the fact that in the situations in which compari-
sons are made between events, customs, habits, and behaviour in Jamaica
against so-called Western and European norms, and where because of their
identification with Jamaica, people experience shame, the people involved in
making the comparison and experiencing the shame are more likely to be
Middle class than Lower class.
One is also asserting that on many occasions when Lower class persons ex-
perience shame the situation is that certain aspects of Self are revealed and
judged in the light of Middle class norms and expectations. This is particular-
ly so with experiences of shame in the areas of the use of language and family
relationships and patterns. The validity of this assertion is best established by
the fact that the man most susceptible to the experience of shame is the Low
er class man who, seizing the opportunities of social mobility, is aspiring and
becoming Middle class.
VI. Roots of Shame.
The preceding discussion has sought to establish the use of language, body
image, Jamaica the country it is perceived to be, family relationships and
patterns, public figures and occasions, and certain kinds of work as areas of
shame; nicknaming, circulation of stories, tracing and political campaigning
as practices utilizing shame; laughter and a carefree attitude, apathy and a
lackadaisical approach, migration and a denial of Jamaican nationality as
defences against shame; and that shame is most likely to occur when vul-
nerable aspects of Self are exposed in the context of a middle class audience.
The question arises, Are there any common roots from which these all
spring?. Are there any common elements, unifying themes?. There appear to
be at least two common sources or roots that one can identify.
The fact of change whether in the individual's personal characteristics or
in his social setting underlies many experiences of shame. This is mainly the
case with respect to the experience of shame in the areas of family relation-
ships and public occasions. It is very evident in the case of the acute ex-
periences of shame of the individual who affords himself the opportunity of
social mobility and is making the transition from one social class to the next.
Because of change individuals will find themselves in unfamiliar situations in
which the old modes of behaviour are no longer valid. Also they might not
have mastered the new modes of behaviour considered appropriate for the
new situations. The probability of experiencing shame in such circumstances
Personal growth and development and social change require that the indi-
vidual establish, present, and conceive of Self in new and different ways. It
requires him to make new identifications. At the same time he is required to
cast off some of his old identifications and old ways of conceiving of Self.
Probably of greater significance is the fact that through the changing circum-
stances the individual needs for the sake of the continuity and integrity of
Self to retain and maintain the most salient aspects of his existing Self Con-
cept. Hence although Self may be established in new ways the individual
must be able to recognize the enduring "me". All of this is to make Self rele-
vant, congruent, adequate while still retaining the idiosyncratic and unique
aspects that have characterized the individual's experience of himself through
the preceding stages of developments and old social settings.
The phenomenon being described here is frequently referred to as the
"search for identity." It is characterized by insecurity and uncertainty of the
individual with respect to the questions of who he is and where he belongs. It
is precipitated by change personal or social which requires that Self be
reformulated and re-established in order that it is adequate for and congruent
with the new status. During the transition Self is vulnerable in many aspects
and areas and the change of exposure is great. Any exposure of Self in the
context of the new situation and the new status which the individual is as-
piring to achieve will almost certainly precipitate an acute experience of
Many discussions of problems of Self and identity culminate with a con-
sideration of the conflicts and crises caused by the "search for identity."
(That is, problems caused by changes which require that Self be established
in new and different ways in order that it may be adequate, congruent and
valid in the new situation in which the individual finds himself). However,
when one looks at the areas of shame, practices utilizing shame, defences
against shame, then it is clearly seen that the self and identity problems of
people in the Jamaican society are only partially explained by the phenom-
enon of change. In fact, while change does appear to be a cause of shame it is
definitely not the most fundamental cause.
In examining shame in the areas of body image, the use of language, the
perceptions of Jamaica, the kind of work people do; and in looking at the
various practices utilizing shame, one finds that underlying all of these is the
matter of the evaluation of Self and identifications the question of worth.
The practices utilizing shame nicknaming, circulation of stories, "trac-
ing" are techniques used by members of the society to deny or at least
question the worth of an individual or of groups of individuals. The individual
against whom these practices are directed are persons who either present and
project themselves as being of worth and significance or have attained some
status or position which would imply this. In the case of the several areas of
shame underlying them all is the feeling of inferiority by which the individual
comes to question his own worth and significance. The problem here is not a
matter of whom am I? or Where do I belong? it is rather that having established
these aspects of Self and Identity the individual then evaluates them to be un-
worthy, worthless and of no significance. It is not a question of finding one's
self but having found it, to perceive and to regard it as amounting to little or
nothing. It is fair to say that the analysis of shame in Jamaican society reveals
that the more fundamental conflicts and crises of Self Concept and Identity
of people are those concerned with the evaluation of the worth and signifi-
cance of the Self and its identifications.
In summarizing one can say that the regional component of the self-worth
problem can be traced to the fact that as a colony, the society lived with
external forces for almost four and a half centuries. The declaration of in-
dependence nine years ago has not substantially changed this focus. The
racial component of the problem is rooted in the "master" position occupied
by the Whites and the "slave" position by the Blacks for more than two cen-
turies and the inferior position of indentured labourer in which Indians and
Chinese entered the society. The class component is related to the fact that
the society accepted, practised and patterned itself according to British social
philosophy and social structure during the 300 odd years of British colonial
The prevailing attitudes among Jamaicans with respect to the races to
which people belong is that the local members of the race are counterfeit
when compared with the foreign counterparts. Real White people come from
Europe and North America, Real Black people from Africa, Real Indians
from India and Real Chinese from China. Jamaican white people are not real-
ly white, neither are Jamaican black people really black people. Implicit in
this whole attitude is the feeling that the Jamaican experience has contamina-
ted these people and rendered them impure. Hence they are not genuine and
Although in the social structure white people are afforded the highest
social status, the Jamaican born Caucasian is afforded a lower status than his
English born counterpart. One is saying that the social attitudes are such that
they question the worth and significance of the local person vis-a-vis his Euro-
pean or African or Chinese or Indian counterpart.
In the pursuit of excellence is the unspoken assumption that excellence is
not resident in the island: one has to leave and go North where it is possible
to achieve excellence. Whether the talent to be developed is literary, musical,
scholastic or athletic, the individual concerned makes a pilgrimage which
hopefully will do what could not be done in the Jamaican society develop
the talent to perfection.
When we turn to the matter of ideas and opinions, we find a similar bias.
The ideas that people will most readily accept, adopt and adhere to are
those developed abroad. If an idea is of local origin then it is necessary that
some foreign agency or individual sanctify it. The same things go for opin-
ions. The opinions that are worth having and respecting are those of foreign
agencies and experts. Opinions of local origin, if they are not bolstered by
foreign expert advice, are not usually regarded nor respected. This is true
both for the populace and for people in authority.
There is no need to elaborate on the point that goods manufactured in
Jamaica, apart from rum, are automatically ascribed to be worthless.
One is asserting that the habitual and characteristic modes of evaluating
and valuing things, ideas, goods, people, in the Jamaican society are such that
it assigns a high coefficient of worthlessness and insignificance to these if
they are of local origin. This perceptual set, this mode of perceiving, con-
ceiving and interpreting worth is operated and practised by members of the
society without their being aware or conscious that this is in fact the mode in
which they are operating. Again to many people to contradict this outlook is
to contradict reality.
Empirical support for the assertion that people in the Jamaican society
have problems in evaluating and valuing themselves comes from the work of
Phillips (1962). Phillips did a cross-cultural comparison of the Self Concepts
of English and Jamaican trainee teachers. Among the many things he did was
to ask the subjects to write about themselves. After analysing the results
Phillips stated, "The Jamaican groups tended to be largely uncritical of them-
selves, except in minor facets of personality. They tended to express them-
selves in superlatives, and to see themselves through very rosy spectacles."9
He illustrated this point by quoting from some of.the essays. I shall include
two of those quotations here:
"Although a warm-hearted person, I have some of the finest qualities of
which human beings are capable."
"I am.... a person of more than average ability. I am straightforward in,
all my dealings thus causing my character to be above reproach. I am a hard-.
working man of sterling worth, I am both loved and admired by most of
those I come in contact with."
Whether approaching the question directly by considering public atti-
tudes concerning worth prevailing in the society, or by examining the private
feelings of individuals or by looking at it indirectly by considering the ex-
perience of shame, the indications are that Jamaicans appear to have conflicts
and problems in evaluating and estimating worth. In evaluating Self there
seems to be vacillation between outright rejection and unquestioning accept-
ance. To a large extent the evaluation process is operated in an irrational way.
The question is, Why?
The problems regarding worth appear to be a logical consequence of the
nature and history of the Jamaican society. For almost all of its known his-
tory Jamaica was a colony of a European Power. It was operated as an out-
post of European civilization and existed exclusively for the benefit and
comfort of the Imperial power. That the Jamaican society benefited was
Everything in Jamaica was justified and legitimate by its relationship to
the mother country: the people who were important, the way in which life
should-be lived, the crops that should be planted. Nothing in Jamaica had
worth andvalue in and for itself. Worth and value were the exclusive property
of the Imperial power. It was external to the society.
By considering the areas in which shame is experienced, practices involving
shame and the defensive strategies employed to combat shame, it is possible
to identify three components of this Self-worth evaluation problem.
(a) There is a racial component. White people and Caucasian features are
given high status, higher value and considered to be of greater worth than
people of other races and features characteristic of other races. This has been
called the "white bias" in the society and is a well established fact.
(b) There is a class component. People born in certain families and or
people who attend high schools, people who dress in a certain manner, who
speak standard English, who hold certain jobs, and who live in a certain life
style are perceived as being of greater worth and significance than others.
This class bias is also a well recognized factor in Jamaican society.
(c) There is a regional component. Jamaica and Jamaicans are perceived as
having less worth than other nations especially when compared with Western
nations and peoples. This is a factor that is only just being recognized, there-
fore, it is necessary to establish its validity.
It is necessary to state briefly that the assertion that the problem associa-
ted with evaluating Self is related to the nature and history of the society
is consistent with the fact that shame is experienced more frequently and
more acutely in the Privileged or middle class. The colonial overlords were
successful in socializing this section of the society to accept the orientations,
outlooks, customs, practices and mores of the Imperial society. This class to
a considerable extent imitated the colonial masters and fashioned and mould-
ed itself in the image of the mother country. It is not surprising that this
class should be most plagued with the problems of worth and more sus-
ceptible to exposure of inadequacies, failures, and weaknesses of the Self
than other sections of the society.
From consideration of the problems of Self and Identity from the per-
spective of shame it can be concluded that these problems stem from at least
two roots. First, there are the problems precipitated by changes which require
that Self be established in new and different ways while still maintaining its
enduring and consistent idiosyncratic characteristics. These kinds of problems
can arise from changes as a result of one's personal growth and development
or from changes in one's social setting. Knowing the kind of change that is
occurring and knowing the kinds of conflict and crises the individual con-
cerned is likely to experience may help to minimize the effects of the prob-
lems, but they cannot be eliminated. There is a sense in which this kind of
experience is universal in human society.
Second, there are conflicts arising from the ways in which individuals
assess and evaluate Self and Identity. The nature of Jamaican society is of
such that its members are socialized to doubt their own worth and the worth
of things that are indigenous to the society. This habitual and characteristic
perceptual set is consistent with the history of the society. This problem is of
particular significance and importance because it is not a universal problem in
human society. More importantly social attitudes often set limits upon indi-
viduals' perceptions, conceptions and expectations of what they can become
which in turn greatly affect their experiences and accomplishments so that
they conform to the restricted expectations. Social attitudes and climates
which cast doubt on the personal worth of certain individuals are likely to
influence those individuals to perceive themselves to be of little value which
in turn will quite likely result in the individuals acting and behaving in ways
which will cause their experiences to confirr their expectations and the so-
cial expectations. One may say that an individual develops a sense of worth
through his experiences and to a large extent it is earned. It is necessary to
bear in mind that worth is first conferred upon him and that his experiences
later confirm this worth. This is largely so because of the ways in which the
individual's Self structure influences his experiences through self-fulfilling
This raises the question that if one is to promote a sense of worth among
people in the Jamaican society a completely new social frame of reference
has to be created which begins with the assumption that all members of the
society are worthy and significant. This in essence means a change in the
nature of the society. This prescription follows logically from a consideration
of the problem and its origin.
Because this problem affects the middle or ruling class more than any
other segment of the society then the restructuring of the society, in order to
obtain a new social frame of reference, would have to be directed mainly at
the outlooks, customs, expectations, patterns of perception of this class than
any other. This is a matter of some moment because the forces impelling the
social development of the society are such that ihis class is being greatly ex-
panded and the new recruits are being socialized to perceive and conceive of
reality in the ways characteristic of the class. This is a high and unnecessary
price to pay for social mobility.
1. Miller, D.R. (1963)
2. Staines, J. (1954)
3. Krech, D. and
Crutchfield, R.S. (1958)
4. Jersild, A.T. (1963)
5. Wallace, A.F.C. (1968)
6. Mead, Margaret (1939)
7. Malinowski, B. (1927)
8. Lynd, H.M. (1958)
9. Phillips, S.A. (1962)
"The Study of Social relationships: Situation, Identity
and social interaction, "Psychology: A Study of a Sci-
ence, VoL 5. The process areas, the person and some
applied fields. S. Knoch (ed) pp. 639-737. McGraw Hill,
A Psychological and sociological investigation of the
Self as a significant factor in Education. Unpublished
Ph. D. thesis, London University.
Elements of Psychology. Alfred A. Knopf, N.Y.
The Psychology of Adolescence, Macmillan, N.Y.
"Anthropological contributions to the theory of per-
sonality" in The Study of Personality: An Interdisci-
plinary approach. Norbeck, E. (ed) pp. 41-53 Holt
Rinehart and Winston Inc. N.Y.
From the South Seas: Studies of Adolescence and Sex
in Primitive Societies. N.Y. Will-Morrow & Co., Inc.
Sex & Repression in Savage Society, N. Y. Humanities-
On Shame and the Search for Identity, John Wiley &
Sons Inc., N.Y.
A Study of the Self Concepts of Selected Groups of
Training College students in their relations to other
variables in the teaching situation. Unpublished Ph.D.
thesis. London University.
Dreamers and Slaves
The Ethos of Revolution
in Walcott and Leroi Jones
In January 1962 a Lower Eastside theatre in New York presented Moon
on a Rainbow Shawl with a cast headed by James Earl Jones who was later to
receive national acclaim as Jack Johnson in Sackler's Great White Hope. Eight
years later, in 1970, the National Broadcasting Company televised a play,
Dream on Monkey Mountain, a few months before the stage version made its
debut across the United States. Errol John, the author of Moon on a Rainbow
Shawl, is a Trinidadian playwright. Dream on Monkey Mountain is the work
of Derek Walcott, a St. Lucian now residing in Trinidad. The West Indian
dramatist had finally arrived in the United States. Not in a flood, admittedly;
neither with the reverberating impact of political act-vists like Marcus Garvey
(Jamaica) and Stokeley Carmichael (Trinidad); nor with the loud acclaim of
other literary predecessors like Claude McKay, the Jamaican poet-novelist of
the twenties. But, however limited in number and general impact, the arrival
of the West Indian dramatist in the United States of the sixties and seventies
is of special significance for the contemporary history of Black America as a
whole, and for the evolution of Black American theatre in particular. West
Indian playwrights like Errol John and Derek Walcott are engaged in the kind
of ethnic themes which imply significant parallels between the Black
Caribbean and Black America, and which, in the process, appeal to the
Pan-American sympathies of Black Nationalism in the United States. John's
Moon on a Rainbow Shawl explores the slum backyards of Port-of-Spain with
the frank realism that we find in current images of the Black ghetto in Black
American theatre. In Walcott's Dream on Monkey Mountain the quest for an
African identity becomes an exploration of that revolutionary consciousness
which is the subject of Black (revolutionary) theatre in America. And among
Black American plays, Leroi Jones' The Slave offers the closest and most
revealing parallels with Derek Walcott's work.
These parallels are revealing on two counts. First, they demonstrate the
cultural and psychological similarities the Pan-African affinities which
link all Blacks who are in contact with a White world. The impoverished
visionary/dreamer who inspires an imaginary crusade for a Black African
heritage in Walcott's play is substantially similar, in kind, to the rebel-salve
archetype who leads a Black insurrection in Jones' work. Secondly, these
parallels shed some much needed light on The Slave itself. Ever since its first
appearance in 1964 Jones' play has been the target of a fearful literalism that
has been incapable of grasping the dramatist's symbolism or the metaphoric
forms and rhetorical structures in which that symbolism is rooted. Instead of
searching analysis and contributive insights we have been treated to a
succession of short-sighted invectives ranging from the charge that Jones'
race-war theme is naive and suicidal to the allegation that the playwright is an
hysterical nonomaniac. 1 Of course Walcott's play is painstakingly explicit
about his symbolic structure. The overt emphasis of both the "dream" title
and the narrative phantasmagoria is unmistakable. So are the explicit
statements of the author's "Note on Production"; "The play is a dream, one
that exists as much in the given minds of its principal characters as in that of
its writer, and as such, it is illogical, derivative, contradictory. Its source is
metaphor and it is best treated as a physical poem with all the subconscious
and deliberate borrowings of poetry. Its style should be spare, essential as the
details of a dream."2
From here it is not difficult to accept the play's "revolution" as a dream, a
vision which symbolically projects the revolutionary potential of Makak,
Walcott's peasant hero. In other words, the play is an analysis of whatever
exists in the minds of the hero and his contemporaries his messianic dream
about a Back-to-Africa pilgrimage from the oppressive poverty of the
Caribbean, or his obsessive ambivalence towards the White world. And
contrary to hackneyed allegations about Jones' "suicidal monomania", I
would suggest that the insurrection in The Slave, lends itself to a symbolical
approach which does far more justice to the play's complexity than the
familiar literalism. In short, Jones' Vessels Walker is conceived and presented
in the play, not only as the literal leader of an actual insurrection, but also as
the dreamer-volutionary. The insurrection does have some sifnificance as a
futuristic or prophetic reality. After all, racial violence in the United States is
both an historical fact and a continuing probability. But quite apart from that
reality, the play is also a dream; its action exists in the mind of Jones'
rebel-slave archetype; and on this basis it is a symbolical analysis of the
paradoxes and self-conflicts which are inherent in Black revolutionary
consciousness, or, indeed, in the very notion of Black revolution.
Conversely, the revolutionary "dream" or the visionary quest of Walcott's
Makak symbolically projects the psychological realities of the Black man's
relationship with both the White West and with the African past. Makak
(Felix Hobian), a charcoal vender on a West Indian island, is jailed overnight
for disorderly conduct. Strictly speaking, the play's action represents the
fantasies which constitute Makak's dream-world and which are re-enacted in
his mind during his overnight imprisonment; he is a Black Messiah whose
quest for an African identity (he plans to return to Africa) is inspired by an
"Apparition" (an image of the White woman). But Walcott does not allow us
the luxury of viewing Makak's dream as an isolated, individual fantasy. For
we are a part of his dream. And our implication is dramatized by the manner
in which the "spectators" within the play/dream are incorporated into
Makak's visionary world; his cell-mates, Tigre and Souris, the jailor Corporal
Lestrade, and Makak's partner, Moustique they are all principal actors in
Makak's "fantasies" because, although they seem him as a week-headed old
man, the dream also exists in their minds, and, implicity, in the minds of the
play's Black (theatre) audience.
In one sense, of course, our African dream and our revolutionary
transcendentalism are a kind of escape. On its most elemental, sexual level,
Makak's dream of a White goddess/apparition compensates for the fact that
he is ugly ("macaque," the monkey), sexually repulsive, and lonely. And
beyond this, his dream lifts him above the harshness of his everyday poverty;
the vision of an African splendour compensates for the self-hate that is
ingrained in the Black psyche in a White world. As Makak himself
summarizes, "I have left death, failure, disappointment, despair in the wake
of my dreams" (Dream on Monkey Mountain, p. 305). But the nature of
Makak's dream also touches upon the ambiguities and ironic self-conflicts of a
Black revolutionary consciousness. For our revolutionary dreams are not
merely a form of escape. They are also, paradoxically, a psycho-existential
affirmation of self, of Black Selfhood. However overly idealistic his
revolutionary cause may be, and despite the romanticization of his "royal"
African heritage, Makak affirms his human identity precisely because the
capacity to dream has survived within him. Before his vision Makak is
despised and self-hating, an impoverished hermit whose ugliness (that is,
Black ugliness) makes Monkey Mountain an appropriate habitat (Monkeys are
ugly, Black is ugly, and, of course, Blacks are monkeys/ "makaks"). But at
the end of his dream Makak expresses a triumphant sense of his own
humanity which has been confirmed for us by his proven capacity for dreams.
So that when he is released from prison the regaining of physical freedom is
analogous to a birth, to revolutionary beginnings for Makak and his people.
I have been washed from shore to shore,
as a tree in the ocean. The branches of
my fingers, the roots of my feet, could
grip nothing, but now, God, they have
found ground. Let me be swallowed up in
mist again, and let me be forgotten, so
that when the mist open, men can look
up, at some small clearing with a hut,
with a small signal of smoke, and say,
"Makak lives there. Makak lives where he
has always lived, in the dream of his
people." Other men will come, other
prophets will come, and they will be
stoned, and mocked, and betrayed, but
now this old hermit is going back home,
back to the beginning, to the green
beginning of this world
(p. 326), The Dream On Monkey Mountain
In other words, the romantic fantasies about an African "home" of royal
lions act as a catalyst, enabling Makak and his people to come home to their
human selves. The dream-fantasy about revolution involves and confirms a
very real revolutionizing of self-perception.
But this fantasy-reality paradox does not account for all the ambiguities
which Walcott attributes to Makak's dream and its revolutionary ethos. For
the very nature of Makak's vision emphasizes a certain tension or self-conflict
in the development of a revolutionary consciousness. Makak first hears the
"call" to a Black awareness from the "Apparition" in his dream; "She say I
should not live so any more, here in the forest, frighten of people because I
think I ugly. She say I come from the family of lions and kings" (p.236). But
the apparition is a White woman, the "loveliest thing I see on this earth, /Like
the moon walking along her own road" (p.227). Makak's fascination with her
White beauty is really the instinctive result of his self-hate as an old man who
is "ugly as sin." He is a man
Without child, without wife.
People forget me like the mist on Monkey Mountain.
Is thirty years now I have look in no mirror,
Not a pool of cold water, when I must drink,
I stir my hands first, to break up my image (p.226).
And her whiteness compensates for his self-hate as a Black man. In his own
crude way Moustique who is really Makak's alter ego embodies this self-hate.
Mouistique's, and Makak's, ugliness and Blackness make the White woman
(and, by extension, the white world) inaccessible and therefore more
desirable. According to Moustique's bitter reminder, "You is nothing. You
black, ugly, poor, so you worse than nothing. You like me. Small, ugly, with
a foot like a 'S.' Man together two of us is minus one" (p. 237).
In effect, Makak's revolutionary consciousness is closely linked with the
self-hate and whiteness of his pre-revolutionary phase. The revolutionizing of
his self-preception depends upon an intense awareness of the whiteness and
self-hate; the Black man must recognize the latter for what they are as
integral parts of his own psyche before he can deal with them. So that,
initially, Makak's "Black" pride, his reaching for some glorious African past
of "lions and kings," is an affirmation, rather than a negation, of his
whiteness. For it is all aimed at proving some notion of humanity to the
White world rather than to himself. And his revolutionary Black awareness
can only be fully developed once he recognizes that the Apparition represents
his continuing and subconscious allegiance to the White world which his
rhetoric rejects. Hence Corporal Lestrade, Makak's bourgeois alter ego,
reminds him that he can only realize his total Black humanity by destroying
an allegiance that saps his revolutionary potential.
What you beheld, my prince, was but an image of
your longing. As inaccessible as snow, as fatal as
leprosy. Nun, virgin, Venus, you must violate,
humiliate, destroy her;otherwise, humility will infect
you ... She is lime, snow, marble, moonlight, lilies,
cloud, foam and bleaching cream, the mother of
civilization, and the confounder of blackness. I too
have longed for her. She is the colour of the law,
religion, paper, aft, and if you want peace, if you
want to discover the beautiful depth of your black-
ness, nigger, chop off her head! When you do this,
you will kill Venus, the Virign, the Sleeping Beauty.
She is the white light that paralysed your mind
When Makak obeys, when he beheads the Apparition, the self-conflict ends,
because in his words, he is now "free" free of White value systems and
images which have stunted his Black self-awareness.
Altogether then, Makak's dream is a mirror which reflects the paradoxes in
his emergent self-awareness. The full development of a Black revolutionary
consciousness depends upon a frank recognition of the Whiteness within, and
of the Black-White tensions which account for the Black man's notorious
double-consciousness, but which, ironically, also spark his perceptual
revolution by forcing him to confront his self-contradictions. And having
recognized his self-hate and Whiteness for what it is, then he must destroy it
before he can progress from his initial ambiguities (Black rhetoric, White
Apparition) to the unequivocal fieedom of Black self-acceptance. This is the
kind of progression that the Black American critic Larry Neal describes; the
Black revolution is an internal violence, "the destruction of a weak spiritual
self for a more perfect self. But it will be a necessary violence. It is the only
thing that will destroy the double-consciousness the tension that is in the
souls of the black folk."3
This, too, is the progression that is dramatized by the relationship between
Makak and those who both inhabit and share his dream. Moustique, his
coal-vending partner in real life, and Corporal Lestrade, the mulatto
policeman who takes him in custody for the night, enter the dream as
Makak's alter egos. And as such they join the Apparition herself to complete
the contradictions of Makak's undeveloped Black consciousness. Moustique's
ugliness is a physical reflection of Makak's self-loathing. Moreover, when
Moustique turns Makak's popularity into a quick, monetary profit, he
represents the exploitive motives that are inherent in the initial stages or
Makak's revolutionary development. In the absence of a fully developed
Black awareness, Moustique remains faithful to his racial self-loathing by
using Makak's idealism as a means of exploiting a gullible and impoverished
community. So that taken together, Makak and Moustique represent the
ambiguity of the undeveloped revolutionary psyche. It combines the new
revolutionary idealism with the exploitive instincts of the old self-loathing;
and this destructive ambiguity can also be resolved when Moustique, like the
Apparition, is purged from Makak's consciousness through a ritualistic
By the same token, the extreme, anti-Black neuroses of the mulatto
Lestrade re-enact Makak's self-hate. When Lestrade is converted" to
Makak's Black cause his rampaging militancy is a guilty reflex which seeks to
compensate for the old bourgeois self-hatred. Hence, like Makak, Lestrade
can only be truly free when he recognizes the central paradox of the Black
revolutionary consciousness the psycho-existential link between the old
self-hate and the new self-discovery. And he acknowledges this connection
when he lectures Makak on the latter's need to destroy the Apparition ("I too
have longed for her. She is the colour of the law, religion..."). In effect,
Lestrade's earnest injunction to Makak is also a crucial confession of his own
double consciousness. But, in symbolical terms, this is really Makak's
confession, since Lestrade is his alter ego. Consequently, the Lestrade/Makak
confession joins the execution of Moustique/Makak and the beheading of the
Apparition; they are the initial purging which releases Makak into an
untrammelled Black Selfhood. The revolutionary psyche which Makak's
dream projects is now complete. He now returns to that other reality
represented by the jail cell. But, as we have already seen, the very capacity to
dream has confirmed his revolutionary possibilities.
These are the "possibilities" which Jones' The Slave is also exploring. And,
like his West Indian counterpart, Jones' analysis illuminates the paradoxical
links between the new revolutionary psyche and the Black man's old double
consciousness. Of course, on the more obvious political level, Vessels Walker's
Black revolution does emphasize, and predict, the counter-productive effects
of White repression. And in this sense The Slave is a rhetorical justification of
Black violence against White society. But, once again, the literal and more
obvious statements of Black revolutionary theatre do not account for all the
crucial conflicts of the play. And in The Slave these tensions involve the
Black man's perceptual values, the kinds of self-awareness which retard or
promote his cultural revolution. In this regard we must view Vessels Walker
and his two White antagonists, Grace and Bradford Easley in the same light in
which we perceive Makak and his alter egos. They are three interrelated parts
of a single whole that whole being Walker's dual personality as a B'ack man
in a White world. For quite apart from their obvious roles as symbols of that
White world around Walker, Easley and Grace are projections of Walker's
White values, of those criteria and desires which have inhibited his ethnic
self-awareness. Moreover, this dramatization of Black self-perception is
integrated with the aesthetic issue. For Walker is also a poet. And the
symbolic emphasis on revolution as individual perception touches upon his
role as an artist. His poetry is "White". As he reminds Easley, "It's changed to
Yeats. Yeah, Yeats ... Hey Professor, anthropologist, lecturer, loyal
opposition, et cetera, didn't recognize those words as being Yeats's?
Goddamn, I mean if you didn't recognize them... who the hell would?"4
Easley is expected to recognize Walker's poetry because Walker's literary
tastes and the professor's irrelevant intellectuality ("et cetera") are one.
Walker hates Easley as the White enemy outside, but he loathes and fears him
even more as the whiteness within.
In this respect, Grace is comparable with Easley, as well as with Makak's
Apparition in Walcott's Dream. She represents that White femininity, that
myth of the white goddess, which has historically held a fatal fascination for
the Black man. Thus Walker's earlier love for Grace, and their former
marriage, represent a psycho-sexual obsession which has always been
destructive of the Black man's self-awareness. It is an obsession which has
formed the racial triangle of the Black man, White woman and White man-
even in Shakespeare; "remember when I used to play a second-rate Othello?
Oh, wow... you remember that, don't you, Professor No-Dick?You remember
when I used to walk around wondering what that fair sister was thinking?Oh,
come on now, you remember that ... I was Othello... Grace there was
Desdemona ... and you were lago" (Dutchman and The Slave; p. 57).
In short, the racial treachery inherent in the Black man's white sex images
is represented by lago Easley just as his exploitive self-loathing is symbo-
lized by Derek Walcott's Moustique/Makak. And this self-destructive white-
ness is embodied in Jones' play by the half-man (Professor No-Dick) whose
impotence symbolizes Walker's castrated Blackness. In reviling Grace and
manhandling Easley, Walker tries to exocrize his own crippling Whiteness.
Hence the contrast between Walker, the strong masterful male, and Easley,
the weakling, represents an internal conflict between racial integrity and self-
acceptance, on the one hand, and on the other, the half-manhood that results
from the sexual and intellectual denial of one's own identity.
Easley, then, is the living personification of the aesthetic and racial values
which threaten Walker's role as revolutionary. This is the point of the title, for
having progressed from the slave status of the prologue, Walker is
experiencing a transitional stage in which he recognizes his spiritual serfdom
incarnated in Easley, his cultural alter ego. But this is precisely the point
which escapes a fearfully literal reading of the play. The useful hysteria about
the play's (successful) Black insurrection is gratuitous. The "race war" is less
important as a literal happening, than as a symbolic, emotional catalyst for
Walker's self-revelation and self-security. Indeed, the manner in which Jones
presents Vessels Walker at the beginning of the play strongly suggests that the
race war is not an objective event to all, but a projection of Walker's own
highly subjective self-analysis.
All of which brings us to another significant parallel with Walcott's play -
the dream structure. For, in a very real sense, the physical violence and the
emotional confrontations in the main body of Jones' play are all a kind of
dream, the self-vision of the old man (Vessel Walker) who appears in the
prologue. In his own words,
"we know, even before these shapes are realized, that these worlds, these
depths or heights we fly to smoothly, as in a dream, or slighter, when we
stare dumbly into space, leaning our eyes just behind a last quick moving bird,
then sometimes the place and twist of what we are will push and sting, and
what the crust of our stance will ring in our ears and shatter that piece of our
eyes that is never closed. An ignorance. A stupidity. A stupid longing not to
know ... which is automatically fulfilled. Automatically triumphs. Automati-
cally makes us killers or foot-dragging celebrities at the core of any filth"
(pp. 43-44). Dutchman And The Slave
Walker is preparing his audience for a "dream," a self-revealing vision that
will disturb and awaken it will "push and sting," and "ring in our ears."
And since this is to be a form of self-recognition, it will shatter the apathy or
the "stupid longing not to know" which characterizes the slave mentality.
The shattering of this apathy will create either "killers" (real revolutionaries)
or "foot-dragging celebrities" (jive revolutionaries who turn their militant
image into personal profit). Applied to the events which follow the prologue,
Walker's remarks imply that the race war incidents, and the meeting with
Grace and Easley, are a visionary self-scrutiny. Or, to return to Walcott's
preface to Dream On Monkey Mountain, Walker's experiences are all "a
dream, one that exists as much in the given minds of the principal (character)
as in that of its writer." And as a dream, these experiences project Walker's
physical relationship with the main action suggests a dream sequence not
unlike the psycho-narrative structure of Wacott's Dream. He is an old man in
the prologue, and at the end of his introductory speech, he assumes "the
position he will have when the play starts." If this physical transformation
suggests, as it should, that there is a "fading-in" to the main-action
dream-sequence, then the physical metamorphosis at the end of the play is
equally symbolic; as Walker the rebel-leader stumbles out, he becomes "the
old man at the beginning of the play" signifying the "fade-out" of the
All of which brings up the question of Walker's identity. He himself points
to its ambiguity in the prologue; "I am much older than I look ... or maybe
much younger. Whatever I am or seem ... to you, then let that rest. But figure
still you might not be right." He is warning us against a literal approach to his
character, for he is an archetypal symbol of the Black psyche and of Black
history. He is both younger and older than he looks because he incorporates
the past and the present and his dream opens up future possibilities. The
"old" field-slave personality is the key to this archetypal role. That role is
ambiguous. In one sense his servile status symbolizes the subjection to white
images like those embodied by Grace and Easley. But in another sense, his
identity as a field slave points up his revolutionary potential, for in this
regard, he fulfils Malcolm X's remarks about the field slave in Black American
history! Unlike the house Negro who loved the white slave-master, the field
Negroes "were in the majority and they hated the master ... If someone came
to the field Negro and said, 'Let's separate let's run,' he didn't say 'Where we
going?' He'd say, 'Any place is better than here.' You've got field Negroes in
America today. I'm a field Negro. The masses are the field Negroes."5
Walcott's Makak, Malcolm X's field Negro, and now Jones' field slave are
all linked by their potential for revolution; and in Jones' play the "race war"
vision is an introspective exploration of this potential within Walker, the
archetype of past and present ("older" and "younger") militancy. Hence
Walker's visionary conflicts are comparable with the psycho-ethnic tensions in
Makak's dream; they represent the contrast between the White images and the
self-hating implications of his servile status, on the one hand, and on the
other hand, the rebellious predisposition of the field-slave figure. To return to
Walker's cryptic prologue, his "ideas," or "theories" (dreams), are expressed
through borrowed (White) concepts and language. "As: Love is an instrument
of knowledge." But they also involve the discovery of an image that belongs
to a. long tradition of Black revolution/resistance; "old, old blues people
moaning in their sleep, singing, man, oh nigger, nigger, you still here, as hard
as nails, and takin' no shit from nobody" (p. 45). Indeed, the ability to dream
and to explore his psyche through the dream symbols, confirms this
rebellious pre-disposition even after the dream inevitably comes to an end,
as it does in Walcott's Dream. And it is this self-exploration that links Jones'
slave with Walcott's dreamer. They are both dreamers whose visions are, in one
sense, symbolical of that fantasy/escape which colours the prophetic ideal.
But in a more pressing sense these visions also imply the capacity to
revolutionize self-perception. Hence although the dreams themselves must
end, in both plays this ending is actually a beginning the existential
beginnings of a new Black self-definition.
LLOYD W BROWN
1Donald P. Costello, "Black Man as Victim," Commonweal LXXXVIII (June 28,
1966), 436-440; Edward Margolies, Native Sons; A Critical Study of Twentieth-Century
Negro American Authors (Philadelphia, 1968), pp. 192-198.
2Dream on Monkey Mountain and other Plays (New York, 1970), p. 208.
3"And Shine Swam On," in Black Fire: An Anthology of Afro-American Writing,
eds. LeRoi Jones and Larry Neal, Apollo ed (New York, 1969), P. 656.
4Dutchman and The Slave, Apollo ed. (New York. 1964), p. 51.
5Malcolm X Speaks, Evergreen ed. (New York, 1966), p. 11.
AFRICAN AFFINITIES -
The Blacks of Latin America
(Synopsis of lecture presented to African Studies Association of the West
Indies, March 15, 1971.)
In only two Latin American countries today do Blacks make up a signifi-
cant minority of the population Brazil and Cuba. In these two countries
they served the plantation of sugar cane as diligently as they served it in the
British Caribbean. Nevertheless, Blacks were imported into Latin America in
large numbers throughout the colonial period, during which time there was a
thriving slave-trade between the West Coast of Africa and Latin America.
The slave-trade was essential to the sugar-economy of North-east Brazil,
from the sixteenth century, and was vital to Cuba's development as a major
plantation area in the nineteenth. Nor were imports of slaves confined to Bra-
zil and Cuba. Rather European ships of all flags conveyed Blacks to all parts
of Latin America modern-day Venezuela, Colombia, white Argentina, Uru-
guay, Peru, Central America. Nor were their efforts confined to plodding on
large sugar plantations. An essential task of Blacks was extracting reluctant
ore from the mines, whether of Peru, Mexico, or Bolivia. In the plantation
aspects of slavery work was related to the establishment of a cacao industry
and to cattle ranching. Thus, throughout the colonial period, Blacks solidified
the basis of the Latin American colonial economy; the planters and reapers of
sugar cane Brazil and Cuba the planters and reapers of cacao Gran
Colombia the miners of Minas Gerais in Brazil and Peru. That the numbers
of Blacks in Latin America today do not make up a significant part of the
population except in Brazil and Cuba is an indication both of the accelera-
tion of the miscegenation process, and of the fact that the numbers imported
were never enough to swamp the white and Indian population.
Most commentators on Black history in Latin America and in Brazil in
particular emphasise the process of social integration in their various works,
and tend to see the Black becoming a part of the total Latin American histori-
cal and social experience. This interpretation does not deny the fact that
there are areas of Latin America pockets of resistance if you like where
there are still strong African features in terms of community organization,
social customs and manners, including traditional ceremonial celebrations of
birth, marriage and death, and folklore. But it would be fatal to assume from
the existence of these communities a general modern African consciousness
which is subject to political exploitation in terms of messianic of "Back to
Africa" movements. In the United States, Blacks as a group are a sufficient-
ly strong minority to perform the 'slave labour' still required in the United
States. The difference in Latin America is that, in general terms, the Blacks
if exploited are exploited primarily because of a low social status based
more or less upon a low economic status.
The explanation of the low economic and social status of Blacks in say
Brazil and Cuba where their numbers are significant, and in some parts of
Colombia and Venezuela lies in the Latin American historical experience
going back to the colonial period. The attitudes of contemporary writers
on Blacks are also related to the Africans' historical role in Latin America
generally. Consequently, the remainder of this talk will be divided into three
broad sections firstly, the attitude of the colonial and the independent re-
gime to the African mass, secondly, the African reaction to his enslavement,
and thirdly, a brief examination of one or two communities where African-
Firstly, the African slave was regarded as a third class citizen. Inevitably,
slave status imposes such a social position. It is as if all institutions of society
conspired to ensure the lowly position of the Blacks. Even the Roman
Catholic Church which had been so diligent in protecting the rights of
Indians tended to shelve such a responsibility in regard to the African. The
reasons are many. Firstly, the number of priests was never large enough to
enable the Church to undertake the defence of the African from exploiting
encomenderos and hacendados. Secondly, the power of the hacendados or en-
comendero to control his estate and the property on his estate was too great
for any moral influence of the Church to dilute or to qualify in the interest
of gentler treatment for the enslaved Africans. Thirdly, Churchmen did not
necessarily have viewpoints which opposed the institution of slavery. In fact,
individual Churchmen certainly upheld the system, regarding slavery as a
civilizing influence upon the Africans, upholding the concept that the planter
should be regarded by the slave in all seriousness as a sort of God's representa-
tive upon earth. "Confession" was to be "the antidote of slave insurrections."
Through the confessor, claimed one priest, "the slave learned that his life is as
nothing compared with eternity." The hacienda and the plantation, generally
speaking, sought to circumscribe the slave's relationship with the world by
emphasising the direct connection between the slave and the master.' Evident-
ly, the physical and spiritual comfort or discomfort of the slave was directly
related to the slave master's humanity or lack of it.
With regard to the slave-master's humanity it should be pointed out that
in Latin America there was a large mass of manumitted slaves, and that manu-
mission was often if not always the reward for faithful service to a grateful
master. But the freedom thus granted served principally to enforce the freed
slave's confrontation with the harsh realities of life for a black man in a
society which made no provision for the welfare of a free Black man. Freed
from the plantation, and desirous of taking the opportunity to better his
social position, the ex-slave often donned highly decorative dress, sought
status jobs, but encountered serious opposition. In Spanish America, no
African or descendant of an African was to be a beadle, (a position reserved
for Spaniards born in the colonies), no Black could wear arms, (thus read the
law) there was to be no "scandalous excess in the clothes worn by Negroes,
Indians, Mulattoes and Mestizos." Negroes and mulattoes could not become
public notaries (an office, reserved for "suitably clean people"). Negroes and
mulattoes were to have no access to higher education. Examples of discrimin-
ation can be thus multiplied. At the same time, however, it is at least useful
to note that certain individuals, notably mulattoes, were granted limited
concessions from time to time to practice prestigious professions such as
medicine and law, with the Crown agreeing to overlook slight taints of blood.
But the mass of Blacks and people of African ancestry were not so generously
treated. Thus there is a clear distinction between a general body of laws
which discriminated against Blacks and some occasional decrees which made
exceptions to the general body of laws to further the interests of an isolated
few. Generally, the Black was regarded as lazy and idle, perverse and ugly,
inferior (to the white) and rebellious. The law to keep Blacks out of Indian
villages was to be enforced rigorously, so that evil Black habits did not stain
the tabula rasa of Indian innocence. Finally, it should be noted, at least in
passing, that discriminatory laws against the Black were in part the conse-
quence of slave insurrection and resistance.
Before examining the reaction of the slave and the freedman to Latin
American colonial society, a brief look will be taken at the attitudes of the
independent Republics of Latin America towards their black popula-
tion. Firstly, the liberal strains of thought in Latin America looked
upon slavery as a denial of a basic 'human right' to freedom. Such a view was
entirely in consonance with a society which sought to release itself from the
clutches of metropolitan Spain or Portugal. Secondly, it was agreed, at least
among the more enlightened, that the African had been making more than his
fair contribution to Latin American society. In a society, too, in which physi-
cal valour has always been admired, the African and his descendants proved
outstanding. Indeed, his military talents were used to the full in the Spanish-
American wars of independence, and against Paraguay in the Brazilian war
against that country between 1865 and 1870. The Black had been a Con-
quistador along with Hernan Cortes and with Bilbao in the sixteenth century.
One Black conquistador had ended his days as a feudal lord in Chile. The
Argentine army of Jose de San Martin was nearly 40% Black. In Venezuela
and Colombia, he was equally crucial, and as the wars meandered along
their bloody course, Blacks and Mulattoes started to occupy the top ranks
of the military. One notable figure in this respect is Jose Padilla of Gran
Colombia who had served as a seaman in the Spanish navy and rose to be
Colombian Admiral. It was conveived that in the interests of conceived justice,
humanity and economics that the Black deserved his freedom. Furthermore,
was not wage labour superior to slave labour? Finally, in a country such as
Brazil the cynics argued that the continuation of the slave trade would contri-
bute to the growing Africanization of Brazil, and surely for Brazil to progress
that country's 'cultural' landscape should no longer be permitted to bear the
heavy black and primitive footprint of the African.
Indeed, attitudes towards the Blacks in the independent Republics of La-
tin America were inseparable from concepts of identity. It was generally
agreed (except by the Blacks themselves) that identity should be with Europe.
Spanish America, according to some positivist thinkers, notably Bunge of
Argentina, had been cursed with a 'fatalistic' Indian population, a 'lazy'
African mass, an arrogant Spanish population, thereby making the hallmark
of the Hispanic American population one of laziness, arrogance and fatalism.2
The population must be 'improved,' and one way of rectifying the situation
was to import a 'superior' population from Europe. As far as the Brazilian
positivist, Luis Pereira Barreto was concerned, "it was a scientific fact that
the Aryans were superior to the Negroes as evidenced by greater intelligence
and progress in human evolution toward civilization. The Negroes were a
horde of semi-barbarous men without direction, without a social goal, without
The heavy inflow of immigrants, particularly from Italy, served to accel-
erate the physical disappearance of the African element. However, the number
of Blacks in Latin America is large numerically, (if compared with the
Commonwealth Caribbean) though generally Blacks do not count for a heavy
population percentage. Independent Latin America, did not have a body of
laws restricting the social mobility of Negroes. If the Negro failed to progress,
it was because he was born with the handicap of a lowly socio-economic
position; and lowly socio-economic positions can become self-perpetuating
in the absence of specific efforts, welfare or educational on the part of the
state, or in the absence of spectacular individual performances. And it is
precisely when we recognize that the state abjured its responsibility in this
regard that it becomes understood that where people of African descent have
made a major contribution whether in literature, the arts, or in the mili-
tary that the achievement has been made against all odds, and that such
achievement is based on individual merit and not on a system which
favours the advancement of the lower echelons of Latin American society.
Indeed, it can be argued that freedom for the African meant that he had to
compete on an "equal" footing with the rest of the population, even though
he was not born with the social tools to hack his way through a dense
jungle of prejudice and tradition which tended to see him as properly belong-
ing to the bottom of society; and even though he was born without the
financial resources to compete in a system which especially during the nine-
teenth century was dominated by laissez-faire concepts. The designation of
Robert Toplin "from slavery to fettered freedom" is certainly not in-
We find then that firstly, under the colonial regime, the mass of Africans
were treated as third class citizens (peninsular born Spaniards first, criollos
second, the castes including Negroes, Indians, zambos, meztizos third),
though some individuals were granted personal privileges. Secondly, inde-
pendence in the nineteenth century did not bring about any serious altera-
tion in the status of the Blacks, but the number of Blacks decreased under
the demographic pressure of European migration. Thirdly, independence in
Latin America stimulated the search for an identity which was to be primarily
We now turn to the African reaction to his enslavement. The African
had two basic choices-to resist or to accommodate. Some followed one path,
the others the second. But resistance no more meant the survival of pure Afri-
can tribal customs any more than accommodation meant their disappearance.
Resistance involved flight, rebellion, murder, suicide, deliberate wastefulness,
and destruction of property. There is no need here to catalogue the various
slave rebellions, though it should be pointed out that slave rebellions helped
to impress upon Latin American criollos the urgency of emancipation. Apart
from rebellion, the most spectacular form of slave resistance was flight. Re-
bellion and flight, in whatever area of Latin America that they took place
were related to cultural contact with the Indians and between various African
tribes. Whether the centre of flight were referred to as a Quilombo, a Cumbe
or a Mambise, the principal was the same. Blacks fleeing from the planta-
tions established themselves in relatively inaccessible places, but in areas
where they could grow their own livestock, cultivate their beans or food-
crops, living in isolation, as far as possible from the regular centres of econo-
mic activity. Sometimes, too, Blacks from the Quilombos raided plantations
especially to obtain more recruits.
Runaway settlements could last for several years before being discovered
and destroyed. The most well-known quilombo that of Palmares in North-
eastern Brazil resisted conquest by both Dutch and Portuguese for over
fifty years. In Venezuela it was not unknown for runaway settlements to bar-
gain and come to some agreement with the King of Spain through his Vice-
roy. One principal runaway centre was at Nirgua which was variously de-
scribed as the Republic of Zambos, and an African monarchy. The Spanish
king, accepting the failure of military conquest, granted the "Republic-Mon-
archy" freedom from taxation in perpetuity. It is significant to note that
freed slaves, mulattoes and Indians joined runaway slaves in Cumbes, and that
Cumbes were often the direct result of the king's determination to impose
taxes. That is, states Acosta Saignes, "they (the Cumbes) constituted genuine
combat groups for the liberty of Africans and their descendants, whom they
liberated, carrying them away to the Cumbes." In 1686, in Colombia, it was
noted that some Negroes had for over sixty years fled the plantations, and
that their total number was about 3,000. At the end of this time they actual-
ly sued for peace on condition that they be granted their freedom. 4
But the runaway settlement was important not only from the point of
view that it served as a hope for the unliberated mass of black slaves or for
others non-blacks who wished to resist the system for whatever motive.
The runaway settlement was also important as a seat of syncretismn, and im-
portant from the point of view that it served to perpetuate or postpone the
disappearance of African tribal features. The Quilombo of Palmares, for ex-
ample, was, in effect, a small state organized on a military basis and inspired
in African traditions. Palmares had its first "maximum-chief' in Ganga-Zumba
who, because he came to an agreement with the Portuguese authorities in
1678, was assassinated by his rival, Zumbi. Such was the reputation of the
new leader that he was regarded as immortal by his followers and by the
slaves. Zumbi had donned the mantle of Messiah for his people. When Zumbi
was finally captured in 1695, the Portuguese Government in Brazil, in proof
of Zumbi's mortality, ordered his head to be displayed in public. In Palmares
religion was part Catholic and part 'magical' and African collective dances
were a regular feature of Palmares life. Obeisance was paid to the King in the
respectful African tradition. Before Ganga-Zumba, the warriors knelt, their
heads bowed. Polygamy was practised, and witchcraft banned.
Finally it should be noted that runaway settlements were not always com-
pletely isolated from the rest of the community, for certainly in Venezuela,
some settlements were important distribution centres in the contraband busi-
ness, thereby making it necessary for the king to proclaim penalties for all
those who sheltered the cimarrones. The quilombo was both expressive and
symbolic of the tendency for cultures to meet, fuse and be shared.
Resistance of Blacks to the system did not end with the achievement of
Latin American independence. In mid-nineteenth century Argentina, for
example, there was some Black militancy when Negro freedmen put up a
fight against 'racial inequality' through their mouthpieces La Raza Africana
o sea el Democrata Negro and El Proletario. Protests of this nature were di-
rected against the restriction of mobility in Buenos Aires society on the
grounds of race. In nineteenth century Colombia Colonel Remigio Marquez
(himself of Negro descent) was accused of seeking to provoke race warfare by
appealing to the pardo or mulatto class of the Magdalena Valley. Race tension
also had a lot to do with several outbreaks of violence in the Venezuelan
llanos. It was even feared that Spanish and Haitain agents would create a
general state of race warfare "if some measures were not promptly taken...
The Administration proposed strengthening the white minority by giving
still more encouragement to immigration.. .(The) other solution was to draft
slaves to the battlefronts."5 The Santander regime, however, fought against
such practices on the grounds that discriminatory practices were incompatible
with Republican principles. African-type settlements also survived well into
the nineteenth century in a country such as Argentina where there were
tambos which is now a 'white' South American nation today and even to-
day in mestizo Mexico there are one or two isolated black communities.
Brazil is the country which is probably richest in the African 'cultural'
tradition. Apart from enriching Brazilian folk-lore and music, the Brazilian
Blacks through their refusal to accept Christian-Roman Catholic practices
in their entirety have created dynamic cults which are technically neither
African or Catholic. The mixture of African and Catholic features must be
partly explained by the formation of Brotherhoods (Irmandades) which were
nominally related to the Church as a means of communicating the Christian
doctrine to the African. But since the Brotherhoods were organized along tri-
bal lines they served to perpetuate certain tribal religious customs which be-
came diluted with Catholic practice. Black saints or such as were con-
sidered Black saints Ifigenia, Elesbao, Antonio de Catalagirona, etc. had
altars in the Churches and Chapels. Furthermore, towards the end of the co-
lonial period, the brotherhoods becoming less exclusive opened their doors
to influences from other tribes, and by proceeding to allow into their temples
mulattoes and freed Negroes (even whites for the sake of prestige) popu-
larized their syncretic religion. The fact that African culture tended to base
its survival around religious cults and that these cults are still in existence
- for example, Candomble in Brazil suggests that a considerable part of
the African tradition has survived. It is true that Catholic influences in
these cults are increasing rather than decreasing but this does not mean that
the "cultural baggage" (as Edmundo Carneiro calls it) has been exhausted, in
The existence of fetishistic cults in Cuba lucumi is a fact well-attested
to. In other areas of Latin America even where there are African communi-
ties there has been a growing secularization; and to take an example from
the West Coast of Colombia and Ecuador music and dance while main-
taining a community significance has tended to become more and more
hispanicised. On the other hand, customs relating to burial, nine-night-wakes
continue in this region, and in the remote community of Cuijla in Mexico
The use of the drum continues to be very important in these areas, as is the
use of music at funerals. As one dying member of the Cuijlan community
put it, "prayer without music is scarcely a prayer."7
The general views of most writers on the subject of Blacks in Latin
America is that the customs of Africa are being steadily diluted even in
Brazil, and it is difficult indeed to say that the facts indicate otherwise. The
presence of Africa will continue for a long time in Brazil and without a
doubt, but what with the Brazilian Government since the nineteenth
century discouraging the entry of more Negroes, whether from Africa or
the United States, and the flood of immigrants from Italy, Germany and
Japan, and what with the increasing influence which Roman Catholicism
exercises upon fetishistic cults, it would appear that the process of history has
been irrevocably set upon a course of integration rather than separation.
In areas from Brazil the Black has dwindled in absolute numbers, and
his "culture" even more diluted. Nevertheless, the work of individuals
such as the mulatto Antonio Francisco Lisboa (O Aleijadinho the Cripple),
sculptor and architect, the greatest artist of colonial Brazil; the black slave
Sebastae, who did excellent painting on the ceilings of several churches
in Rio; the free black Mestre Valentin (1750-1813) well-known for his
sculpture and architecture, will remain phsyical monuments to Blacks in a
slave society, even if sometime in the future Black history in Latin America
as Black history will have run its course.
1. Richard Konetzke,
2. W. Rex Crawford,
3. Robert Toplin,
4. Acosta Saignes,
5. David Bushnell,
6. Edison Carneiro,
7. Gonzalo Aguirre Beltran,
"Coleccion de Documentos para la historic de la furma-
cion social de Hispano America, 1493-1810", Madid,
A Century of Latin American Thought, Praeger, New
York, 1961, p. 105.
"From Slavery to Fettered Freedom", Luso-Brazilian
Review, Summer 1970, Vol. VII, No. 1.
Vida de los Esclavos Negros en Venezuela, Caracas, 1967,
p. 264, For Quilombos of Brazil, see Edison Carneiro.
Guerras de los Palmares, Mexico, 1946.
The Santander Regime in Gran Colombia, Delaware Press,
1954, pp. 172-173.
Ladinos e Crioulos, estudos sabre o negro no Brasil. Rio
de Janeiro, 1964.
CuijIa, esbozo etnografico de un pueblo negro. Mexico,
Fondo de Cultura Economica, 1958.
I want the impossible
I want to see the sun rise
And think it a beautiful thing
I want to put men on trial
For dimming my sunrise
With fears about
For we create hope every day
A black man said
His sad confession
A flare in the dungeon
Let the sunrise only fade
In the sunset's magic rays
Let me not say
Is not hell's treacherous calm
Leaving singed bodies
In its wake;
The temporary doze
Of the fire-raiser
Whose flicker consumes
For I could not love the picture
So why must I dream
That my own bit of land
That the time of my birth
The books I have read
The people I know
Make me callous?
I want the impossible
I want to wake up in the still night
And not sigh for what night hides
And not long for day.
Walcott versus Brathwaite
Since Edward Lucie-Smith's pronouncement that the West Indies must
choose between Walcott and Brathwaite, there has arisen something of a con-
troversy about these two figures. There is a sense in which this kind of quar-
rel was inevitable in the present atmosphere of liberation, and one of the first
things that needs to be established is that it is not an irrelevant question with-
in this context. Some attempt has been made to resolve the issue by pointing
out that it is futile to attempt a comparison when the two are obviously doing
such widely different things. Those who take this position have not, as far as
I can gather, tried to examine the differences if only to prove their point.
Others think that the whole thing falls into place when we see them as com-
plementary rather than opposed. This is the view that Rohlehr expresses in
his essay on Islands, entitled "The Poet as Historian."1 Here again no one has
really ventured to show in what ways they are complementary. There remains,
as a result, a great deal of indeterminacy surrounding this matter, and it has
tended to give rise to a Brathwaite faction versus a Walcott. It is obvious that
behind this state of affairs is an issue that needs to be faced. Either, on the one
hand, there are deficiencies in the poets concerned that makes this an auth-
entic cleavage. Or, on the other hand, there are limitations in the attitudes of
the audience that get in the way of a proper appreciation. There are accord-
ingly, ghosts that need to be laid, and the effort to come to terms with these
issues becomes necessary.
The cliche attitudes towards these two poets must be taken as starting
points, because behind every cliche attitude is a hard core of significance
which must be the true target of any such argument. Brathwaite is hailed as
the poet of the people, dealing with the historical and social themes that de-
fine the West Indian dilemma. Walcott is a little more difficult to place -
appears at times to pay passing attention to these matters, but more consist-
ently he seems to be a type of poet's poet, the kind of luxury we can ill
afford, and which remains Eurocentric. The European literary postures he
continues to assume are evidence enough of this. These are the stock attitudes,
and it is quite clear that Walcott does get the worse of the deal. Those who,
recognizing some undeniable strength and relevance in his work, have risen to
his defence, have not really dealt adequately with the essential Walcott.
Mervyn Morris, for example, in trying to show that Walcott is indeed con-
cerned with the problems of his environment, cites only those poems which
deal overtly with the themes of the colonial and middle-passage experience.2
In bringing these two poets together, therefore, it would be dishonest not to
recognize at once that it is Walcott above all that needs to be vindicated. At
the same time, the true nature of Brathwaite's achievement has been somehow
blurred by the very excesses of the enthusiasm with which he has been hailed.
Walcott, as a craftsman, towers far above Brathwaite but I think this is a
matter that can be temporarily put aside in a consideration of the content of
their works and the type of sensibility that emerges in each case. It seems to
me, moreover, that our best appreciation of each does gain from looking at
them vis-a-vis each other in this way. It seems, also that this kind of investiga-
tion, properly conducted, will shed some light on the multiple aspects of the
West Indian malaise.
Brathwaite sets out, in his trilogy, to recreate the historical experience of
the Black race in the New World, and to express the various aspects of their
condition as a dispossessed people. Walcott is primarily the artist a man
for whom, as an individual, art is a means of exploring and seeking a hold on
reality. This general outline of their purposes of course merely skims the sur-
face, but it is noticeable that Walcott's purpose is the more vague and insub-
stantial at this point. To state these basic purposes in this way, however, is a
necessary introduction into the argument. It immediately raises the question
of Brathwaite as a public poet versus Walcott as a private poet. In the essay al-
ready alluded to, Rohlehr dismisses this approach as false and misleading.
"Each of these poets is in his different way at once 'public' and 'private.' he
says.3 The distinction remains valid however. When one regards Brathwaite
as a 'public' poet, it is not at all to underestimate his capacity for a deep per-
sonal involvement in the psychic and spiritual disturbances he presents The
point is that Brathwaite has undertaken to present certain aspects of the ex-
perience of a group, suffers in his own person for them as a representative,
and always in relation to his vision of their collective destiny. The epic en-
deavour behind the trilogy demands the heightened awareness and sensitivity
without which the poem could not begin to be written. There is not the sense
of Brathwaite as an isolated figure which is pervasive in Walcott's poetry-
for this very reason: that his is a representative posture.
The essential nature of Walcott's 'personal' endeavour, on the other hand,
is not so readily discernible. It is something which emerges only when we
watch the patterns unfold from the whole corpus. We are aware, first of all, of
the variety of scenes and situations he moves through, and the unflagging tone
of seriousness which he brings to bear upon all of them in turn. He dwells
upon the domestic and provincial scenes of the islands and the peculiar na-
ture of the 'tragic twist' within the confines of their own experience ("Tales
of the Islands" In a Green Night). He withdraws into the world of the pri-
vate symbol to examine the psychic disturbances of an almost existential con-
edition ("The Swamp" The Castaway); he enters into the agonized fantasies
of the old fiddlers at Parang to show how doomed these are to disillusionment
("Metamorphoses" The Gulf). Directing all these, however, are spirit-
ual and moral energies that seem ever to be seeking to fulfill themselves in
Green Night he aspires towards 'the mind that enspheres all circumstance'; in
The Castaway towards conditioning himself to the fact of 'domesticity,
drained of desire'; in The Gulf, towards an apprehension of the awe which
life's 'plainess' evokes. In working through to these there is a certain ex-
pansiveness and elasticity in Walcott's world that results in the variety al-
ready indicated. It is a feature that conveys the impression of a man respond-
ing to the chance encounter, almost extempore, and there is a quality of the
unusual and unexpected in most of the events and situations that feature in
his world. If Walcott is conscious of one abiding motivation in his search
for a hold on reality which is by definition essentially vague it is the im-
portant part his art must play in affording him this realisation. The keynote
is struck in the "Prelude" when he suddenly rises out of the curious dearth
in which both he and his island lie prostrate:
I go, of course, through all the isolated acts,
Until from all I turn to think how
In the middle of the journey through my life
O how I came upon you, my
Reluctant leopard of the slow eyes.
It is this sense of a personal salvation that directs Walcott, and makes his a
private enterprise sharply distinct from Brathwaite's. It is one of the sources
of all the major differences between them and provides a significant point of
departure for a comparison of the two.
The central value of Brathwaite's collective enterprise is succintly stated
in Jean D'Costa's review article, "The Poetry of Edward Brathwaite":
...while others like Cesaire and Baldwin have treated this world (the New
World negro's) fragment by fragment, Edward Brathwaite attempts a syn-
thesis of a splintered, shattered area of expereince, and manages to bind
it together in a single poetic vision...4
Behind this effort his main objective remains, as he puts it in the concluding
lines of Islands, to make out of the rhythms of these fragments 'something
torn, and new'. The rhythms are accordingly chosen to convey the
qualities of suffering and the type of sensibility that unites the Black race.
To mention a few at random: the plaintive blues of the Southern negro; the
frenzied jazz of his urban brother; the powerful pulsations of limbo therapy;
the resonances of the dark mystery of African religious ritual. For Brath-
waite the enaction of these rhythms is finally aimed at one thing; to set in
vibration an awareness that is predominantly black; to liberate a way of think-
ing and feeling that is essentially new in so far as it is devoid of all the strains
and elements of the Western myth. His donee, if one may put it this way, is
the theme of the dispossession of the black man and the spiritual torpor re-
sultant on it. But his aesthetic motivation, the creation of a Black Word sep-
arate and distinct from the Western Word, is what predominates. The con-
cluding lines of the trilogy already cited point to this, and his preoccupation
with resisting Western tradition is made explicit time and again in his poems.
Now he considers our total alienation from the Western Word, the sentiments
and visions of the 'masters.'
So the stars
remain my master's
... we have no name
to call us home, no turbulence
to bring us soft -
ly past these bars to miracle, to god,
to unexpected lover.
it is not enough to be free
of the whips, principalities and powers
where is your kingdom of the Word?
At other times he examines its pernicious effects, as he watches Christ-
ianity, as mythical expression of the Western tradition, reclaim Tizzic from
the outlet the carnival ritual seemed to offer:
Behind the masks, grave
Lenten sorrows waited: Ash-
Wednesday, ashes, darkness, death.
After the bambalula bambulai
he was a slave again.
This sort of attitude obviously belongs somewhere in the same ethos of lib-
eration as Cesaire's vision, but an important distinction emerges from a com-
parison of the two. The latter sustains an impassioned dynamic of protest that
derives from an original moral outrage at the unparalleled insult to the Negro
race, and it is this one purpose that informs and discovers its own rhetoric.
Brathwaite takes the suffering of the negro as a given subject, and is mainly
concerned with sounding the varying strains that will create a language, a way
of thinking and feeling peculiar to the experience. This makes Brathwaite's a
predominantly aesthetic undertaking, by contrast with Cesaire's direct gesture
of assertion and protest. Finally, Brathwaite's most serious opposition is
aimed at the Western Word, and his craft works carefully at expunging it
from black modes of feeling and expression.
Which is precisely the point at which the division between himself and
Walcott begins. Walcott, aware of the growing resistance towards what is
called his fascination with the Western tradition, has been stung recently into
what seems a rather reactionary remark. In an article entitled "Meanings", he
states rather squarely:
Yet I feel absolutely no shame in having endured the colonial experience.
There was no obvious humiliation in it .... It was cruel but it created our
It would be terribly simplistic to conclude from this that Walcott is rejecting
the past, our turbulent history, as having no bearing upon our present pre-
dicament. The statement has to be taken in context. Walcott has been exam-
ining the dual elements of the African and Western traditions in the West
Indian experience, and how the two might unite to produce a peculiarly West
Indian drama. For him the one has bequeathed an exuberance which must
be subjected to the discipline of the classical tradition introduced by the
other. The particular emphasis that needs to be noted here, however, is his
readiness to acknowledge the relevance of both these traditions in the West
Indian experience. It is no helpless submission to a fascination with Western
myth that makes him continue to work within its medium. He is quite
conscious of his relationship to it, as he fashions it to cater to his indigenous
needs and experience. He refers to this relationship in "Exile" (The Gulf) as
his 'indenture to her Word.' His essential approach is expressed in "Cru-
into good Fridays who recite His praise,
parroting our master's
style and voice, we make his language ours,
we learn with him to eat the flesh of Christ.
This awareness of his indenture to the Word of the Western tradition its
concept of man in relation to creation, its peculiar apprehension of man's
spiritual destiny amounts to almost an obsession with Walcott. Yet
one needs to be careful in trying to grasp the true nature of his position here.
There is in Walcott an active scepticism that reflects a generic condition of
spiritual dispossession, the spirit of which is captured in "The Castaway"
(The Castaway). It turns, of necessity, on a criticism of the Western myth, its
betrayals and failures for believer and convert alike. To recognize this how-
ever, is to grasp as well that his resistance of it involves an immersion in its
qualities of awareness. This two-fold aspect of his involvement is brought out
in a passage like the following, permeated with fragmentary allusions to the
gospels and the crucified Christ:
Godlike, annihilating godhead, art
And self, I abandon
Dead metaphors. .
That green wine bottle's gospel choked with sand,
Labelled, a wrecked ship
Clenched seawood nailed and white as a man's hand.
("The Castaway" The Castaway)
Thus, the 'green wine bottle' has associations with the symbol of 'new wine
bottles' of the gospel, except that here, contrary to the promise of its
greeness, it is choked with sand symbolizing spiritual putrefaction. Similar-
ly, behind the references to 'clenched seawood nailed' and 'man's hand'
hovers the image of the crucifixion that has become perverted and menacing.
Walcott is very much immersed in the Western spiritual atmosphere. While
Brathwaite rejects it as an imposture and imposition on the grounds of its
being alien to the sensibility of the Black people, Walcott consciously faces
it to resist the perplexities and confusions with which it is fraught. For him,
to maintain this sceptical awareness is to work out, through modes of appre-
hension bequeathed by Western influence, his own sense of humanity and
'God's loneliness.' This question of acceptance of the Word is perhaps the
fundamental issue between the two poets. To appreciate its full significance
one needs to look closely at this aspect of their work.
The peculiar anguish of dispossession from which Brathwaite starts sends
him in quest of some sort of spiritual baptism. The basic scheme of the tri-
logy follows the three stages given in M. Arnold Van Gennep's book entitled
Les Rites de Passage. In this latter, which may well have provided Brathwaite
with his title for the first part of the trilogy, the French anthropologist sees
all primitive ceremonies as a passage through three states: first, the effort to
withdraw from a profane world that revolves round one's awareness of it;
second, a withdrawal during which experience moves on a sacred plane; and
third, a reinstatement into the ordinary world.6 Masks represents that second
stage of withdrawal into a sacred world, and it is symbolic of Brathwaite's
quest for some kind of initiation into the mysteries of the heart of darkness.
Jean D'Costa rightly draws attention to the tentative nature of this movement
in the poetry,7 where he seems, at his best, to be hovering on the brink of
two worlds, one dead, the other powerless to be born. The former seems to
prevail, so that despite the birth-pangs aroused by the powerful pulsations of
the drum ritual, he returns to this sense of negation:
But my spade's hope,
receives dumbness back
for its echo.
Beginnings end here
In this ghetto.
At other times he reaches very close to a discovery of the possibilities of suf-
fering and renewal in the intensities of African religious ritual. This is enacted
in the section "Eating the Dead" (Islands), a mode of communion with the
supernatural that belongs in the African metaphysic and its concept of evil:
a long way now from fat, the shaking bone, the laughter. But I
you what it means to eat
your god, drink his explosions of power
and from the slow sinking mud of your plunder, grow.
Behind the multiple aspects of his presentation of Black reality, Brathwaite
is indeed burrowing his way into the depths of a spiritual consciousness and a
language of belief. This search for gods runs parallel with his desire for dis-
covering a new Word. It is a search that revolves round an African twilight
of the gods, and hovers between the condition of limbo and inferno in the
ways already suggested. It is also in passages like these that he acquires the
greatest strength, as he moves beyond the 'surfaces of things.'
Walcott's experience of spiritual conflict also moves between similar levels
of limbo and inferno, arising from a generic strife between the will to believe
and the glaring conditions of a reality that mock this desire. His efforts to
gain access to these levels of consciousness involve energies just as violent
self-immolating. In a poem like "Dogstar" (The Castaway) this is very much
the principle at work. The intense heat of his own tropical setting seems to
join forces with the elemental energies of the raging Dogstar, as Walcott
becomes aware of the destructive dynamic at the heart of things. It opens
for him the prospect of hell, and the eternal menace of death. Out of the in-
ensities of this inferno glow images of a corresponding heaven, and he is tossed
between this double vision in such a way as to be left utterly confused:
Shovelled in like sticks to feed earth's raging oven,
consumed like heretics in this poem's pride,
these clouds, their white smoke, make and unmake heaven.
Walcott starts from a contemplation different from the initiation rites in
which Brathwaite is engaged, but what seems most important to both is the
near-overwhelming strain of the spiritual effort. In each it draws upon the
same dynamic of holy rage and awe. The main point here, however, is that
Walcott enacts this drama within the mythical symbols of Christianity, not as
an orthodox system, but for the traditional power of its images of heaven and
hell, of paridiso versus inferno. To stress this point is to draw attention to an
aspect of poetry in general that is much overlooked in the present clamour
for 'literature engagee'. Every poet reverts now and then into the most pri-
vate recesses of 'pure' poetry. To begin to deal with mysterious rites or a con-
frontation with death readily lends itself to the visionary frontiers of such
'pure poetry'. Thus, when Walcott in his retreats into the visionary draws up-
on the Christian symbols of heaven and hell, he is following much the same ar-
tistic course as Brathwaite is in seeking inspiration in the symbols of African
traditional religion. Conversely, given the nature of visionary exploration,
Brathwaite is no more engaged in creating a Word that communicates more
powerfully to us by virtue of its being African. The ceremony of "Eating the
Dead", as Brathwaite presents it, explores a mystique that arouses a response
in us because the emotive drives point to the quality of the spiritual crises -
despite our unfamiliarity with its modes and ritual. The Christian symbols
feature in the same way in Walcott's spiritual overtures. Any rejection of his
poetry on this score comes finally from a failure to understand the ultimate
processes of poetry, and on a blind concept of what protest truly involves. It
is not the mere gesture of supplanting in poetry one set of symbols qua sym-
bols, by another that makes for an act of self-assertion. That aspect of Brath-
waite's poetry which proposes this sort of thing and it is very much present
- is claiming much more for itself than it is really doing. Yet, one needs to
proceed cautiously and draw the distinction between this attempt at install-
ment of an African concept of reality and his effort to distill the sense of a
people broken in spirit, that movement in his work which has more to do
with protest. It strikes a characteristic note in a passage like this, describing
the pathos of Tom's failure:
in that fatal attitude
that would have smashed
the world, or made it, he
let the hammer
There remains, I think, at the heart of his aesthetic a basic irresolution be-
tween these two movements, or rather, a confounding of the one with the
other. On the one hand his desire to rehabilitate an African pantheon and
mythology as the medium for suffering. On the other, his aim to capture the
peculiar anguish of Black oppression. They are not the same thing, though
the fragmentary technique of the trilogy helps to create the illusion of an
orchestration of these two intentions. It is on this second level rather than on
the first that Brathwaite shows a meaningful involvement. Against this can be
measured the peculiar quality of involvement that emerges from Walcott's
orientation towards reality. The most authentic differences between them
arise from here and the wider implication of Walcott' s immersion in the
Western tradition emerges as something far more positive and less of an ana-
chronism than it is made out to be. It takes its place, within the specific terms
of poetry, in the complex directions of the struggle for liberation.
In a seminar on West Indian poetry, Brathwaite considers Walcott a human-
ist and points out the limitations of this approach. The humanist poet,
Brathwaite thinks "is often speaking away from that society rather than
speaking in towards it."8 Brathwaite concedes that the humanist poet draws
his inspiration from the society, but what is implied in the quotation given
above is that all such inspiration is sophisticated away from any relevance. A
humanist Walcott certainly continues to be, and the tradition of humanism
in which he tries to find his bearings derive again from the Western orienta-
tion. That is to say, Walcott's awareness of man in search of fulfillment and
man the victim of adversity follows the patterns evolved in the Western
Imagination. Western philosophy, going as far back as Plato, conceives of man
as a creature endowed with the capacity for Truth and Beauty through which
he can attain transcendence over the dark forces that threaten to undermine
his humanity. African wisdom follows another angle of approach. Arising out
of the exigencies of the African experience, it sends the African Imagination
in search of a more precipitate contact with Evil. The spiritual energies are en-
gaged in a direct placating of Evil that involves an absorption in its darker
mysteries something of what Conrad perceives in his Heart of Darkness.
Brathwaite captures the essence of this philosophy in the following lines,
hinting at the significance of the fetish for the African:
symbol sickness fetish for our sickness.
For man eats god, eats life, eats world, eats wickedness.
This we now know, this we digest and hold;
this gives us bone and sinews, saliva grease and sweat;
In the Western imagination the thrust is upwards; in the African downwards.
The above explications aims at drawing the distinction between the two,
in order to recognize more clearly how Walcott is involved in the Western
tradition of humanity. It is important to understand how, working within this
broad perspective Walcott evolves a humanism that relates to the West Indian
conditions. Anyone who fails to come to grips with this aspect of his sensi-
bility, will in their attempt to find him "relevant', be glossing over a signi-
ficant part of his achievement. To illustrate this point one need only to take
a look at the group of poems entitled "A Tropical Bestiary" (The Castaway)
These represent the essential Walcott just as strongly as "Tales of the Is-
lands" (Green Night). In the former however, he is directly engaged in oreint-
ing himself to reality on a philosophical level. He starts from a recognition
that his attempts to achieve transcendent vision remain ineffectual, and strives
towards the resilience that will accept this as a fait accompli of human limita-
tions. With the poetic concentration that such an external image affords him,
he sees the reality enacted in the fate of the Ibis that "fades from her fire.";
Pointing no moral but the fact
Of flesh that has lost pleasure in the act
Of domesticity, drained of desire.
The painful pulsations of desire still linger, though, in the human psyche:
Pulse of the sea in the locked heaving side.
When Walcott passes from this reflective level into the human scene, the
perspective is still the same. This is true of a poem like "Hawk" (The Gulf).
He enters into the spirit of the folk festivity as the old fiddlers play at Parang.
The agonised strains of their 'tension lines' expresses their yearning for some
keen spur to drive them to their dreams, and they look back nostalgically to
the powerful purpose that spurred on the violent Caribs, for example. The
presiding genius of the hawk is involved, symbol of strife and torture, but,
abruptly, the sharp dissonance of the hawk of their actual surroundings
brings them back to earth and the futility that mocks such sentiments:
Slaves yearn for their master's talons,
the spur and the cold, gold eyes,
for the whips, whistling like wires,
time for our turn, gabilan!
But this hawk above Rampanalgas
rasps the sea with raw cries.
Hawks have no music.
These are the reaches of Walcott's humanism and they are inspired by the kind
of destitution he sees about him. In following these movements between de-
sire and negation, he does not point directly to its sources in social or
historical deprivation but the sense of defeat concentrated in his treatment
does recreate the world of these old rum-guzzlers in their rustic setting, caught
within the confines of their vegetable life, cheerless and hopeless but for their
drunken visions and the occasional rhythms of the old parang. That Walcott
approaches them through these modes of apprehension does not refine away
the concreteness of their world and its specific conditions. It does not thin
This consideration of Walcott's humanism is a necessary preliminary if we
are to weigh it against Brathwaite's mission of protest. The questions then
become: How does Walcott's humanistic approach serve the West Indian dil-
emma as compared to Brathwaite's kind of protest. How do these peculiar po-
sitions reveal their respective types of involvement in their environment -
always bearing in mind a comment of Dennis Scott's, that neither of them is
offering us a programme for social reform.9 And since every diagnosis of a
malaise hints at possibilities of renewal and relief, however indirectly, how
do their visions of West Indian hope and renewal compare. These are among
the questions that must arise in a comparison of the two.
The essential tone of Brathwaite's protest is captured in one of his most-
quoted passages. It is one in which he rises to a rare flash of original
and we float, high up over the sighs of the city,
like fish in a gold water world.
we float round and round
in the bright bubbled bowl
without hope of the hook,
of the fisherman's tugging-in root.
Brathwaite's vision of the destitution of the Black people rests on this
final diagnosis of their plight; they are a people doubly benighted in a lost
world, and the hopelessness of this condition is perhaps his most insistent
theme. The circumstances behind this plight have their origin in our history of
displacement and subjugation. It is the historical consciousness, quite
obviously, that provides him with his viewpoint, and leads him to penetrate
the sinister aspects of our unnatural encounter with Europe. He traces the
interrelations between the material, psychological and spiritual effects in such
portraits as that of the Rasta man. The lingering presence of Babylon, a lega-
cy of the colonial system that fixed the relations between colour and pros-
perity, has relegated the Rasta man to the absurd dimensions of his world.
The sources of the oppression that prompt his ironic hallucinations are shown
to be indeed sinister:
Brother Man the Rasta
man, hair full of lichens
head hot as ice
watched the mice
walk into his poor
hole, reached for his peace
and the pipe of his ganja
and smiled how the mice
eyes .. .
... like rhinestone
and suddenly startled like
These are matters of fundamental concern in West Indian reality, and Brath-
waite implies that our very alertness to these injustices will engender a positive
condition of restlessness. In this lies the greatest possibilities of assertion and
realisation. Gerald Moore grasps this condition of restlessness as Brathwaite's
Only by embracing this restlessness can the negro conceive it as a forward
movement... The search is what defines the race giving it purpose and
In the article already cited Rohlehr witnesses a prophetic fulfilment of this
vision. As he watches the protest marches in Trinidad, Brathwaite's insight in-
to the continued tribal wanderings of the Black race strikes home:
Right now it is drought in Trinidad, and those young men with fixed
faces looking blankly into an unimaginable future and marching are
fulfilling a deep tribal dream.11
In this kind of criticism there is a hint of mythologizingg' there is a point at
which, on its own terms, this becomes archetypal and is no longer peculiar to
the African tribal experience. Be that as it may, Brathwaite's restlessness
aims at feeling its way out of the trappings of such oppression. The conflicts
and confrontations that set it in motion are directly associated with the his-
Walcott's approach does not bring him to quite this kind of diagnosis.
That he brings a certain type of diagnosis to bear upon various aspects of his
society cannot be denied. But the humanistic angle from which he starts es-
chews the sense of direct protest and the vision of our release from the re-
percussions of history as our only means of escape. His approach works on
the level of a morality and internal psychology that turns on a confrontation
with self. This is not to say that Walcott does not allow for the effects of the
historical experience in aggravating the problems of the environment but,
rather, that he does not see this as the main feature standing in the way of self-
realisation. A typical example of his approach is his analysis of the kind of
megalomania that finally defeats the hero of "Junta" (The Gulf). He begins
with the observation of the kind of illusions that the carnival psychology is
fraught with. As the hero marches through in the guise of Vercingetorix,
there is already a premonition that for him this fantasy is in dead earnest, and
the illusions of power are being engendered in the very spirit of carnival:
He fakes an epileptic, clenched salute,
taking their tone, is no use getting vex,
some day those brains will squelch below his boot
as sheaves of swords hoist Vercingetorix.
The ironic approach here retains its sympathetic poise, but almost unobtru-
sively Walcott shows how this fantasy finds its way through the political
outlet of the junta, and the curious twist it takes in leaving the coup, which is
to prove his undoing, just as much a matter of fantasy for Vercingetorix. What
had been for him a symbol of fulfillment retains the emptiness of an over-
desperate and rash gesture, without the authentic purpose of the coup to
give it direction:
.He clears his gorge and feels the bile
of rhetoric rising. Enraged, that every clause
'por la patria, la muerte' resounds
the same, he fakes a frothing fit and shows his wounds,
while, as the cold sheathes heighten, his eyes fix
on one black, bush-haired convict's widening smile.
"Junta" The Gulf
These insights finally turn upon an intense type of confrontation with self.
Walcott's humanistic concern leads him to explore this kind of delusion as a
condition ultimately arising from shortcomings within the individual con-
sciousness although they arouse sympathy, as in the case of Vercingetorix
in showing how vulnerable man really is. In other words, his approach shifts
the emphasis away from the external targets that Brathwaite keeps in view.
One notices how the turbulent political atmosphere is brought in almost as a
matter of course; and in fact, Walcott's approach does carry its environment
with it as inevitably. But in bringing the irony to bear directly on the process-
es of his mania, Vercingetorix' disoriented state becomes a matter of private
tragedy for which he alone is, ultimately, responsible. This is the peculiar
achievement of Walcott's approach, and it is closely related to his dogged pur-
suit of a personal hold on reality.
Brathwaite, however, does opt now and again for the stability of traditional
morality as a tentative avenue of 'liberation'. This is proposed every so often
as he returns to the theme of Mammon as another major source of the dis-
ruption of possible order and the good life:
when only lust rules
when men make noises
louder than the sea's
voices; then the rope
will never unravel
its knots; the branding
iron's travelling flame that teaches
us pain, will never be
He seems to concede intermittently, therefore, that some sort of poise be-
tween the protesting consciousness and a moral vigilence will show the way
out of the morass. This moral responsibility, summarily included in his mis-
sion of protest, is the very dimension on which Walcott concentrates. One
last comparison between the two will serve to underscore this point their
treatment ot carnival, an indigenous cultural feature. Brathwaite sees carni-
val as an expression of a positive and vital impulse, instinctual in the race. So
that, in his presentation of Tizzic's case, he denounces the tyranny of a for-
eign imposition such as Christianity that robs Tizzic of its powers of enrich-
ment: Through carnival's 'stilts of song' Tizzic comes near to attaining the
seventh heaven, but he is doomed to failure:
In such bright swinging company
he could no longer feel the cramp
of poverty's confinement, spirit's damp;
... But the good stilts splinter -
ed, wood legs broke, calypso steel pan
rhythm faltered. The midnight church
bell fell across the glow, the lurch -
ing cardboard crosses. Behind the masks, grave
Lenten sorrows waited. Ash -
Wednesday, ashes, darkness, death.
After the bambalula bambulai
he was a slave again.
Brathwaite's mission of protest leads him to this kind of expose of the hope-
lessness of Tizzic's thraldom, held as he is within the fastnesses of an alien
religion. He seems to be offering carnival as a possible outlet. In a poem like
"Mass Man" (The Gulf) Walcott harbours no such illusions about it. As he
watches the frenetic gaiety behind the carnival extravaganza, he is conscious
of the emptiness behind it all; and the sensuality, devoid of any significance
beyond the most philistine type of self-indulgence, assumes sinister reson-
ances. So that the child 'rigged like a bat', far from experiencing any genuine
merriment, is aware of the absurd scene of its isolation:
But I am dancing, look, from an old gibbet
my bull-whipped body swings, a metronome!
Like a fruit-bat dropped in the silk-cotton's shade
my mania, my mania is a terrible calm.
All this must end in a dispirited sense of negation and futility, Walcott thinks
with misgiving. His manner of expressing this latter has tended to mislead a
number of his readers into thinking that he is merely judging from a sick-
eningly orthodox and self-righteous viewpoint, based on an acceptance of the
Christian religion. His reference to Ash Wednesday is primarily figurative,
hinting at the violation of sensibility, the kind of self-desecration that this
attitude involves. He continues to stress this sense of aberration with
some mind must squat down howling in your dust,
some hand must crawl and recollect your rubbish,
someone must write your poems.
Put beside Brathwaite's view as champion of such cultural features, Walcott's
seems to be hopelessly negative. Yet his diagnosis of the carnival psychology
in the decadent urban atmosphere of Port-of-Spain where the gesture serves
mainly as a means of license, does uncover an authentic aspect of present day
carnival. The morality that informs his sardonic appraisal does arise from a
genuine humanistic concern, as his tableau of the child 'rigged like a bat'
does show. It is the same approach which sees these shortcomings and de-
ficiencies in terms of our own failures, places the onus of guilt upon us, and
shows us to be victims of ourselves primarily. This is instinctively Walcott's
purpose, and by comparison Brathwaite's notion of the liberating influences
of carnival seems curiously half the truth, if not altogether off the mark. It
presupposes a kind of 'innocence' which we have quite lost; and this is what
Walcott is fundamentally realistic about. This is the peculiar strength of his
approach. Yet Brathwaite's attempt to draw attention to such indigenous
cultural features and his move to preserve them through his artistic medium
remains an important undertaking. If, in his enthusiasm to retain what is
our own and this relates closely to his larger purpose of creating Black aes-
thetic he gets carried away into half-truths, much shall be overlooked, be-
cause he hath meant well.. .At the same time, it is exactly here that the two
become complementary. In dwelling on his peculiar emphases, Walcott takes
such cultural features for granted; while Brathwaite's mode of protest brings
them to the fore and points to the importance of preserving them. Walcott is
not proposing a rejection of carnival, but denouncing the vulgarization re-
sulting from our unwholesome attitudes twoards it. Yet without Brathwaite's
attempt, its presence as an indigenous feature worth salvaging from this un-
wholesomeness might well be glossed over. ..
The different positions of these two poets does, however, assume peculiar
relevance when viewed within the larger context of liberation. Walcott's
humanistic approach, in its insistence on searching within for the attitudes
of mind that will set us free, signifies this: he accepts himself, in his time and
place as a man who, with the ravages of history behind him, is willing to rise
above any surviving fetters by a courageous expression of his intrinsic stat-
ure as a man. There is this spirit of independence in his approach, completely
unselfconscious, that shows him to be altogether free of that historical legacy,
a sense of inferiority a point from which the movement of protest does
start. The significance of his 'acceptance' of the Western Word is closely re-
lated to this attitude: it has availed him of a strategy for consciousness that,
having been absorbed and modified in his environment over the centuries, be-
comes as much his property as that of the former masters. So that he feels
free to mould it, bend it to his own purposes, now to expose its shortcomings,
now draw upon its strengths as competently as the original possessors. This
is the sense of freedom that makes him recognize the positive aspects of the
double-heritage of the West Indies, fraught as it is with all the contradictions
that precipitate the crisis of liberation. Nor is it merely a matter of an abdicat-
ion of the historical sense on Walcott's part. It suggests instead of a man, who,
realising that there is no turning back, believes that the destiny of the West
Indian peoples must depend on the resources they find within themselves for
acting with confidence towards what has been left, negative as well as positive.
Only with this attitude, can we begin to make them ours. Moreover, this is not
to be derivative and beholden, or to deem ourselves secondary in status. The
very confidence and tenacity of his approach challenges and defies any such
notions of inferiority. His reaction to the Southern States, in "The Gulf" (The
Gulf) is revealing in this respect. He recoils instinctively from the negro's con-
dition there, his 'secondary status as a soul'. Its strangeness communicates an
uncanny sense of fear to him. Somehow Walcott has managed to achieve a
sense of self-mastery, and it begins with the attitude of a mind that makes
the most strenuous demands upon itself, and takes for granted its right to do
so. This is the peculiar strength of his personal quest, and it is, in its own
way, a most powerful gesture of assertion. Yet perhaps not all can rise to the
level of courage that he represents. He stands out curiously among his contem-
poraries in this respect, in his refusal to leave the West Indian setting. It is fin-
ally a refusal to see the area as confining, or as a secondary order of existence.
The attitude he stands for is a valid and acceptable one, though difficult
for it opens up a definite possibility, even through the elusive reflections of
such a medium as poetry.
This is one mode of assertion, and the next most effective is through pro-
test such as Cesaire's: an outright insistence on the intrinsic stature of the
Black man that aims at exploding the myth of his inferiority, and makes an
absurdity of all the lingering effects of that myth. There is just so much poe-
try can do and no more, however committed it is to such a cause. Cesaire's
gesture represents the rousing call to manhood and defiance that epitomises
this kind of commitment. This spirit is finally lacking in Brathwaite, and it
is a direct result of his peculiar conception of his artistic purpose. Concerned
to create Black poetry first and last, he depends on the painful lyricism of
Black suffering for the anguish of protest. Protest itself remains a sub-
ordinated theme, accordingly, and the elegiac mood that pervades it tends to
weigh too heavily upon us to leave us in any positive attitude. There is not, in
its brooding lament, the defiant will to strive. It is for this reason that his pro-
test, even taken on its own terms remains weaker, in the final analysis, than
Walcott's kind of assertion. Yet what he has achieved in missing the mark is
indeed valuable, even though it seems to offer more of an escape into its
rhythmical movements. If we can resist the lotus-eating atmosphere of the
appeal they tend to exert Brathwaite's attempt to draw attention to the la-
tent possibilities of these rhythms as modes of awareness, is indeed a posi-
tive and timely contribution.
1. "The Historian as Poet," The Literary Half-Yearly Vol. XI No. 2, July 1970, p. 178.
2. "Walcott and the Audience for Poetry," Caribbean Quarterly Vol. 14 Nos. 1 and 2,
March-June 1968, pp. 22-24.
3. "The Historian as Poet," The Literary Half-Yearly VoL XI No. 2, July 1970, p. 178.
4. "The Poetry of Edward Brathwaite," Jamaica Journal Vol. 2 No. 3, September 1968,
5. "Meanings," Savacou No. 2, September 1970, p. 51.
6. The Rites of Passage (Translated from the French by M. B. Vizedom and G. L. Caffee),
London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1960.
7. "The Poetry of Edward Brathwaite," Jamaica Journal Vol. 2 No. 3, September 1968,
8. "West Indian Poetry, a Search for Voices," seminar sponsored by the Extra-Mural
Department, U.W.I., 14 March 1965; fifth in a series on "The State of the Arts -
9. The present writer has heard him make this comment at several seminars on West
Indian poetry at the U. W. I.
10. The Chosen Tongue (London, Longmans, 1969), p. 36.
11. "The Historian as Poet," The Literary Half-Yearly Vol. XI No. 2, July 1970, p. 174.
The Making of a Writer
A Conversation with the West Indian Writer
George Lamming at the University of Texas
November 29, 1970.
George Lamming, author of In the Castle of My Skin (1953), The Emi-
grants (1954), Of Age and Innocence (1958), The Pleasures of Exile (1960)
and Season of Adventure (1960) was writer-in-residence at Texas Southern
University in Houston during the fall semester of 1970. Two novels,
Natives of My Person (Holt, Rinehart, Winston, U.S.A.) and Water with
Berries (Longmans, England) will appear in the fall of 1971.
We first met him on his visit to the University of Texas in Austin on
October 15, 1970. He talked to several African, Afro-American and Common-
wealth literature classes about his work and Caribbean literature in general.
His comments on the influence of the periodical BIM, on his problems of
audience and critical acceptance, and on the current climate of writing and
publishing in the West Indies were published as an interview in World Lit-
erature Written in English, No. 19, April 1971. His comments on the relation-
ship of the artist to political struggles, on West Indian political figures like
C.L.R. James and Eric Williams, and on the contribution of Frantz Fanon to
the struggle of the Third World were collected in an interview entitled "The
Artist and Politics", which is to be published in Presence Africaine.
While in Austin, he used his few spare hours to discuss the terms for the
first publication of ROOTS: A Journal of Critical and Creative Expression,
with a local printing shop. ROOTS, edited by Black students at Texas South-
ern University, brought George Lamming to Austin again in November, with
piles of manuscripts essays on black fiction, poems, short stories which
had to be retyped and proofread. While helping him out occasionally, we got
to know him on a more personal level.
He talked to us about the troubles he had in grammar school; his ob-
session with books at a very early age; the investigation of the Moyne Com-
mission in the late 1930's; his work as a teacher in Trinidad; his personal
connection with Frank Collymore and BIM; his career in London; his trips
to Europe, Canada and to the West Indies; The people he met critics and
writers; and about his plans for the future.
At the end of the conversation, which follows, George Lamming stated
that the phase of the West Indian writers going to London is over.
Question: When did you decide to write?
Lamming: I have been, I suppose, rather lucky in that I have never had to
make choices about what I was going to do. In some peculiar
way at a very early age the idea of the writer had somehow been
planted in me.
Question: Since you came from a poor home, how were you able, at that
time, to receive a secondary education?
Lamming: It was a poor home, but a home in which there was a tremendous
resepct for education, as you can see in The Castle of My Skin.
Education was the only thing that was going to rescue me from
total disgrace. And education meant then really getting to the
best school there was, which I would have had to get to on
scholarship because there was no resources to pay for it. Had I
not won that scholarship I never would have gone to the school
I went to. And it is most interesting to speculate what might have
happened had I not. I think I might have become an elementary
Question: However, you did go to one of the three grammar schools in
Lamming: Yes, and what happened when I went to the big school was
really decisive. There was Frank Collymore who was my English
master (whom I met not in the early stages of that school, but
later). Collymore was editor of the magazine Bim. This was my
connection. I sort of latched myself unto him. I started trying
to get into Bim while I was at school, writing verse not in prose.
Question: Did you have any classmates with similar interests?
Lamming: No: Curiously enough, that was a rather solitary affair, just as
Collymore was in a very solitary position himself. We were ex-
pected to master certain texts for the purpose of examinations.
And the whole idea of writers coming out of our own class rooms-
was unheard of. This is really the irony intended in my phrase,
"the pleasures of exile." Writers live somewhere else. They are
dead, not people you live with. But I was very fascinated by
Collymore. He used to write a great deal in private. I always
remember the very first time I went to his house. He had these
volumes of poems in a sort of exercise book. He was a great
doodler and he painted. He would have poems written on one
page, all this doodling on the next page. But I don't think any
boys in the school knew that, except the one or two who had
visited his house. He was very separate from the school scene.
He had a tremendous library which I literally took over, I mean
I was there every Saturday morning to collect books, which later
caused a lot of trouble. For me, the whole school curriculum be-
came absolute nonsense. When I was supposed to be studying
school material I was reading books from Collymore's library. I
got into trouble. He had to explain because there was a big thing
about my expulsion. I remember getting into trouble in two
specific classes: geography and mathematics. I had two books I
was determined to read from cover to cover. I can still remember
them. These were H.G. Wells' Outline of History and The Science
of Life.. When these two masters came in I would immediately
start reading one of these books. I was determined that I was go-
ing to read them one right after the other. I did this right
through geography and mathematics, till I reached the stage
where I was asked to leave the class. It was a very bad relation-
ship. When the teachers came through one door I would go out
the other. Then I would sit outside on the steps reading
these books till they left. The only classes that I put these books
aside for were Collymore's, the French and the Latin. The
Latin partly because I was afraid of the Head Master who taught
Question: Was Collymore's curriculum different from any of the other
masters teaching English?
Lamming: No, he followed the curriculum as it was. He did what he had to
do: Jane Austen, some Shakespeare, Wells' novel Kipps and so
on. What happened was that they were teaching exactly whatever
the Cambridge Syndicate demanded. That was the point of it.
The things were directly connected. Papers were set in Cam-
bridge and our answers were sent back there to be corrected. We
had to wait three to four months. Nobody knew what was
happening till they were returned. But I was very interested then
and have remained interested in history. I developed a great in-
terest in history through Wells' Outline. Whereas at school one
was involved in this rather provincial business of English his-
tory largely English constitutional history and so on Wells'
Outline was very useful, I mean one discovered that there were
Egyptians and there were civilizations one had to come to terms
with. This was the great value of that book for me. I must have
read the Outline of History between the age of fifteen and
eighteen three or four times. I was very grateful to that book and
to its corresponding book which was a history of the growth of
life, called The Science of Life. These two I remember, they were
enormous black books. Then I was very interested in the fifth
century Athenian culture, Collymore's library was full of all sorts
of books on the Greeks. In my discoveries from there I then
started to make discoveries of writers on my own who have re-
mained to this day some very key writers, Conrad and Hardy.
I must have been about sixteen or seventeen when I first ran
into things like The Nigger of Narcissus, Lucky Jim, and Victory.
What I was then struck by was the tonal quality of this prose. I
was fascinated, I would reread Conrad. Although most people
thought they were rather difficult, they weren't. It was their
appeal to the ear. And then Hardy, I developed a tremendous
passion for him particularly for Hardy the poet. I used to know
Hardy's poems forward and backwards. These were books I
picked up in the library or at Collymore's. To its credit Barbados
did have a good public library. Later I got very interested in
translations. At seventeen I was reading the long novel of Goethe's
Wilhelm Meister. Later I read Gide's The Money Changers, then
I developed a tremendous interest in Jane Austen again that
authority of style.
Question: Did you read any American authors?
Lamming: No, at that time, no. Which explains everything about the cul-
tural directions of our educational system.
Question: Did you have any political discussions in school or among friends,
at that time about the series of riots that shook the West Indies
in the late 20's?
Lamming: We lived it. For me that was the period of upheaval, you see. I was
a little boy, as in the scenes of In the Castle of my Skin. I still
remember that one day when I was on the way to school and
there were people fleeing in the opposite direction. The children
didn't know what was happening and when we got to school, we
were told to go back home as quick as possible. We were told they
were rioting in town, that was '37 -'38. It would have been the year
before I went to high school. By '39 1 was more aware of what
was going on. After that upheaval the famous Moyne Com-
mission was sent out. This made for a very important document
in Caribbean social history. The Commission was sent out under
a man called Lord Moyne from territory to territory to investi-
gate the source of the upheavals because it went all around. It
started out in Trinidad, then Barbados, then Jamaica and so on.
That was an enormous document in which the Commission re-
ported on all conditions, and, unconsciously, on themselves as
well. In Barbados I remember very vividly that a representative
number of citizens, the church, political people, all levels of life
had to appear before the Moyne Commission to give evidence of
what their condition on the Island was. This was done in public,
in Queen's Park. The microphones were set up outside. I remem-
ber going down to the Park. It was what one would call a people's
court almost. Nobody was inside except the Moyne commission
people and whoever was there to testify. But we heard the quest-
tions and answers outside by means of the microphone. Outside
many times would be heard the words: "Liar, Liar!" It was an
interesting way of gathering information, because the Commis-
sion was also getting the temper of all the leading politicians
and of the crowd. All the questions and answers can be found in
the report. The embarrassing thing was when the bishop of Bar-
bados had to appear. He had to appear before the Moyne Com-
mission. These were very dramatic moments on a small island,
which had always seemed on the surface very stable and calm.
I didn't live very far away from where the Governor lived: in
Question: You never named the village in The Castle of my Skin. Does this
sort of universalize the village.
Lamming: The name of the village does occur, unobtrusively, it's true, as
Creighton. But one of the reasons why that book has remained
in West Indian memory is because it is so applicable to Barbados,
to Jamaica, and to all of the other islands. I wanted to give the
village that symbolic quality.
Question: What kind of teacher were you in Trinidad?
Lamming I went there to a boarding school for South Americans. You
know, there has always been a close relationship between Trini-
dad and Venezuela. A lot of Venezuelans and many other
Latin Americans were living in Trinidad. The boarding school had
been set up by some rather wealthy Venezuelan people for Latin
American students, mainly Venezuelan. They wanted someone
who could function reasonably in Spanish, but essentially as an
English teacher. This was really my first full time job. The
student's ages ranged from seven to twenty. It was under the
authority of the Venezuelan Ministry of Education. It was there
that I first became aware of the name Nicolas Guillen, the Cuban
poet. Nicolas Guillen was one of the set books in the Latin Ameri-
can literature at the school.
Question: What other West Indian writers did you get in contact with in
Lamming: Well, I was helping Collymore to recruit writers for Bim. I cor-
responded with Collymore frequently. I still have nearly all the
letters we exchanged between ps when I left for Trinidad. He used
to write regularly, once a month or so, asking how I was getting
on and about Bim. It was then that I met and started bringing to-
gether people to send things. I was closest then to a young man
called Cecil Herbert, who has written some very fine poems. I
would say if you looked at the Bim of 1947-48, you will
find Herbert. By the way, there has been talk of bringing out a
sort of Golden Bim, a selection of the most crucial things in Bim.
I am very interested in it and think that would be one of the most
important anthologies that could be done. One would have an
important volume of selective serious stuff that would give one
a good idea of the developments of the West Indian writers
who started by sending their works to Bim. Most novelists, like
Mittelholzer, for instance, had their early pieces here in the Bim
editions of the '40's. I think the first bit of prose that I did was
called "David's Walk" which I think you can only find in Bim.
Also, the earliest bits of Selvon would be in those early copies
Question: What kind of writers did you yourself encourage to publish in
Lamming: Well, chaps like Herbert and Sealy. Clifford Sealy is now very im-
portant. He runs the best bookstore in Trinidad called "The Book-
shop" in Port-of-Spain. He used to write very good short stories.
He is very much the person who, when one arrives in Trinidad,
knows where all the writers are. He brings out a little journal
called Voices, for poets mainly. It's particularly for younger
people who have not yet published. He would have been one of
the people who contributed then to Bim. Then also people one
doesn't hear very much about, Harold Helemaque, A.M. Clarke.
These come up in anthologies from time to time. Also, there was a
wonderful old man whom 1 saw a lot of called Ernest Carr, who
wrote short stories. He would have been in early Bim. Mittel-
holzer was living in Trinidad then. We had a little group called
the Readers' and Writers' Club, which met once a month when
someone submitted something and read it to the group.
Question: Did you get the idea for In the Castle of my Skin from anyone
or discuss it with anyone in Trinidad?
Lamming: No, the whole of that book was written in England. In Trinidad
I never really wrote any prose and I was not interested in prose,
I was mainly interested in poetry. I first became known in the
West Indies as a poet, that's why today nobody can find any
short prose pieces by me, because there weren't many. There was
only verse. For a while I was interested in the idea of the theatre,
and I saw myself developing from a lyrical poet into a poet in
the theatre. Since 1951, when I finished In the Castle of my Skin,
I haven't written a line of verse. I have never been able to under-
stand it. Indeed, I have never investigated it. The question is al-
ways raised: "Have you been writing verse, we don't know about?
Do you think, you will return to it." Strangely enough, never.
Question: Do you think it is harder to write poetry than prose?
Lamming: I don't know, I always thought so when I was writing verse.
Now I find the prose is just as difficult, perhaps because what
really happens in my own prose is the same process at work. I
still write very much with the ear, very much an aural and visual
prose, so that for a very long time In the Castle of my Skin had a
a rather silly sort of reader. You used to get the comment: "Well,
what's he writing? Is he writing poetry or prose. What is this, is
this a novel or what. Listen to this! Nobody writes prose like
this!" You used to get that and it still persists. If one looks at
Norris' essay in The Islands in Between, one gets the whole busi-
ness about the poet as a novelist. This is the cross I carried with
me for a long time, that I was only a poet trying to write prose.
Question: Like many West Indian writers you left for London?
Lamming: Yes, Mittelholzer had left the West Indies and was in London.
He was perhaps the first to go. Then shortly after Mittelholzer
came a man who was very helpful to me who is now dead -
named Willy Richardson. He was a very fine short story writer,
who incidentally would have been one of the early people to send
things on to Bim. I knew nobody in London before I went to
London. What happened was that the BBC used to broadcast in
their Overseas Service some of the works done by Caribbean wri-
ters and some of the work. published in Bim. That was my only
contact. I went to London as an ordinary immigrant goingtosee
if I could make it. London seemed to me to be the literary
Mecca. It was completely my own decision. I think the only
reason why I didn't go earlier was because the passage wasn't
there. It was a question of scraping the fare together. As a matter
of fact, Cecil Herbert paid half my fare. I remember that he was
then a land surveyor and had just finished a job. As I said, Willy
Richardson was there. He worked for the BBC and it was through
him really that I got into the BBC as a reader of poems of mine
and others. But then my career was very swift, really. Inthe Castle
of my Skin was the most extraordinary step. There was a man
called Arthur Calder Marshall, who is a well-known English
novelist and critic. He was a literary advisor for two or three
various firms. I had used the opening chapter of In the Castle of
my Skin for a BBC programme. I met him one evening and told
him I had three or four chapters done but I had no money. I was
wondering about the chances of getting published in London. He
said he didn't know, but on the strength of what he had seen he
thought it worthwhile. I sent my three chapters to Michael
Joseph whom Marshall had advised as the best of the small houses
for this literary attempt. Joseph's literary advisor was one of the
leading critics. Walter Allen worked on the New Statesman. Allen
read the chapters. It was a matter of a week or ten days when I
got a letter from Joseph to come in and see them. We signed a
contract almost immediately.
Question: Who were some of the English critics instrumental in the "dis-
covery" of West Indian literature?
Lamming: The first person who really brought Caribbean literature to Eng-
lish attention was a man called Robert Herring, who used to bring
out an English literary journal called Life and Letters. He brought
out an issue just on Jamaica. He had been travelling and "dis-
covered" this body of writing going on. This was the first time
that Vic Reid and Roger Mais were brought to the reading
public's attention in England. This was about 1948. He followed
it up with an issue on the West Indies. Then, Henry Swanzy who
for ten years produced and edited radio programmes that sort of
brought all the islands together through "Caribbean Voices." He
had been in Africa before. He was a historian by training, then
worked in the BBC overseas broadcasting: he wasn't really inter-
ested in ordinary radio, but saw the possibility of building up a
literary magazine which was his passion. He was a crucial figure
in that sense. Bim and "Caribbean Voices" then became the main
stables for all the writing being done at that time.
Question: V.S. Naipaul was also working for the BBC?
Lamming: Yes, but he was not working on the programme at the same time
I was. He was younger, five years younger than me. He came on
to the BBC much later than that. The order, I think, we came to
London in was this: Mittelholzer in 1948, Richardson in 1949,
Selvon and I together on the same boat in 1950, Andrew Salkey
in 1952, Mais in 1953. What really happened was the news of
one encouraged the others. 1950 was really the beginning for
writers but this was part of a wider migration of West Indians,
a movement which has a history that goes back to the opening of
the Panama Canal. There's reference to this historical legacy in In
the Castle of my Skin.
Question: Did you have any contacts with European writers?
Lamming: Yes, my first time was very early in 1950 when at the Institute of
Contemporary Arts I gave a reading. This is where I met Stephen
Spender. And I had a letter from Faber asking me whether I had
enough poems for a collection which I didn't, though. Then
Spender once did a critique for the radio on the Caribbean poems
he had seen. I met one or two writers through him at the time.
After In the Castle of my Skin I moved much more into that
world, but mainly met poets: George Barker was one. I used to
spend much of my time at a place called the Mandrake Club.
This was really where all sorts of writers and people around the
BBC hung out. I met Dylan Thomas a few times, talking his
head off. Barker, John Herath-Stubbs, David Wright these wert
the sort of people, the poets of the time.
Question: How often did you go back to the Caribbean during this time?
Lamming: I went back for the first time six years later, in 1956. I really got
back because of a visit to the USA. This was some time after In the
Castle of my Skin came out. I was invited on a Guggenheim Fel-
lowship. But I got back to the West Indies through Holiday Maga-
zine They wanted me to write an article about the Caribbean
from Haiti to Guayana. This was my first return. I wrote the
article, but by the time I was through with it, as is usually the
case, it really wasn't what Holiday wanted. But it was a very
crucial visit, because it was the visit to Haiti that years later be-
came the basis of Season of Adventure. The ceremony on which
the whole of this novel is built was what I experienced in Haiti.
Holiday wanted an article of 10,000 words. Mine was 35,000.
They sent it back with an example of editing and asked me to re-
duce my article as in the example. I couldn't and that was the
last I heard of it. It was never brought up by Holiday again. The
article was lost and is hardly worth bringing back, probably. The
part on Haiti I liked very much. In 1956 I got back, and then
as things turned out I went back to England. Then there was the
'Somerset Maugham award and I went to Africa in 1958/9. In the
sixties I went frequently back to the Caribbean. I had a sort of
fellowship to Canada for a year and used the remaining money for
trips to the Caribbean. In Canada I had contacts with some Cana-
dian writers like Mordecai Richler and Earle Birney, whom I liked
very very much. Margaret Laurence I met during that visit, and
Louis Dudek. Then there was an irascible fellow who was a very
popular novelist: Morley Callaghan. He was enjoyable. You know
Canada has played a very important part making Caribbean lit-
erature known. A man called Robert Weaver introduced Caribbean
writing to Canada through a journal called Tamarack Review.
There is a 'lot of exchange also between Canada and the West
Indies on an educational level.
Question: Did you do any travelling in Europe?
Lamming: Just visiting, to Paris often, because it's quite near London. I also
spent one month in Berlin, when I was discussing the publication
of Season of Adventure in German: I was there for some time, but
didn't meet many German writers. Then I was in Spain where I
finished Of Age and Innocence.
Question: Will West Indian writers continue to go to London?
Lamming: London is still the foreign literary center for West Indians, but
there is a growing shift now. And I think you will find this among
the new generation of Caribbean writers. New York is going to
become the sort of literary outside center, partly because of the
increasing interest in the black studies programmes and the grow-
ing awareness of the continuity of black experience between the
mainland and the islands. Consider the number of West Indians
who are here in some visiting, lecturing or teaching capacity. So
the phase of the journey to London is really over. I think what
one will find increasingly is that the cultural exchange is going
to be between the Caribbean and New York and other American
cities, North and South. My latest book is going to be published
in America first and then in London, which is a reverse of this
traditional process. It is called Natives of My Person, a novel
based on one of the early voyages from Europe to the West Indies.
I also have another novel coming soon, called Water with Berries.
The setting is in London. It is my old Prospero-Caliban theme. I
am using, the story is around the fortune of three young artists,
Caribbean artists in exile.
Thank you, Mr. Lamming.
Edited by REINHARD SANDER
& IAN MUNRO
The Art of Extremity
A reading of Wilson Harris's Ascent to Omai (Faber & Faber, 1970)
"My approaches are not intellectual, but rather part of a hard and continu-
ous wrestling within the medium of my own work, a process more akin to
something active and unpredictable rather than planned and theoretical."1
One is aware, nevertheless, of a remarkable intellect behind the quality of
connectedness that runs throughout Harris's work. Novels, poems, essays,
talks all appear ultimately to explore the same main ideas: the need for a
"new vision of consciousness", a "new dimension of feeling"; the universal
creative quality of personal experience when it is "authentic"; the latent,
associative possibilities in a fiction of "implosion". Harris's novels seem to
constitute a special genre: one which might, perhaps, be termed "the In-
terior Novel", concerned as they are with the persuit of an "inner wholeness"
akin to the alchemists' quest for the Lapis Filosophorum ("the hidden lapis,
the buried unity of man": Tumatumari, p. 63), as well as with the creative
use of his experience of the Guyanese interior. In attempting to open up and
explore a psycho/mythological hinterland, Harris appeals to the open-minded,
imaginative reader, and accepts the risk (much as C. G. Jung did in the field of
psychology) of being dismissed as "obscure" or "eccentric". Harris's aim as a
writer, like Jung's as a psychologist, seems to be to suggest the need for
psychic reconstruction: a healing of the division within the consciousness of
Man in general and in Harris's work, of Caribbean Man in particular, whose
possession of "subtle, nebulous links", the result of fortuitous racial ad-
mixture, makes uniquely possible a solution to the universal problem of "di-
vision of consciousness"; a problem implicitly recognized by George Lamming
when he wrote more than a dozen years ago:
To speak of the situation of the Negro writer is therefore to speak of a
problem of Man.. .of the universal sense of separation and abandon-
ment, frustration and loss, and above all, of man's direct inner experience
of something missing. 2
Harris's constant use of paradoxical statements with the frequent juxta-
position of opposites like Victor/Victim, Life/Death, Love/Hate, Saviour/
Devil, underlines his psychological approach in which (as in Blake or W.B.
Yeats of A Vision) everything appears yoked to its antithesis, lest "sep-
arated from your opposite, you consume yourself away" a reminder of that
typically Jungian concept of psychic wholeness, the necessary co-existence of
ego and "Shadow": Yeats's "Self' and "Anti-Self'. This concept seems to
underlie, for example, the relationship between Donne and the Dreamer in
Palace of the Peacock and the narrator and L of The Eye of the Scarecrow
In both novels a symbolic or actual conflict between these pairs of "op-
posites" is finally resolved. Donne represents the ego or will while the Dreamer
is the "Shadow" or Unconscious. The apir in The Eye of the Scarecrow
seem to be related as animus and anima:
"He would acquire a reputation for sober and matchless good sense,
judgement, responsibility while I would be the striking, unpredictable one."
In the same way, Victor of Ascent to Omai (the name is a pun. He is both
victor and victim, for, like Cain, he carries the guilt of his brother's death -
the result of a childhood stone-throwing game) recognizes the spectral fig-
ure on the hill as his "doppelganger" or archetypal "Shadow" with which he
must be re-united. By using a psychological, mythopoeic approach, Harris is
able to uncover almost endless possibilities for the novel, since mythology,
like depth psychology, is concerned not with linear, "dead" time, but with
sacred or "dream" time, the AB-original time of creation which is ultimately
responsible for both past and present. Herein lies the true relevance of the
Aborigine (Amerindian) element which forms so important a part of Harris's
work. That this approach to novel-writing as an "Art of Extremity" would de-
mand bold, creative vision as well as great personal risk was something Harris
recognized and accepted years before he wrote his first novel, Palace of the
Peacock. In the May 1958 issue of Kyk-Over-AI, taking part in a discussion on
the artist's relationship to his public, he wrote:
What agitates me is not these questions the whispering gallery asks. It is
the burdensome sensibility the individual artist constantly carries and
bears like a scarecrow before the world. Here is no rebel but a sacrifice
In Ascent to Omai, Harris/Victor/Adam incurs yet again the "necessary bur-
den of Authenticity."
In the light of his pre-occupation with "Authenticity" it is interesting to
contrast Harris's approach to the myth of "El Dorado" with that of V.S. Nai-
paul. Naipaul, writing in The Loss of El Dorado with a historian's sense of
time as a linear, unbroken series of events, chronicles the greed, cruelty and
exploitation of the Spanish, Dutch, French, Portuguese and English: what a
Time magazine reviewer called "the crass realities of the El Dorado myth."
Harris, in Omai, uses his own profound, often startling vision to explore not
the "crass realities" the loss of El Dorado but the creative possibilities
of the myth of "El Dorado, city of Gold, city of God, the Gilded Man". For
Harris the old myth becomes (like the hackneyed image of the spiritual
journey, which achieves a brilliant, creative re-construction in Palace of the
Peacock) "another window upon the universe..." The clue to Harris's
approach to the novel comes from an epigraph at the beginning of the book:
There is no ground of alternatives but to recover the "dangerous" chasm,
the "forbidden" ascent and seek a new dimension of feeling a new oath
of humanity. -Ascent to Omai (1970)
And this is precisely what the hero, Victor attempts to do in his ascent to
The plot of the novel can be summarised quite quickly, though this sim-
plicity of "story-line" in Harris's novels is always deceptive. Victor, whose
father had made and lost a fortune in the gold and diamond fields of the
Guyanese interior, is climbing a hill overlooking a river, in search of his dead
father's old, abandoned claim. During the climb he is bitten by a Tarantula
spider and feverish and in great pain, has hallucinations. His mind goes back to
his Albouystown, childhood and we discover that when his mother died in
giving birth to him, his father (a welder by profession who had tried his luck
as a "pork-knocker"), driven by grief, had become a drunkard and lecher
finally burning down both the welding shop and his own home. The young
Victor had then run away to sea. Now, forty years later, as the past unfolds
("The curtain parted upon a stage whereon his play SOUL was in progress"-
p.28) Victor gains deeper and deeper insight into his own life: his love/hate
relationship with his father and his longing for an unknown mother. The novel
ends as Victor, in a brief moment of illumination, sees his father fighting the
flames of the fire he had himself started, forty years ago; in his hands the
petticoat of his dead wife the only thing he had managed to save. Victor
is suddenly flooded with a sense of great knowledge and compassion.
To this thin stratum of meaning Harris adds layer upon layer of psychologi-
cal and mythological significance. As one ventures deeper into the novel,
images proliferate in an astonishing way to produce reverberations of mean-
ing. Victor is an everyman figure, who early in the novel comes to repre-
sent the people of an "old" as well as "new" world: post as well as pre-
Colombian Man. Like Prudence of Tumatumari, he seems to be the soul of
Man seeking, in the "well of the past", the means of a new birth.
"Omai" is an Amerindian root-word with multiple meaning used to suggest
the "peak experience" of the mystics the unpredictable flash of spiritual
illumination. "Omai" is also the mythical El Dorado, the "lost worlds" of
Roraima and Atlantis: a place which exists and does not exist a "hill of
cloud." Victor's ascent of the hill as an archtetypal significance: One thinks
of Moses' ascent of Sinai, the "eight-folk path" of the mystics, Dante's hill
of purgatory. There are echoes of a symbolic retracing of the Middle Passage.
Certainly Victor's father is an ancestral figure peculiarly Caribbean.
A man of no definite origin.. .fresh from slavery, fresh from the factory,
rum-soaked labour.. .and he (Victor) felt his eyes being welded too,
soldered too by frustrated divinities (copulation of idols Africa, Asia,
His name, Adam, suggests the Original/Inner man the "Archanthropos" or
"Imago Dei" who is judge of living and dead, as well as the "Anthroparion"
of the Greek alchemists the homunculus or miniature self one sees reflected
in the eye of another. One is reminded of the symbolic tenants of The Eye of
the Scarecrow, the Anthrops, who represent "a golden centre of inspiration"
in spite of being slum dwellers. Adam is a scarecrow figure, ragged pork-
knocker, "fallen man" (the "ruined millionaire" of T.S. Eliot's East Coker),
the father in whose eyes Victor needs to see himself reflected:
One day he would meet the ruined pork-knocker face to face, doppel-
ganger of the heartland. .(p.19).
Victor's quest is symbolic not only of Caribbean Man's search for ancestral
origins, but also of Mankind's longing for a pre-lapsarian world and there are
deeper echoes, such as the suggestion, in the appearance of the spectral pork-
knocker as a tabulaa rasa", a doppelganger with a "faceless face", of a "re-
gressus ad uterum" a return to formlessness from which, as in mythology,
the hero is reborn. The use of memory as a means of acquiring the necessary
self-knowledge for this painful regeneration (here one thinks of the section
in Palace of the Peacock called "the straits of memory" where the characters
all gain self-knowledge in extremity) is a vital process of the inner alchemy
which helps Victor to come to a new understanding of himself. By going be-
yond History and its "crass realities", by achieving a "new dimension of feel-
ing." Victor gains insight and so breaks out of the prison of History. A new
direction is now possible.
In the novel the "melting pot" of the Caribbean is symbolised (with a
significant shift of metaphor to emphasize a purposeful, creative re-construc-
tion) by the welding shop, the factory where Adam works and from which he
emerges at the end of each day covered with black charcoal stains: a man
gilded with "black gold". El Dorado. Victor's search for the "ruined Eden
of this Father/Son, God/Adam, Osiris/Christ figure is a search for a unity of
life, now lost. In the first chapter Victor has a glimpse of a "frail, multiform
conception of unity, terrestrial and transcendental", and as the novel pro-
ceeds, this vision is "imploded" in various ways. First a rapport is established
between living and dead, past and present. Victor is struck by a falling stone
dislodged from above by the doppelganger, and in this state of "unpredict-
able arousal" is bitten by a Tarantula. Harris captures the sense of Victor's
very real panic:
Had he been pushed or stung? BITTEN BY TARANTULA. OH MY GOD.
Senses grown dim. Elongated. Telescope of pain. Faint pole to pole. Tri-
pod of ice to tripod of fire. OH MY LEGS. (p. 25.)
as well as the symbolic meaning of the "spider transubstantiation" the idea
of the trickster shaman's initiation of the neophyte in a "rite de passage."
The initiate (Victor) enters a trance-state or limbo in which arcane knowledge
(gnosis) is acquired as part of a process of inner "becoming."
The shock of inoculation (deliverance and protection), translation of the
jaw of the spidery, eye of the spider, with the omnibus of ascent, heal-
ing waterfall,imbued him with a brooding mirror and conception .(p.26)
Victor is now aware of a "gateway" or "time-lag" of consciousness as the
frontiers of memory are pushed back. The first memory-image to return
takes the form of a hallucinatedd spear" which "flew and arched into the
fourth milestone or door in his side" the memory of being prodded
in the side, as a child, by his drunken father. Like Christ (who was also victim
and victor) he now carries an Amfortas wound of suffering, humility and
compassion. Later on, the aeroplane flying overhead (inside, in a timeless
limbo, a cosmic/fantasy trial his as well as Adam's is being held) which,
glinting in the sun, dazzles Victor's eyes, is a reminder of his childish, efforts
at father/self identification, when, hidden from view, he had trained the sun's
rays from a mirror into Adam's eyes as he emerged from the welding shop.
At this point the reader has the curious impression of looking forward into
the past from the present and backward from the present (Adam's claim has
as its headboard a piece of metal from the wrecked plane) into the future
(the plane is heading for disaster on Omai). Past, present and future now co-
Harris achieves extraordinary echoic effects through what appears to be a
haphazard, "rubbish heap" of images (Naipaul's view of the Caribbean as a
"rubbish heap" of fragmented cultures immediately comes to mind) and the
result is a feeling of confusion especially on a first reading. The language
is at once diffuse, its long sentences radiating in many directions, and com-
pact with allusion and metaphor packed tightly together:
The voluminous hill or coat to which he clung, as sanctification of mother-
hood, intercession of motherhood, turned to limbo in his side: mirror in
his side: whose exploding venom coiled around him like magnesium-acid
flame, blue lightning, welder's mask, visor and tool, tarantula. (p.31.)
Here the hill becomes his dead mother's petticoat, an early mask behind
which he hid as a child and which he now learns to reject because of a new-
found self-awareness (the wound in his side). The burning pain of the spider's
poison recalls the blue welding-flame wielded by his "masked", visored father
whom he now begins to see with more compassionate eyes. It is typical of
Harris's writing that even a blade of grass can reflect a whole universe of de-
A blade of grass pricked him. He plucked it, chewed it like- a rag day-
dream pillow, green flag, cradle (porknocker's barrel floating in cloud
oceanic tub, ailing subsistence, middle passage). (p.33.)
This multiplicity of images, like the odd, fragmented appearance of the writ-
ing, is aimed at a deeper level of response in the reader who has to enter, as it
were, into the novel's alchemical process of creating "a new experimental
source of wealth". Adam's plea: "I sought to unmake myself to make some-
thing I had lost before I was born" expresses not only the alchemists'
attempts to create by synthesis the aurumm non vulgi" from a formless
"prima material but also the artist's desire to break down existing rigid
linguistic conventions so as to re-create a New Universe of Art a "new di-
mension of feeling". This is a process related to what Koestler calls "self-
repair": a "reculer pour mieux sauter" of the psyche in an attempt to heal a
division of consciousness.4 The apparent difficulties of Harris's use of lang-
uage stem mainly from a desire to use words not so much to convey meaning
as to arouse vision. Here too, an art of extremity is necessary if there are to be
real rewards, since:
What is hazardous in literary communication, and ambiguous and irre-
ducible to the theme in all great works of art, is not a provisional weakness
which we might hope to overcome. It is the price we must pay to have a
literature, that is, a conquering language which introduces us to unfamiliar
perspectives instead of confirming us in our own.5
There is, however, an undeniably esoteric level at which the novel's language
functions. Images and ideas recur which appear to reflect Harris's own interest
in the ancient hermetic art of memory. The "vicars of reality" for example,
gain in significance if (following Harris's own inclination for making odd
puns) one refers to the "Decans" of hermetic tradition the gods of the
Egyptian cosmos, sacred images or horoscopes which could exert demonic/
chthonic influence over human life. The orderly arrangement of striking
images and emblems in the diagram of "the factory of the Gilded Man" is
reminiscent of the sixteenth century memory theatre of Giulio Camillo, and
is related to the divine "ladders" and "scales" of hermetic art.6 In Ramon
Lull's "Liber de ascensu et descensu Intellectus" (1512), there is one such
"divine ladder" the first step of which is labelled "Lapis" (stone) and the
last, "Deus" (God or Ultimate Wisdom). In Harris's diagram the first "epitaph"
or circle is also labelled "stone" and the final one, "Madonna." (Mother of
God or Ultimate Compassion) The whole thing gives the effect of a stone
flung into the dark water of a creek an apt image of Harris's technique in
the novel, where, as in Joyce or Virginia Woolf, intricate patterns are con-
structed from simple ideas which seem to radiate outwards. The diagram is
a mandala,7 and like the rings on a cut tree trunk, a measure of growth. It is
a useful key to the images used in the novel.
Unfortunately, towards the end of the book, Harris appears to enter as
omniscient author. There is a thinly-disguised address to the reader (very
much like D.H. Lawrence's much-quoted digression, in Lady Chatterly's
Lover, on the novel as a life-enhancing art) in which the "vicarious" novel, the
"novel of manners", is firmly repudiated:
The truth is, I believe, that the novel has been conditioned for so long by
the comedy of manners, it overlooks an immense poetry of original and
precarious features.. .(p.96)
This creates the unmistakable atmosphere of the lecture-hall, especially as
there is (for purposes of clarity, one supposes) a repetition, with explanatory
notes relating to the diagram of the "Factory of the Gilded Man", of whole
sections of earlier chapters in quote-marks. Harris tends to quote Harris quite
readily, and at great length, with a certain exgetical impatience:
The third movement or horizon of the dance of the stone (popularly called
Iron Mask) has also been previously adumbrated in this novel as (see page
110) "this uncanny illumination within potencies of disaster. i. ." (pl 19).
One feels that this sort of thing can serve only to distract the perceptive read-
er, and may, perhaps, finally exasperate an uncomprehending one.
There are also what appear to be autobiographical references. Victor
writes poetry which is considered "difficult" or "absurd": the poem "Fe-
tish" (also the title of a booklet of poems Harris produced in 1951) is read
in the fantasy trial and dismissed by the "whispering gallery" as "rubbish".
And there are interesting coincidences or prophecies. The nine chapters of
this, Harris's ninth novel, represent the nine "lives" of the hero (the nine
concentric circles of "epitaphs" in the diagram reflect the nine month period
of human gestation) whose creative re-birth takes place in the Guyanese
heartland a process suggested in The Eye of the Scarecrow as:
...the expedition to the lost womb of a mining town, nine months jour-
ney from Water Street into the jungle of conception. (p.48)
Then, a few pages before the end of the novel we read:
Time to shut up. This was his last novel.. .these pages must serve as his
epitaph. It was, in short, the end of his life as public poet or witness on be-
half of a private victim in courtroom or void (p. 124)
One wonders if Harris, like that other "Interior Novelist", Mircea Eliade, has
written his last novel.8 Eliade considered his own essential pre-occupation to
.. .precisely the means of escaping History, of saving myself through sym-
bol, myth, rites, archetypes (Caete de Dor, No. 8, June 1954 p.27).
Harris clearly shares this pre-occupation, the result of a desire for "authen-
ticity" and the consequent "risking of one's neck" in the pursuit of a vision
of unity. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, writing on the hazards of literary communi-
The writer, as a professional of language, is a professional of insecurity.
His expressive operation is renewed from oevre to oevre. Each work, as it
has been said of the painter, is a step constructed by the writer himself
in order to construct (with the same risk) another step and what is called
the oevre the sequence of these attempts which is always broken off,
whether it be by the end of life or through the exhaustion of his speaking
That could almost have been intended as a comment on the hazardous, un-
predictable but unifying activity of Wilson Harris's art the Art of Extremity.
4. See Arthur Koestler: The Ghost in the Machine (Hutchinson & Co. Ltd., 1967)
5. Maurice Merleau-Ponty: Signs (North Western University Press, 1964) p. 77.
6. It is perhaps worth noticing here that in Tumatumari, the "heroine", Prudence can be
seen as a symbol of the art of memory itself, in which prudence was held by the al-
chemists to be the cardinal virtue: not surprisingly, in that dangerous "game" of
"participating in an otherness aldn to the terrifying and protean reality of the gods".
This may be one answer to Joyce Adler's question: Why is Prudence portrayed as
changing in interaction with memory alone?
7. In the language of psychology, a symbolic representation of psychic unity. It is
interesting to find that William Walsh, writing on Patrick White's The Solid Mandala,
"The structure of the novel is composed of similar movements or concentric
(Patrick White's vision of Human Incompleteness": Journal of Commonwealth Litera-
ture July 1969, No. 7. p. 131)
8. Eliade, it is claimed, wrote his last novel in about 1960 in order to concentrate on
short stories, "quartets of purity" (See Virgil lerunca: "The literary work of
Mircea Eliade", Myths and Symbols, University of Chicago Press 1969).
9. Maurice Merleau-Ponty: Signs (North Western University Press, 1964) p. 233.
Everyone suddenly burst out screaming
and hurling plastic building-blocks;
the room was a riot of colour.
Did that autistic child have duller
things in mind, hugging his white box
of bricks and quietly beaming?
is a visit from another age
That the mountain wasn't so high
The view decidedly ordinary:
In need to be rescued
Tears out his eye-balls
And juggles like a clown.
The democratic event
The great man soars into outer space
And bids us follow with his eyes.
After all, he is ours.
We gaze at an empty trail
We put up signs along the way
We silence doubters
Out of self-respect.
They were never taught like we, that
Was a virtue. E.A. MARKHAM
E. A. MARKHAM
Some Problems of Assessment:
A look at new expressions
in the Arts of the Contemporary
The period between the late fifties and the present, between the short-lived
West Indian Federation and the acquisition of Independence by some of the
English-speaking Caribbean territories, has produced a great deal of writing
and a consequently increasing number of anthologies. In poetry, there has
been the hard-won maturity and painful craftsmanship of Derek Walcott, the
fresh dimensions in theme, rhythm and technique which Brathwaite so
lavishly offers the student of craft, and several anthologies of the works of
individual writers, such as Seymour's Selected Poems (Guyana, 1965),
Figueroa's Love leaps Here (London 1962) La Rose's Foundations, (London
1966), Charles' The Expatriate (London 1969), A. L. Hendrik's On This
Mountain, less known efforts such as Frank John's Black Songs, (London
1969), as well as Louise Bennett's Jamaica Labrish (Jamaica 1966), whose
excellence is yet to receive the detailed elucidation they deserve.
Apart from this there have been a number of general anthologies of verse,
such as Seymour's effort in Kykoveral No. 22, 1957, the Anthology of West
Indian Poetry, Caribbean Quartelry, Vol. V, No. 3, (1958), John Figueroa's
two collections. Caribbean Voices, Vols. 1 & 2, which together are the most
massive anthology of Caribbean poetry in English so far, representing as they
do, selections from the work of fifty-three persons. More recently, there has
been Mervyn Morris's edition Seven Jamaican Poets, (Jamaica 1971) which
contains poems by Al Hendriks, Basil and R.L. C. McFarlane, Edward Baugh,.
Dennis Scott, Anthony McNeill and Morris himself. There are also the
periodicals, such as Bim, which continues to publish new writing, Jamaica
Journal, which carries a section on the arts, Clifford Sealey's Voices, which
still appears from time to time, and now Savacou, 1 which grew out of the
Caribbean Artists' Movement (London 1966) whose central spirit, Eddie
Brathwaite, worked hard to keep the movement afloat in the late sixties,
together with a number of other writers and critics, such as Orlando
Patterson, Louis James, John La Rose and Andrew Salkey.
Brathwaite now edits Savocou in Jamaica, together with Kenneth
Ramchand, while Salkey takes care of business at the London end. Savacou
aims to erect a bridge between the disciplines of History and Literature, and
to provide a forum for literary critics who are concerned with establishing
standards for the assessment of Caribbean writing. The third and fourth issues
every year, are meant to be an anthology of current writing. Savacou, 3/4
(March 1971), was the first of these double issues, and as such, was highly
experimental. Editorial problems immediately presented themselves, the
greatest of which seems to have been, whether an anthology which is meant
to be an annual affair, should contain only severely selected writing all of
which self-consciously seeks "greatness" or "eternity," or whether the editors
should choose as broad a cross-section of what is actually being written, good
or bad, so as to indicate as many trends as are current in the feeling,
sensibility and creative effort of the period.
The editors of Savacou clearly chose the latter course. The journal
contains an introductory essay, extracts from two diaries and five novels,
short stories, translations of the Cuban poet Guillen, and a wide range of
verse from the point of view of quality, content and style. Although writers
from all over the Caribbean are represented, the journal gives the impression
of being strongly Jamaican in flavour and orientation. This is only natural,
since the editors live in Jamaica. An issue produced in Trinidad would no
doubt have contained a great deal of such writing as is growing out of the
hothouse atmosphere of political detentions, mamaguy, robber-talk and
corruption, which constitutes the reality, against which, and in which the
young Trinidadian is forced to live. Writers such as Winston Gannessingh,
Anson Gonzalez, Victor Questel, Abdul Malik, Brian James, Alfred Fraser,
Syl Lowhar and Ramdath Jagessar, all young, uncertain, and searching for a
form supple and strong enough to contain the strong mixture of rage, grief
and dirty blue laughter which permeates the society at this time, would have
been generously represented.
There would have been room, I'm certain, for Malik's sense of urgency
love and death, Questel's "Down Beat" which illustrates the strange
patchwork sensibility and the dangerous ungrounded impermanence of the
limer, and Anson Gonzalez's "Cadence", which, employing the image of
steelband, explores phenomena such as the erosion of folk culture, and the
inroads which politics have been making into genuine sensibility. In
"Cadence", the entire nation becomes a "Pan" side, about to perform for
Yankee tourists on "Panorama" night and waiting for the optimum political
leader, who in his pose as conductor, will provide the down beat for the
Carnival pappyshow to start. The beat comes, but the Carnival is over, so that
instead of pan, one gets "pan-ic" and "pandemonium". It is a political poem,
which makes its point through the extended image, and the pun, techniques
endemic to Trinidad, which one sees there in Questel's work as well.
Gonzalez wrote his poem before February 1970, which simply shows how
deeply people were feeling the farce of the political gimmicry of the late
sixties, and sensing that the society was on the verge of pandemonium. The
despair of the youth had been clear to me since McTair's "Corners Without
Answers," (Voices, 1964), with its final lines,
We sit on pavements dreaming our dreams
Trying to invoke visions.
No genie comes: disillusioned, we put bobs to buy another
To help us endure this transition of sadness.
It received eloquent expression in the 1970 calypsoes of Creole ("Behind the
Bridge") Chalkdust, ("Massa Day Must Done") and Psycho, ("Jail Them"),
and of course in the protest Mas of 1970.
In selecting an anthology of current West Indian writing, then, I'd have
tried as far as possible to determine how far that writing reflected and
explored the tensions of the society, and would have used "genuineness of
feeling" as one of my criteria. The question of form or shape is a much more
difficult one to settle, since there is no common consensus anywhere in the
world today as to what constitutes proper form. I myself admire a wide
variety of writing, ranging from the overtly "dramatic" use of language,
which may be concerned only with things like rhythm and tone, to the highly
complex and concentrated use of images and symbols, and I welcome the
presence of both elements in current West Indian writing. 1 welcome
especially the confidence with which young writers are trying to shape
ordinary speech, and to use some of the musical rhythms which dominate the
entire Caribbean environment.
Yet it is precisely this that disturbs some critics of West Indian poetry.
Eric Roach, for example, reviewed Savacou 3/4 in Trinidad Guardian, 2
Restricting his commentary to an examination of some of he poetry,
Mr. Roach described his criteria for determining what was art, and what was
good or bad poetry. In so doing, he has joined a sharp debate which is going
on about aesthetics, tradition, literary criticism and sensibility in the West
Indies. This debate started quite long ago and involves English liberals such as
Owens, Carr and Louis James, and just about every Caribbean writer and
critic. A great deal of the recent debate can be followed in journals like
Caribbean Quarterly, Bim, Jamaica Journal, Savacou, and to lesser extent in
The Journal of Commonwealth Literature, New World, and the Caribbean
dailies. Then there are the pronouncements of West Indian writers on writing.
The most prolific of these is probably Brathwaite, but Walcott has written
considerably on the work of his colleagues, and has recently written a long
essay, "What the Twilight Says: An Overture," Dream on Monkey Mountain
and Other Plays, New York, 1970, which deserves the closest attention for its
strong auto-biographical content, and its lacerating statements on current
developments in Caribbean writing, attitudes, insensibility and politics.
Mr. Roach, then, a reviewer of long standing, is part of this debate.
Without, perhaps, really intending to, he in his review of Savacou 3/4 expressed
the attitudes of his generation to what it sees as a number of unsavoury and
alarming features in today's youth. In criticising adversely a number of the
younger Jamaican writers, Mr. Roach also made clear his own assumptions
about "culture" and "history", and expressed a particular disgust at what he
saw as a tendency "to thresh about wildly... in the murky waters of race,
oppression and dispossession, ... to bury one's head in the stinking dunghills
of slavery." He seemed to me to be taking a firm stand against simple
rhetorical protest, which, he feels, retards than liberates. He stressed the
artist's need to learn his craft and to write out of the fullness of his
experience, and found most of the poetry in the anthology bad, fanatical,
boring and naive. On the other hand, he had every admiration for the work of
Derek Walcott, Wayne Brown, A.L. Hendriks and Dennis Scott, of which he
found too little.
Syl Lowhar sensed the assumptions about "culture" and "history" upon
whi.h Mr. Roach's review was based, and questioned these in Trinidad
Guardian (17, 18 July, 1971). Mr. Roach's reply on Sunday 18 July was that
his review had nothing to do with racialism or nationalism but with bad verse
as against good, and with standards of judging poetry. He reiterated his
arguments against self-consciously asserted racial pride, and said that the
quality of the Black man's efforts in the task of survival is sufficient sign of
his rich identity.
I do share some of Mr. Roach's reservations about the journal. Editing
needed to be more selective. There were a number of poems of similar theme,
some extremely simple, others much more complex in form and treatment. I
would have opted for the more complex abstracts from experience, in
preference to simple statement of it. I need to feel that a writer is trying to
use language imaginatively any language in which he chooses to write. I
didn't feel that this was happening in all the poems 1 read. I don't, however,
share all Mr. Roach's reasons for wanting to exclude some of the writing. The
abundance of publication from the late fifties onwards, the bewildering and
often inchoate variety of forms, styles and techniques revealed in spite of the
frequent mediocrity of the writing, makes me a little less certain about
standards than he seems to be. Intimate acquaintance with the pressures
which exist throughout the Caribbean, and with the fact that some of the
writers Mr. Roach rejects feel them even nearer to the bone than I, gives me
pause in passing judgement on the sensibility of the youth. Having some
knowledge of the sensibility which produces Reggae, and the entirely
different on which shapes Kaiso, I cannot but wonder what forms will grow
from these roots, and welcome every sincere struggle to make abstracts of the
languages and rhythms which constitute the thews and sinews, the inner
ground of our sensibility. These languages, ranging from Creole to standard
English are often more various than is realized, and are all available for
Mr. Roach, however, and there are many like him, feels that West Indian
poetry must be tempered by a concern for craft which must be learned from
the great English poets. A closer look at the basis on which he accepts or re-
jects this or that poet, is revealing. He first gives his general impressions on
Colour, trumpeted on so many pages, gives the impression
that one is listening to 'Air on the nigger string', or to the
monstrous thumping of a mad shango drummer on his
drum 'in sibyline frenzy blind!2
In the two succeeding paragraphs, the words 'fanatical' or 'fanaticism' are
employed four times, so that one gets the general impression that a great deal
of writing in the journal was black, bloody and bad although Mr. Roach
deals with none of the prose pieces and only a small fragment of the poetry.
He makes no distinction between the style and treatment which different
poets brought to bear on the same themes of deprivation, disillusion, and
impending rebellion. He makes no mention, for example, of the Guyanese
Mark Matthews' dramatic monologue "For Cuffy" which is really about the
failure of revolutionary effort in contemporary Guyanese politics and society.
Cuffy, the great eighteenth century leader of a famous slave revolt, has been
chosen by the rulers of independent Guyana as the country's first national
hero. Matthews in an exciting use of Guyanese creole, contrasts the energy,
movement and skill of the rebel with the dishonesty and indirection of those
who, as a gimmick and gesture, have chosen him as their mythical culture
hero. Matthews is also referring to Clement Cuffy, a convict whose escape
from a Guyanese prison in the late fifties resulted in a relentless manhunt
through swamp and backlands. Matthews seems to be suggesting that his
society needs to understand and sympathise with its poor, its criminals and its
rebels in a genuine rather than in a sentimental fashion. Indeed, this seems to
be one of the common ideas linking most of the writing in Savacou 3/4.
Matthews, voice from being "frenzied" or "demented" or "fanatical", is
extremely cool. His theme is not revenge but the pathos of political and
human failure. If there was any anti-protest poem, or one that looks at the
danger of a sentimental self-identification with the past, it is Matthews'. Mr.
Roach does not think it worth mentioning, although it makes his point with
less exaggeration and more genuine control than he makes it himself.
The reticent and genuinely sad meditations of Anthony McNeill on his and
his society's fate, counterpoint Bongo Jerry's cool "dread," which I will try
to explain later.
"Saint Ras" and "Ode to Brother Joe" are really part of the same
consciousness as "Sooner or Later" or "Mabrak." The two moods, modes and
tones knit seamlessly into a single exploration of contemporary Jamaican
anxiety and pain. I would have liked to see published, McNeill's moving
tribute to Don Drummond, 3 a man whose music suggests that he was, like
Saint Ras, trapped at the terrible crossroads of his fate. I believe that McNeill
identifies deeply with the spirit of Drummond's music; that the image of the
caged confused animal which appeared in "Rimbaud Jungle" merges into the
image of the wounded schizophrenic saint and musician, walking the
back-streets of Dread City, and merges further into the sacrificial figure of the
Rastafarian at Babylon's crossroads. Mr. Roach doesn't mention McNeill at
all, although the latter is as gentle, reticent, and careful of craft as they come,
and certainly a poet of deeper feeling than either Dennis Scott or Wayne
Brown, whose work would hardly lose were it to include a deeper anxiety, a
Questel's use of fragmented pan rhythms and the pun, his sense of
cadence, innuendo and diminuendo, are perhaps part of a small talent, when
compared with the moving elegiac power of Walcott's sculptured panegyric
for Harold Simmons. But it deserves some mention. In my review of Walcott's
The Gulf in December 1969, 4 I remember stating that I believed his "Landfall
Grenada", another elegy, was the basis for a new departure, since in it are
combined both his early lyricism and his late restraint. The elegy for
Simmons also has these qualities, and has, in addition, a controlled rhetorical
splendour quite different from anything in The Gulf. It is a poem which by
its strength, wholeness, full grasp of how the human spirit needs to affirm its
life in spite of death and void, and its carefully channelled energy, criticizes
the self-indulgence of much that is written in the West Indies, including a
great deal of Walcott's own work. One would have hoped that in dealing with
Walcott, Mr. Roach would have noted that great variety of his style suggested
even in eight pages of Savacou 3/4. How does Mr. Roach account for Walcott's
attempts to blend the scribal with the oral traditions in "Statio Haud
Malefida Carinis"? What does he have to say about the use of dialect there,
and why does he believe that Wayne Brown also lapses into dialect in one of
his poems? It may be that both Walcott and Brown, his best disciple so far,
are trying to do justice to all the languages that they know and hear.
It is interesting that Mr. Roach hears frenzied drums in so much of the
writing, and that he singles out the poetry of Bongo Jerry for comment. It is
unfortunate, though, that he did not choose to illustrate the specific mood of
"frenzy", and that he seems automatically to associate the drum with the
monstrous, the animal, and uncontrolled emotion. He asks in some dismay,
"Are we going to tie the drum of Africa to our tails and bay
like mad dogs at the Nordic world to which our geography
and history tie us?" 2
So Africa, too, seems to hold frightening reasonances for Mr. Roach, as
indeed, it did for people like Froude or Trollope, and Kingsley who was able
to see a Negro work-song and satirical dance as signs of the animal-like
depravity of the race, while he saw the fine Caucasian features of one native
as sufficient sign of that Black's ability to lead his people out of captivity. 5
For Kingsley, it was only necessary for the native to look different from
the Caucasian to be damned, and for him to resemble the Caucasian to
possess every potential for refinement, and every qualification for humanity.
For Mr. Roach, who ominously claims to be Lowhar's brother under the skin,
the drum of the Afro-West Indian is associated with an animalistic blood-lust,
while "European culture" is most generously defined, and preferred as a
means of Caribbean salvation.
He writes, for example;
We have been given the European languages and forms of
culture culture in the traditional aesthetic sense, meaning
the best that has been taught, said and done.
If by "we have been given" Mr. Roach means "we can take what we need
from; we can assimilate or fruitfully relate to," fine. In this respect there is
really no limit to what anyone can choose. The whole world is our
"schoolmaster". I am not quite certain, however, what is meant by "the
traditional aesthetic sense." This implies that there has always been a
universal conception of good taste, or sensibility, when, in fact, there is in the
vast and complex tradition of Europe not to mention other parts of the
world justification for just about every kind of writing, including the
elemental statement of emotion which is what Mr. Roach says he deprecates
in young West Indian writers, and the rhetorical use of local dialects, which
Mr. Roach seems to view more as limitation than as possibility.
Mr. Roach's definition of "culture" as "the best that has been thought said
and done" is also fascinating. European writers today are much less confident
than he, and are busy trying to come to terms with the ironies of a culture
which has produced both Wagner and Hitler, Nietzche and the gas chambers
of six million Jews. These and similar incongruities have turned many writers
into nihilistic visionaries, who are uncertain of everything, including the
cerebration and rationalism on which their writing depends. West Indians,
however, tend to romanticise Europe's staggering achievements, while they
gloss over the constant barbarity which has been inalienable from them. It is
necessary for the West Indian to acquaint himself, not with any one side of
European achievement, but with the whole paradoxical movement of human
history, precisely because the West Indies were in large measure a product of
some of the worst aspects of all history.
I am with Mr. Roach when he sees the problem as one of rendering justice
to the whole of our history. "We must write out of the totality of our
environment and our feeling." I don't see, however, how we can begin to do
this if we deny the growing confidence with which our writers are exploring
our speech and drum rhythms. Also, I don't feel that any one set of traditions
will suffice in this business of doing justice to our experience, just as I can't
see how any single set of standards will suffice in the assessment of the
already varied writing of the West Indies.
Also, it seems to me that Mr. Roach, like so many others, is begging the
question as to what constitutes "the totality of our history". "Naipaul has
already said that we have no history, and recently, Walcott has lamented our
lack of "a tiered concept of a past" 6 But we have barely started to write this
history, and to examine those admittedly inadequate records of the past. If
there seems to be "no history", it must mean that a great deal remains to be
written, not that nothing ever happened, or survived. I believe the
sense of their being a void to be filled has led to a great deal of fresh-
ness, innovation and versatility in West Indian writing, and in Caribbean
life style, while it has also informed their underlying melancholy. Things get
worse when the West Indian lives in Europe and discovers not only the tiered
(tired) concept of the past and as many monuments as the book said he would
find, but greater despair, guilt and desire for self-mutilation than ever
he knew at home. For while Europe's mausolea undoubtedly stand, not
many Europeans seem to believe in them any more. It is in Europe that
Naipaul's Kripal Singh discovers "the final emptiness."7
Not only must we guard against the assumption that we really understand
what happened in the past, but we also need constantly to reinterpret our
present in the light of every fresh discovery of the meaning of ourselves. Mr.
Roach writes as one who is sure that he knows exactly what is good for us.
But what is the totality of history, environment and feeling of a West
Kingston Rastafarian? How is this to be expressed in language, and how will it
transform the style of our writing when we learn what it is? No one really
knows. Yet, the Rastafarian presence is a felt one in the popular music of
Jamaica, which is colonising the Caribbean as surely as calypso used to in the
fifties. It is also growing in Jamaican painting and sculpture, while the
Rastafarian strength and dream provide the considerable army of the poor
with some ground of hope, and the ability to translate hardship into myth.
This is perhaps why the editors of Savacou 3/4 included Ras Dizzy and
Bongo Jerry, I tried to show above, how the Rastafarian becomes a symbol of
sainthood for Anthony McNeill because the poet realized the sacrificial nature
of the Rastafarian's life. He can see how Ras becomes the visible scapegoat of
the society, how his pain releases the creativity of some, while it increases the
need for absolution which so many others seem to feel. I also tried to show
how Don Drummond achieved a kind of sainthood, through his loneliness,
the inner schizophrenic wound which he bore, his very crime in murdering an
unfaithful woman, and the way that he expressed all of these tensions and
made them sing in his music. A story about Drummond that has appalled me
was the one that described how, in one of his fits of illness, he stood up in the
middle of Cross Roads, his arms outstretched in the shape of a cross, and
gazed into space. The whole thing was frighteningly symbolic.
The sensibility to which Drummond related was undoubtedly Rastafarian.
A major voice in the development of Jamaica Blues, he still dominates the